Hope in a territory full of contrasts: La Guajira, Colombia

In the third of a series of articles by our Youth Newsroom reporters, María Fernanda Fuentes Diaz from Colombia depicts adaptation efforts in La Guajira region.

Ancestral gardens. Movimiento Ambientalista Colombiano.
Ancestral gardens. Movimiento Ambientalista Colombiano.

Hope in a territory full of contrasts: La Guajira, Colombia

La Guajira, Colombia, 2018
La Guajira, Colombia, 2018.

La Guajira, a department located in the extreme north of Colombia is a territory of contrasts. This paradisiacal place is represented by beautiful beaches, salt mounds and dunes washed by the waves of the Caribbean, accompanied by flamingos, imposing cactus, magical sunsets and an ancestral culture that is characterized by its colorful handicrafts.

The bitter face comes from evident poverty that overwhelms most of the townships where children die of hunger and more than half of the population survives in a precarious way with limited access to education, health and public services. This is the consequence of a crude combination:

  1. Adverse weather conditions (extreme drought that is getting worse with climate change),
  2. Corruption that takes hoard the resources that come from the exploitation of natural resources such as coal and salt,
  3. The neglect of the government and Colombians.
#YoSoyGuajira campaign. Movimiento Ambientalista Colombiano
#YoSoyGuajira campaign. Movimiento Ambientalista Colombiano.

Faced with this summation of problems the Movimiento Ambientalista Colombiano (Colombian Environmentalist Movement), has launched the campaign #YoSoyGuajira. The initial focus of this campaign was welfare, each year tons of non-perishable food were taken to communities, accompanied by medical campaigns and solid waste collection. However, with the passage of time and the growth of the campaign, different projects have been designed in order to last over time.

Environmental classrooms. Movimiento Ambientalista Colombiano
Image: Environmental classrooms. Movimiento Ambientalista Colombiano.

Two of the main projects are related to climate adaptation. The first is the construction of “Environmental classrooms,” spaces built with local materials and traditional indigenous designs. These spaces have been adapted with solar panels, taking advantage of the conditions of the territory, in such a way that they are an example of how it is possible to establish renewable energy alternatives, while benefiting the most vulnerable communities.

There, a Pedagogical Plan is developed aimed at strengthening the appropriation of the territory and promote environmental education through thematic axes such as: cultural diversity, waste management, climate change, food security, water use, among others. This plan involves children and adolescents who have a permanent teacher who teaches in their native language -Wayuunaiki-, contributing to reduce school dropouts, preserve their language and customs, and to generate environmental awareness in youth.

The second project is the construction of “Ancestral gardens,” which are places that the community have designated to plant native plants that provide food for their members and even their animals. Thus reducing the rate of malnutrition, improving their quality of life and optimizing available resources.

The two previous projects restore hope to a historically forgotten territory and are also an example of how despite adverse conditions such as drought, desert soil, high temperatures and lack of drinking water, it is possible to promote local development and protection of the environment as long as the community is involved and take into account their own traditions.

María Fernanda Fuentes Diaz (Colombia)