Travel to rural communities in Colombia is often challenging given the state of roads weaving through difficult terrain. But this year, the COVID-19 outbreak coinciding with a late rainy season made for unprecedented delays in transportation throughout the country. Vulnerable families and indigenous communities were not receiving deliveries of goods, with local and global conditions working together to create a scarcity of food and other essentials. Women for Conservation wanted to address this need, and partnered with Fundación ProAves to bring swift aid to rural peoples during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Women for Conservation and ProAves gave a complete package of groceries valued at $150,000 Colombian pesos to 100 rural families. Near constant rain, narrow roads, and landslides meant motorcycles, four wheelers, and careful footwork were required to bring supplies where they were needed most. The donations consisted of rice, beans, various nonperishables, sugar, cooking oil, antibacterial soap, and cleaning supplies. “Each package weighed approximately 40 pounds, which had to be carried in some cases up to half a mile by foot,” said Isablella Cortes, project manager for Women for Conservation and Coordinator of the ProAves El Dorado Reserve in northern Colombia. A network of directors, rangers, and volunteers reached communities on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range along with families living near the ProAves El Pangán Reserve in the country’s southwestern Pacific mountains. Aid was also brought to people living in the Magdalena Valley, where the ProAves El Paujil Reserve protects the last bit of lowland rainforest in the region.
COVID-19 quarantine and the limitations in transportation significantly impacted local economies beyond the delivery of goods. People travel from across the world to see the landscapes and endemic species unique to Colombia’s ecoregions. Birdwatching is exceptionally popular, with more than 716 bird species protected in the El Dorado, El Pangán, and El Paujil Reserves. Many community members are dependent on ecotourism, serving in the hospitality industry and in jobs as field guides, drivers, administrators, and laborers. Others work on coffee plantations, and are also suffering, as exports are stymied during the pandemic.
Among the beneficiaries of the groceries were indigenous families of the Awa, Kogi, Wiwa, and Wimake ethnic groups, mothers of families, youth, older adults, and adults with physical disabilities. The hard work of Women for Conservation and ProAves was rewarded with the joy expressed by people receiving aid, especially the smiles of children when they saw food and toiletries arrive.
“We recognized the need and moved quickly to support the people living in and around the nature reserves in which we work,” said Women for Conservation Founder and Executive Director, Sara Inés Lara. “The wellbeing of rainforests are inexorably linked to the wellbeing of the people that depend on them. Without the help of local communities and indigenous peoples, protecting nature would almost be impossible, in Colombia and beyond,” she added.