A letter from Chenoa Stock in Bolivia
December 12, 2012
A Christmas Cry for Justice
As I sat on the back of my friend’s motorcycle, descending the infamous "Camino de la Muerte" (Death Road), I could not help but notice the beautiful nature of the Yungas, the Bolivian Amazonian jungles, surrounding us. With barely more than one lane and once the principal road for all goods transported between La Paz (13,500 ft) and Coroico (5,741 ft), a small village in the low jungle lands of Bolivia, it is now mostly used by daredevil tourist bikers who crave the thrill of making the 3,600m (11,811 ft) descent on the unguarded, gravel road, which looks right over the cliff into the great precipice of the jungle life far below. One never wants to be too close to the edge on this journey, though it is one that makes for spectacular views of the flora and fauna of the Yungas and provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of the capital, La Paz, through the silence and tranquility of its environment.
It was this environment that captured my attention throughout the 1+ hour slow descent. I felt immersed in it as we entered the lush greenery of jungle life, passed under waterfalls, saw butterflies and birds flying above us, and heard sounds of animals from below and around us. It was Mother Earth (Pachamama, as it’s called in Bolivia) at her finest. This land, compared to some other cities and lands of Bolivia I have seen, appeared nearly pristine. It was a breathtaking journey.
As we returned to La Paz using the new Coroico road, one which, after more than 10 years of construction, actually has two lanes and is (mostly) paved, I saw the bigger picture of some waterfalls trickling with scarcely any water, garbage littered on the sides of the roads, and, as we ascended closer to La Paz, we came upon the summit with barely any water in its lake and mountains lacking the snow and ice that once covered them years ago.
Agua es vida. “Water is life.” This is a phrase that is frequently spoken in Bolivia by human rights organizations and institutions as well as among community members. These members are the people who know the true meaning of this phrase as they are the ones who suffer from lack of water due to the glacial melting of climate change and the contamination and heavy use of water by mining operations. It is this cry that brought UMAVIDA, the Joining Hands network for which I am facilitator, to Oruro, Bolivia, to support the advocacy campaign for the communities affected by the Kori Kollo mining operations. It is a campaign for environmental justice and corporate responsibility. Although mining is the second-biggest foreign currency earner and brings in one-third of the country’s foreign currency, these transnational corporations do not have the right to contaminate the lives and livelihoods of the surrounding communities. We saw many examples of this contamination in the photos that were submitted for our recent photo contest, Poverty and Contamination. The photo reports submitted by our youth portrayed the stark realities of their regions and communities. The winners’ photo reports were displayed in an exhibition, spreading awareness to those who passed through. It was seen clearly that these irresponsible environmental actions are affecting all generations and need to be addressed.
“Justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public.” How beautiful are these words of Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University sociology professor. Not only for the mission and vision of Joining Hands, which joins in partnership with global partners and looks to change systemic structures that are the root causes of poverty, hunger, and injustice. But also, as we reflect during this time of Advent, for the remembrance of the life and revolutionary whose birth we are waiting, who taught us to question the system of power and reach out to the marginalized to give them voices, equality, and justice. “In Christ, value is not established by economic or social standards, there is no bond or free, no slave or master, but a new creation, a new oneness,” John Shelby Spong stated in a recent essay.
As we prepare our minds, bodies, and spirits during this Advent Christmas season of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, may we also remember that, as we are ready and willing, we are called to be these dimensions of faith with our neighbors around the world. We await the Christ child, inwardly reflecting on what that means in our lives during these weeks before and beyond Christmas. We also spread his love and his call for life abundant by speaking out with a voice that yearns for and rejoices in a new creation, a new oneness.
Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo! May you be surrounded in hope, peace, joy and love and the cry in your heart for justice.
Joining Hands - UMAVIDA
For more information:
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 301
Chenoa, I admire the purity of justice in your heart. Sorely, it's an unobtainable cause in this broken world, but one of great nobility to seek. Thank you for what you do for the Presbyterian Church and for the people of Bolivia. You can be proud of your efforts and proud of your work. Please continue to work for justice, clean water, and a better world for all of us to live in. Cheryl Rees
Keep up the good work in Bolivia Chenoa - we're praying for you and La Paz
Dear Chenoa, Thank you SO much for your wonderful service to our hermanas y hermanos in Bolivia. I wish you Felice Navidad y Prospero Ano Nuevo. Love, Anore