I just spend the past two weeks on the Ecuadorian amazon organizing medical brigades. I have to say it’s been an incredible adventure. From staying in wood cabins in the jungle, to seeing monkey wandering around the city’s main square. In the city of Tena you are surrounded by mountains and a forest, which gives a beautiful and unique environment to the city.
Considering I was balancing an intense work schedule, I didn’t have time to explore the touristic things. But going to these remote communities in need of assistance – several times crossing rivers by boats or super narrow bridges – I got a good perspective of the social reality of the area, while surrounded by a gorgeous environment.
Overall, there is a lack of basic infrastructure. Running water and stable electricity are rare. The schools are in the morning or in the afternoon, so it is easy to find kids running around during the afternoon, or taking care of their younger siblings (a very young child normally will take care of an even younger sibling). There is not a system of school buses, so many times government trucks just fill the back of the truck with kids and drop them off near their houses.
Poverty is all around. These communities do not have many work opportunities in their area, living mostly out of farming small lands. The government offers schools, but without much logistical support or infrastructure. These communities are surrounded by forest, having tricky and narrow roads as their main (and only) way in an out. Most of the people have no way to look for a job in other areas, or to easily get to a big city. They are ‘restricted’ to what they have in their communities, and very few bus routes.
Children live like our “old generations” children, even though a lot of time they help at home. These kids are still enjoying the amazing life of running around, playing in the streets, climbing trees, swimming on rivers. They don’t know what’s it is a child’s movie, or an Ipad, so they use their imagination and energy to play. They smile at the small things, and transform everything into a playground. Although it is easy to find children working with machetes, washing clothes and cleaning their houses as a cultural way to participate in the family activities and help at home.
Big families who live together or close by. Mostly all patients we saw came in with relatives. Sisters, brothers, 3 kids, mother, grandparents… It does not matter the connection, they all live in the same area – a lot of times under the same roof, help each other, share what they have, and are family oriented.
The “roads” have no signs, so you better know where you are going. I am still intrigued how they get around in and within these regions. All of the roads are tiny, without paved roads, surrounded by jungle… they look all the same!
Solidarity. When working with these communities, it is easy to notice how community oriented they are. They usually know each other, share their problems and support each other. These communities are well organized with local leaders and informal structures of assistance. They rely on external assistance (either from the government or NGOs) in many ways, and have a need of basic infrastructure to get running water and electricity. But in their daily life, a supportive system within the community is what keeps them going. Beautiful story: we saw a 70-year-old lady who had recently adopted a 2 years old girl who lost her family…
By far solidarity was the biggest lesson I got out from this awesome adventure. It was a great reminder on why I chose to become an aid worker… 🙂