For generations, Don Vidal’s family struggled for survival. Bolivia’s dry land only allowed Don Vidal to sow and harvest once a year, depending purely on rainwater. A river flows through the bottom of their valley, but it was nearly impossible to bring water to the fields from that distance.
I’ve visited Don Vidal’s beautiful valley on trips with Food for the Hungry (FH). The scenery is an astounding testimonial of God’s amazing creativity. But terrible poverty abounded amongst the beautiful vistas. When FH staff first visited the area, their top concern was the 30 percent child malnutrition rate, far above Bolivia’s average rate and among the highest rates in the Americas. At the same time, they could see the area’s tremendous potential for growth. They could also see the barriers that Don Vidal struggled against.
You can see Don Vidal’s story in his own words here:
What’s the Fight, Exactly?
It seems very simple: Don Vidal needed water. Not just water for crops, but water to keep his children healthy. The drinking water made them sick. It’s hard in communities like this to justify taking a bath or washing clothes very often when it’s so hard to haul water uphill from the river. So skin diseases take their toll along with diarrhea. I’ve met families in some extreme situations where I could see dirt encrusted on the hems of their skirts, pants, and sleeves. Children miss school because they’re sick, and fall behind. Their discouragement leads to high drop-out rates, at a very young age.
But there’s more to the fight than water. Don Vidal alludes to other battles they fought — battles of mind and spirit. FH’s walk with community members — supported by generous donors like you — often means helping them overcome unseen barriers.
First, Don Vidal fought against despair. He’s an example of those people FH often finds, the quiet and faithful types who have deep relationships with God. His church had prayed for answers, for a release from their grinding poverty. “Thank God he prepared Food for the Hungry to make our dreams real, like we prayed for in church,” Don Vidal said.
Who is God and What Does He Want for Me?
Second, Don Vidal fought against a deeply-ingrained communal concept: “They [FH] told us about God, and how he gave us this land to manage it.” I have seen in my worldwide travels that the ideas of conservation and creation care are very foreign to many people FH works with. The natural world is something to be feared, not managed. Distant gods control the rain, the wind, and productivity. In communities like Don Vidal’s, lightning was attributed to a capricious god who regularly kills people in their open fields. You can’t talk to these gods; you just give offerings and hope against hope to appease the deities.
In contrast, FH brought news of a God who gave his beloved human beings the gifts of land, trees, water, and all living creatures. And he wants human beings to manage that creation. When you manage creation, you bring yourself and your world closer to the Kingdom God intended. You are active in repairing the relationships broken in the Fall. And in time, you learn to live without the fear of false gods striking down you and your family.
Third, Don Vidal fought pushback from friends who didn’t understand his enthusiasm. “Why are you planting?” his friends said. There wasn’t any good land available for new endeavors. “The time belongs to God, the land belongs to God, we should not waste them,” was Don Vidal’s reply to those questioning his vision. With the addition of an irrigation system, Don Vidal now grows papaya in addition to other crops he can plant more than once a year.
He also has thousands of papaya trees, which provide more than just food for the family. He can sell his crops as well, due to relationships that FH helped farmers build with markets several hours from his community.
Bolivia’s Dry Land Blooms — And So Do Hearts
“FH’s help makes our hearts bloom. If we didn’t have irrigation, we wouldn’t have produce like papayas,” said Don Vidal. There are more stories like Don Vidal’s in this area. I’ve traveled on the road that FH helped build that makes it possible for Don Vidal to send his papayas to market. This road also made it possible for tourism to grow in the area. Today, backpackers journey into the area to visit a bird sanctuary for the rare red-fronted macaw, and to see immense dinosaur tracks. In fact, FH even helped the community construct a bird watcher’s observation station at the canyon where the macaws breed.
Hard-working farm families have thanked me for the help — then shared their dreams with me, about how they wanted to do even more than FH ever planned. And for me, that’s the best news I could ever hear. I hope to return some day to hear the dreams that the next generation carries. I know they too, in time, will bloom like Don Vidal’s.
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