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All boarding, grades 9-12 in Alexandria, Virginia

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Johnny Motley '08

A graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, Johnny Motley ’08 has been studying indigenous communities in the Amazon and is on a mission to help one of these communities buy a motorboat to facilitate access to regional health services.

A Motor Boat for Comunidade São Jorge

Since 2013 I have spent several months in the Brazilian Amazon. I remain fascinated with the region and would like to dedicate a large part of my career to helping protect its cultures and ecology.

Recently, I stayed one week in an indigenous village on the Upper Rio Negro, about a three-day journey from the Amazonian metropolis of Manaus. This community, known as São Jorge do Rio Curicuriari, is comprised of about 25 families, primarily of the Tukano ethnic group. Like most communities in the Upper Rio Negro, life there revolves around subsistence fishing and cultivation of the manioc root.

While São Jorge has an idyllic dimension, the community suffers from undeniable and often debilitating poverty. For example, when fish and game are scarce, they may not consume any substantial protein for up to a week. Staying there as a guest, one can easily see that many residents, adults and children alike, are malnourished and have fallen victim to resultant maladies.

In their current situation, the fastest way for residents of São Jorge to reach the nearest hospital is a two-hour journey on a wooden canoe with a tiny motor. In emergencies, they radio the hospital to send medics on a motorboat, but often the sick and injured must wait to be picked up and then wait yet again to be taken the back to the hospital where the boats were dispatched. Several elders and leaders in the community told me that perhaps their most pressing need is for reliable transportation.

Tragically, this fear was confirmed a few days after I left São Jorge and had returned to the city of São Gabriel da Cachoeira. Upon encountering a friend on the street, I was informed that two children in São Jorge had been severely burned when a two year old knocked over a large pot of boiling water onto herself and her brother. Both children were in critical condition, and one had to be airlifted all the way to Manaus for treatment. By the grace of God, both children did survive, but this sad story illustrates the urgency to have reliable transportation going forward.

An aluminum-bodied boat with a decent motor, known in the Amazon as a voadeira, would allow residents of São Jorge to reach the hospital in São Gabriel in about half an hour, quartering the time it currently takes. Such a boat would not only offer them greater security when disaster strikes, but would also allow community leaders to travel to important meetings around the region and to transport their produce to the marketplace in São Gabriel. Moreover, the community would have sufficient income from their selling of crops and handicrafts in the market in São Gabriel to be able purchase gasoline for such a boat.

Learn more about Johnny’s fund-raising effort here.
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