Posted by Sarah & Brian at 5:24 am  Ecuador
Nov 102011

In the Zone Cafetera of beautiful Colombia, the hills are fertile and support fine quality coffee, bamboo for building, eucalyptus for paper and plantains for food. But in the main town of the region, Armenia, lots of people earn a living from selling mobile phone minutes  to those with no access to a phone and middle aged men in smart trousers sit by typewriters in the street waiting for someone who needs a form filling or help with a letter. This is the only place we have experienced aggressive beggars, thin dark men who shout at you but can be pacified if you buy them a bread roll from the bakery. The wealth of the natural resources here including oil and coal (which Britain buys) benefits  the so called developed countries.  The coffee profits do not flow back into this town, or the small villages on the hills around where the residents decorate their houses in a riot of colour. The real money goes to Germany where there are no coffee plants but the beans are processed.

We have been very lucky here because we met Nestor, a leading Colombian environmentalist, who is an old friend of Jim from Wakefield. He generously took us around his lovely district including taking us on hike into a cloud forest, where we saw hummingbirds and I had to cross not one but 5 shaky wooden bridges over a mountain river. By coincidence he was going for a week nearby to the next city on our list, Medellin. He and his partner Xalli, a journalist and artist,  invited us to their country house, an idyll in the hills, and drove us to see the  lakes and sights of this relatively rich area where hydro electricity, car and clothing manufacture support  a higher standard of living for some. But in Colombia 60% of the population are classified as poor and 42% as very poor.

A 170 years ago the area around Armenia was rain forest and is still an area of remarkable beauty and biodiversity. But Nestor is part of the fight to prevent a broad swathe being turned over to gold production, a disaster for the environment not only in the short term. The concessions to mine for gold have been sold by the government already to a multinational based in London and the USA . Can you imagine the Lake Distict mountains being sold to a gold mining company. The water and soil will be contaminated for decades if not longer once the mining stops. Moreover, only 12% of the gold can be called ‘essential’ required for the building of modern appliances and machines eg the I phone ; the rest is for jewellery.

Nestor and Xalli are both passionately concerned with the future of those mountains and of  their country as a whole. Nestor  has also been a witness to an international tribunal investigating the forced removal of forrest peoples by para militaries working for multinationals who then grab the land and clear it for bio fuels and other cash crops.Food for cars and not for people, as Xalli says. Nestor saw this happen himself and says when he told others about it, for a long time afterwards, he could not prevent his own tears.

We are now finishing our trip in a very different place, the Caribbean coast of Colombia,where it is hot, the rainy season has started and we have found a hostale with a pool. Oh dear.

Believe it or not we are looking forward to coming back to cold, dark and damp England.

So this is the last post! Thank you again to GVN who have enabled this blog. Reflecting back, we both say the volunteer experience was the most memorable and interesting part of it all.

We promise to print just a very few of all the photos…



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