This is a guest blog by Cathy Holt, a fellow volunteer of mine with a group called Earth Regenerators. Her blog, written in December 2022, is so lovely that I asked her permission to post it here. - Gail Koelln
Here in Colombia, I am in the Southern hemisphere, where altitude determines temperature more than the time of year. After an unusually long wet season of almost daily rains, we’re now transitioning into the dry months.
Even during the rainy season, there is not usually enough water to go around. Homes lacking a cistern to hold municipal water to get through the days when no water is released from the aqueducto, have to buy water from a truck. Camila Encinales is part of a watchdog committee, doing veeduria(oversight) of the Mayor’s office and the Council. She told me that four municipalities draw from the same quebrada (stream, smaller than a river). And yet, when a proposal was made for all new construction including hotels to install a water cistern, the mayor simply refused. Speculation: big hotel companies paid him bribes so he wouldn’t require it; this is pretty commonplace. And there are over 200 hotels here, including some big ones on the outskirts of town, that all draw from the same water source. Many have swimming pools, and all do large amounts of laundry. Yet, more hotels keep getting approved and built. I asked Camila what she thought might motivate the mayor to do right by the water; would a petition help…carried to him by the children? She thought it was worth a try.
“The state of consciousness in a community is reflected in how they care for their water.” I’ve seen this statement, of indigenous origin, many times. A previous corrupt mayor, who had public funds to pay for sewage treatment, pocketed the money instead, and constructed a “white elephant.” That’s the name for a building with nothing inside, a sham. So the sewage of the pueblo flows untreated into the Barichara River. On the other hand, the much larger city of Bucaramanga uses biogas anaerobic technology to clean up their sewage.
Pasos de Agua
Last week, Felipe Medina, his wife Alejandra, and a few other parents took a group of 15 children, aged five to eleven, on a four-day walking journey. “Pasos de Agua” (Steps of Water) took them along the Barichara Quebrada, upstream of where the sewage goes in at Salto de Mico, or Monkey Jump. The last two days were a campout at a coffee farm near the stream, culminating in the children’s public report of their dreams for the quebrada and for the future they want to see.
I was able to attend thanks to Carlos Gomez, a lover of children and big proponent of clean water, who owns the coffee farm Agua Santa (Sacred Water). He kindly offered a ride to me and Michelle, a young California visitor from a Filipino-Chinese family.
While Paúl’s 11-year-old son Alejo solemnly beat a drum, one younger child at a time read from some large posters they had created with adult help. I did my best to video three talks given by three boys and a girl: Dante, Coco, Lorenzo, and Quetzal. Dante, perhaps 8 years old, especially got my attention with his enthusiasm and wildly funny imitations of guitar players!
Felipe has such a gentle way with the children. And they were eager to tell adults about how the stream could be protected and improved.
- Don’t throw garbage in the stream, the woods or the beach.
- Create dry toilets.
- Make dikes to trap the rubbish in the stream.
- Place filters in the stream so that water comes out more pure.
- When we see anyone dumping trash into the stream, tell them “No.”
- Reduce the sewage going in by directing waste into septic tanks away from the water.
- Create a campaign for people to stop using plastics and other products that contaminate the water. Publicize the issue with big posters and on TV.
- Talk with the mayor.
- Get together each month to keep developing these ideas.
- Carry out the ideas.
- Keep visiting the water.
- Let’s save the stream! Water is what gives us all life. Without water we cannot live!
I asked the children how they would prepare for a meeting with the mayor, and there was some conversation about starting a petition to bring along, with the key requests the children had formulated.
Then some kids got into the stream for a little swim.
Kulchavita leads a ceremony
Kulchavita and indigenous wisdom
After a simple shared lunch, Kulchavita, a heavy-set man in white robes with long white hair, arrived to do a little ceremony with the children. He is a respected elder who studied with indigenous groups and now teaches the ways of the Kogui and other Amazonian original people. “He holds the power of the rainbow,” Felipe told the youngsters. Kulchavita spoke to the children about how water gives life to all creatures, saying we need to honor and care for it as we would a family member. Each evening for the next four days, he’s holding talks at CoraSoma, attended by my friends Gabriela, Macaya, Carlos, Maritza, and PaúlPart of the ceremony with the children was to take a short length of cotton string, roll it into a ball, hold it to our hearts, and silently send wishes for the stream’s well-being and healing into the string. First the children and then the adults quietly walked the path down the hill and offered the string with blessings into the stream. Afterwards the children formed a circle with Kulchavita, linking arms. To the adults, he said, “We must cleanse ourselves, to cleanse the water.”
So many questions came to my mind…would the mayor meet with the children? Would a petition get the attention it deserved? Margarita, who was there with her husband and 8-year-old son Luca, said, “We need to change how we think and talk about the mayor. If we just keep saying he’s corrupt, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It makes us feel hopeless, like what’s the use? Then we just want to give up.” Margarita’s words got me excited, because previously when we’d talked about such an idea as a children’s water campaign at the mayor’s office, she had always sighed in discouragement, made a face, and told me he was so corrupt that he wouldn’t pay any attention. Now she was changing her perspective, and giving such good advice!
Hopeful new beginnings
Along came an iridescent blue morpho butterfly, color of sky, symbol of hope, transformation, and new beginnings. There is a legend that when we see this butterfly, our wishes can be granted. Unlike the elusive others I’ve seen, this one stayed around long enough for me to get a photo!
At this time of expanded energy for healing and new beginnings, may this be a season of hope and renewal for humanity on this gravely compromised planet. May we all awaken to the sacredness of water, transform our relationship with it, work to clean the water and use it wisely and gratefully, so that the children’s dreams of a future with abundant clean water may be realized. Wishing you a joyous and hopeful Solstice!
Barichara, Colombia·Posted Wed, December 21, 2022 on Earth Regenerators Mighty Networks webpage
I'm 76, semi retired, have my Permaculture Design Certificate, passionate about earth regeneration, especially water harvesting, purification and biodigestors!