Feeling blessed with less. Displacement.

Trip Start Dec 10, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2012

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The Art House

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Pinar and Regalo de Dios and other villages higher in the mountains where I currently am volunteering are located in a suburb of Medellin called Bello. The people here come from all parts of Colombia, giving an indication of the scale of the problem for displacement.

As of March this year, there were more than 256,000 displaced people living in Medellin and its suburbs, such as Bello, where Regalo de Dios is located, according to government figures. Medellin also has the highest rate of intra-urban displacement in Colombia. This movement between neighbourhoods results from continuing struggles for power between illegal armed groups in the city.

Colombia's northern city Medellin, is where I meet people every day are one of almost 4 million Colombians displaced within their own country by violence or persecution. Current figures are at 3,672,054 displaced in Colombia according to "UNHCR Statistical Online Population Database, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)", Data extracted: 16/04/2012. However this number could be higher as these are the ones counted and monitored by this organisation. Source: www.unhcr.org/statistics/populationdatabase.

Latest Internally Displaced People figures are between 3,600,000 - 5,200,000, of a total population of 45.7 million according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring centre, a global view of displacement and refugees.

So these figures are all a little different and maybe a bit confusing, but I am trying to make a point with this. Displacement has a big dent on the landscape and culture of Colombian's people, if these figures show anything there are a large amount of people and increasing all the time, day by day that are facing being displaced in Colombia due to the problems within this country. People fear violence, their children being cooerced into gangs and no escape from that kind of life, so this results them in moving to a nearby town maybe where they still know family or friends. Or eventually they head to the big cities, generally from rural areas in Colombia. The women may have more success finding work, but the men struggle with the change in who brings in the income and many men leave and abandon their families. I think the actual figures of people displaced in Colombia has to be higher, if I think about how many families I've seen and had the opportunity to meet with Angeles de Medellin foundation it is touching the tip of the iceberg and the numbers are most likely higher. Medellin has the highest number of displaced people after the capital Bogota so it is a very real problem. 

I did find this entry very hard to write as I have heard so many personal stories I was not sure where to start, so I am going to first give you my own story, this week we had a few more volunteers from Denmark, a group of girls doing university study on displacement in Colombia. We meet at the metro and as I am waiting and I start to think about the people, their struggles and how it is affecting me personally. I also have a strong desire to give a large donation to this wonderful foundation before I leave at the end of this week and make a difference to these people's lives. When I volunteer, I do not just give my time. I receive a lot back in return. I learnt new Spanish every day, I received huge tight hugs from the kids, the type that you know these kids really do not want to let go of me. Lots of kisses and smiles and love from these wonderful people. I also had some new fuel for my soul, I felt and still feel very happy volunteering. Making you appreciate everything we take for granted, that these people just do not have.

Each day when we take the bus up to the top of the mountain, approximately 2500 metres above sea level, I listen to Marcos Kaseman the founder of Angeles de Medellin telling an introduction to the program to new volunteers. Every time it sends shivers up my spine and I really do well up with tears in my eyes. I have heard these several times now but each time I smile and think how lucky I am for what I have, and what these people do not have. This day when I get off the bus there are two children a boy and a girl, in the street I had not seen before. I immediately had a feeling of desperation when I saw them both. The boy's nose was snotty, wearing a t-shirt that was covered in mud and his welly boots. The girl, his sister, had matted unwashed hair, her nightdress on and no shoes. It had been raining all night very hard and in that morning as well. The dirt track excuse for a road, was thick with slushy mud littered with puddles from the many pot holes. I walked behind them till they reached their house, it was in an ok condition and there was maybe up to six children in this house. A lot of the families homes we have visited have one room, then they are divided up with a partition wall or curtains they have put up themselves. Some have beds, some families sleep on the floor. Sometimes the smell hits you, no air flow and a smell of damp.

Each time I visit this place and volunteer another day, I see another small detail I have not noticed before. Another house that looks like it will fall down, Marcos tells me it is possible in this rainy season. I see paths and stairs leading up the hillsides in awful conditions, the increasing mounds of rubbish left at the side of the roads are not always being collected every week. Marcos also told us that there was money to pave the road, but down to Colombian corruption in Bello district the money has gone.

I will tell you some individual stories about people in the mountains outside of Medellin in Bello district, these stories are about wonderful people I have met who have the courage to keep going every day and I have so much respect for all of them.

There is the lady who sells 'Chiclets' buggle gum down in El Centro part of Medellin at night to feed her family. The foundation donated two beds and mattresses to her. The family was sleeping on the floor before. Marcos had visited this family this week and she told of how the foundation had helped her and her children so much, she cried and hugged Marcos with Marcos also crying.

There's Sandra the mother of three boys, three girls and the father left them. She does not have a job and survives day to day, her children sleeping in one room with a dividing partition. These are the most adorable beautiful children you will meet and it's hard not to want to help them. Through donations the program has given medicine, food and help towards rent for her home. The children come to the centre to play games, draw and more recently play football. The youngest is called 'Luna' this means Moon in English, she and these children have hope now through the donations and support given by Angeles de Medellin.

One of our English class students, Erika, has one son and no husband, he was shot by the paramiliatary and she told us how she feels blessed. Imagine you now in your warm home, with all the comforts money can buy and she feels blessed with so much less. I am so respectful of these people and I am so overwhelmed how proud they are and keep going.

Lady, another English student at the foundation, one day had a visit in class before I was here with a message. She then asked Marcos that she needed to leave early, and was it ok. Her house had FALLEN down! She was so polite asking to leave that of course she had to go see it immediately and Marcos went too. This can happen a lot in the rainy season but in one moment she had lost her whole house and she still carried on with a brave smile despite this. Lady, really does have the smile and laughter that could be canned and sold. She is such a wonderful woman and I know with her new found English she will have hope for her future.

This week Marcos spoke with a lady who needed help for her seven year old daughter as she was very seriously ill. Marcos said to visit the doctor and gave her money for medicine. The mother returned the next day showing Marcos the receipts. She said that she never knew Marcos before, it was the first time she had met him. A friend of hers higher up in the mountains where they both live, said there is this American man and he may be able to help you. She said " This is an Angel from Heaven" and she did not know what she would do without the help from the foundation. She was crying, Marcos was crying. She called him a "Beautiful Gringo' in Spanish. This lady has no husband, three children trying to survive day to day and sometimes she said she may not eat some days.

What does it cost you to go out to dinner in the UK for a nice meal, 20? In the US maybe $30? Think what that money could do for people here? 100% of all donations go directly to the people here. Marcos does not take a dime (as he would say in his American English!) and gives his time for nothing so that all the donations are for the people. 20 is around $60,000 Colombian Pesos, with that, the foundation can buy 140 apples for the children of the mountains. T-shirts, fleeces, blankets, educational resources and medicine would be bought with the money donated and go a long way in supporting these displaced people.

Longer term change is needed here. Through education and what the roots of Angeles de Medellin does, change is happening. New adults visit the centre and want to start to learn how to use the computers and start typing, or they come to learn English. With these two new skills they could have a better opportunity to find work, provide for their family and their children to see role models in their parents. They say you can teach someone to fish and they will eat for life. Creating long lasting change costs money and time, people volunteering here is not enough and donations are really desperately needed. 

If you are interested to make a donation please go to the 'Make a Donation' link, this will go to my my paypal account, in turn I will transfer the money to the foundation and you will become an Angel of Medellin. Each donation will go directly to the people and will truly make a difference in their lives.

To learn more about Angeles de Medellin, go to Facebook and search for the group or go to the website.

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