The focus of this week is the community of El Palomar (translates to something like “the pigeon loft”). For a bit of reference, there’s a map below that shows the subdivision of the municipality of San Jose Villanueva. I live in the town itself which is in the southeast of Las Dispensas (in blue). Last week, we were in Arada Vieja which is right down at the bottom of the map in Escalon. As you can see, El Palomar (purple) is about the same distance from the town as Arada Vieja. The road is much better though and Susie has been kind enough to drive us over in the mornings so we’ve got a bit more time to work with.
On Monday we met with the president of the local ADESCO (neighbourhood association) in El Palomar. He’s a young, well-traveled guy who speaks English nearly perfectly. Quite a surprise to find him way out there! And today he was in town and took Keily and I out for some icecream – lovely! On Monday, he brought us to the school where we had a brief interview with the director and then toured around the community. There are about 55 homes and 270 people living there. They have a community centre but it mostly serves as an extra classroom because there isn’t enough space in the rest of the school for all of the kids. There is a health clinic, but no doctor. A doctor comes about once a month to run a clinic. In the meantime, the clinic building is used as a daycare for the little kiddies with support from Plan International. There is a Catholic church and an Evangelical church as well.
Yesterday we had a nice, LONG interview with a very sweet, 80-year old man. He’s a pretty major player in the community and has donated his land for the school, the health clinic, and the community centre. His big wish now is for a high school. He was a really interesting guy and was one of the first people who asked ME questions. He had all sorts of questions about Canada, especially about the Arctic and the Inuit. I’d been warned about how much he liked to talk but I really enjoyed every minute of it. He spoke about the history of his family, the community, the country etc. and gave some useful insights into the most pressing needs of the community at present. We sat out in his yard chatting for about three hours, sipping fresh tamarindo drinks:
Today we did two interviews with one male and one female member of the ADESCO. They also gave some good insight into the situation in El Palomar, particularly surrounding the following:
Water ~ A few years ago, a new system was built to bring water to most of the houses in the community. For $5 a month they get water every 5 days only. They have no purification system. The Red Cross implemented a household garden project a few years ago too but without water folks have mostly given up on them. Some days the kids are sent home from school because the school has no water for the washrooms, etc.
High School ~ The school in El Palomar only goes to grade 9. Once they graduate, a handful of the students come to the high school here in the town, but many can’t afford to and so they stay at home instead. Only a couple of people in the community have outside employment, most work in the fields growing beans and corn mostly for household consumption. Some years (like this one) what they produce is barely enough to sustain themselves, let alone to sell a portion of.
Road ~ Like Arada Vieja, El Palomar is quite isolated and it’s nearly a two hour walk into the town. The road is in better condition than the road to Arada Vieja, but it still needs significant improvements to be usable in the rainy season. There is a pickup truck service that runs four times a day between the town and El Palomar, but outside of the times it runs the only other option for transport is to call a microbus and pay the same $5 as the folks in Arada Vieja do – prohibitively expensive for most.
Houses ~ Many of the houses in El Palomar are made of scrap metal, sticks and mud, etc. Even for organizations that come wanting to donate houses to the folks there, there is a difficulty because many of the people who need new homes the most don’t have deeds to the land where they live.
Tomorrow we’re aiming to do a couple more interviews and on Friday we’re going to have a community meeting (similar to what we did in Arada Vieja) in one of the churches.
And so it continues!