Marcos and I sent two full days on the Mamore River with a consortium of churches and with Samaritan’s Purse delivering food and Sawyer water filters to 50 families in five communities. The flood waters have completely covered all land within thousands of square miles. Many people have of course chosen to leave their communities until the water level drops. Quite a few families, with no place to go, have decided to stay in their homes until the water level recedes. Every family we visited on this trip has been living on top of planks or tables for more than a month now. The more fortunate have a second story, or a raised floor where the can at least get out of the water. The water depth in the communities is anywhere from two feet to six feet deep. In one community we visited, La Fortuna, 13 families are all living together in the school. The only land I saw for two days was a mound of sand, called a “loma” about an acre in size were half a dozen families were camped with their livestock. Everyone who has stayed in their homes moves around the community by canoe. They live with their animals in their houses. They have to spend a good bit of time collecting plants for their animals to eat and looking for citrus fruit and bananas for themselves. All of their crops have been lost. During the first afternoon, we called two communities together for a water filter training session. There was no central place to meet so we rendezvoused in a canal in the middle of the forest and did the training in five boats tied together.
Have you seen the movie “Water World”? That is what it feels like along the Mamore River right now. It’s hard to even know how to “relieve” yourself. There is no place to go to be away from others; you are either in a boat or in a house full of people with no bathroom. We arrived in San Antonio at dusk, community where 12 families are waiting out the flood. We would be doing a filter training with the community in the morning, but in the mean time we had to sleep somewhere for the night. I climbed down into the first floor of a storage barn looking for a place to hang my hammock. I walked out onto some planks suspended above the water on tables and barrels and tied my hammock to some rafters. The mosquitos, not bad during the day, came out in swarms after the sun went down. I quickly climbed into my hammock (with a bug net), not wanting to emerge until the sun came back up. We had not eaten lunch or supper on the first day out. There was no place to cook and the families had nothing to offer. I munched on Oreos and apples in my hammock and fell asleep. At 4:30 in the morning a fierce thunderstorm came through. The grass roof over my head did not stop the driving rain. I had to get out of my hammock, put up the rainfly, and make sure my gear and camera were safe from the rain. Balancing on bouncy, rotten boards above the water I finally got my fly up but I was completely soaked. I laid awake shivering in my hammock until the sun came up.
The mosquitos gone, and already being as wet as I could get, I just jumped into the flood waters and took a walk around the community. The water was anywhere from knee deep to thigh deep. David, a ten year old boy in a canoe, accompanied me on my walk. When the water reached my waist I climbed into his canoe to continue our tour. We visited each family, asking them to gather for a meeting so we could train them how to use the Sawyer water filters and so we could distribute the food rations. We ferried a ninety-four year old widower, named Alberto, to the meeting with us because he did not have his own canoe. David said Alberto normally gets around on horseback. I don’t know where his horse was, I didn’t see any horses or cows in the community.
Nine churches in Trinidad combined efforts, collecting food rations for the flood victims. They collected slightly over 1000 kilos of food (rice, sugar, oil, flour, etc). They had enough food to give 20 kilos of food to 50 families. We were also carrying 5o Sawyer filters and buckets. Thankfully, we had just enough rations and filters for all the families we visited in these five small communities. I’m relating all these details to help give you a perspective on the enormity of this disaster. 60,000 families have lost their homes, crops, livestock, and livelihoods. We were able to help these few families with clean water and enough food for a couple of weeks, but what about the other 59,950 families? Okay, I’m being a little dramatic. There are other institutions, NGO’s, churches and governments helping, but it is a huge crisis and most of the relief efforts are small and uncoordinated.
Agua Yaku has raised enough donations to cover the cost of placing 592 Sawyer water filters with flood victims. We have already placed about 130 filters and will be continuing our trips on the rivers. Our immediate goal is to place at least 1000 filters in flooded communities throughout eastern Bolivia, but that is a reasonable goal. I would really love to place 10,000 filters in these communities. 10,000 Sawyer filters would make a huge difference in the survival and health of so many families affected by the flooding in Bolivia. That would really make a difference. If you have already joined us in our effort, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. If you haven’t joined us in our effort, please consider donating to our campaign on Razoo or through the EFCA or the EFCCM mission organizations. Share this campaign with your friends on Facebook and through email. Let’s get the ball rolling!