About 450 km northwest of Asunción there are the three large Mennonite Colonies of Fernheim, Menno and Neuland. They cover  approximately 10 000 square kilometres in the Central Chaco and are inhabited by German speaking Mennonites, who immigrated in three waves, between 1927 and 1947, from Canada and White Russia. The dictator at the time, Alfredo Stroessner, hoped that these tough and hard-working people would be able to open up the inhospitable, almost impenetrable wilderness for colonisation.

The first groups of settlers moved up the Paraguay river to Peurto Casado by boat, followed a short railway line built into the forest for the extraction of wood, and finally continued their journey by ox-wagon and on foot. The efforts of the first settlers, who cleared the woods and started farming, took a high toll of the community. Many died from privation and illnesses. But the survivors were at last able to live a life according to their religious principles and beliefs. They founded cooperatives, their own schools and hospitals.

The general situation changed, when the Transchaco Highway was completed in the early 1960ies. Today the Mennonites belong to the most successful producers of agricultural goods in the country. They play a prominent part in cattle-raising, dairy products and crop farming.

Form the beginning, the Mennonites have been treating the indigenous population in a friendly, if somewhat paternalistic way. They offered them work in the fields and built settlements for those who had come from afar or had been driven from their homes. They also gave them some land in order to enable them to grow their own crops.

But today, after mechanisation reached the Chaco, the Mennonites are confronted with problems similar to those found in most urbanised regions of the country. As there is no longer any work for day labourers or woodcutters, many men are idle. The indigenous population is threatened by poverty and misery. These problems are far from being solved, but the Mennonite colonies are looking for new solutions. It is important for us to be in contact with those people and organisations responsible for the welfare of indigenous settlements in and around the colonies.