Working in community


Marta Trejo Luzón

Spanish journalist and communication volunteer in the project EUAID VOLUNTEERS (VOL4PRO)

Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid work in the Colombian Pacific strengthening and accompanying the communities of Valle del Cauca to develop their projects, their economy and their community leadership.

The importance of listening and working hand in hand with the communities is the key to the new development aid. Needs cannot be measured without stepping on the ground, observing, listening and accompanying growth from within.

This photographic exhibition shows the work of Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid, and their different projects together with the beneficiary communities of Buenaventura.

The women of the San Juan River receive an accounting workshop from the projects of the European Union, AECID and SDC. The indigenous women Wounnan are excellent artisans highly valued in Colombia. The Chachajo community wanted to form an official group of artisans, register with the Colombian Chamber of Commerce, and start moving their products to international markets. With the training of Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid they were able to take a step towards formalizing the group as a company, in addition to creating their own product catalogs, calculating the working time used, and putting a fair price on their crafts.

The Unión San Juan community meets with the technicians from Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid to distribute the water filters for the AECID and SDC projects. Delivery is accompanied by training in the use and care of these ceramic filters. The communities of the San Juan River live around a river whose water is contaminated with mercury from illegal mining activities. These water filters serve to channel rainwater and take care of the health of the most isolated communities without access to drinking water. In Colombia there is still a large part of the population that does not have access to the basic needs to live with dignity, especially in the fields of health, hygiene and sanitation.

On the Day of the Working Woman in Buenaventura, the square was filled with activities and information stands for the women of the city. The Buenaventura mayor’s office, together with the Madrid City Council project, was participating in cultural and awareness-raising activities. The rights of women in Colombia still have a lot to grow. During the quarantine caused by the coronavirus, the number of government assistance to victims of gender violence increased the number of calls by 155%.

In the village of Betania, Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid conducted some courses to create various contingency plans under the European Union project. These plans were created by the communities themselves who measured their risks, anticipated any danger, and devised a plan of action. The communities of the Naya River are exposed to many risks, from natural disasters (heavy rains, winds, and flooding of the river) to human risks (contamination, presence of armed groups, and deforestation). The citizens of Betania created three community action groups to divide up the tasks in case of attending an emergency.

In the village of Primavera, the AINI women’s group has created a bakery that supplies the entire lower basin of the Naya River. This company has been strengthened thanks to the support of the European Union project. The women never stop, they have orders for cakes, muffins, cookies and bread. Their specialty is unique in the entire Buenaventura municipality. The secret is in papachina flour which gives all their food a sweet and unique flavor.

At the Buenaventura Workshop School, Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid, together with the AECID project, has awarded scholarships to four students for professional training in traditional Pacific cuisine. On the left, the teacher is looking at her students. In the background, a student is receiving her award on the final graduation day. Recipients of the scholarship declared that, with the title of cooks, they wanted to create their own restaurant, help in community projects, and teach those around them the most delicious mysteries of Afro-Colombian food.

The Buenaventura Workshop School works hand in hand with Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid in the European Union project. David and Rocío were in Cabecera, a village on the San Juan River, giving a traditional medicine workshop. The women of Pomuna have a medicinal cooperative that cares for the people who pass by. With the intensive course in traditional medicine they were able to graduate with an official degree, and continue to improve their business, evolving recipes and sharing knowledge about the plants in the environment and their natural properties.

The FAO project implemented by Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid in Buenaventura has provided seeds and chickens to various communities on the Naya and San Juan rivers. In exchange, the communities built a suitable shed for the animals and raised gardens for the crops. Working hand in hand with the community has yielded varied results. In the village of Palestina, many of the chickens have already started laying eggs. The families who live far from the city, every day improve the techniques to develop their environment and live on the food provided by animals and crops, bartering, selling and sharing among all the neighbors.

The Wounnan indigenous people of Unión San Juan and Puerto Guadualito have received professional training in carpentry from the Buenaventura Workshop School and Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid. The European Union project seeks to strengthen the capacities of communities for economic and sustainable development. The students learned to make stools and tables, two basic structures that were used to release the wood they collect from the jungle. Almost all those attending the course ended up thinking about creating a community cooperative, and selling the pieces of woodwork to other villages, visitors and neighbors. This is the local development that generates community activity, basic for the subsistence of thousands of families in the San Juan River.

In Llano Bajo, village of Corregimiento 8 de Buenaventura, the European Union, together with the Workshop School and Alliance for Solidarity – ActionAid, gives vocational training courses to the inhabitants who want to participate. During the session portrayed in the photograph, psychologist David was doing a community strengthening class. “Supporting each other will let us make less mistakes, be more efficient and feel happier, ” he said during the workshop while explaining a team game. All those who passed by stopped to listen to this motivating and pedagogical speech.

At the largest tourism fair in Colombia, the inhabitants of Buenaventura had the opportunity to expose the culture of the Colombian Pacific in all its splendor. Afro-Colombian culture has an infinity of unknown traditions. During the ANATO fair, the beneficiaries of the projects of the European Union and Madrid City Council, traveled together with Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid to learn about other cultures of the country, make contacts, and move their productive initiatives between different national suppliers. The result was a success, the Buenaventura stand was full and, after the experience, some have contacted to establish business relations.

The indigenous children of Puerto Pizario know their rights through a workshop given by Alianza Por la Solidaridad – ActionAid within the framework of the UNHCR project. The right to life, to recreation, to be heard and loved is something that all boys and girls on planet earth share. It is very different to work with Wounnan children, boys are more shy, and girls are very respectful. During these workshops, apart from learning their rights, sports and recreational activities were carried out to encourage young people to work as a team, and respect the community.

Memory is something very important for the Colombian people. Enforced disappearances, assassinations of social leaders, and community massacres are the order of the day throughout the country. Violence reaches everywhere, and the Pacific Inter-Ethnic Truth Commission is trying to collect all the stories and injustices experienced to create a great report. The idea is to share the report with the Truth Commission created as a result of the Peace Accords, and hope that one day justice will be done. During the demonstration in Buenaventura, the victims who attended showed their pain and declared that “we must forgive, but never forget.”