Aguapanela: youth and children drink in curriculum’s “faith vitamins”
“There is no path, Pilgrim. The path is made by walking.” This lovely phrase by the poet Antonio Machado epitomizes my life journey, particularly the two years I sojourned in Colombia.
Each person’s identity is marked by their family and social contexts, and other histories. To tell the truth, my identity as Rut Atarama, a Peruvian and a Mennonite Brethren, was redefined during my time of service with Mennonite Central Committee Colombia Seed program.
For two years, I lived in the city of Ibagué: capital of the Tolima region, and considered the birthplace of the FARC (the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces). My job with the Mencoldes Foundation consisted of walking alongside of families displaced by the armed conflict in all the different processes that come with adjusting to a new life in Ibagué. I also worked with the Ibagué Mennonite church accompanying community processes. This story refers only to the church.
As part of the call to be a positive influence in the community, the church works in a number of areas, in particular, with children and youth from communities with a high incidence of drug addiction, delinquency and poverty.
“Teacher, what do you do when the shooting starts?” This question posed by a seven-year-old girl reveals the daily reality for these vulnerable young people. “My brother and I hide underneath the bed.”
Due to the complexity of this violent context, it is necessary to address themes of abuse prevention, peacebuilding and values by taking a local perspective. A group of brave professional women – Fabiola Arango, Rosa Triana, Amanda Valencia and Diana Suérez – decided to get to work and create new Christian education material for the community children and youth with whom the Ibagué Mennonite church relates.
Praise be to God that I was called to be a part of the work of this beautiful group. A social communicator and Mennonite Brethren Peruvian woman working alongside Colombian Mennonite women made for a lovely Anabaptist fellowship opportunity!
Structuring lessons, long conversations about thematic focuses, observations from the communities, methodological investigations, revisions and corrections, among other things, marked our meetings for more than a year. All of this remains in my memory forever. My dear friends taught me these wise words: “Children should have spaces where they can be as they are, to be free, happy, dreamers… to feel loved and valued.”
In December, 2015, with great joy, Aguapanela!!!: A Christian Curriculum for Childhood and Adolescence was born. This curriculum is not only used by the church in Ibagué but also by other Anabaptist communities in Colombia.
After finishing my time of service in Colombia, I returned to my country bringing with me good experiences, memories, stories and also new perspectives of my faith. I also brought some copies of Aguapanela and I shared them in my community with joy. Currently, the children’s program of my church Iglesia Hermanos Menonitas de Miraflores (Miraflores MB church) is using this educational material.
I am profoundly thankful to those who have crossed my path in Colombia. Thanks to my dear friends who worked so hard on Aguapanela. Thank you for sharing your stories, passion and your faith lived out in acts of love for God and your neighbour. These have strengthened my identity – as Anabaptist, Christian and Peruvian with hints of Colombia.
–Rut Atarama, a member of the Iglesia Cristiana Hermanos Menonitas, Miraflores. Piura, Perú (Mennonite Brethren church in Peru).
Aguapanela!!!: A Christian Curriculum for Childhood and Adolescence
 Aguapanela is a drink made from jaggery (sugar in its rawest form) that is often served at meetings or when people are sick.