They earn barely enough to make ends meet, yet they brought refreshments to greet us. The only thing we could do was admire their humanity and focus back on our own : Khalid Raza
All of last week has been no less than a roller-coaster ride of emotions, learning, tourism and compassion. We had opportunities to meet with persona en proceso de reintegracion (PPR). And, it was definitely a day we all were waiting for – to meet demobilized people from the Organized Illegal Armed Groups (OIAG); we call them PPR in ACR. I personally could not wait to meet them and we were fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit their homes.
A neighborhood in Soledad
The first PPR does not have an address, so he met us near a hospital and then took us to his house. A tiny, but very neatly kept house, tucked inside a lane which reminded me of old Delhi lanes, where only one person can walk at a time. We were greeted by his wife and a cute dog. They were so polite and humble that it made all of us go teary eyed. He earns $40 from his night job and the rent of the house is $200. He makes ends meet by selling cinnamon flavored floor cleaner.
But, though his means are meager, by no measure is his kindness. His wife brought a bottle of cola to welcome us. We all were touched by the gesture. It made me think – how selfish we all are in our lives, living each day just to save more money.
The second visit was to a place called Soledad, 30 minutes’ drive from the city. There was no road to this small community, although once we got inside, we saw some people, anxiously looking at us. We met another PPR, who has set up a small grocery shop along with his brothers, which feeds four families. His story is one of the success stories in ACR.
The final visit was an hour drive to a faraway place under the hot sun, but that did not burn us the difficulties of their lives did. After going through the lanes, once again we had to park the car at a distance from the house and be on foot to reach the house. There were four PPRs in the house – the mother, her boyfriend (who wasn’t there then), two daughters and a son. The house is nothing but a bare structure but provides shelter to more than 12 people. One corner was converted into a makeshift kitchen with almost no utensils.
The house was dirty. But I came to understand that this is not something done on purpose. These people have no idea about what a house looks like – they have spent almost all of their lives in jungles! This was something which, once again, shook me from inside. Things which we take for granted, are a luxury for many.
On Friday, we attended a function where some PPR who completed their process with ACR, were being felicitated by officials with a certificate and a promise of better life. One of them spoke at the event about his experience of the ACR process. He looked really smart. We are not allowed to share their pictures.
I can dignify women!
In my view ACR is doing a phenomenal job in Colombia by creating ways for ex-guerillas to reintegrate into society. Colombian society is equally open to accepting the new citizens. Almost everywhere we see statements enforcing the message.
Yesterday, all of us (the larger team) went on community service where we did science projects with young kids, whose families are supported by Fundación Mario Santo Domingo, which builds sustainable communities for the poor. It was a great experience to see how the FMSD is creating healthy neighborhoods for the needy.
Introducing self to the kids in Spanish.
The kids were overjoyed to see us and we became part of the moment, forgetting the harsh realities of life. We taught them how to do the tie and dye printing on t-shirts, made ice cream for them and played the lung capacity game.
The week ended with so much activity allowing us to appreciate the great work being done here in Barranquilla and Colombia for the society.
For me, this has been one the most satisfying experience of my life so far and we are just half-way through our assignment. I am sure, the 30 days in Columbia, will change me for the better and will be the time to hold dear for the rest of my life.