“In the Jungle anything is possible.” I heard those words more than a few times during my stay in the Amazon. In reflecting on my two weeks, those words once again come to mind. The jungle villages offer vast possibilities and I could see that wherever and whenever I traveled. It is possible to improve the lives of common people so that their community can nourish, so that the temptation to relocate to Iquitos, the large impoverished city to their south, is diminished. Although in the Jungle’s river communities of San Juan de Huashalado, Cabo Pantoja and Bombonaje it is possible to be stricken by disease, injured by insects, reptiles or the water that sustains the communities, the villagers showed that it is also possible to have happy, healthy and prosperous lives in their thatch roofed houses, without the trappings and dangers of Iquitos.
In the jungle villages, there is a genuine desire of the villagers to support their own communities, as shown by them working side-by-side with our students. Together, they moved bricks, lifted sand and cement, bent rebar, painted desks and walls and climbed heights to repair ceiling and roofs. Together, they also laughed and displayed a sincere friendship toward each other. The villagers allowed our students to shine, to become young men and women working in teams to further the sense of community across our cultures. We in turn, through our unselfishness, allowed the villagers to gain a sense of pride and ownership in their community and showed them that their villages could hold a bright future for them and their children because of what we brought in the form of the clinic, wells and maintenance work on the schools.
During my time in the jungle villages, I could see the freedom enjoyed by the village children and adults. In sharp contrast, I was reminded of the reality that await villagers who look toward the city of Iquitos for the possibility of a better life, risking the dangers of the city which is brought about from its’ immense poverty and substandard living conditions. The experience of the boat ride into Iquitos’ Belen district, through the overcrowded, floating city and the waters that are used to fish for food, to bathe, and eliminate waste, solidified the fact that for these people jungle life is much better than city life. The subsequent walk though the Belen market in 90 degree temperatures, past wooden tables displaying for sale chicken and fish, laying out in the open air without refrigeration or cover from flies, was further proof that a fresh killed chicken dinner in the jungle village is more appealing than a meal in the city. The dangers of city life were no more evident with what I saw during my ensuing trip to the city orphanage.
I was struck by the sight of barbed wire on top of a nearly 15-foot high, one-foot thick concrete wall that surrounded the compound and the large, heavy iron gates, secured by at least three guards. The 30-40 children, who were either “temporarily” abandoned or truly orphaned, greeted us with smiles and laughter. They were all happy, smiling, clean, well dressed and by all accounts healthy. A tour of the facility given by the children clearly showed that the buildings and grounds were well kept and the children had a sense of pride in their home. I asked a Guide for the reason behind the security and was told that it was to protect the children from Child Trafficking. I was reminded of a hand painted, bilingual billboard that I saw a week earlier on the way from the Airport, reflecting the deplorable presence of that trade and its’ attempt to stop it. Law Number 28257 will send anyone to prison when caught. I am saddened to think that people in the neighboring jungle communities believe that their future and those of their children could possibly be brighter in this city. While returning to the village after our day in Iquitos, my thoughts returned to our work. In the Jungle, anything is possible and it is possible to change the future path of the friends we made in those villages.
In the Jungle villages, I was able to see the realization of dreams, the dreams of organizers, students, teachers and volunteers. The dreams of creating sustainable villages, with clinics, wells and schools. I witnessed those dreams turn into tangible works, in order to improve the lives of villagers so that their future can remain bright in their own communities.