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Changing Contexts in the Chaco

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Video of the visit of a team from Down and Dromore, Northern Ireland to Northern Argentina in November 2014.

Northern Argentina 2014 from inch films on Vimeo.

The Story of a Wichi child

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Garden Project Update

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Visit to Argentina by Phil and Rosemary Tadman

We had the privilege of visiting Argentina in the late September and early October. It was a very positive experience with many encouragements and it was a joy to see some of the beauty of Argentina. We were also presented with challenges, some particular to Argentina, which is a nation going through various difficulties, not least economic.

We started our time in the North, making a visit to the Chaco with Alec Deane, staying in Mission Chequena, followed by a few days in the city of Salta. Alec has a great gift in relating to the Wichi people, having worked with them for many years and the evident trust between them is inspiring. With Alec we visited a number of the Wichi homes where the Siwok crafts are carved and fashioned into such attractive quality products. Many of the craft workers have gained much support and advice from Alec, who always seems to be creative and full of ideas. Sales of Siwok Craft items provide a livelihood for many Wichi families and it was a joy to meet these genuine fair trade producers. Your support of the Wichi producers by purchasing Siwok Crafts is much appreciated.

Alec also manages a garden project with the Wichi to help improve their nutrition. For more information about Alec's work with the Wichi people, see the article about him. Further information can be found at

At San Andres Church in Salta, we met Polycarp, a young Wichi man who told us he had recently qualified as an Architect. To help the Wichi people develop their God given gifts, including wood carving, is inspiring.

Phil and Rosemary

With AlecWith Pedro who makes the Letters
Visiting a craftsmanHelping fence a new garden in Hickmann

REVISITING The Argentina Chaco - Dr Michael & Virginia Patterson, July 2011

"Dr. Miguel, do you remember me?" said the middle-aged man. "Well... actually I can't remember your name" said Michael. "My mother is Avelina..." "Oh yes, now I remember... I delivered you!"

That was just one of the wonderful moments we experienced when we went back to Argentina which was our home for 22 years.

We decided to revisit Argentina after 9 years absence, primarily to join in the centenary celebrations for the arrival of the first Anglican missionaries to the Chaco in 1911. We were also anxious to see the Siwok handicrafts production and to that end we stayed with Alec and Ivon Deane who coordinate the buying and exporting of the crafts.

We found it is possible to reach Argentina within 24 hours from home! Having left our house near Reading at 4.30am on Monday May 16th and after changing at Madrid we actually reached Buenos Aires at 8.30 that same evening (which of course was really 11.30pm BST!). This long journey set the tone for the whole visit, as we continued the next day by air to Salta (a journey of 2 and a half hours). After unpacking and repacking, 36 hours later we were off again to the North of the province and spent more than a week travelling around, visiting many Indian villages and meeting again many people we have known for years (including the man whom Michael had delivered soon after we arrived in Mision La Paz in 1964!)

The Centenary celebrations.
The days we spent near the Pilcomayo river (the border with Paraguay) will never be forgotten because it was there that we attended the centenary celebrations in La Paz, our original home for four years. The meetings there were quite emotional as the older people reminisced about the "old missionaries" who had taught them not only about the Gospel but also how to read and count, and who had opened the world to them. Then came the memories of those like us who had brought medical and agricultural services to the Indian groups and we were embraced by a huge crowd of people who wanted to say thankyou for all the missionaries who had lived with them and loved them over the years. Michael was asked to preach at the Sunday morning service in Mision La Paz and did so in fluent Wichi, which was much appreciated! There was a lot of music and dancing and lots of reminiscences.

We were thrilled to meet with our Wichi friends, many of whom seem to have a better standard of living... although no rights to the land where they live! Under the present government many of them are receiving subsidies for having children, for a disability (not always proven), for unemployment (which means most of them!) and so on... so that quite a few of them have a TV, a mobile phone, a motor-bike or a camera or even a camcorder or a laptop, but in effect this is just superficial wealth and underneath they live in just the same way as ever, in their old wooden structures with possibly a corrugated iron roof, but basically they still live outside under the trees! The government has in some villages built concrete houses for the Wichi, but these are only used to keep clothes and possessions out of the sun and the rain!

Health work.
There are still many sick people everywhere and it is very sad to see malnourished children, mainly due to lack of health education for young mothers. However there is a beautiful new well-equipped health centre in Mision La Paz, used by the local people but only served by one Wichi nurse, Arminda. She told us that a dentist visits every month but they are lucky to see a doctor once every two months! There are doctors in Santa Victoria (30 miles away) but they rarely move from there. We tried to impress upon everyone how urgent is the need for more doctors in the Chaco , and we hope that our words will bear fruit.

In Salta it was a joy to see Cristina Vargas again; she is still working so hard to help all the indigenous people who arrive in Salta for hospital treatment and whom she shepherds around until they see the doctors they require, explaining and translating so that both sides understand the problem and the patient gets the treatment and is admitted to hospital or stays in the mission hostel till a bed is available. It is hard to imagine how terrifying it must be for an indigenous person from 500 miles away in the country to arrive in a huge place like Salta, not knowing anyone and having to find their way to hospital and face doctors who don't speak their language. Cristina is the one person they can trust to help them through the ordeal and she does it with love and compassion.

Siwok Crafts.
It was wonderful to be able to go with Alec to Algarrobal, the Indian village where the Siwok crafts are produced (otherwise called Mission Chaqueña) and it was great to see so many people involved in work which they enjoy and take pride in. We asked them if they want to continue working or would rather stop carving things for us to sell in the UK; their answer was unequivocal: they like working to produce crafts and can earn more selling to Alec than to anyone else (as others always beat their prices down). We saw how the craftsmen work at home in a cooperative of 30 people, using the small machines Alec has provided alongside the gardens he has helped them to plant and irrigate so that they have plenty of fresh vegetables like sweet-corn, carrots, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. The crafts are polished and packed by a Wichi helper in the old store building which now houses a few staple products to sell to the craftsmen, who bring their goods to Alec when he comes to the mission every two weeks.

Alec does an immense amount of other work for the Wichi and is constantly on the phone to people in the mission who regard him as the only person they can trust to help with all their problems, from illegal loggers to ill-health. Every time he goes to the mission he brings back sick people for attention in Salta; when we went with him, we brought back a girl with epilepsy (diagnosed by the resident doctor in Algarrobal) who needed confirmation of the diagnosis and treatment in Salta. We also left the mission with a full truckload of people to be taken to other places en route to Salta, all of whom relied on Alec to get them there! The Wichi regard Alec as "their" missionary though he has no salary and is extremely generous to all the people, not just his craftsmen.

Land for Life.
We also spent two special days with Andrew Leake travelling into an area of the Chaco which we hardly knew, south of the river Bermejo. We actually went to see the area where he wants to buy land for conservation. We set off at 7am and collected the local man who was to be our guide before actually starting out on our adventure. He had been recommended as a good guide and it turned out he was just a local man but had been appointed as the local "park ranger" and was a mine of information. We spent the whole day travelling with him while he told us about the local area, what animals there were there, to whom the land belonged, whether it was for sale or not, whether anyone was living there, how many cows they had, how many birds there were in the area, how extensive was the area through which we drove.... and we kept on stopping so that he could take us off walking down a non-existent track (which he could find!) to show us a wonderful lagoon where we saw 23 different species of birds, while also looking carefully at every footprint to show us that deer, capybara, ocelot, wildcats, and anteaters had passed that way...or at one point that an alligator had shuffled down to the lake (and was probably still there lying in the water!) It was an absolutely fascinating day and we were amazed by this man´s knowledge and by the respect which he had obviously earned from the local people: there were several points where he picked up signs of people having been there to hunt animals, which meant he had to go and warn them off or serve them with a summons to appear at court and pay a fine, which he did while the people looked on in some trepidation! It was amazing!

Altogether we had an unforgettable visit, seeing so many places and people whom we remembered well, as well as some we had not previously met. As we said goodbye our friends assured us they expect to see us again in two years' time for our golden wedding celebrations so, God willing, we may yet be able to return to the place we love.

Siwok Foundation awarded Dow Agroscience 1st Prize

Siwok Foundation awarded Dow Agroscience 1st Prize

Dear Siwok UK team,

Against all predictions the Siwok Foundation was awarded by Dow Agroscience, 1st Prize in their 9th edition of the development of people in the agriculture sector.

I never dreamed that we would get it as there were 22 competitors from all over the country that had presented their projects. The excuse for the prize has been the Wichi vegetable gardens that we successfully developed this last year but I´m sure the real reason is the 30 years of work (mainly in craft development) in the communities.

It´s an honour I wasn´t expecting and I pray that it can open the eyes of government officials that they have to use their plenty resources to "teach to fish and not give the fish away".

I´m indebted to you all for this as it has only been possible to buy and develop crafts with the wichi if you on that end have been working hard to sell the items produced. I´m also sure that part of the reason also was that this was done with no big institution behind us, just normal people, asking nothing from anybody.


God bless you all!

Alec & Ivon
21 July 2010

New translation of the Bible signals

New translation of the Bible signals "new era" for Toba tribe in the Chaco

From August, thousands of people in Argentina will be able to read a New Testament for the first time, thanks in part to generous donations from SAMS supporters. Mission partners Michael and Sylvia Browne have invested over a decade into a translation of the New Testament for the Toba people of the Chaco region.

The presentation of the New Testament to Toba churches is provisionally planned for August, in Juarez, with events to celebrate this massive achievement likely to be held in Formosa and Buenos Aires, too.
"This will bring the Toba churches into a new era," says Michael. The formerly warlike Tobas requested a missionary presence in the 1920s after seeing the effect of the gospel upon their neighbours, the Wichi.

The Brownes will continue to stay with the Tobas, preparing materials to help them as they read the New Testament. Plans are being made for an audio version for people with low literacy levels.

July 2010

Faith Reflection: Forgotten no longer

Maurice Sinclair shares thoughts on the past, present and future of the Wichi people.

Gone is the time when the Wichi, an indigenous tribe in Northern Argentina, were a forgotten people. On a weekend in high summer last year more than a thousand Wichi came together in the Chaco town of Sauzalito to honour the memory of Bishop Mario Marino and to have his life's work recognised by the Argentine authorities.

My wife Gill and I were on a return visit to see friends and former colleagues from our years of missionary service, and we were delighted to be able to accompany newly consecrated Bishop Nick Drayson and his wife Catherine on their journey to Sauzalito and to share in this celebration of Bishop Mario's achievements as a leader of church and people. Having been re-acquainted with the mud roads of the Chaco and having negotiated a river crossing in a leaky rowing boat, we found ourselves engulfed in a praise service at full volume with one gospel group after another taking the lead. A novel feature of the worship was a very energetic kind of dance-not surprisingly a subject of some disagreement between the older and the younger generation. In the event the new bishop's wife join in, giving this new exuberance an important note of approval.

On the Sunday morning at a slightly quieter service Nick Drayson and I had our hands full confirming lots of Wichi youngsters. The previous afternoon we had witnessed the civic ceremony. There were speeches given by Mayor Jose Kloster and Bishop Nick also spoke brilliantly. The climax came with the unveiling of a beautiful marble plaque in memory of Mario Marino, so obviously loved by his people and respected by the wider community. With the events of this weekend still vivid in my mind two thoughts are uppermost. First, who will, under God, be the outstanding indigenous leaders in the Wichi church in the coming years? But then an answering thought: this forgotten people were never forgotten by the Lord and he will guide them whatever the future holds.

This article appeared in SHARE magazine for June - September 2010

June 2010

A day's work with Indian Patients in the Hospitals of Salta

A day's work with Indian Patients in the Hospitals of Salta

It's 6.30 in the morning, Monday, 15th December, and you can find me in the public hospital named after Dr. Arturo Onativia. I am waiting for the arrival of Indian patients from the small town of Santa Victoria, more than 500 km. away on the banks of the R. Pilcomayo, which marks the frontier between Argentina, in the south, and Bolivia and Paraguay to the north.

One of the patients who arrives is Liliana. She has been diagnosed as having Diffuse Hypothyroidism and now, at 7.15 a.m., she has had a blood sample taken to test her TSH. It is over a year since she has had her last test and she has been more than 3 months without medication. The doctor who is attending her has asked for new tests to establish the correct daily dosage of Levotiroxina.

The situation of Liliana is typical and reveals a whole series of problems that the Indians face and the public health service finds hard to resolve:

• In the first place, the local hospital of Santa Victoria, with limited facilities, doesn't arrange for the patients with chronic pathologies to have the regular medical check-ups in Salta that they need.

• Secondly, the local hospitals are unable to provide the necessary medication.

• Thirdly, no provision is made for the patients' transport from Tartagal to Salta, more than 500 km. away, with some 120 km. of dirt roads.
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The Right Reverend Bill Flagg, founder of Siwok Crafts in the UK

The Right Reverend Bill Flagg, founder of Siwok Crafts in the UK

Evangelical missionary who ministered to the Anglican communities of South America and trained their priests

The Right Reverend Bill Flagg, who died on October 1 2008 aged 79, began life as a farmer's boy in Somerset and, despite leaving school at the age of 14, became a missionary statesman of considerable importance, playing a key role in the development of the Anglican Church in South America.

Flagg: from the age of 16 he used his spare time to bicycle round Somerset preaching in churches and the open air.
He was Presiding Bishop (the equivalent of Archbishop) of the Anglican Council of South America from 1974 to 1977, a post he combined with episcopal leadership in Chile, Peru and Bolivia, and before that was Bishop of Paraguay and Northern Argentina. Later he spent seven years in London as general secretary of the South American Mission Society (SAMS) and also exercised notable ministries as an assistant bishop in the dioceses of Liverpool and Southwell.

Flagg's missionary zeal became evident when, at the age of 16, he used his spare time from farming to bicycle around Somerset preaching in churches and the open air, thus becoming known as "the boy preacher". He also began to educate himself with the aid of a correspondence course and, having matriculated, entered All Nations Christian College at Taplow, Buckinghamshire, to prepare for overseas missionary work.

From 1951 to 1958 he was in Chile as an agricultural missionary, then returned to England to prepare for Holy Orders at Clifton Theological College, Bristol. In 1959 he became chaplain and missionary superintendent of St Andrew's, Asuncion, in Paraguay, and five years later he was appointed Archdeacon of Northern Argentina; five years after that, when only 40, he became a bishop.

Firmly rooted in the Evangelical tradition, Flagg made an indelible impression wherever he went, often travelling on horseback for several days across the continent's vast open spaces to minister to small isolated Christian communities and often to start new ones, particularly among the Mapuche Indians. He had taught himself Spanish on his first sea crossing to South America and acquired the ability to preach in several local languages. Inseparable from his preaching was a humble and inspiring personality who brought many to faith.

As a bishop, he recognised that the days of importing church leaders to South America from England were numbered, and he devoted a good deal of time to the training of indigenous clergy who would soon assume responsibility within their own parishes and dioceses. He also saw the importance of bringing the separate South American dioceses to work together and relate more closely to the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion. He was himself a member of the Anglican Consultative Council from 1974 to 1979.

John William Hawkins Flagg was born on June 16 1929 at the village of Mudford, near Yeovil. He had an inquisitive mind, and when still very young had a vivid conversion experience that determined the course of his life. He remained, however, wedded to the soil, never lost his Somerset accent - even, it was said, when speaking Spanish - and during his subsequent work as a missionary bishop used his knowledge of farming to sustain the life of rural missions. He could turn his hand to almost any practical task, including the repair of buildings and motor vehicles, and seemed no less at home when working in great cities.

In the 1960s he obtained wood-working tools for the poor Wichi people of northern Argentina and started an industry of hand-crafted wood sculptures - beautifully carved and inlaid birds and animals - which provided them with a sustaining income. On his return to England he became one of the industry's chief salesmen.

As general secretary of the South American Mission Society from 1986 to 1993, Flagg not only continued the necessary fund-raising, but also proved to be a visionary, strategic thinker in a period when the Church of which he had first-hand knowledge was experiencing considerable growth and was in need of unification. He made frequent visits to South America to advise those responsible for leadership in the Province of the Southern Cone, which he had done so much to create. The flourishing of the missions he had founded moved him greatly.

During the seven years between ceasing to minister in South America and becoming general secretary of SAMS (1978-85), Flagg served as Assistant Bishop of Liverpool, under David Sheppard, who had visited South America and had been deeply impressed by what he found there. Flagg combined this post with that of vicar of St Cyprian's, Toxteth, where he was much loved and had an important role in the rebuilding of community life after the destructive riots. He also worked tirelessly to retain the landmark church and was responsible for overseeing the design and building of a new community centre.

Following his retirement from SAMS, when he was an assistant bishop in Rochester diocese, Flagg moved to Southwell, Nottinghamshire, in the same role, except that he was now free to give it his full attention.
Besides exercising a characteristic pastoral and evangelistic ministry in the parishes, he accepted the responsibilities of adviser on rural ministry, which proved invaluable at the time of the BSE outbreak, and also for stewardship and overseas relations. He finally retired in 1997, but remained an honorary assistant bishop and continued to lend a hand until illness intervened.

Archbishop George Carey awarded him the Cross of St Augustine in 1996. Flagg's autobiography, "From Ploughshare to Crook", was published in 2000. (Copies available on this website)

His wife, Marjorie, who predeceased him, played an important part in his ministry, often accompanying him with their large family on hazardous journeys to remote places in South America.

Taken from the Daily Telegraph dated 17th October 2008

Bill Flagg is survived by a son and four daughters, and by a son whom he adopted in Peru.

Forest Destroyed, a Family Devastated

Destruction of Argentina's Chaco forest has featured in recent issues of SHARE. (SAMS Magazine) Andrew Leake now tells how global economic forces affect real people:

Image 2
Six-year-old Vanesa had been born into a humble Wichi family in the small village of Chofwayuk in the dry tropical forests of northern Argentina. Her early years were happy ones spent playing with her siblings. Most of all, she loved helping her mother look after her baby brother Jeremías.
Parah 3

Family life changed abruptly the day the bulldozers arrived. As the trees crashed down, Vanesa's world was literally wiped out. The beautiful forest was replaced by a barren ocean of soy beans, patrolled by giant agricultural machines and bombarded from the air by crop dusters.

Just when things could seemingly get no worse, an irritation in one of Vanesa's eyes was diagnosed as cancer. Her father, Eduardo, took her to the city where doctors had to remove the eye. She put on a brave face, and recouped some of her beauty with the aid of a glass eye. Eduardo believes the disease was caused by the pesticides used by farmers on their crops.

Confronting the Giants

The loss of the forest made family life more and more difficult. Vanesa's parents could no longer find the plants, fruits, honey and animals that provided them with much of their diet. When bulldozers arrived to knock down one of the last patches of forest near her community, Eduardo decided enough was enough. He sought help from local authorities, but when this drew a blank he decided to take direct action. With the rest of his community he stood in front of the advancing bulldozers -- which sure enough generated a response, but not one they desired.

Riot police came to the village, beat up the peaceful protestors and arrested all the men. Terrified by what she witnessed, Vanesa grabbed her baby brother and ran off into the forest. In tears, she wandered aimlessly, dragging Jeremías as she was not strong enough to carry him. She became disorientated and was lost for several hours. Eduardo, back home after his ordeal with the police, found the children in the late evening. They were bruised and cut by thorns but otherwise in good shape.

The family recounted the day's events, trying to make sense of the injustice they had suffered. At that same moment, in a lawyer's office a few miles away, a court injunction was being signed that would make it a legal offence for Eduardo and some other community members to go within 50 metres of the plot being deforested. In practical terms, this now means Eduardo has to break the law in order to travel to and from his village.

Though far removed from our own reality, the misfortunes of families such as Vanesa's are often linked to our own lives. International demand for cheaper crops finds a willing partner in the insatiable greed of agribusinesses that supply products regardless of environmental and social costs. Left unchecked and fuelled by our own consumer demands, these economic forces play havoc with the wellbeing of family life halfway round the globe.

The Anglican Church, with support from SAMS, is actively involved in supporting indigenous communities in Argentina in issues of land rights and preservation of the forest. This work is conducted by the programme of social justice, ASOCIANA, to which Andrew devotes part of his ministry.

This article appeared in the International Anglican Family Newsletter, Easter 2008, and is reproduced here with permission.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Public Enquiry?
As a result of the opposition manifested at the public enquiry over a proposal to deforest 30,000 hectares of Chaco forest (see below), we have learnt (informally, and yet to be confirmed officially) that the government may now carry out a second public meeting.

Both ASOCIANA and the government agency for indigenous issues (IPPIS) presented legal measures questioning the project and the manner in which the public enquiry was carried out. ASOCIANA questioned the scientific validity of the company’s environmental impact assessment. The government agency was basically unhappy with the fact that they were only informed of the event two days before the event, and therefore unable to attend.

Audience at the initipublic hearing in Embarcación 02 07 07
Audience at the initipublic hearing in Embarcación 02 07 07
This news is both good and bad. Good in the sense that our questioning was strong enough to stop an outright authorisation of the project. Bad in that the government and the land owners still thinking they can somehow get the project approved. The fact if the matter is that had ASOCIANA not been involved, it is quite likely that no formal questioning of he project would have been made, which would have made it easier for it to have been approved. What is interesting is that this is occurring just as a big sugar and paper factory in the neighbouring province of Jujuy have backtracked on a proposal to deforest a large area of tropical cloud forest after meeting a lot of resistance from non-government organisations. On a slightly different plane, another issue making headlines is the opposition being mounted by a small town high in the mountains against a proposed uranium mine.
Sugar and Paper Mill in Ledesma (Jujuy) - which recently backed down from a proposal to deforest tropical jungles in the Andean foothills
Sugar and Paper Mill in Ledesma (Jujuy) - which recently backed down from a proposal to deforest tropical jungles in the Andean foothills
The above is indicative of a gradual growth of environmental awareness among certain sectors of public opinion, and it is to be welcomed. Small as it may be, one feels we are no longer alone. There are others out there with whom we can link our efforts, and this is very positive.