It's been a very jam packed 13 days full of new experiences, customs and challenges but everyone has coped incredibly well and fully embraced life in Tena, Colombia- including the many weird and wonderful insects we have encountered and very long HILLY walks they need to do on a daily basis.
Our home is a beautiful farm owned by "Mr Colombia", aka Carlos and is set amongst the Colombian hills. We are being very well looked after by our very friendly hosts Monica and Alida who have cooked us a variety of delicious local dishes and prepared fresh juices for us with fruits we'd never tasted before including the amazing lulo! Our typical breakfast is hot chocolate and eggs and a main meal rice, potatoes, meat and salad. We have been overwhelmed by the generous Colombian hospitality and how kindly we have been welcomed into the country.
Last week we were lucky enough to have an intensive course of Spanish lessons to help us learn the basics of the language so we can converse with our hosts, local people and get the most out of our social action projects. By the end of our 6th class the entire group could introduce themselves, count to 100, order a meal in a restaurant and even book a holiday in Spanish!
The team have been split into three sub groups for our social action projects - team one led by Dan are Taz, Jacob and James, team 2 led by Catherine are Shannon R, Shannon W, Bradley and Bill and team 3 led by Jody are Colby, Joe, Ruby and Jordan. Each group is accompanied by a translator from our partner organisation ICYE - Daniel, Sandra and William have been a huge help overcoming the language barrier and ensuring we feel very well supported. You will find individual updates from each team leader below.
Team 1, Dan - My group began working at the local school - we were blown away by the fantastic welcome we received. We felt like celebrities - all the kids were very eager to find out about what life is like in the UK and the team were also equally as eager to find out about every day life in Tena. The group visited classes where they introduced themselves in Spanish and the children had to answer in English. We had an insight into all areas of school life - we played traditional Colombian games with the children in the playground and even helped the dinner ladies prepare school lunch! It's clear the school is very tightly knit and an integral part of The Tena community and we felt humbled to play a role in supporting it. All the team worked incredibly hard to improve their Spanish so they could communicate effectively with the pupils and supported each other throughout the week so they got the most out of this amazing learning opportunity.
Team 2, Catherine - We began our Colombian social action journey working on the coffee farm. Firstly we helped Hernando a 78 year old farmer (the only person looking after 3 hectares of land) clean a grove of mandarin trees. Hernando explained this was an extremely important task as the tress had become very dry during the recent drought and they needed to be cleaned so they could absorb more moisture and prevent them from dying. We then spent the next 2 days picking coffee cherries - which was a particularly difficult in the heat and on sloped land, but despite the obstacles the team persevered and picked an impressive 7.5kg of coffee which we then cleaned, dried and peeled so it was ready for toasting. We also visited another farm where we helped a woman plant hundreds of coffee seedlings which are then sold to farmers so they grow into full coffee plants. We were overwhelmed at how much hard work into coffee manufacturing to get it from a tiny seed in Colombia to a frothy cappuccino in a local UK coffee shop and it's been a privilege to play a role in this process!
Team 3, Jody - My team started off our Colombian social action adventure in the dairy production company. On the first day Ruby and Colby worked tremendously hard in the cheese plant making soft cheese and piper cheese. They found it particularly fascinating to find out the. process for producing yoghurt and a delicious local dairy based drink called Kumis. Jordan took to being a Colombian baker by storm producing some amazing mantecade, a Colombian sponge cake and some cookies too! Joe learnt how to be a coffee barista - taking orders from locals and helping serve customers. The next few days they all took turns to try out the different areas. It was hard work and very hot at times but a worthwhile project and it was great to meet all the lovely staff too!
In addition to our social action projects we have run group activities and workshops to increase our exposure to Colombian culture and bond the team. At the end of week 1 we each created collages to present our views and feelings about Colombia now we are here compared to before we departed England. We also came together with a group of local young people to discuss politics - we were surprised and impressed by how engaged the young Colombians are in politics, elections and voting compared to young people in the UK. On Sunday afternoon the group took on their biggest challenge - the hike to the waterfall. This was a 3 hour trek mainly uphill on rough terrain but the stunning scenery and incredible sense of achievement at the end (as well as the Colombian burger!) made it all worthwhile! A big highlight of our stay has definitely been the salsa class run by ICYE - we all enjoyed learning new moves to Latin beats.
We're enjoying a very exciting weekend and look forward to celebrating Halloween Colombian style!