PROJECT TO HELP REBUILD THE SCHOOL OF SOGROMIN IN THE SIERRA NEVADA OF SANTA MARTA, COLOMBIA
DESCRIPTION OF THE COMMUNITY
Sogromin is a town inhabited by a group of indigenous Arhuacos, who are very conservative of their traditions, language and culture. The town was founded around 1930 by Arhuaco families who left Nabusímake because of persecution by the ‘Capuchino’ missionaries. This exile was in order to maintain their own customs, which transformed Sogromin into a center of ancestral knowledge and the place where those passionate about preserving their customs and believes went to. Nowadays this legacy for protecting and preserving their culture is reflected in the day to day life with the result that 90% of the inhabitants don’t speak Spanish.
Sogromin is located to the north of the city Valledupar, in the eastern part of the mountain range, bordering the Kogui’s reserve. It is near the source of one of the principal rivers of the Northern Coast of Colombia, the Guatapurí River. The access to Sogromin from Valledupar, is either by driving through valleys and mountains for more or less three hours until reaching a town called Chemesquemena, where the Kankuamo live or by driving for about two hours to the Arhuaco community of Gun Aruwun. From there it is an additional six to seven hours walking or by mule before reaching Sogromin, located at the foot of the high mountains close to the snow covered peaks, and covered by semi humid forests with an temperature ranging from 22°C in the summerto around18°C in the winter.
Agriculture is the main form of subsistence and most families own a piece of land where they cultivate products for their own consumption; usually bananas, cassava, potatoes, pumpkin, beans, corn and aju (coca leaves) are planted. Some families have the possibility to compliment their agricultural products with the rearing of some animals like chicken or pigs. These products are not sold, not even to individuals within the community as everything produced is needed for their own subsistence, so no income is generated from these activities to allow the purchase of other necessary products. Coffee is the only product that is cultivated for commercial purposes and thus is the only source of income which allows families to buy other goods that cannot be provided from within the community. From the income that is generated the families buy their costumes, work tools, medicine, school materials, kitchen ware and other food such as rice, flour, oil and canned food. With the income obtained through coffee or through the exchange of coffee most families buy meat.
Not all families cultivate coffee, so the whole year round they only eat what is produced. These families have many children and most of them don’t attend school as they need to help in the domestic duty, which is seen as a means of getting to know their own culture. In these families the women acquire a significant role of importance in the domestic production and they also take care of the domestic work. An additional income comes from selling mochilas, each woman manages to knit about one mochila per month.
The families that can combine agricultural production with animal farming are also the ones who can send their children to school. One of the difficulties that the people of Sogromin face is to produce a balanced diet. Before the forced colonization of the Sierra Nevada, each family was able to possess a piece of land at each thermal floor which facilitates the production of different kinds of crops during the whole year. The colonization led to a reduction of the territory, less capacity in areas of production due to over exploitation of the land as the reduced amount of land removed the ability to rotate the productive territory. For over 50 years now the people in Sogromin have lived and cultivated the same land, and witnessed how the productivity of their farming land is reducing.
The traditional authorities of Sogromin are conscious that one of the best strategies to conserve their own culture consists of balancing their own education with the formal scholar education. This can bring the social and cultural development of the community to a state of maximum consciousness towards the importance of preserving their own identity. At the same time it stimulates dialogue, cultural exchange and a complimentary relation with other cultures. To accomplish this, an educational plan is required in accordance with the needs of the community, which is focused on dialogue and relationship with the main society. At the moment there are about 40 children from Sogromin and the nearby surroundings attending the primary school. The school normally comprises 4 classrooms, but two were in such a state of decay that they were demolished for safety reasons so only two classrooms are currently available. It is therefore necessary to rebuild these two classrooms in order to have enough space and to properly divide the children according to educational levels. Additionally, the school kitchen where lunch is prepared for the children is too small and has no room for the children to sit and eat as should be the case in a traditional kitchen. The community is looking for ways to build a larger kitchen. Finally, the school needs to be equipped with the necessary, such as a complete library, clean energy, computers, blackboards, chairs and tables which will also help attract new students. The school facility, apart from serving as a place where children can learn to read and write, would be a center of knowledge exchange and learning, where the entire community, including the elderly, can receive information such as how to improve practices in agriculture, exchange of knowledge between different communities, information about health, child nutrition, different kinds of diseases, improvement in the handling of the resources, development of the investigation on collective memories such as songs, music, myths, stories, legends, etc. The facility can also serve as a cultural center where the elderly can share their knowledge and traditions with the children and celebrate cultural events.
seeking help from outside
The challenges the authorities of Sogromin are facing, have been shaped through the course of time but now they are urged to find support to manage different issues such as the lack of proper infrastructure (schools), lack of expertise (basic health services), accompanied with a restricted economic structure that provide a limited subsistence with a restrictive diet and lack of food security. These challenges evidently demand a lot of effort, not only from the community but also from other sectors such as the national government. As Sogromin is an indigenous community with difficult access in geographic as well as in ideological terms, it has been a long time without specific projects developed to tackle these issues, and has made evident that the community can’t take on these challenges on its own.
You can help us help the Arhuaco community of Sogromin by making a donation to:
- Help rebuild two classrooms
- Help build a bigger kitchen
- Help buy the necessary school material