The Montes de Maria, where Pichilin is located, has a lot to offer. There are beautiful views, mountains and crops of all different kinds. However, there is a major problem that takes away some of the beauty. The problem is a severe lack of water.
One of the ways that the lack of water is most noticeable in Pichilin is the completely dry river. The river has been dry for well over 20 years. Back in the day the people in Pichilin used to consume and bathe in the water, there was more wildlife and forests and their animals used to drink the water. There is a strong desire in the community to see the river return to its former beauty, to revive these old traditions and customs.
There are many reasons for why the river is dry. First and foremost, there has been a 3 year drought that has left a significant drop in rainfall, people are taking out large quantities of sand from the river, chemical and human contamination, growing crops too close to the ridge of the river, burning and cutting down trees. The human actions, along with climate changes have had a drastic impact on the river. The dry river in Pichilin is not the only dry river in Montes de Maria. In fact, in every community that Sembrandopaz accompanies, there is a dry river. Since these communities depend on their crops to survive they are concerned and want to find a solution. In response to this desire to find a solution, Sembrandopaz has initiated a unique project.
The project involves an investigation of the rivers in each community from the very start to the very end. What does this look like? Four youth, who have interest in the topic, walk the entire river while marking specific points of destruction on a GPS, taking a photo and writing a description of each point. After the investigation is complete, the plan is to bring the information gathered to the government as a way to demonstrate to them the problem and encourage them to find a solution. The long-term goal of this project, besides finding a solution to the dry rivers, is to create a proposal for the government to allow youth to protect the environment for work instead of joining in the army. As conscription still exists in Colombia, Sembrandopaz sees this project as an opportunity to train youth in work that is nonviolent and peaceful, instead of having to join the army. This is why Sembrandopaz has chosen to work with youth in this specific project.
Sembrandopaz’s role is critical in this project and it goes far beyond funding it. Since Sembrandopaz has been working in Pichilin for many years, they have developed a strong relationship between itself and the community members. Due to this relationship, Sembrandopaz was able to select four youth that have interest in the project and have trust in the organization. Sembrandopaz involved the youth in every step of the project and trained them to organize meetings, form budgets, network, to speak well publicly and to learn specific skills to protect the environment. A special skill that the youth learned from Sembrandopaz that was crucial to gaining the support of the surrounding communities for the project was facilitating spaces. Sembrandopaz has a lot of experience facilitating spaces in a fun, safe and healthy way where everyone feels comfortable to express themselves. The youth learned how to do this as well in the meetings they facilitated.
The project allowed the youth to take initiative, to come up with their own ideas and to learn new skills, with Sembrandopaz always at their side ready to help and accompany when needed. At the end of the project, the youth felt comfortable doing the river investigation by themselves without the accompaniment of Sembrandopaz. This was one of the goals, to train the youth to do the work on their own and not to depend on Sembrandopaz for help.
The river investigation was a concrete way for the youth in Pichilin to be a part of a peaceful, nonviolent initiative and to be trained in a way that helped work towards finding a solution to the dry river. Though this project will not be the solution to the problem, it is working towards one. There is still so much more work to do. The people in Pichilin will continue to wait for the day when their river returns to its former beauty, where they can hear the sounds of birds chirping and kids swimming in the water. They long and hope for that day.