The 1980s

Peace was still very much at the heart of the work of the UNA but with a different meaning perhaps to those early days after the Second World War.

“UNA is a body of people deeply concerned about world peace. Peace is not just the absence of war. There is no peace in the world as long as there are hungry people, homeless people, oppressed people and people who are ill and cannot get the healing which might be theirs…. We see UNA International Service as our presence in the field… Volunteers are helping people to tackle their problems of hunger, homelessness, oppression and ill health. “  1980  UNAIS Annual Report.

Adam and Vanda Hurn, 1981 – 1985 Bolivia
A veterinary surgeon and his teacher wife from North Yorkshire were possibly the first family to volunteer together. Adam and Vanda took their two daughters Alice, 5, and Daisy, just one year old to Bolivia at a time when Latin America was described as going through “ the deepest and gravest economic crisis since the world depression of the 1930s”. There had been a return to civilian rule for Bolivia after 18 years of military dictatorship . Adam and Vanda were placed in Charagua, situated at the foot of the eastern Cordillera of the Andes, in the department of Santa Cruz. “Anything from 6 hours to 3 days travel away from Santa Cruz itself,” remembers Vanda. They had heard from a former school friend who had just returned from volunteering how they were desperate for vets as so many of the animals were dying. Not thinking that it would be possible to volunteer with such a young family, Adam and Vanda made some initial enquiries. The next thing they were on their way to work with a local NGO organisation CIPCA, focused on helping the local Guarani indigenous population. Adam was to help those who were involved in production, to achieve a system of husbandry that would produce enough food to feed the community and to sell. Vanda’s role was to help utilise the information and experience obtained from the production to be used as material for discussion and teaching in and out of the classroom. To be put simply, Adam helped to feed the stomachs and provide material for Vanda to feed the minds.

Vanda talks about how very little there was in terms of any creature comforts or even the basics, like food. When they arrived, a chicken shed had to be cleared out for them and that’s where the family stayed for the first week. If a visitor came to stay, a rare occasion, they would pray for the chickens to lay an extra egg.

Adam and Vanda raised their two daughters there and welcomed a new member to their family, an adopted Bolivian son, named Marcos. In 2013, Adam and Vanda returned to Latin America for an extended trip which ended back in Charagua for a month meeting up with old friends the family has stayed in touch with since their time living in the community.

“We saw some astounding improvements,” says Vanda. “We were able to take part in a special anniversary event celebrating the Indigenous Autonomy of the Guarani people.  It was a real highlight for us to be acknowledged as being part of the movement to improve livelihoods for this community.”

Martin Ager, a water and sanitation engineer was also building dams in Yako, Burkina Faso for three years and wrote a very moving article in 1989 about the emotions felt by so many development workers on their return from placement.

“Culture shock is common amongst development workers. Not when they arrive in country, you expect that to be different, but when they come home. You expect to know your own country. But after an extended period in a very poor country it looks different. A lot of the concerns of people in Britain seem rather insignificant and selfish. The most stark contrast I have come across is of a girl returning from an Ethiopian refugee camp, at the height of a famine to Britain just before Christmas.”

“ I must say that now, as I sit staring at my terminal in a nicely heated office, I sometimes long to be back in the wide open spaces doing something practical with a clear benefit. Nobody in the Thames catchment will ever think of me as they turn on their tap. Perhaps someone will as they draw a bucket from a well beside Kitenguen dam.”

This reference to Ethiopia of course takes us straight back to 1984 and a focus on poverty like never before. It changed the profile of international development forever.

“This was the year that the gap between our knowledge and understanding of world poverty and our willingness to confront its proportions was shown to be as wide as ever. Warnings had been coming through for a year or more, especially from the UN agencies about the famine conditions in Africa. To make that information shout loud enough and to turn into a major popular appeal for help, required media coverage, especially the impact of television pictures of the human tragedy of death and disease from starvation.”  1985 UNAIS Annual Report

The Hurn family arrive in Charagua, Bolivia - 1981

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