A stone path leads the WFP vehicle up to Cumbaltar in the providence of Carchi. You must be prepared for action because there will be a minga (Kichwa word that means “community work”) to move and place materials to build a fence to protect the community’s water source.
Inés López has been working for a year in the WFP Sub-Office in Carchi, Ecuador's northern border province with Colombia. The insecurity that forces Colombians to flee their country and settle in Ecuador, the country with the largest refugee population in the Western Hemisphere, is not visible from this side.
Working directly with the 170 families of this community fuels Inés enthusiasm for her work with WFP. She has just arrived with municipal government officials and the food rations that will be distributed to participants once the minga has finished moving the fence poles.
The water source must be protected. The minga must place posts to start building a fence which will serve as a barrier and prevent people and animals from polluting the water source. The fence will allow the minga to plant native trees for reforestation and will prevent farmers from planting crops. The people of Cumbaltar are eager to preserve quality of their only water source and Inés is there to support them.
“We have to take the poles by hand”
After receiving the fence posts, the community should take them to the water source. But there is a problem: There is no trail or path to the source. Nevertheless, the minga carries the heavy fence posts by hand and one by one. No one, including the women, is intimidated by the task. Fortunately the community leader has inspired them for the day’s work. He has explained them that the community must work together to improve the living conditions. He firmly believes that with the expected results, these families will continue working their land here in the northern border of Ecuador.
This minga and the distribution of food rations among the participants are part of a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation that WFP is implementing in Carchi and other seven provinces, with special emphasis on the border with Colombia. The operation, which is aligned with the Government's priorities and has the support of provincial and municipal governments, aims to support and protect the nutritional status of Colombian refugees, asylum seekers and Ecuadorian host communities, especially women and children.
Some 56.000 refugees and another 16.000 asylum seekers from Colombia have settled in Ecuador, making it the country with the largest refugee population in the Western Hemisphere. The operation is funded by the governments of the United States, Canada, Brazil and Luxembourg, as well as private sector companies like PepsiCo, Trimarine and KFC.
Water is essential for food security and nutrition
Access to clean water is extremely important for food security and nutrition. The population here suffers from anemia and other nutritional problems that affect children’s growth and development. The challenge for the people of Cumbaltar is to improve their diet with the food distributed by WFP, and also prevent the loss of nutrients due to diarrhea or parasites, which are common brought by unsafe water.
How many people are needed to carry a post? It depends on each’s person strength. Meanwhile Inés helps the women in their task. Although this job requires a lot of physical strength, the women are happy to join the minga because they want to protect the water source that is going to bring health to their families. In all its programmes and projects, as in this minga in Cumbaltar, WFP promotes gender equality and the active participation of women, especially in leadership and decision making positions. For WFP, the participation of women in decision-making in their families and in their communities is the key to end food insecurity in the world.
The minga reaches its destination and place the posts. Inés is left with sore arms, three blisters on her right hand and two on her left hand which she takes as a living memory of the minga. For her, the pain and the blisters are part of the good memories of her experience with the community. "It’s very rewarding and exciting," he says smiling.
Finally the day ends. Participants of the minga, especially women, have the satisfaction having accomplished their goal and also take home their WFP food rations. Now Cumbaltar residents can start planning their next minga to further improve the life of their community.