I spent a few days at Minga Retreat Center for Veterans and First Responders in Chinchiná. I’m right as rain. I mean, I wasn’tsuffering from anything apart from life’s regular stresses before getting there, but I left feeling buoyantly better.
The center originated from a “retirement” idea that occurred to Glen Galindo and Bart Taylor. They wanted to give back. I put retirement in quotes because these two gentlemen talk about the concept and then proceed to make themselves busier. They’ve rented a 1980s hacienda and commenced renovation for its transformation into a very special Minga Retreat Center designed for others like themselves who share a background as U.S. veterans, policemen, and/or fireman, especially those suffering from mental, job-related ailments, like PTSD.
The hacienda sits atop a knoll on a 45-acre coffee farm on the edge of Chinchiná, a small town in the heart of Colombia’s coffee triangle. Once fully functional, the Minga Retreat Center will have 10 bedrooms and bathrooms, a central kitchen and dining room, a recreation room, and a large common office area (currently referred to as the disco office because of the glitter ball hanging from the ceiling. That room served as the hacienda’s party area back in the 80s). A large downstairs area will function as a health center with physical therapy stations and a large gym area focused on restoring and maintaining physical mobility through yoga and stretching practices. The health center also will contain a full-room sauna. There’s already a large outdoor pool, and several outdoor spaces promoting tranquility and a connection with the beautiful landscape.
The atmosphere at the Minga Retreat Center already isintimate and personal, i.e. recuperative.
What’s a Minga?
The word minga comes from the Quechuan language and means collective construction. The Quechua inhabited South America before the arrival of the Spanish. Pockets of communities of these indigenous people still exist throughout the continent. Minga entails a collaborative work system that dates back to the Incas and refers to the commitment, contract or work agreement between two or more people. The word also stands for meeting or reunion.
The concept of minga has continued to evolve in that direction. Nowadays it refers to community work or work among friends when they need help from each other. Mingas as events usually include a feast to celebrate the collaboration and hard work accomplished. We can best relate this in the U.S. to a barn raising, pretty much the current goings on at the Minga Retreat Center.
In the process of raising that barn, healing happens. A lot more healing will come if Glen and Bart have their way.
What Minga Retreat Center Will Do
For those who’ve been through combat, or a career of rushing into burning buildings or other emergencies, the Minga Retreat Center will serve asan oasis set in the paradise of Colombia. It functions like a co-op or a commune, at least in the kitchen and common areas. Residents take their meals gathered around a square block island in the middle of the kitchen. Once the center reaches full occupancy, folks will eat at a round table in the adjoining dining room. Glen wants a round table for the same reason King Arthur used one in Camelot: rank doesn’t matter at Minga Retreat Center. Month-long stayswill foster healing and volunteering, not hierarchy.
I can testify to the therapeutic nature there, even in the center’s renovation infancy. A casual conversation with a Navy veteran, Minga’s first resident, brought out my own personal issues. I hadn’t planned on talking about myself with this guy I had just met the night before. My issues just came out. Then they magically ceased to be issues. As I said at the beginning, after my two-and-a half days there, I felt better, more whole.
The Renovation Process
Minga’s first resident is helping with restoring the woodwork. He volunteered to spend a month at Minga. I watched him sanding a door that had been brought down to the area that would serve as his workshop for the coming month. He had sanded with regular sandpaper and after getting it smooth, he took a second pass over it with steel wool, for the final, silky-smooth finish, he said. Because he was far away from home, he didn’t have to think about a lot of things he preferred not to have to think about.
The renovation underway requires time and effort from residents and visiting volunteers. The Minga Retreat Center needs your help! Professionals such as electricians, plumbers, roofers, painters, cement and tile workers, wood craftsmen, gardeners and landscapers arewelcome to volunteer. Most electrical and plumbing has beencompleted. A few roof leaks need tending to, ceilings and flooring needs finishing, internal and external walls need to be painted and some functional renovations remain.
Minga Retreat Center also has an immediate need for funding for materials, equipment, and supplies.
Five bedrooms have beencompleted and available for occupancy.
The proposed budget for the entire restoration is $100,000. Glen and Bart personally have already spent $25,000 on supplies and materials since they began October last year.
The target date for the completion of renovations isJanuary 2019.
Therapy on the DL
(DL means down low for those of you not hip to inner-city vernacular.) The Minga Retreat Center will employ light, hands-off therapy by intention. The locale does the healing instead of meds or intensive sessions with a shrink. The idea is to foster a community of support amongst peers, helping each other find a new mission in life.
Glen often refers to the purpose and process as, Peace through Service! He explained to me that he initially sought peace in his post-military life. He had already identified his life purpose as serving others and he became purpose-driven. Almost to a fault. Minga House Foundation, established in 2014, grew out of that drive. It’s a volunteer organization that places international volunteers in service opportunities in Chinchiná and surrounding areas. Mission trips focus on health, social work, and education. Ultimately, Glen quit pursuing happiness. It had become a never-ending hassle and hustle. He looked within and then happiness, along with peace, found him. This is the therapeutic philosophy behind Minga Retreat Center.
Once fully operational, residents and visitors will experience it through the calm and beautiful setting. They will also be able to participate in educational seminars, and recreational and cultural activities. If they choose to, residents will also be able to engage in volunteer opportunities through Minga House Foundation.
Minga Retreat Center seeks healthcare professionals for volunteer stints: doctors, nurses, massage and physical therapists, yoga instructors, and nutritionists.The retreat center also has a continuing need for housekeepers, chefs, marketers, event coordinators, fundraisers, and life coaches.
Minga Retreat Center Founders
Glen Galindo isa retired Marine Corp officer who moved to Colombia in 2014 from Idaho. He has more than 20 years of experience in U.S. higher education and served as the former national director for a U.S.-based logistics company responsible for operations in Latin America. An educator and a problem-solver, Glen manages the disparate elements of his organizations adeptly via WhatsApp audio messages.
Glen stumbled upon Chinchiná when he was looking for a place to conduct the volunteer service activities of the Minga House Foundation. He liked the small town because of the lack of tourism, at the same time, it had all the beauty and allure of Colombia.
Also a retired armed services veteran, Bart had already traveled the world during his 25-year career, but had never visited Colombia. Bart and Glen discovered the hacienda on Bart’s first visit to see what his life-long friend had stumbled into. The hacienda would make a perfect shared retirement residence, the friends thought. Then they decided to share the property even further through the Minga Retreat Center concept as a way to support other veterans who may need relief, as well as those who seek a new mission of service to others.
The Minga Retreat Center can be an isolated oasis, or a bridge back to connection and society, whatever the particular resident thinks they need most.
The municipality of Chinchiná, in the department of Caldas, sits in Colombia’s coffee triangle. One of the best export coffees of Colombia grows on the majority of the municipality’s 112-square-kilometer territory. Approximately 50,000 people live there.
In addition to coffee, Chinchiná has dams and hydroelectric plants that provide energy to Caldas, as well as Quindío and Risaralda, two neighboring departments. The region has developed one of the most important environmental projects in the country. The Forest Protection for the Chinchiná River Basin Project fosters sustainable development practices for the forest, its broader environment, the economy and the societies connected to them.
Things to do in Chinchiná: tour a coffee plantation, of course.
For more information on the Minga Retreat Center and to get a look at its beautiful setting, watch this video: https://youtu.be/u8Ppaj7IrR8 or visit their website: https://www.mingaretreatcenter.org
There’s a lot more to tell … on Colombia!