Today, in celebration of Women’s History Month, we would like to highlight a story of the resilience and dedication of Sylvia Lopez Jusayu. In a remote village of La Guajira, Colombia, Sylvia is the devoted leader of the Amuyuwoü community who works to provide basic needs and a thriving future for the Amyuwou children through education, health, and resources. In the past decade, Sylvia has helped secure a water tower, basic showers and toilets, a wifi tower, and a two-room school where she herself is a teacher.
While these were some incredible hurdles to overcome, these resources were mostly unusable without power. Sylvia continued to seek support and was eventually connected with GivePower–an organization that provides water and power to scarce regions. It was our greatest pleasure to join GivePower on this Trek to provide Sylvia and her community with power.
Please enjoy this special interview between Juan Arias (Givepower Film Crew Member) and Sylvia Lopez Jusayu during our Trek to Colombia.
Interviewer (Juan): Can you tell me your name and your role in the community?
Sylvia: Good afternoon, my name is Sylvia Lopez Jusayu, I’m the leader of this community, Amuyuwou.
Juan: Can you tell me more about the community? Where are we? What it’s like to live here in Amuyuwou.
Sylvia: Well, Amuyuwou belongs to the municipality of Manaure. We are in Media Guajira. There are 55 families here. We are closer to Uribia than Manaure, between the 55 and 57-kilometer markers of the road. Here in Amyuwou, we have a small school consisting of 89 students with one classroom ranging from preschool to first grade and two classrooms that focus on attention to infants based on the ICBF programs. Each classroom has 20 kids ranging from preschool to 5th grade. We have 4 teachers available. We teach multiple grades at the same time. For example, there’s 4th and 5th graders in one classroom and preschool and 1st in another, but 3rd and 2nd are separate. Access to the school is hard whenever it rains, we don’t have a built road so the pathways get full of water.
Juan: Now that you mention the difficulties, can you tell me about the challenges the community, especially the children, face while living here?
Sylvia: Well, the challenges we face, the purpose we have for the kids of the community, is that they attend the school and have a good quality of life because they are educating themselves so that they can integrate with the difficult society we have.
Juan: Let me rephrase that question, can you tell me the daily life of a child, what does that kid have to do, how does he/she start their day? Tell me all the challenges they face, because we are seeing them now, not only the difficulties they face but the community as well. But tell me more about the kids.
Sylvia: Oh the role of the kids. Well the daily role of a kid here, they wake up with their dad at 5 A.M. That kid takes the herd to get water at the pond/well. They’ll come back around 7:30 A.M. and eat breakfast, mazamorra and milk. Since he already went to the pond/lake, he already took a bath, so he will go home, change his clothes and go to school. Since there are kids who are far away from the school, they wait for their transportation. So at the latest, due to their chores, they’ll start school around 8 A.M. They’ll come to school and be greeted by their teacher. School ends around 1 P.M., they’ll eat and rest for a bit. At 2 P.M. they’ll go out and see where the goats are so that they can return home. By 5 P.M. they’ll be back home after his tasks. Sometimes, if they get home around 4 P.M., they can do any homework their teachers gave them but usually, because the teachers know they have chores to take care of, they won’t assign any homework to the children.
Juan: And, I suppose, at night there’s no more energy, right? How would they do homework at night?
Sylvia: Well like I mentioned, they hardly get homework because they don’t have time to do homework. The father can ask them to do homework but the kids will simply say they did it when they actually haven’t. There is also no light at night. They’ll make a bonfire and eat the same thing they did that morning, mazamorra and milk. This is when the elders will come in, the father, the grandfather to talk to the children, tell them stories, tell them about their ancestors or myths. The kids are very curious so they’ll ask where this or that comes from, they ask a lot of questions, so the elders try to answer.
Juan: Tell me about the difficulties you face due to not having electricity. Tell me about your community and not having electricity, how does that make life harder for you?
Sylvia: Well, due to lack of electricity, for example, light, which is essential now for daily life in the community. Since there is no light, and the kids don’t have time in the morning due to chores, because it’s cultural that a kid has to learn how to heard, not because we are trying to “enslave” the child, but because the kid needs to learn about life. So it’s something they need to learn how to heard, how to get water from the well, to take the heard to the pond/well. So it’s difficult for them because if they had light, they would be able to do homework at night. There’s also the thing about phones now, so the father does his best to get the child a smartphone so the child can use it to do their homework but they don’t have anywhere to charge it or where to get a signal from. And that is where our lives are difficult due to lack of energy. Not just the kids either, us as professors have difficulties because, without electricity, for example, we can’t research homework material. There’s a lot of shortcomings due to lack of light.
Juan: What about the artisans who work during the day, can they still work at night?
Sylvia: Without light, without light bulbs, they can’t work on the chinchorro or a backpack. During the day, the women keep in mind the chores they have at home but with light, our lives would be easier. With light, we could make the backpacks or the chinchorros. It gets dark very early, at 6 P.M. so they’ll sit down or lay down so without light, it’s not very helpful.
Juan: So you think that having electricity will change the way you live and education?
Sylvia: Well if we have energy, of course, it would change things a lot and be very helpful. First off, we don’t have refrigeration for the meals that they bring us for the kids so the cheese goes bad. We add salt to keep it fresh but it still goes bad which results in illness for the kids. They’ll bring us vegetables and fruits, because we give them to the kids too, but those go bad as well. So let’s say they bring it to us on a Sunday afternoon, or a Friday afternoon, so Saturday and Sunday passes by, and by Monday we want to give it to the kids but you find some have gone bad, it’s not consumable, so we have to throw it away. It’s about 90 bananas sometimes that we have to throw away because they went bad. Or the pumpkin (squash), every second week we get pumpkin(squash), but we can’t follow the routine because we don’t have any way to preserve that food. Secondly, artisan work helps us a lot. If we do 2-3 hours it would help us a lot more. The internet, television shows, they would bring a lot of changes because the children would pick up new things that they didn’t know existed.
Juan: When was the first time you heard about the sonar panel project?
Sylvia: I believe around March I heard about the project so that’s when I was motivated and asked myself, well if that arrived into our community we would see that change. I would see it in other parts, in larger schools that had light, they would tell us about the changes they went through and what I could do. So I got excited and thought, if it can happen in other communities why not here? So I started to talk about the lack of energy to the program.
Juan: How did you feel when you found out it was approved?
Sylvia: When I heard the news that they approved the project, it was a joy that you can’t imagine, Look I’m almost crying due to the happiness. This didn’t cost us more than a talk. Some people say, ‘Oh I’ll work 10 years to make this happen” but you’d never achieve this with 10 or 20 years of work. So I’m very grateful with God, the person who made the contract, ONG which made everything happen and GivePower.
Juan: And when they told you Americans would come to install the panels themselves, what is your opinion of them now that you see them working? Tell me what do you think of them seeing them now.
Sylvia: Well the joy is immense, and even more when the Americans themselves are placing the panels, it’s never the same when someone gives you a grain of sand as to when they themselves see the installation. It’s admirable because they truly placed it full-heartedly, just like they placed the money for it, and they’re also staying here, sharing their time with us, like family. It’s something that’s admirable, something I haven’t seen anywhere else, that they themselves donated the money, are installing it themselves, not because of lack of money but because they brought from the heart, just like the saying, that when you give something, it should be from the heart.
Juan: What is the thing you are most looking forward to having electricity?
Sylvia: I’ve been excited and will be even more excited when I see everything light up because this is a huge milestone. It’ll make a huge impact that the community will see. For example, we have some panels that we turn on at most an hour and that’s it but this will remain here. I’m just imagining the changes and what they will bring once we have light.
Juan: What hopes and dreams do you have for the community? Ok, the energy is here, so tell me about the hopes and dreams that you have.
Sylvia: Well, at this moment, you have no idea the many things I’m imagining. It’s been about 5 years because I started working here in 2001. Since 2001 I started working with the center of Orinoquia. Everything is done through hard work, so I’m working to have a center. A center because we find it hard to send kids to a different location for their higher learning. First, because we have the gully/stream. Secondly, because it’s far away. So a child that leaves here around 5 A.M. will come back around 3 PM. Over there, they’ll eat breakfast, they basically just snack and get back at 3 PM, it’s really hard. This is a blessing and an advancement that will help me achieve my goals. I will now have light, soon after I should have the computers. I only need the classroom of.., classroom of…classroom of chemistry which could be where they have the human skeletons…umm I forget the name (laughter)
Juan: What would you like to say to them as last words of appreciation?
Sylvia: I’m very grateful, very happy with the Americans. This is something huge, and from here I know my school will grow. I’m hopeful for the school center and I will accomplish it. I’m very happy and grateful. Thank you to them for supporting us and that this isn’t the only thing, that it’s a sign of many things to come. And that they don’t forget about us, that they come back and visit so they see that this isn’t the end, that this will grow. This won’t only be here a year or two, this is going to last. And that hopefully, they follow us here. Every time they visit La Guajira or Colombia, they come here and see the advancement we will accomplish because we are moving forward. Again, I want to thank them for the blessing they gave us because this is a big blessing. I’m very grateful and happy.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to Sylvia Lopez Jusayu for sharing her beautiful words and thoughts with the ONEHOPE team and our community.
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With almost $10 million donated to date, we like to think…we’re just getting started.
Cheers to hope,
The ONEHOPE Team
Make sure to check out this video to learn more about ONEHOPE’s GivePower Trek in Colombia!