Several members of the Global Partnerships Office are attending the Global Episcopal Mission Network’s 2013 conference in Bogota, Colombia. Below are some thoughts and reflections on our experiences so far.
We often hear about internally displaced persons on the news. Sadly, this has become a norm in our world today. But what does it mean to be displaced? Displacement, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is the “action of moving something from its place or position.” On Tuesday, we visited the Misión del Espiritu Santo in the municipality of Soacha in Bogota, Colombia and learned about the very human impact of displacement in Colombia and what a group of courageous women are doing to serve members of their community who have been displaced.
A little background might be helpful: According to the people we’ve met with, Colombia has had 40+ years of armed conflict which has resulted in the displacement of approximately 5.2 million people or 11% of the population of Colombia. Only Sudan and South Sudan have a higher number of displaced people. In Colombia, many people are displaced at least twice if not three or four times and while there are ongoing peace dialogues, the displacement continues. Leaders, especially human rights advocates, are killed. Youth and young adults are killed, deliberately and accidentally. Armed groups charge for access to basic necessities, like vaccinations for children. Essentially, people are forced to pay for their own safety. Those who cannot do this are forced to leave their homes. In some parts of Colombia, armed groups force residents out of their homes in efforts to get land that contains valuable resources like gold and uranium. It is these resources that are funding the ongoing war that has had an impact on so many people.
It would be a mistake to let the above paragraph serve as our only narrative of life in Colombia. During our visit to Soacha, we met members of Mesa de Organizaciones de Mujeres de Soacha (Women’s Table) and Coopsermujer, who meet at, and are supported by, the Misión del Espiritu Santo and listened to the stories of their work with displaced people in the Soacha municipality. There are a minimum of 40,000 displaced families who now call Soacha home. Problems like drug trafficking, domestic violence, and child malnourishment are common, but the women of these two organizations are working with the community to help show a different face of Soacha. To make it, as one woman said, a “place where we build our dreams.”
The Women’s Table and Coopsermujer have produced a public policy document for women, who make up the majority of the population in Soacha, which outlines the needs and rights of women and makes proposals for action. The organizations offer training for women and men on issues like human rights, administration, and public health. Members of the organizations, many of whom have been displaced themselves, seek to put their own experiences into practice so they can serve others. As they do this work, the women of Soacha are transforming their community and working toward equality and equity in Colombia.
The Rev. Carlos Guevara of Misión del Espiritu Santo told us, “Even though we have a situation that goes against life, we have men and women who want to fight for life…the little grains of sand that these women plant strengthen many paths for men and women in Colombia.”
The Five Marks of Mission, which frame our mission engagement, clearly state that we are to “seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” We give thanks for the witness of the women of Mesa de Organizaciones de Mujeres de Soacha and Coopsermujer and for the Episcopal Diocese of Colombia as it stands in solidarity with them.