The women of Morales Duque, in the south of Colombia, have gathered us inside a community centre. I am here to listen to their stories, as a representative of World Vision Canada visiting this country of contrasts. They hand us treats, and a traditional Colombian corn drink and a certificate signed by each member, thanking World Vision Canada.
I thought I knew what strong resourceful women looked like. I know a lot about strong women in the context of Canada and the United States. I have never had to look far for brilliant female role models. My Mother, my grandmother, my daughters, my friends. I am surrounded, and I was raised by strong women. But it is the women here in Colombia, who put strong into an entirely different perspective for me.
Throughout my week spent in Colombia I repeatedly hear this term: women as head of household. I loosely translate it in my head to be single mothers. We have those too. Raised by a single Mom, I am familiar with this. I think this a day or two. Then one night we are eating at a restaurant and I see it printed right there on the menu – we employ only women as head of households. How can they do that, I wonder. There must be more to it. Finally I ask: “what do they mean by this term exactly?” “Why do I keep hearing this?”
Our translator and the many other people working here with Vision Mundial Colombia explain. In the areas of Colombia where narco-trafficking was a big issue for many years, in the impoverished areas, men have often gone missing. Many men have been victims of forced disappearances. Some men were drawn into various paramilitary groups. Others were killed. Women were left with their children and often little or no income. Women as head of household.
Colombia is a country of 47.5 million inhabitants. It is also a country of contrasts. There are very well off families and there are also some of the most impoverished vulnerable families you could ever imagine finding anywhere. Areas that shock you at how incredibly vulnerable the people there are to drugs, disease, and despair.
- The Colombian Population – 47.5 million.
- Unemployment is at 8 %.
- Underemployment is higher at around 50 %.
- Young people find it extremely hard to gain a job.
- Child Labour is 12.85 % of the workforce.
- Colombia has an extremely high rate of displaced persons. Many estimates are as high as 4 million displaced.
- 14.8 million live in poverty in Colombia.
The women in this country are a force for change and a unique movement that is both inspirational and remarkable. Colombian women, in general, have often overcome great obstacles, hardship and heartbreak. But they are strong, resilient, beautiful and hard working. They are volunteers and Moms and leaders in their communities like Morales Duque. They are absorbing all of the knowledge that World Vision Canada has given them and turning around to share it with the rest of the community. They are building strength, generating new programs and businesses.
At each stop of our travels this week we have met remarkable resourceful Colombian women, raising young women and young men, often alone. In Morales Duque, the women wish to share with us their new community centre and the programs they are building there. This community centre was a gift, built with donated money given through the World Vision gift catalogue. It has cost roughly $90,000. Several gift catalogue donations made up the final sum that bought a community centre that is now a safe place for children and families in this city.
This group of women in Morales Duque call themselves Asolinco. Here, a World Vision Canada ADP (area development program) was established 15-18 years ago. Here, there was extreme poverty and gang activity. By Canadian standards, this was a slum. Now Morales Duque is vibrant with children who are strong and driven and connected to their community of youth. They are the first sign that World Vision Canada has done hard work here. There is still gang activity and domestic heroin abuse is extremely high in this area. Nearby Santander De Quilichao has the second worst level of heroin use in Colombia.
But this community centre holds after school classes for children, where the kids craft and learn about a youth movement called Peace Keepers. They spend their after school hours here so that idle time does not leave them prey to gangs. Inside this gifted space, a community grows healthy kids and families. The children learn about children’s rights. The women learn and grow their businesses. Some are practicing fundraising skills.
The women in Asolinco were the first volunteers with the ADP in Morales Duque. The ADP process often starts with identifying some clear leaders in each community and gaining their trust, then working through relationships within the communities themselves. Many of the areas where displaced people have made their homes in Colombia have been haphazardly planned, or not planned and it is not uncommon to find a family whose home was taken by narco-traffickers living beside a family who once has a member connected to narco-traffickers. That has led to very volatile cities and neighbourhoods. World Vision Canada very often builds peaceful connections first. Then that network of community leaders implements programming.
“We have learned to continue the work that we started when we were part of the ADP,” says one of the community volunteers with pride. The women leaders of Asolinco outline five or six big projects they have built since World Vision Canada finished their ADP project here.
“One of the projects we are working on has to do with food sustainability. We teach people how to use their land effectively, how to grow gardens in their homes.”
They share organic gardening practices. They teach families how to compost and then also how to use as much of the plant material as possible. They also use organic materials.
The Asolinco group of women have a community speakers committee that also connects with other business and government organizations to fundraise and build their initiatives. They have started a rotating loan fund that helps to birth new businesses. One of those businesses is Amelia’s Baked Goods, a successful home baked Colombian treats venture named for one member’s mother.
Before we leave they list off half a dozen plans for the future of Asolinco. A soup kitchen, a centre that works on promoting gender equality and a space to combat and educate members about violence against women.
“In this space women can come and get help. Before we had this room we didn’t have a space to meet. This is our dream. We collect Moms and Dads here and the kids see us as an example and they carry on building a strong community. We try to show the older women in the community how they can get invalid. We try to show the children too what you can do. They are the future and there is hope here even in a place that has suffered so much.”
I am sharing my journey to Colombia with World Vision Canada here on the blog in a series.
You can read
Sponsor a child and change a community. Or you can buy something for someone this year that makes a difference to an entire community like this one. There is a bit of everything in the gift catalogue. From soccer balls, to chickens and goats to latrines and medicine. Or you can help to buy a community centre. Visit the gift catalogue here: http://bit.ly/1pbSZpV
I travelled with World Vision Canada as a guest so I could tell these stories.