Community Center in Barlovento, Venezuela

HISTORY

AMURT/EL became active in Venezuela in December 1999 after heavy rains caused landslides and floods. With the help of AMURT Switzerland, it started to work with the flood victims of Barlovento, a region in the state of Miranda about 2 hours east of Caracas, distributing drinking water, food and medicines. Observing the chronic poverty of the people in this area, AMURT/EL decided to open with a long-term project. It acquired three and a half (3 ½) hectares of land and built a community center from which to serve the impoverished rural villagers in the surrounding area.

OBJECTIVE OF THE AMURT/EL CENTER IN BARLOVENTO

The purpose of the AMURT/EL center is to be a center for both individual and community transformation. It does this by supporting and empowering the local population in community development and personal growth projects. These projects focus on income-generation, education, and cultural and social enrichment.

THE PROBLEM /THE LOCAL SITUATION

Barlovento is populated by Venezuelans whose ancestors were brought from Africa as slaves for the cacao plantations. Due to centuries of discrimination and government neglect, the people have little education, low self-esteem and few job opportunities. The majority feel helpless to improve their living conditions. As a result, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence and crime are widespread.

WORK DONE

Some of the work done:

In the early 2000, AMURTEL distributed drinking water, food, clothing, stoves, mattresses and seeds to flood victims in about 20 villages. Medical camps were also organized.
AMURTEL has developed relationships of trust with the children, teenagers and adults of five villages by organizing bi-annual celebrations in each community for Christmas and Children's Day with theater, games and cultural activities.
"Youth in Action" sports and cultural programs have been developed for teenagers.
Financial and material support have been provided to teenagers and young adults who dropped out of school to continue their education.
Educational programs for children and youth during their vacations were organized.
Cooking and food processing workshops were taught.
A sewing cooperative of five women was organized in the center with industrial sewing machines.
An apiary was started with 20 beehives.

A story-reading project is quickly growing. The AMURTEL library lends books to mothers and fathers who read them aloud daily to their young children.
Funding was arranged to teach a group of teenagers and young adults from the village of La Guairita how to construct and play their own traditional African drums.
The AMURT/EL Community Center provided temporary shelter for a week to 40 women and children who were victims of the flood of February 2005 which also affected the Center.

PRESENT PROJECTS FOR WHICH FINANCING IS NEEDED

The story reading program: On a regular base the Center lends children’s books to the parents of La Guairita and Madre Vieja to read to their young children. The purpose is to stimulate reading and writing, teach values and to create positive attention activities between parents and their children
Finances are needed for good parenting workshops for the parents, to buy good children story books and other related materials and to pay a full time intern to expand to other villages.

Personal growth programs for teenagers and adults: This program is to help people realize that, in spite of adverse and sometimes traumatic circumstances in their lives, caused by poverty, violence and discrimination, they have the power to transform themselves and learn to use their full potential. We envision personal and group counseling, conflict resolution, retreats for youth that include yoga and meditation, leadership training, and practical life skills.
Finances are needed for transportation, organizing retreats and outings, and workshops, and to finance the gestalt training course to qualify the director of the Center in counseling skills.

High school diploma course: The center pays the tuition fees of three young mothers who want to finish their high school diploma but do not have access to government programs. Ten more young mothers are on the waiting list.
Finances are needed to pay their fees.

Support for students: We will continue to encourage students in the local schools by donating school supplies, lending textbooks, and advising and assisting the teachers.
Finances are needed to pay for a yearly donation of school supplies to 350 primary school students and 150 highschool students and to buy highschool textbooks and resource books for the AMURTEL library.

Village festivals: Twice a year, in June and December, we organize a cultural and educational program for each community. These are important outreach programs between the center and the villages. We bring university theater groups, clowns, musicians and international volunteers to enrich the lives of the people and strengthen their sense of solidarity. A total of 450 children benefit each time.
Finances are needed to buy materials for the festivals to organize dramas and handicrafts and to pay for transportation of theatre groups.

Tourist Stop: Last year we registered a natural products business called “Vita Lotus” to financially support the center. During weekends, many tourists from Caracas drive on the road in front of our land on their way to the beach. Our plan will be to set up a tourist stop. At the moment we are selling in different places honey from our own beehives (more than 400 kilo per year), medicinal noni juice, dried neem leaves, and fresh produce including papaya, lemon and vegetables. We will also sell products from different cooperatives in the area. In this way we can support cooperatives and other money-making initiatives of the local people.
Finances are needed to develop the land for organic agriculture, to build a tourist stop with a safe parking area and to develop the business.