"You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you."
- John Bunyan

A Trip to La Guajira

 

Tomorrow I will be heading to the La Guajira region of Colombia to visit Maicao and Santa Marta. Maicao is a town where many of the Wayúu people reside. Diana’s boyfriend, Yusef, just happened to be traveling there to visit one of his best friends from childhood, so Diana jumped on the chance to help me coordinate with the Wayúu women there to make the straps for our bags.

I chose to work with the Wayúu mainly because I feel in love with the colorful, beautiful bags that I had seen during my first visit to Colombia. I have since learned that while the Wayúu are celebrated as a rich part of Colombian’s culture and history, they are also extremely marginalized and subject to a tremendous amount of discrimination.

The region of La Guajira is one of the regions most impacted by the ongoing conflict here. The reasons for this are many, very complicated and hugely influenced by the region’s proximity to the Venezuelan border and the constant, abundant flow of illicit products between the two. There is an alarming lack of basic services due to corruption (most homes in Maicao do not have water or sewage systems and have to purchase the water they need on a weekly basis), and as a result of the ongoing drought, the region is now experiencing a humanitarian crisis. “An average of two children die each day, principally of malnutrition and treatable diseases, in a situation one US pediatrician compared to Ethiopia”. [1] The Wayúu have also experienced forced displacement due to mining activities and attacks of armed groups as well as environment degradation of their land from the disposal of municipal wastewater.

I am sure I will continue to learn more as I explore the area, but let us focus on the positive, shall we?

The Wayúu are known as the people of the sun, sand, and wind. They are matriarchal society in which a woman’s role is central and the most important for their society. The women of the Wayúu tribe have been hand weaving these bags for generations, a tradition passed down from mother to daughter when the daughter comes of age. According to legend, Wayúu weaving tradition was taught to the women by Wale´kerü, the spider that showed them how to weave and create drawings, in which “. . . threads of many colors came out of their mouths…she used to weave all night and every day a new drawing spoke of her dreams.”[2]

Vibrant colors are very important and symbolic. Each hue represents an element or emotion; red symbolizes all that is good; yellow represents the sun and blue, the ocean; orange signifies tranquility, white is purity and black represents sadness.[3] Each design also tells a story, representing the natural elements, events and culture that surround them. One bag can take up to a full month to complete.

It is a beautiful, rich tradition and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to meet these women in person, see their works of art and learn more about their culture.

The next stop will be Santa Marta, the city where the Genesis Foundation is working to improve the quality of education for underprivileged children in the region. I will be visiting the school that will hopefully be the first to receive the resources needed to ensure that the children there have everything they need to learn and thrive!

More stories and pictures to come!!

[1] http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/la-guajira-illegal-gasoline-trade-colombia-venezuela

[2] http://handeyemagazine.com/content/circle-thread-0

[3] Same as above

 

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