The Briefing: Colombia Trip #TMMWVC
|My uniform for the week in Colombia|
We’re discussing guns, heroin and child trafficking inside a World Vision Canada meeting room in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. This is my first security briefing ever. I have squeezed this in to a frantic first week back to school. These are the practical details that can help keep you safe in the field, which in this case is various vulnerable ADPs (area development programs) in the Colombian countryside. Soon I am to be taking a Colombia trip with World Vision Canada.
I have a picture in my head of the place we visited 18 years ago in Colombia and I remember what I wore then – bathing suits and shorts and sandals. A celebration shortly after I had finished my undergraduate degree. In Cartagena, my husband and I would find stunning architecture, appealing food and many excursions into town. Street kids hung off the tourist buses then. I wonder if they still do. That image is engraved on my brain, them draping off a bus, surrounding us, begging. Us driving on by, sticking to the well used seats in July heat. Hot is not a very good word for July in Cartagena. This Colombia trip will be dramatically different.
I am a graduate. I have a degree and I will write. Of that I am sure, but not certain where these words will lead me. Not certain any doors will open with an Arts degree, but I know my heart has always bled in ink and maybe newsprint too. People strolled the beach in front of our resort then with wares and many had amputated limbs and visible deformities. It was memorable and foreign and slightly nauseating, in a peculiar way I still don’t really understand. Now, I wonder why we chose that place. I think that back then, inside the dictionary of words in my head, Cartagena screamed exotic.
In the blank spaces of my day, when I am summoning words and shaping strategies and tweets and posts and Instagram campaigns, I hear a voice in back of my head reminding me the timing sucks for this. The second week of school with kids who don’t transition well and special needs on board, well, that couldn’t be a bigger recipe for domestic disaster. I wonder if I have a right to do this thing. I am agonizing over this one day when someone tells me: “You have kids at home too you know. They also need you.” Like a slap across the face. As if the words actually needed to be voiced. I know all too well that I left a steady paying career with benefits to build a family and I stayed home with kids exclusively for 8 years. I have done stay at home Mom. I loved it. I cherish that time spent only growing kids and bonds and family. Then just when they both got to school age, I built a business from my dining room table. And it grew fast and it was fulfilling and brought a whole new dynamic to my life. I need to do this, I think wrestling with myself. I finish reading the kidnapping and hostage taking policy and a child safety form warning me of appropriate conduct when I am with children or youth sponsored by World Vision Canada. I undergo security checks and police checks as I am testing my kids on their homework knowledge and helping my daughter prepare a monologue for her upcoming audition. I plan their time so they’ll be able to function without me nearby when I am on this particular Colombia trip.
I am a writer. I gather my tools. Pen, paper, iPhone and a good pair of shoes. This time I am back in journalist mode on a slightly scary adventure. My stomach clenches again thinking of the coming week. Do I need to do this? Why am I doing this? Why did they ask me? Juliana, the World Vision Canada woman doing the briefing continues to construct Colombian history and culture as I sit absorbing it all. Colombia has one of the world’s highest rates of displaced persons. There are at least four million people in the country who were forced from their homes, often seized by gangs, fallout of the war on narco-trafficking. Some other estimates are as high as five million.
I am still trying to frame everyone in the right roles and tasks inside this room, inside the hierarchy of the non government organization, when a video starts. The video was done by some World Vision Colombia youth who now work, also at World Vision, and were once sponsored by Canadians. This is where the idea for this trip began. It started with a photo. A group of youth sponsored as children now working for World Vision and sponsoring children themselves. It is unusual to see the effects of sponsorship played out fully and so beautifully articulated. The young woman on the video speaks: she was nine when she was sponsored by a Canadian. She was young and lived in an extremely poor area of the country where hope was harder to find than drugs and guns are. But World Vision Canada sponsorship gave her dignity and a future. The young woman, Yenni, says she is a social worker now. She got an education and she works for the very organization that helped provide her with the tools for a future. She sponsors a child now too. “I want her to have the same opportunity I had,” she says. I bite the inside of my cheek so I don’t cry and I wonder if a video affects me this way then how on earth will I manage a week in the field, immersed in emotion.
I leave the briefing and head back to London. There’s a lot to do in two days and I cannot get the requisite travel vaccinations in time. The yellow fever vaccine is tripping me up. There aren’t enough travel vaccine clinics in London. It might, or might not, be crucial. It might even be an issue for entry in and out of the destination country. But no local clinics are open on Friday. The whole experience so far is overwhelming and frustrating and scary. A tiny part of me wonders if I will suddenly get sick before the trip. If I might just back out. Maybe I won’t go through with it. The idea of putting my journalist cape back on speaks to me. But at the same time, I am not immediately certain what I have gotten myself into. I am not sure why an adoptive parent, a Mom, a blogger, would find herself in a situation like this. A part of me is terrified, in a good way. It’s the kind of scared that is inscribed on Lululemon branding paraphernalia: Do one thing a day that scares you. This is my thing for 2014.
World Vision Canada is an organization that speaks to me. Protecting children, instilling hope. These are things I cherish and hold close to my own heart. Perhaps I will see these things in action. I hope this Colombia trip makes a difference in my life. I hope I can get into the country without the yellow fever vaccine. I hope I don’t forget my passport. I hope I have strength to tell the stories.
IF you are moved to sponsor a child after reading this series of posts please click over to the main World Vision site.
You can also follow World Vision on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/worldvisioncan/
and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WorldVisionCan
Oh Paula wow! I followed your journey and felt so excited for you to have this once in a life time opportunity. No doubt when they choose you, they picked a women with a kindheart but confidence stance. Although I had no clue how brave you had to be or that Columbia was that dangerous. Reading this really ran me through the emotions you felt. Wow! I cannot wait to read more about your experiences there. We have always wanted to sponsor a child and this has helped push me to re – evaluate it. Thank you for sharing bits of this story with us!
Wow, Paula. Just wow. I’m not sure I could have done it. You’re a brave lady. I read many of your Facebook updates while you where there, and I’m already deeply touched by your experiences. I can wait to read the whole story.
Hands Full of Life
Wow!! Honestly, I would do the same thing as you, but if only I can do it for the country where I come from, the Philippines. When you talked about the little girl, I imagine and remember the poorest of the poor back home and it really breaks my heart. Sometimes I wish I have this kind of job. I support some causes back home and even if I am financially struggling, I still make sure I am able to send some help back home. You are an inspiration!
Wow, what an amazing opportunity. You are a very brave lady!
Wow, you are a very brave woman. I really don’t think I could’ve done that. Your adventure sounds amazing, looking forward to updates.
Lois Alter Mark
Awesome. Just awesome. What you’re doing is amazing and I am going to check out the World Vision site now. Thanks for sharing this.
This is an incredible experience and a true blessing. I have no doubt you’ll make the most of it and feel forever changed because of it.
My oldest son’s mother-in-law just returned from Colombia not long ago (she’s 100% British). She stayed with a friend. Her stories were riveting. I think it’s wonderful that you went, I’m sure it was the trip of a lifetime.
Oh my what a really amazing opportunity! So fantastic!
wow you’re an inspiration and a very brave woman. You will be blessed for this.
Growing Up Madison
That is just amazing. I’m not sure if I would be able to do it but what you’re doing is just awesome. I’ll have to check out World Vision and I always try and help so will talk to hubby about sponsoring a child.
Wow. What an amazing experience. I am embarrassed to say that I would be too scared to go so props to you for doing it.
That sounds so amazing. I am all for helping kids.
Heather @ Girl Gone Mom
What a great cause. It is scary the world we live in.
Wow what an amazing opportunity – I don’t think I could have done it myself, I think I wouldn’t have been able to keep hold of my emotions. x
Tough Cookie Mommy
This is such an important initiative and I’m glad that you were a part of it. It’s so important to protect our children all over the world.
Celebrity VIP Lounge
What you are doing is awesome. Very inspiring. Amber N
Beautiful post! We actually already sponsor a child through World Vision – it’s an amazing organization!
You are brave, beautiful, smart, and strong. You are doing this because you are a writer and you can change the world with your words. Go daring darling, be brave, and show us your journey with your words. I look forward to the after post.
Wow, this sounds amazing! I can’t imagine going there either… it’s a totally different world than ours, isn’t it? And yet they need us so much. So thank you for shining a light down there and helping to spread the word about World Vision’s work.
Wow this sounds like this is going to be a really great opportunity. I can’t wait to hear all about your time spent there.
Casa Vilora Interiors
This is such an important topic these days and one that demands our attention. Here in Houston, the human trafficking scene is pretty robust. I applaud your courage for getting involved with this important initiative. All the best to you,and I pray for your safety
What you’re doing is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story and spreading the word about World Vision.
You see scenes on the television of children hanging from buses as they drive by. It breaks my heart. I couldn’t imagine seeing it in person.
What an amazing opportunity for you! Human trafficking definitely needs to be put to an end. Kudos to you momma 🙂
Deanna: Thanks for reading and commenting. I am glad to share this extremely meaningful experience.
Ashley: You feel a bit heartsick seeing it in person. But then understanding it as someone explains the context and the history well that’s a whole other ball game.
What a amazing opportunity for you. You are a brave woman.
No blogger I know could tell the story the way you would Paula. You are a dedicated mom so your heart speaks to the right causes. But you are also an award winning journalist that can write a story so others can understand.
I know this has been hard for you but you went, you survived and now you are home to share hope. Keep writing sista’ its what you do well.
Thank you margarita! I appreciate all the support.
I am holding back my own tears as I read the start of your amazing journey Paula. I love that this is your “one scary thing” for the year! It is worth a life time to those you are helping. God bless!
I’m really eager to read the next part of your experience! This sounds like a life changing experience.
Many thanks April !
Aisha Kristine Chong
Wow – I am sure this came in as a blessing – goodluck!
My Captivating Life
You are doing such an amazing thing! It will be such a blessing. As a Mom though, I know the fears that are in the back of your mind. Just remember to trust God. Lean on him for your strength!
I am learning to do that.
Wow, what an experience! Blogging and writing can be time consuming!
So grateful all of you are reading! Thanks for listening. I hope some of you will sponsor a child as a result of these posts. 🙂