Service in the Rain Forest

Seven students are serving in the upper rain forest region known as Chanchamayo.  The cities of La Merced and San Ramon are located on the eastern flanks of the Andes mountains.  At about 2,000 feet above sea level, the temperatures are warm, the hills are heavily-forested and each day brings a mix of sun and rain.

Niles is volunteering for a fair-trade company that sells coffee and fruit products grown by local farmers and women’s cooperatives.  He is helping to market Chanchamayo Highland Product’s organic coffee, fruit juices and preserves to buyers in Europe and North America.  In April the company plans to introduce its products at a specialty coffee trade show in Portland, Oregon and Niles is putting together materials that describe how fair-trade practices and biodynamic production techniques benefit the communities where the coffee is grown and processed.

Alisha and Rafael spend each afternoon at CEDIF, a government-operated after-school center for disadvantaged children from the city of San Ramon.  They assist with education programs and tutor children whose parents are unable or unavailable to help with their homework.  The children look up to the students and enjoy chatting and playing games with them after their school work is finished.

Annabeth and Eric volunteer a few blocks away at a school for children with special needs, Colegio San Manuelito.  Children with a variety of disabilities — Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment and others — attend school here each day in a facility suited to their needs.  The students assist teachers at several grade levels and often help with physical therapy sessions.  The children enjoy the chance to interact with the students and the staff appreciates having their loads lightened by the presence of the volunteers.

Dana serves at Clinica Elera, a private medical clinic that provides the only 24-hour emergency service in the city of San Ramon.  A nursing major, Dana spends each morning assisting clinic staff with a variety of activities, such as preparing medical supplies.  Shortly before our visit she was asked to help clean an infected wound on an injured patient.  On another day she had the opportunity to accompany the physician and staff in the operating room to witness a caesarean section.

Erich volunteers at Fundo Almorique, a coffee farm and reforestation project located in the hills far above the city of La Merced, near the headwaters of the river that provides water to the urban residents below.  Moises Rodenas Gerbi and his uncles grow coffee, bananas and other crops here.  Moises believes that massive tree cutting in this area has harmed the watershed and reduced the supply of water in the local rivers.  He has established a reforestation program to bring back native trees such as cedar and diablo fuerte.  Erich assists by marking the locations for the new trees and transplanting seedlings on the steep hillsides.