Today we took a walk around the village nearest the yoga farm where Ellen and I are staying. The people here are poor. This area of Colombia was controlled by mob cartels, and still much of the land is in the hands of a few families. The brown mountains and green fields of sugarcane in yesterday’s photo are all one person’s land, as far as the eye can see. Our host’s parents bought her land forty years ago to set up a commune, but returned to the United States instead. Besides her property, there are only three land holders in this part of the valley.

The owner of the land near the river had an unused piece of property bordering a ditch. He allowed people to build homes here, and this little village sprang up. The village is named Ditch (in Spanish, obviously), and the people who live here call themselves the ditch people. The ditch is a dirty pool of stagnant water, full of garbage. It’s a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitos, and probably contributes significantly to health problems in the community. The ditch water is clearly undrinkable, so the locals drink river water, which is little better.

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Homes here, like those in our cousin’s village, are made of bamboo, straw, and mud. Unlike those in our cousin’s village, many houses don’t have the final layer of plaster over the structure to protect the materials and insulate the house against drafts, damp, and insects. Every so often, the river floods and they lose everything. The people have applied for government help to move to safer houses farther from their contaminated water source, but because they don’t own their own houses, they’re ineligible for the funding. Kids here dream of moving to a town like Pereira or Cartago, where they imagine they would have better lives. Unfortunately, with job shortages, they’re as likely to be living in squalor there as here.

Our host is trying to educate the locals, encourage the children to dream of farming rather than escaping their village for the big city. Tomorrow we’re visiting the school, teaching a 90-minute lesson to the fourth and fifth grade classes. Our host wanted us to teach something about ethics, like animal welfare or recycling. She has the children collecting plastic bags and candy wrappers and using them to fill plastic bottles, which she will use as eco-bricks for building. So far she has eight.

We’ve been struggling to find ideas about what to teach. Animal welfare and vegetarianism, our host’s pet projects, seem irrelevant when the people here are struggling with drought and contaminated water supplies. I came here to learn, not to tell the locals how to live their lives. I’d have liked to share something on sustainable living, like the composting toilets we used in Costa Rica, but having only been here a few days, I have no idea what practices are already being put into action in the community, and what gaps we might seek to fill.

In the end, we’ve decided to teach a lesson on the English names for parts of the body and follow it up with songs and games, like Simon Says and the Hokey Pokey. It’s not meaningful, and it’s not related to ethics. It’s just a fun lesson that kids will like, whether they’re from Canada, Korea, or a little village named Ditch.

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