On Monday March 5, 2018 we departed Santa Marta, Colombia destined for a region new to TOMA. On this visit our mission would be to install two solar systems for the village health posts and schools in Guamaka and Naranjal, two Wiwa communities on the southeastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains. The Wiwa tribe is closely related with the Arhuaco culture and is also part of the Gonawindua Ette Ennaka(IPS) tribal health administration that enables and encourages TOMA’s projects.
After a long hot day of travel over washboard dusty roads, packed tightly into the Toyota 4X4, we arrived at our first stop at the end of the road leading to Guamaka. We immediately set to work and within one full day of work were able to complete the installation of our system inside their schoolroom and health center. To our delight we also had the opportunity to observe many of the children doing their schoolwork. As soon as the power was available the classroom was illuminated with the LED bulbs we installed. Seeing the immediate impact of our technology is quite moving and a great reminder of why this work is so important.
On Wednesday March 7, with the success of our first installation complete, we returned to our vehicles at the trailhead and started our drive to Naranjal. This involved a very long day of rough roads leading deep into the mountainous terrain. It is difficult to convey how far removed some of these communities are from civilization. It is never easy for our team to endure this travel but once we arrive to a site the weariness of the trip gives way to excitement for the job ahead. On the following morning at first light we set to work in the health center of Naranjal. Like our first installation this day’s work went extremely efficiently as our team pulled together and got the job done in record time. That speaks to two important factors, the first being the experience and collaboration of the team and most importantly the simplicity of TOMA engineer Eric Winslow’s solar system design. It can not be overstated how complex this type of technology can be to operate in such extreme conditions. This designates that any system being installed in this type of application must be durable and dependable. Eric’s design has now been proven over the last 8 years and again with our 11th and 12th installations on this past expedition. IPS has reported that all systems are functioning properly. And a wonderful new development is that TOMA and IPS have arranged for our local TOMA team member Yarnel to periodically visit our systems to ensure everything continues to operate properly. This will ensure that the technology continues to convert solar energy into improving life for these communities for many years to come.
During our March trip, TOMA put into action the next phase of our humanitarian work in Colombia. After installing the solar systems we journeyed to Rioacha, a city on the northeast coast to meet with Unidad Medica Wayuu Anouta Wakuaipa IPS. This tribal health organization works with the Wayuu tribe in the Guajira, a very arid region in NE Colombia. The Wayuu tribe has a population of approximately 400,000 in Colombia. Due to extreme drought and other circumstances this community has essentially lost its water source. This has created a very desperate situation for the people. Many of their crops and animals have perished and child mortality is extreme. We visited several villages near Rioacha to meet some of the people and scout potential locations for wells. Our initial finding is positive as we identified three sites with available groundwater. Help can not come soon enough and TOMA is working hard to begin our aid as soon as possible. Through the generosity of our supporters we have acquired a well drilling system designed for use in remote areas. In November our team will return to the Guajira and begin the water projects. We look forward to this next phase of our mission and are very grateful to everyone who supports our work.