When I first saw Azai in a photo someone sent me on WhatsApp, the small, white dog looked sick and had a swollen face. He must have been about eight months old. I did not intend to rescue Azai because we had little space left, but after seeing his photo I could not refuse.
RIOHACHA, Colombia — I began Project Tawala at a critical time in my life when I faced a terrible bottom, emotionally and financially. Immersed in the indigenous community of the Wayuu people in Colombia, I witnessed the reality of abandoned dogs living in terrible conditions. My heart told me I found my new vocation. I started feeding four dogs and today, I have 150 in my care.
I remember the day I decided to talk to God. Suffering emotionally and financially, I plunged into a state of despair. In my prayer, I began to explain, I have nothing and no way out. In what felt like an answer, I soon discovered an opportunity to be a part of an organization called Wayuu Mochila Bags.
[A family-owned business, WMB sells hand crocheted bags made by an indigenous tribe on the northern peninsula of South America. Their mission is to raise awareness about the Wayuu people of Colombia and preserve their culture.]
In time, I became immersed in the communities that handcrafted the bags. I began to notice a stark reality: dogs abandoned, mistreated, and living in terrible conditions. I knew I needed to do something. Between 2015 and 2016, I started bringing food to the dogs, funded by the sale of backpacks.
The people in the Wayuu community have little income, so no waste exists from a single meal. They simply cannot feed the animals around them. When I found out the dogs ate the excrements of the people living there, shock sunk in. It left a powerful impression on me. I needed to do something meaningful.
Project Tawala [Tawala means brother] seeks to save canines but also rescues them. We provide better conditions, find them a home, and more. We also seek to impact the community and inspire people toward greater empathy for the dogs. [Learn more about the project.]
When I first saw Azai in a photo someone sent me on WhatsApp, the small, white dog looked sick and had a swollen face. He must have been about eight months old. I did not intend to rescue Azai because we had little space left, but after seeing his photo I could not refuse. The rescues often evoke a mix of feelings in me.
They found Azai in a low-income, dangerous neighborhood. He and other dogs wandered around the potholed roads and the people sleeping on cardboard. I arrived on a bright, sunny day and spent two hours looking for him. I could not find him anywhere. About 30 minutes after offering a reward, someone came up to me with Azai in a cart used for loading recycling.
The pup appeared to be in terrible condition. The bones shone through his skinny body and a rope hung around his neck, which someone tied on him long ago. It became embedded in his skin. The wound from the rope remained fully open and spread the length of about six fingers. I hole appeared on his trachea. It seemed little blood could not flow to his head, and he swelled up like a balloon.
The serenity of this animal impressed me the most. He let me caress his and remained calm, as if nothing hurt. His tail wagged from one side to the other, showing me affection. In his young eyes, he reflected confidence in me. It seemed as though he knew I wanted to help him. The moment moved me, emotionally.
Through Project Tawala, I took Azai to the vet where the doctor bathed him, treated him, and told me what to do moving forward. After a week, the puppy’s swollen head deflated. I used the medicine and added healthy doses of love to bring Azai back to health. However, after a month and a half, when we went in for a check-up, they indicated some of the treatment failed. They sent him home with more pills, but he became so swollen I had to intubate him.
That whole weekend, I remained super attentive. I slept with him in my bed so he could feel my warmth and support, but much to my sorrow, Azai passed away. I do not usually talk about that moment. I’m still not sure what caused his death and wonder if he reacted to the pills. While I have tried to overcome the pain of his death, this particular experience proved very difficult for me.
To this day, my heart bursts thinking of him. For a moment, I considered leaving the project because I did not want to go through that pain of loss again. It hurt me deeply. In reality, being an animal lover brings many difficulties into my life. It requires a commitment of my heart, mind, effort, money, and resources. I do it anyway. Fortunately, I do not do it alone.
Project Tawala involves my whole family, including my wife and four children. We use our house and our car. We call my vehicle the Tawala Movil. While my little white Nissan my not be in the best of shape, we take it out to rescues and to care for the animals.
The Tawala project is made up of my family. This includes my wife, four children, my house, and my car called the Tawala Movil (Tawala mobile). The vehicle is an already deteriorated white Nissan, but we continue to use it while we obtain the resources to purchase a better one. I promote our cause on social media and people who trust and believe in the cause send donations. We also receive some support from national and international foundations as well as people in the community and recognized institutions in Colombia.
I dream of continuing to expand Project Tawala toward upper Guajira, to reach the corners of the region where resources do not permeate; and to create Hogar de Paso Tawala or the Tawala Shelter. I imagine a larger space closer to the beach where people can come, stay, and interact with the dogs, creating bonds with them.
We also continue to grow other aspects of the project, such as education. By visiting schools and instructing little ones, we can help members of the community grow up with a different perspective. I believe animal abuse usually results from a lack of education. This is how Tawala will go beyond rescues, to change people – to raise awareness and to educate.
Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.
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