The Seed Colombia team visited the Mennonite Colony Durango and the Guaraní community Caipepe in the Santa Cruz province of Bolivia, to learn from these communities, who in spite of living geographically close together are very different.
In the tropical climate of the region of Charagua, in the department of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, time has stood still. Men and women with light coloured eyes watched us curiously as we traveled through their territory. They were of German descent, with white skin and blonde hair, conveying their identity through their clothing: black overalls, long sleeve shirts, hats, and demure dresses. Some were walking, while others used carriages with beautiful horses. These are the residents of the Mennonite Colony of Durango, who in spite of the passing of time and changing circumstances, continue to conserve the language, faith, and form of life of their European ancestors, who immigrated to a variety of places around the world looking for new horizons.
Isaac Doerksen, our host in the colony, attentively observed us with his intense blue eyes as he told us about his immigration adventure. He was born in Mexico in the 1950s, but due to political and economic pressures in the colony, he along with other Mennonites moved to Paraguay in 1980 in an effort to preserve their customs and traditions. Following that, he had to immigrate again to Bolivia in 1986, where he settled with his large family of 11 children, of whom 8 are already married.
While Isaac kindly shared his story and tereré with us, his wife and daughters still at home stayed in the kitchen, preparing an abundant and delicious lunch. They were assuming their normal role, pre-established in the Mennonite colony culture, where the husband is the one who works and is responsible for maintaining the home economically, while the wife takes care of the domestic work in the home and caring for the children. Usually there are 5 to 12 children per family. They teach their children to live in a way that is ordered, simple, with a high sense of community, helping others, and the gift of forgiveness.
The Mennonite communities in Bolivia are autonomous and self-sufficient. Their economic activity depends largely on agriculture, and is supplemented by cheeses they make and sell in local markets, and rearing livestock. They also have their own teaching methods and schools, and maintain their own traditions and language, Low German. This community, in spite of living in a land-locked country, will continue to grow through the years and look for other immigration options.
Caipepe, a Struggling Guaraní Community
Forty minutes from the Mennonite Colony of Durango, is the indigenous Guaraní community of Caipepe. After years of struggle this community has achieved its autonomy and the ownership of their lands, provided by the Bolivian government.
Caipepe, which in the Guaraní language means centre of the beach, due to its geographic location has a population of about 450 people. Their leader, Rafael Abaguazú Veliz, shared with us that, despite the widespread discrimination that the Guaraní people have suffered over time, respectful policies in regards to indigenous people on the national political level have been achieved. The Guaraní language is even taught in national schools.
The town’s economy is based on the cultivation of food products such as corn, and beans, and also raising poultry and swine. They hope that in the future there will be enough viable opportunities in the community so that the people do not need to search for work in other cities. Rather, that their own community may be a place of constant and accessible work.
Mennonite Central Committee’s work facing the regional drought
One of the problems in particular that has affected the Mennonite Colony of Durango and the Guaraní community of Caipepe is drought. This has affected crop production, one of the principal and fundamental sources of income and food security.
Given this situation, MCC has been working with the people in the colony and the community to seek solutions together that can alleviate the problems caused by the drought. They are conducting joint projects in the construction and drilling of potable water wells, beekeeping, cattle ranching, and other work alternatives, which provide relief and hope to the people in the name of Christ.