Río Magdalena Mágico II Day, Serving the Colombian Community
By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo May 31, 2017When residents of communities living along the Magdalena River learn of the arrival of the ARC Golfo de Urabá amphibious landing vessel, they know the Colombian Navy is coming to see them. Hundreds of men, women, and children living in extreme poverty sense imminent solutions to their problems – physical and mental health, counseling, nutrition, recreation and sometimes even affection. They’re not wrong. Armed with solutions, 21 crewmembers and 27 specialists on board the ARC Golfo de Urabá set sail from Cartagena on March 23rd for the start of Río Magdalena Mágico II Day. Organized by the Colombian Navy, the crew carrying several metric tons of essential goods was to visit six towns in the Canal del Dique area for 10 days of development support. Greater frequency, presence, and better results Río Magdalena Mágico II came into existence in 2015. “Always with the goal of giving a boost to the neediest communities, we decided to join forces with the Foundation for the Research and Development of Special Education (FIDES, per its Spanish acronym), to benefit children with cognitive disabilities. Now we are leading this campaign, which we are doing for the second time. We expanded services and coverage for the riverine populations that have major needs,” Vice Admiral Evelio Ramírez Gáfaro, commander of the Caribbean Naval Force of the Colombian Navy told Diálogo. With close to 15,000 members, this force operates in a maritime jurisdiction of 589,560 square kilometers, 1,600 kilometers of coastline and 1,700 kilometers of rivers. It also deploys resources and troops on almost 15,000 square kilometers of land, mainly in the Montes de María area, in the center of Colombia’s Atlantic coast. Armed with a high-impact program, this force looks forward to expanding the development days to the entire region and provide solutions more consistently. “Like what we do in La Guajira, where we go every 40 days. The goal is to have more presence, to go more frequently, and have better results in these forgotten communities,” Vice Adm. Ramírez added. Assets for prosperity “During these  days, there were 554 internal medicine, 490 pediatric, and 258 dental consultations. Seven metric tons of humanitarian aid were distributed. Cultural activities and sporting events brought people together in a type of carnival where for several nights movies were shown under the stars,” Captain Nicolás Guzmán, head of the Integral Action Department of the Colombian Navy’s Caribbean Naval Force, told Diálogo. He is responsible for the workings of the development support campaigns in this jurisdiction. Río Magdalena Mágico II navigated along Canal del Dique, arriving in the towns of San Cristóbal, Robles, San Agustín, San Luis, Tenerife, Tacamocho, and finally ending up in Monpox, southeast of Cartagena. “In every town we visited we delivered ‘Assets for prosperity,’ or items seized by the National Directorate of Taxes that we hope to use for the benefit of the poorest families,” explained Capt. Guzmán. This event, categorized as a large-scale activity, was in the works for more than three months. The medical assistance benefitted more than 1,400 people, and they were able to do strong work with teenagers to prevent unplanned pregnancies. A message of hope Both Río Magdalena Mágico II and the first version held in October 2016 emphasized care for children with cognitive disabilities. This voyage arose out of the work that FIDES does with children who have trouble acquiring or expressing their social skills and knowledge and their families. “[It was] exceptional work that began in Cartagena, and that one day we decided to expand to the municipalities of Bolívar. That was how Río Magdalena Mágico I was born. The care provided to these populations was very valuable, and it especially inspired us to continue and broaden our goals to increase health care coverage to the entire community,” Vice Adm. Ramírez said. “The situation of the towns visited during this trip is one of true need. It is very hard to describe the living conditions of these Colombians. Extreme poverty and neglect define their reality. So that’s why the aid campaign led by the Colombian Navy is a message of hope on a large scale,” Doctor Alejandro Escallón Lloreda, director of FIDES, told Diálogo. He hopes to include children from these areas in the Special Olympics. “The support and organization of the Colombian Navy during this trip was an example, from a logistical point of view. The men of the Navy took on this work with great generosity, and their goals were reached thanks to the fact that everything was so well organized and difficulties solved. Their commitment to the community, to the mission, goes beyond their military orders. Everyone works long days with extreme willpower, dedication, and care for the disabled children and for the community in general, which is sometimes surprised at the presence of a contingent of civilian and military personnel who travel from far away to help them,” Escallón stressed. Awaiting Río Magdalena Mágico III Countless children and adults who had never been seen by a doctor received health care services. Movies were shown for the first time in towns that had never had recreational activities, and families with cognitively disabled children who had never received guidance on how to integrate them into society received counseling for the first time. The experience also left an imprint in the minds of those who participated in the voyage: Men, women, young adults, and children along the river’s coast waved Colombian flags to say goodbye. For them, seeing the Colombian Navy’s ARC Golfo de Urabá vessel on the Magdalena River represents the hope that Colombia won’t forget about them.