LA GUAJIRA, Colombia
Hardship defines the day-to-day lives of many inhabiting the indigenous communities in the northeast tip of Colombia. While much of the country is fertile and lush, the La Guajira Peninsula is arid and stark. Cacti, thistles and sand dunes dot the region.
Water is gold here — and many residents have limited access to that life-sustaining treasure. Rainfall is rare, riverbeds are often dry, and many of the community windmills that draw essential water from deep wells have fallen into disrepair.
“Obviously without water, it’s very difficult to live in an acceptable and dignified manner,” wrote humanitarian missionaries Elder and Sister Hernan and Beatriz Ostos in an email to the Church News. “Water is vital for human survival, and for the survival of the indigenous people’s animals and crops.”
The water-related troubles for the Wayuu and Guajiro tribes are compounded by pervasive poverty. Malnutrition afflicts many local children. And proper medical care is often unavailable for expectant or new mothers — resulting in high infant mortality rates.
But there’s reason to expect better days in La Guajira. Thanks to the recent efforts of local Latter-day Saints and Church-sponsored humanitarian projects, indigenous people here are enjoying improved access to water and medical care — along with better educational opportunities.
Utilizing Church resources and mechanical know-how, fixes were made to windmills in 12 indigenous communities. More than 4,000 people are expected to benefit from the repairs. Reliable windmills mean reliable access to clean water. The health and quality of life for scores of local families are improving.
“The repaired windmills are allowing people to return to a more normal life because they have daily access to water in their communities,” noted Elder and Sister Ostos.
The Church also recently donated gynecological medical equipment to the Nuestra Senora de los Remedios Riohacha Hospital. The equipment is allowing more mothers in La Guajira to receive the care they need to safely deliver healthy babies. The donated equipment will serve an estimated 20,000 patients.
“Now, more people can be treated and more deaths, especially with pregnant mothers and their babies, can be avoided.”
The Church also donated much-needed supplies to six rural schools. Donations included desks to get the children off the ground and seated on proper furniture to facilitate dignified learning and student enjoyment at the schools. Dirt floors were also covered with cement and a fresh coat of paint.
It’s projected some 8,000 children will utilize the donated desks, dining tables and blackboards at their local schools. Many of the youngsters living in remote areas also received new bicycles to help them get to class each day.
At a recent ceremony staged at the one of the La Guajira schools, regional government and public health officials thanked Latter-day Saints for their multi-faceted donation to their community.
“We offer thanks to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said hospital deputy director Ernestina Penaranda Perez. “The hospital workers are so appreciative of the Church’s donation; it will be of great benefit to those in our care.”
The ceremony included traditional dances and music performed by the children. Youth from local Church units donned yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” and helped distribute the bicycles and other materials.
Local Church leaders told the gathering that it was their blessing to serve — adding they are following the example of Jesus Christ, the center of their faith.
School officials placed a plaque of appreciation outside the school to commemorate the Church’s efforts to bless and better the lives of the people of La Guajira.