Saturday, October 25, 2008

Adventures in Popayan and Neiva

Us in Neiva just before the training and then below a multiple family fiesta after the training.

I have several posts that are partially done but wanted to get some pictures up of the latest adventrues of a ¨Mormon Missionary Couple¨. We have been traveling again. In the last few weeks we have been to both Popáyan and Neiva. Both of these towns are small by Colombian standards Popayan is approximately 300,000 and Neiva is approximately 100,000. Popayan is over 400 years old. It was founded in 1532 and served as the capital of a region that is now Colombia and Equador. We stayed in a monostary that has been converted into a Hotel in Popayan. It is over 200 years old and much of the funiture is antique. Both areas are having some difficulties so road trips are off for us. We had to fly into each city seperately and then fly back to Bogota without leaving the city.

The Pan American Highway runs right outside the city in Popayan. There are a group of indiginous peoples who are protesting some government policies. They are not a part of FARC and have a different agenda but they attached the riot police with clubs and slingshots and spears on the Pan American Highway the day we were in Popayan. The riot police tried to contain them withoug using guns but there were casualties on both sides. That situation was going on while we were in Popayan but we didn´t see or hear any of it. There were extra police in the city and we had more baracades to work around then would have been usual.

Below is a map of Colombia showing the area where we were and then the next map has arrows to the two cities. I will add a brief narrative to each area because we had great experiences in both places. Neiva was even more secure than Popayan because the week before we left, FARC blew up the hotel we were supposed to stay in. (We stayed in a different hotel when we got there since they managed to level the first one), We are alive and well and will probably not be traveling out of the city until after the 1st of the year (not because of danger but because there is so much trianing going on right now.) The couple assigned to humanitarian services is traveling to several places and with the help of a humanitarian part time physicaian and his wife are putting on trainings for physicians on neonatal recessitation. The Church provides the kits, including a pactice full functioning neonatal training doll so that that the physicians that are trained can train others and all the equipment that is needed to do recessitations. That couple doesn´t really interfer with our travel because we are not training the same people. That couple works mostly with hospitals and clinics and public health services and the doctors and nurces attached. However, we also have a couple assigned to the Perpetual Education Fund and they are training the ward and stake leaders on how to help young people be ready to use the fund, what kinds of records are needed and how they pay back the fund when they have finished their education. They are training in most of the areas that we were headed to and the leaders were feeling a little overwhelmed with training since they also had training on tithing settlement issues from the area office. Since the next audit will be conducted in Februray we will do a lot of training in Jan and early February and then do follow up.

Below are shots of the downtown area of Neiva. During the day we roamed the downtown area and had fun ¨people watching¨. They were also watching us since we were obviously North American. My Spanish is getting better and I speak spanish when I am in the streets but I still sound like a gringa.

Neiva is out of the Mountains and is hot. It was 92 while we were there. Because of the Bombing last week they blocked off the hotel that we were in after dark (not just because of us but because it is the second best hotel in the city and they didn´t want to loose another one. We were out with the Stake president to a combination birthday, just got married, and one other thing fiesta. There were about 8 couples. The Stake President and his wife, two of the 6 bishops and wives and several members all of whom had worked and served together for some time. The party was planned for some time we just were last minute addtions. One of the sisters made tacos and we played Uno. Uno is the same the world around. In Colombia there are a few extra rules that I didn´t know about so I managed to accumulate a rather large group of cards. However, they also have a pass the hand to the left card so I ended up with only 4 cards (dads hand) and gave the girl next to me about 16. I still managed to loose but we had fun.

These cities are really vibrant. Most of these pictures were taken about 10 am on a Saturday morning.

Darwin doesn´t like this picture because he just stuffed something in his mouth but I think it is great.

We went to Popayan first. We flew in, had a training and then left at about 3:00 the next afternoon. Popayan is a special place for the humanitarian services department. They have partnered with a university there and put together a demonstration garden to help people in the city learn how to grow things efficiently, how to store them and how to prepare them. The garden has been wildly successful and the city really loves the Church because of what has gone on with the Garden (One of the food agencies with the UN was coming in the next day after we left to look at how the gardin is set up and how it is used to teach self sufficiency) so when the Humanitarian department proposed distributing eye glasses to those in need who could not afford them ages 6-10 and 60 and over, the people in the city who knew about the garden really got behind it.

The manager of the garden served as liason between the community and the church. and a steering committee that included the mayor´s wife, a local MD, an optomitrist and heads of several agencies who were already learning how to do gardens in their own areas was set up. The Church told the community that they would provide the glasses if the community would set up the screening and make sure that the distribution was to the most needy.

This community really got organized. The optomitrist worked with others and got the optomitirists of the city to donate eye exams for children in poverty areas, orphanages and in special programs the city already had running for children from proverty stricken families. They also provided eye exams for all nursing home residents and others over 60 who were too poverty stricken to be able to afford the exams. The MD (a really shape female named Nancy) and the mayors wife set up a record keeping program so that they could keep track of the perscriptions and what glasses needed to go where.

Over 9,000 people were screened and thousands of pairs of glasses were despensed. The morning before our flight in the afternoon happened to be a day when several hundred pairs of glasses arrived. They were totally prepared. They boxed them by agency and had the agency heads come to a ceremoney where the glasses were handed out.

Since Darwin and I were the visiting diginarities, (even though we are not with the humanitarian department and even though we did not consider ourselves dignitaries) we represented the Church at the ceremony along with the manager of the garden and a pair of Elders that are assigned to Popayan. What an experience. Darwin was interviewed by the local TV stations and we ended up on all the news stations in Popayan that day. The secretary of Health and Welfare for the district was there to thank the Church for the glasses and there were genuinly excited people there.
This was the last batch of glasses in the program all the rest had already been distributed. I think they said there were about 500 in this batch. One of the families that had children screened was not with an agency and they had two of their 3 children who recieved glasses. It was so neat when the mother took her box back to her seat after recieving it and opened it and put the glasses on her sons. The picture below with the little boy is of one of her boys and Nancy the MD who coordinated the distribution program. The only members involved were the garden manager and about 6 Mormon families who met the qualifications for poverty and had their children screened. So at the ceremoney where all these boxes of glasses were given out the garden manage (who is also the district president) received the box for the Mormon kids that were given glasses.
It really was a community project and it was so neat to see what was done because they were organized. There have been other places where the Church tried to provide glasses that didn´t work nearly as well because the community didn´t get behind it and provide the man power to get the screenings and distribution done right. In this case the Church just wants to be a part of the process, not come in and run the whole show.
Below are the pictures of the ceremony are some pictures of the converted monostarystary


Sandra said...

Muy bien Espanol! Me gustan los fotos...Glad to know some real "dignitaries." I've been down for over a month. Found out I have uterine cancer SO surgery, infections & now blod clots have made life very interesting. But I'm on the mend & start a radiation regimen next week.

benandkiki said...

What an adventure you guys are having. We love hearing the stories and seeing the pictures of you mission. We're doing good. Only 3 weeks until we know the gender of our new little family memeber.

peter said...

Your pictures on the post says your adventure was really an enjoyable one.I also enjoyed my adventure recently when I visited Sunny Beach Hotels one of the hotels in Europe.