It has taken a while for me to make my debut on this blog. I must apologize for that, it’s been a busy two weeks since I got here. For now, I would like to give everyone a recap on the events of last week and the beginning of this week.
Last Thursday and Friday (6/18-19) were the days that families had been notified to come to register their children for the Taller. On Thursday only five families showed up so by Friday we were slightly worried. Alex and I decided to go and observe – our Colombian peers were the ones actually conducting the interviews – by the time we got to the Alcaldía around 10AM only about ten other families had shown up. This was slightly worrisome. In the end, Alex and I ended up going across the Plaza de Suba (where the Alcaldía is located) to the UAO (Unidad de Atención Integral a Población Desplazada) de Suba with a community worker that we had met about five minutes before. The UAO is basically the agency that displaced persons must go to register and obtain official status as displaced persons which allows them three months of emergency medical care and access to other programs specifically for the displaced (this sounds like a decent system however in practice there are many issues with the administration of these emergency benefits). People also go to the UAO to make denunciations – to identify the reasons for which they were displaced, although few actually do this for fear of retribution from those that they are denouncing (usually either guerilla or paramilitary groups).
So this guy we met, Lionel Morillo, brought us to the UAO, gathered everyone (mostly single mothers who were there waiting to be attended) there into a conference room and had us present the project to them. Neither Alex nor I were prepared for the rush of stories and questions that followed. Almost everyone we talked to at the UAO had been directly affected by the armed conflict, either by guerrilla or paramilitary groups. Many had lost children, family members, or had been personally persecuted. Everyone was extremely eager to take advantage of the opportunity that we were offering and we ended up bringing about ten mothers back to the Alcaldía with us. This added about 15 children to our count and by the end of the day we had about 35 kids—what we needed. With our goal accomplished we had many more logistical issues to solve so meetings occupied the rest of the day. However my mind was not really ever able to escape the events of the morning, our first experience with the displaced community had taken a heavy emotional toll on Alex and I.
As this week was the beginning of the project, on Monday we had a “bienvenida” for the families of the kids that had been signed up through intake interviews in the Alcaldía the previous week. During the weekend leading up to Monday, we were afraid that not many families would actually come; our fears proved unfounded as we ended up having to create a waiting list for the families that we could not fit in. Almost everyone had fulfilled their commitment to coming to the Bienvenida even with the transportation costs that many families could ill afford, or the long walks for those that could not afford transportation.
We held the Bienvenida in La casa de la participación which is also located in the Plaza de Suba across the street from the UAO. The event was set to begin at 10 and by that time, there was already a long line outside the door. Registration was completed without any many major hitches and our presentation for the parents began at 11. Daniel Huerga, one of the founding members of Consciencia Social and a student of La Javeriana, began the presentation by introducing the project after which a member of each Taller gave a short presentation about what they would be doing with the kids (for more on the presentation, watch the video in the sidebar). After the presentations, we held small group question and answer sessions to make sure that any fears or misunderstandings the parents might have would be assuaged. While all this was going on, the kids were taken to another room to do introduction activities.
What was great about this first day was that after months of planning and working on this project, we finally got to see the tangible results: everyone that showed up seemed very enthusiastic about the project and it was great to meet the kids we would be working with as well as all their families. It also provided an opportunity to learn more about the general histories of all the families as well as the conditions that they now live in. I left the Casa de la participación that day with a mix of feelings: happiness because of the success of the first day and all the energy that the families brought to our project, some melancholy, but mostly a sense of responsibility; our real work was about to begin.