Friday, March 21, 2008

Defying the Swamp

"I keep thinking, 'I get to leave...but these people live here.'"

Lisa (the sponsor who traveled to Cartagena, Colombia, last week to join us on the filming trip) looked pretty sober when she said that. Not one of us in the group felt any differently, either.

Cartagena's La CiƩnaga de la Virgen ("The Swamp of the Virgin") has got to be one of the grimmest places I've ever visited -- and I've been to some pretty grim places. It's amazing that even plants -- much less animals and people -- are able to survive in its fetid wastelands. That's why I couldn't help but grin when I read a travel brochure's glowing description of the ecological wonders of the swamp. That's one travel writer that's obviously never been to the parts of the swamp I'm familiar with.

People too desperately poor to locate elsewhere buy "plots" in the back recesses of the swamp. The problem is, more often than not, when they buy these plots they are still under water. So before they can even begin to raise up the stark shacks of plastic sheeting or lumber scraps that become their homes, they must first pay for truckloads of dirt to be brought in and then transferred by wheelbarrow so they can have a semi-firm footing on which to build.

And every year the rains come...the water rises...and their flimsy houses are destroyed. They evacuate to schools or other temporary shelters until the water recedes, and then they come back and build again, knowing that in a few months they'll be repeating the process.

Stinking piles of trash...thick, green, bubbling water...and dogs. Everywhere you look are dogs. The trails are literally covered in feces. Watching the children run and play barefoot through all of this makes it crystal clear why our antiparasite campaign is so vital to communities like this one.

Crime is rampant. Differences here in the swamp are settled with guns, knives and machetes. The evil tentacles of the drug trade have crept all the way back here.

Luznery is a lovely 5-year-old girl whose mother is fighting hard to get her three children out of the swamp. Her mom walks over 14 kilometers each morning (varicose veins make each step agony) selling coffee so she can try to feed her children, but has so little left over after she buys tomorrow's coffee that she sometimes doesn't get to eat at all. At this rate, leaving the swamp is just a distant dream...but she's desperate. Tragedy has touched her children once, and she's determined it won't happen again.

Please keep Luznery and her family in your thoughts and prayers. Sponsorship just came to them last week. I watched as her mom repeated over and over, "I feel like I'm dreaming." And when she was told that Mark, from our film crew, was Luznery's new sponsor, she stood there dazed and said, "I think I'm going to faint."

It was a great ending to a great trip.

Click below to visit the Swamp of the Virgin:

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