On December 6 of 2015 the TOMA Foundation team departed Santa Marta for one of our most ambitious expeditions in the Sierra Nevada mountains to date. The goal was to install three new solar systems in the remote Arhuaco villages of Singuney, Windiwa, and Jechikin, and then return to inspect and upgrade previously installed systems in Serankwa and Duanawimaku. In addition school supplies were delivered to five Arhuaco villages in support of tribal education.
The team traveled via 4WD vehicle in route to El Cincuenta, the village that marks the beginning of the footpath into the Sierra Nevadas. After packing the heaviest deliverables onto mules we set out for the villages of Singuney and Windiwa. The aim was to install solar systems to provide much-needed light for schoolrooms and community gatherings as well as at the health centers to power life-saving vaccine refrigeration and equipment. With the help of the villagers, the team successfully installed the first two systems, selected and reinforced for durability in the harsh climate, and wired the schoolhouse and vaccine refrigerator. To maintain the system and ensure the longevity and usefulness of the equipment, Eric and the team recruited a young Arhuaco named Yarnel. He quickly demonstrated an affinity for the basics of the solar components, electrical systems, and wiring, and would accompany us for the rest of the journey.
The trek to Jechikin required a very long day over a treacherous mountain pass. The village is located at approximately 10,000 feet above sea level, a 6,500-foot ascent from Windiwa. One of the most remote villages of the Arhuaco, Jechikin is set in a high alpine valley above the tree line where they farm primarily potatoes and onions for the other communities. The climate provides a multitude of challenges. We were greeted by hot tea for the altitude and three community physicians, eager for us to install the panels and allow them to immediately begin providing the care they had been unable to offer without a power source.
The final days of the expedition were devoted to inspecting and repairing systems that were installed in December of 2013. In the village of Serankwa we found our systems from three years past were functioning perfectly, however in Duanawimaku we were less fortunate. Contrary to initial reports of lightning damage to the solar systems, we discovered that insects had shorted out the circuit boards and a faulty vaccine refrigerator had done damage to the system’s batteries. We were able to replace the malfunctioning components and carry the batteries back to Santa Marta for inspection and repair.
In our 19th year of providing medical and solar assistance to the indigenous peoples of Latin America, we at TOMA Foundation are continually humbled by the generosity that our contributors have shown and continue to show. Without your help, we would not have been able to expand into the most remote areas of the region to provide care where it is needed most.