December 2011 Update

I’ve been here for about a month now, and so much has happened.

Firstly, for those of you who don’t know about the foundation where I’m working, it’s called the “Hogar de Providencia.” Unlike a typical orphanage, most of the kids that live there do have parents. They live at the foundation for two main reasons: to get an education at the school on the premises and for the food provided by the foundation, which helps alleviate some of the burden for their parents or parent. Most of the children come from the Chimila tribes in Colombia, who were displaced years ago, and are still struggling to acquire things like an education. The Chimilan kids at the foundation tend to be quite intelligent and are the most eager to learn.

Some of the more striking images I’ve had of Colombia thus far were when I went up into the mountains to a church there. Looking around at the kids playing in the streets, next to mounds of garbage in only their underwear, the small, cement houses built into the hills, and the women washing their laundry by hand, it all felt somehow familiar to me. I realized why in the car as we drove back to the foundation. These were the exact images you see in flyers and posters for humanitarian organizations whenever they’re doing fundraisers. The difference is you can’t ignore these images when you’re faced with them in person.

The costal region of Santa Marta is gorgeous. Unlike the inland sections of Colombia, it also stays warm here all year round. Currently there are an abundance of mangos on the trees. As well as thunderstorms most nights, which completely flood the streets in a matter minutes. The drainage systems are not great here, so when I say flood, I mean it quite literally. After about 20 minutes of rain, there will be a foot of water in the streets which remains there until the next day at about 11 AM.

Speaking of flooding, there’s also quite a bit that occurs in the foundation. After any rain, pools of water form inside the walls of the Hogar, which stay there sometimes for a few days. These make great breeding grounds for mosquitos, some of which can carry diseases. So currently I’ve started working with the children to level out the ground in the Hogar. Part of the reason these pools of water form is due to how uneven the ground is, so the water pools at the lower sections. Apparently the ground used to be level, but at some point large machinery went to fix build something in the Hogar, and, while the ground was wet, made it quite uneven. So the first step of my anti-flooding idea is to even out the ground. Next, create some drainage pipes taking the water out of the foundation and into the streets.┬áThe kids and I have been working on this for a couple days now, and it’s starting to look better.

Currently the kids are in the middle of their exams. I gave an English exam the other day (I’ve been teaching English since I got here), which consisted of saying the alphabet orally, and then matching 26 translations, one for each letter of the alphabet. It didn’t go so well. But I have two more classes tomorrow and I have higher hopes for them. The kids are lots of fun to be around, and generally quite eager to learn and not just academically either. One of the problems in Colombia, is that so many of the people just don’t have any skill sets. For example, if you know how to make bread, you can make a living. Or if you know how to do basic car repair, you can make a living. But for many people, even knowing how to use a wrench is as foreign as English. So one of my goals at the foundation is to teach the kids basic skill sets. Like how to use tools, or (like in our ground-evening out project) just the basic concept that it’s possible to change and improve you’re surroundings.

The kids definitely aren’t the only ones who are learning. I’ve learned so much this past month its amazing. About the culture, about cooking (who knew there were so many ways to cook bananas), and mostly about myself. I definitely had a large set of presuppositions before coming to Colombia. The people here are some of the friendliest, caring people I’ve ever met. And patient—they’re quite patient with my fragmented Spanish. But I’ve also learned huge amounts about what you need to live (It’s a lot less than I thought), but more than that what you really don’t need (which is a whole lot). It’s easy to think that we’re better of in America because of the things we have, but living here has shown me that really that gets in the way. With less things, it’s a lot easier to focus on God. It’s funny, people here always introduce me as a missionary. I’ve tried to explain that I’m not, just a kid who wanted to learn about another culture. They’re the ones who’ve really, albeit indirectly, been ministering to me.

The photos attached are some of the kids working, a park we went to one time, the fishing village of Taganga, where I took a few of the boys last weekend, and the swing I put up.

– Forrest Hull

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