Having just returned from the community of Alto Playona I have to say my impressions are still fresh but somewhat muddled. Our visit to drop off school supplies and textbooks was thrilling, saddening and overwhelming.
Thrilling in that we were able to see first hand where the supplies and texts would end up, saddening in that we began to see the enormous scope of poverty the community lives with every day and overwhelming because trying to decide what to do next to help seems like such a huge task.
The Embera people we spent most of our time with were lovely, humble people who thankfully received our textbooks and school supplies for their children. The kids themselves were very interested in us and took a break from working on their school garden project to come and see what was in all the boxes we brought with us. The crayons and markers made the biggest impression by far!
The Embera people we visited with live in traditional wooden structures with thatched roofs built six to eight feet off the ground. They live without a reliable water source, without electricity and without access to medical care or supplies. The community is located alongside a river that serves as the focal point for travel, hygiene, cooking, cleaning and recreation. As you can imagine, with all of these cross purpose pursuits taking place the water is polluted and filled with parasites that cause problems for children and adults alike.
They live in an environment that is cashless, meaning their economy functions without money as you and I know it. Barter and trade function as the main currency, which functions well within the community but when supplies are needed outside the community, which is often, there is nothing with which to buy items needed. In real terms this means that when a child gets sick there is no money for tylenol, antibiotics or even a trip to the doctor.
The need for some form of long term income generation is evident even to the first time visitor. There are small scale work projects and co-ops in effect and great pride was taken in showing us the 'tiendita' called VERARÁ(women's store) which the Women`s Cooperative has recently opened. Here the community women sell basic items such as rice, sugar, soap, cooking oil etc. One of the other things that brings in income is traditional basket making. The Embera baskets are incredible works of art and this may prove fertile ground for a business plan that Bridging the Gap can help out with.
If you`re reading this as someone who has participated in a Bridging the Gap event, if you bought a book or donated a bag of paint and crayons, please rest assured that your donation made a difference. We saw that in person and it`s made us all the more committed to the work ahead.