Within the first few days of arriving in Iquitos we went for a walk through the Belen market and the community of Belen. We shuffled through the narrow pathways passing stands selling exotic fruits, medicine from the amazon, and all different types of meat, it was unlike any other place. Unfamiliar smells lined our walk as we eventually left the market behind and entered the community of Belen.
We walked through some of the different districts of Belen and saw the connection that La Restinga had to the people in the community. We learned about the different districts and the problems that Belen faces. We walked with Carmen, a young woman who works for La Restinga and used to live in Belen. She told us different personal stories about people she has worked with in Belen. They were difficult to hear as they depicted the unforgiving conditions that many people within Belen have to live in. As in many parts of the world poverty means living in difficult conditions, being exposed to health risks such as dirty water and unsanitary sewage systems, disease, and unsafe food as well as domestic violence and sexual abuse. However, with each story she told us she then shared with us how La Restinga has stepped in to better the situation by creating after school art programs to engage children in school and educate them through art and drama about sanitation and health issues. As well, programs had been set up to target domestic violence. It was clear that La Restinga is an organization that people trust to go to for help and support.
As our time continued in Iquitos we began working with La Restinga and some of the youth and children in the community. Each morning we would arrive in Belen and a group of teenagers would be waiting there to work to help build the floating garden raft. They were an amazing collection of people who we all grew connections to. As well, there were always many children around eager to help us paint or carry wood.
On Our last night working in Belen they threw us a going away party in the new community centre. They decorated the inside with balloons and cards. They had music and pop and a slideshow they had made to depict their work with La Restinga. It was an emotional goodbye and a really special experience. I think we all felt such gratitude for how the community had accepted us and allowed us in for the time we were there.
This trip to Iquitos has changed my perspective and brought more awareness into my life about the living conditions of others around the world. It is through the generosity of the people of Belen teaching us about their lives that we all have benefited. It was an amazing time to share with some very special people and one I will never forget.