They have never seen a white man before

It was raining cats and dogs and it didn’t seem to stop. We sat with Enrique under the roof of our missionary post in the Indian village of El Diamante, watched the kids playing and enjoying the rain, thinking only one thing: will we be able to get to Nuevo Progreso, which was the next community we wanted to visit, today.

Arriving at Nuevo Progreso

When the rain falls, the rivers rise, the river current becomes stronger, and strong vortices are formed. There are branches and logs floating on the river, making traveling by boat on the river dangerous.

And since the rain didn’t stop until early afternoon, it was perfectly understandable that our arrangement with the principal fell through as we were waiting for him to take us by boat to the indigenous village of Nuevo Progreso.

However, the next day was much better. The principal didn’t arrive so we were driven to the community by a fisherman from the village of El Diamante.

The missionary arrived

The journey to the Nuevo Progreso community was considerably longer than the one from Atalaya to Diamante. It was a three-hour drive on a rough river, the waves rocked us, and the water splashed into our boat.

The children were expecting us on the river coast and escorted us to the village.

The first thing that surprised us, after we reached the coast, were the children. As we were unloading the Christmas presents and luggage from the boat, we saw a group of village children from afar. They were running towards us, happy and full of expectations: the missionary arrived!


Nuevo Progreso is younger than the El Diamante community. When the ‘profe‘ (as they call the Peruvian principal in this village) first came to this part of the Amazon rainforest, he didn’t just set up the school but the entire community.

Arriving at the village. The missionary post is on the right.

Today there are 27 families living in the village, and many others in the depths of the forest.

Together with the Atalaya community, profe helped the community set up solar systems, so nine years ago the first light bulbs were lit. Profe also connected with the claretinian missionaries who started visiting the village regularly a year ago and announce the message of Jesus.

In the classroom. The principal presents the guests.

The village is extremely poor, despite the efforts the principal and other missionaries invest in this community. People, for example, still don’t have drinking water. In Diamante, as I wrote, there is a water supply system from a distant waterfall, while Nuevo Progreso doesn’t have its own water supply system because it doesn’t have its own source (the village is on an island surrounded by the Ucayali river).

They drink water from a contaminated river

Therefore, indigenous people only use rainwater when there is a lot of rain, otherwise, they drink water from the Ucayali river, which is contaminated. They use that water for washing and clothes. They live in bad conditions, and the hygiene is minimal.

Often, especially with children, you can notice that there are brown and even brighter locks of hair in their otherwise black hair. That’s one of the signs of poor nutrition, lack of nutrients and necessary vitamins.

It’s no wonder that they often get sick and die at an early age. There’s also a shortage of medications because the village is so remote and because the community can’t afford them.

Missionaries set up a wooden cabin that stores medications for the whole community, but the shelves remain empty for now.

The kids got Christmas treats. Do you notice bright locks of hair? That’s due to poor nutrition and lack of vitamins.

At Operando we collect money for communities such as Nuevo Progreso. From the collected money the missionaries will buy medications for the village and take care of the supplies for the pharmacy so that the villagers will have the basics for their health.

The welcome

Together with the missionary, we headed towards the village on a narrow path in the middle of a banana plantation, accompanied by children. At the beginning of the village there’s a wooden missionary post where we were camping that night.

The hearty welcome

With a big inscription, saying ‘Welcome Father Enrique and friends who visited us’, the children showed just how important and welcome are the newcomers in the village. Who wouldn’t be happy with such a reception!

It’s understandable. In contrast to the Diamante village, where ‘outside’ visits are common, there is far less interest for this remote village, especially by the public office holders from the Atalaya municipality that includes also Nuevo Progreso.

From America

After we put down our backpacks, applied mosquito protection and took off our muddy boots, we first went to school, where the children continued with their classes. This was no ordinary day for them. They knew that the missionary was coming and that they would receive Christmas presents.

A hand pump was of no use for inflating balls. We had to inflate them manually.

Enrique has an amazing gift to work with people, especially with young people and children. He easily animated them, sang with them and created a pleasant atmosphere.

“These are my friends,” he said and pointed to us. “They came from very far. From Europe. They are traveling around the world and today they wanted to visit you. Does anyone know where Europe is?”

The children looked at each other and finally answered with certainty:

“In America!”

They’ve never seen a Caucasian before

How could they answer differently. They hear about America as they listen to adults talking about ‘gringos’. But even for them, America is more or less everything that exists outside of Peru, even though they don’t know anything about it; most of them have no education, and there’s no television.

Many of them have seen a Caucasian for the first time in their lives. Just imagine their wide-open eyes and curious looks when we talked about our journey and the joy we feel to be among them and experience their hospitality.

The gifts

Despite the fact that the village is poor and that the people have even simpler lives than in Diamante, they surprised us with their gifts.

As we stood in the yard in front of the school, a villager came to us with a banana branch he just cut off from his tree:

The villagers brought us gifts one after another. Excellent coconuts, bananas and other fruits.

“A gift for you,” he said. “That you will know that good people live here and that you will feel good among us.”

Later came another villager and brought two big fish he caught in the morning in the Ucayali river.

They brought us coconuts, sugar cane and other fruits that we have never seen before. All fresh, natural and tasty.

Almost every hour someone came with their gift so there was soon a big pile of bananas and other fruits in front of our house.

Like him

The missionary had a lot of work in the village which was my fault too. He spent an hour just shaving heads of the nine-year olds (and one adult) who found my shaven head fascinating.

Enrique spent an hour shaving heads. The nits and lice were gone.

“Like him,” they said him and pointed their fingers at me.

I couldn’t explain to them that in our parts of the world it often happens that a man is left without his hair – against his will. They probably wouldn’t understand it anyway. Not only that they don’t know what baldness is, there are only a few indigenous people whose hair turns gray when they turn sixty or later. Of course that fact fascinated us.

And this is what it looks like when we, the brothers, take a picture together.

“People here don’t know what stress is,” the principal told us. “They live from today to tomorrow, they don’t worry about the future, they know how to have fun and mostly how to live with nature.”

Godparents to nine children

It was extremely hot and moist during the day, but it cooled down during the night so we could sleep.

The next day was the highlight of our visit. At the Holy Mass, which was held outdoors under the tree by the football field, there were as many as 41 children waiting to be baptized.

At the christening. We became godparents to nine children. Great honor for us.

This was a great event for the village and for us as well because we became grandparents to nine children. In addition, I celebrated my birthday and the villagers prepared lunch for me that included chicken which is rarely on their plates.

The wounded boy

After the mass, our attention was caught by a boy who sat quietly by the football field while other children played happily.

The finger on his hand was wrapped in a dirty cloth and at first he didn’t want to show us what happened to his hand. But when we removed the bandage, a big and deep wound was uncovered.

He said he wounded himself with a machete when he was home alone and tried to cut off a sugar cane.

We couldn’t even imagine how Brani, this seven-year-old boy, could possibly hold a machete because it was almost bigger than him. Such accidents are no rarity since children in the village are often left to themselves.

At the last minute

Luckily we had some alcohol for disinfection, patches and antibiotics. He made no sound when we disinfected his wound even though it must have hurt him a lot.

Soon it became clear that the wound was simply too big for the boy to be left in the village with just an ointment and patches. We suggested Enrique to take him with us to Atalaya, where he would be treated much better.

We went home with Brani. He needed emergency medical aid.

Brani and his father left with us as we departed from the village. We drove for four hours back to the city where the boy was immediately taken to the doctor.

It turned out it was of vital importance.

“Where have you been all this time?” the doctor asked when he saw the boy’s wound.

He said that we were at least four days too late to be able to stich his wound. Thus, they had to cut off a large part of the festered skin on the poor boy’s finger.

It all could have ended differently as it does with many indigenous people who don’t have a doctor or medication in the village. They remain without fingers, hands, legs, or even die of the consequences of poisoning.

Let’s help them get medications

For the indigenous people in the village medications or at least a first-aid kit are of great importance. That is why we are continuing with collecting money at Operando to help the missionaries buy medications and supply them to remote villages of the Amazon rainforest.

Now that Christmas is approaching and we’re buying gifts for our families and friends it’s maybe time to remember people who lack even the most basic things.

Let’s support the missionaries and help them with their efforts!

Leave a Comment