Colombian Navy Delivers Aid to Indigenous Communities
By Myriam Ortega/Diálogo July 27, 2017Life is not easy on Colombia's Guajira Peninsula. Particularly in its highland area, where the climate is hot and fresh water is scarce. It is getting increasingly difficult to plant crops in the desert because rainfall patterns have changed, affecting the already few rainy periods. The ancestral seeds, which are more resilient in those climate conditions, are gradually disappearing. The scarcity of food is a fact of life, and the local residents, especially children, are very vulnerable. In addition, the people have difficulties accessing health services. Long distances and cultural differences present barriers to preventive health care and to the timely treatment of illnesses. That is why, faced with the urgency of providing the local population access to services, the Colombian Navy frequently holds “Development Assistance Days.” “After studying the needs of this population, the source of those needs, and the difficulties in maintaining a government presence there, we can act as coordinators and facilitators so that government services reach every last Colombian,” Chief Warrant Officer Harvee Jonnattan Barreto Garzón, a management adviser for the Colombian Navy's Comprehensive Action program, told Diálogo. That is why the 15th Development Assistance Days were held the second and third weeks of June. The logistics support vessel ARC Golfo de Morrosquillo was deployed for mobilizing 100 people from 16 government agencies and private institutions who provided health services and humanitarian aid to the indigenous Wayuu, Arawak, and Wiwa communities. “Through these activities, we have been able to serve 2,500 people from these communities, on average, with services such as general medicine, pediatrics, dentistry, clinical labs, and vaccinations. Taking advantage of the resources available through the Colombian Navy, we provide humanitarian aid — [food], water, blankets, and gifts,” Captain Cesar Augusto Saavedra Díaz, the director of the Colombian Navy's Comprehensive Action program, told Diálogo. “We're also contributing to the sustainability of infrastructure projects through sudden-impact activities that allow us to improve their healthcare facilities, classrooms, and sports fields.” In the case of Guajira, the Navy's intervention complements the Colombian president's “Alliance for Water and Life in Guajira,” which has focused its efforts on this region. “The Colombian Navy is committed to the 13 communities that are permanently and especially supported in the highest part of Guajira,” Capt. Saavedra said. “Naval units are sent there every 40 days in an ongoing operation to serve these 13 communities.” The plan of work for these interventions in Guajira began in June 2015. The first development assistance days were held in September of that year, meaning that in less than two years, this mission has benefited 4,000 people in the communities of Punta Espada, Puerto López, Castilletes, Puerto Inglés, and Puerto Francés, among others. In this region, children die from malnutrition. The most important measure of success is undoubtedly to stop these types of situations from recurring in the communities served. Eight hundred twenty-one boxes of nutritional supplements, 5,000 food pantries, and 11 tons of “bienestarina,” a nutritious powder and liquid foodstuff produced by the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare have been delivered. Bienestarina contains a mix of cereals that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins. In addition, 1.5 million liters of water have been delivered, and 19 infrastructure projects, such as health centers, schools, and sports fields, have been enhanced. Continuing Promise Another big push by the Colombian Navy took place in March through “Continuing Promise,” a bilateral development mission performed under U.S. Southern Command's Humanitarian Aid Program, with U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command. Out of that program, an infirmary was built at the Laachon Mayapo Rural Ethno-Educational Institute, which has two satellite classrooms and one infirmary that continually serve more than 1,200 students at the school. The materials were provided by the U.S. Embassy and labor by the Colombian Army and Navy. These projects are yet another way in which the Colombian Navy has established ties with these communities. “The Colombian Navy's capabilities have been placed at the disposal of the Colombian people. We are at a moment when the people are seeing their military in a protective light, not in armed engagement. They are protecting families and taking people's basic needs and feelings into account,” Chief Technician Barreto said. The leaders and beneficiaries of the development assistance days are grateful for these types of events since many have seen their lives improved because of them. Such is the case of Doña Justina, who was able to open one of her eyes for the first time in 28 years thanks to surgery on her eyelid affected by a tumor. Or Don Pedro, who after receiving various medical services expressed his gratitude by saying that not even his own father had ever done so much for him.