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Torrential rainfall, equivalent to a whole years worth, fell in three days in the state of Vargas in December 1999. This caused mudslides and severe flooding that destroyed or damaged over 100,000 homes and affected over 350,000 people, including thousands of deaths. In the state of Vargas, previously dependent on Caribbean resort economy, most of the infrastructure was destroyed - washing away with it all prosperity and business that kept it alive.      [See Photo Archives for more detail.]





 In response to the disaster, GAIA expanded its primary work program "La Planta Nuestra de Cada Dia" to include activities related to the quality of life in homeless shelters by addressing disaster preparedness and health education, as well as providing psycho-social counseling.

Immediately afterwards, however, most resources and time was spent equiping the people of Vargas with tools and equipment and trying to clear up and restore the towns along the coastline, particulaly the schools. The problem with the floods was that it was not just water, but within it, were carried huge boulders from the mountains which demolished houses and let mudslides flow right through the towns. 

In June 2000, GAIA took on board it's first two Crisis Corps Volunteers and a lot of work shifted from rural/urban poverty stricken areas to the Vargas shelters.  After a year, our work was seen as hugely beneficial and we received funding from World Vision to carry on the work in the shelters. It has taken over a year for many of the people living in the temporary shelters to be relocated to new homes, and at present, the residents of the last remaining shelter have decided to stay there and make permanent homes of the shelter. With the support of World Vision however, we are going to keep in contact with the shelter over the coming months and ensure our work is being implemented correctly. 






Our flagship project "Our Daily Plant" has been the framework by which we have been helping these communities. However, due to the lack of resources in the shelters, in terms of space and arable land to cultivate crops, we had to adapt the program. We have focused more on the commercial dimension of Our Daily Plant, as this is seen to benefit the occupants of the shelters most. This was done by including a series of additional workshops to our regular agenda which taught occupants artisan skills to make marketable goods. The Crisis Corps volunteers helped us with these workshops, as well as giving additional psychological support and talks on issues such as resolution of conflict, communication and family skills, drug abuse and HIV/Aids. 

We have relied on the system of workshops to transmit this help, and they have proved very succesful as an interactive teaching method. See workshops for a more in depth look at how we have adapted our program and the sort of things we have included in it. 



1st Hand Accounts


 We would like to thank some of the

 families in the shelters who were 

 good enough to recount to us some 

 of their accounts and recollections of

 the nightmare that they have been


"The water reared up like  monster...there were waves up to 25 metres high...

 1st Hand Accounts 




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Our work in the Vargas shelters is more than just a disaster relief effort to alleviate short to medium term problems caused by the flood. Instead there is a vital idea that we are trying to instil in the communities of Vargas, with the aim of setting in motion a sustainable upward spiral of  economic and social development. 

The fundamental problem with the attitude and priorities of many of the people in rural or poverty stricken areas of Venezuela is that they are content to be dependent on the government and others, and are reluctant or tardy to take steps themselves in order to go forward. The people see the government as a father figure - a provider. The people pay taxes and in turn they are provided with jobs which are regarded as a means by which money is simply handed back to them. A halfhearted workforce ensues that does not look to find better jobs an does not capitalise upon self sufficiency in order to use income as a way to progress.

GAIA aims to show the people of Vargas that the tragedy of the floods is also an opportunity as well as a disaster - an opportunity for them to develop as individuals and learn to take responsibility of accounting for their basic needs. We teach them that working under the provision of the government is a 2-way process. In order to develop they need to give something themselves, as well as just taking from the government. We aim to restore their dignity by teaching them to be citizens and not just a population. 

In some of the first hand accounts that we have recorded below, largely with the help of one of our Crisis Corps volunteers, Catherine Davidson, it can be seen that the horrors of the floods have caused some change in attitude. It has taught them the desire to live and to fight. It is this desire that we aim to adapt and harness toward fighting poverty. We want the floods to change their priorities so that they do not feel like victims, but more like entrepreneurs.