Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mutual Learning and Accompaniment

Map from BBC News.
In the Southwest Colombian department of Nariño (on the border with Ecuador), the Lutheran Church is accompanying the indigenous Pasto community in an environmental/food security project. The project involves supporting the construction and maintenance of organic gardens as well as farming cuy (guinea pigs) [same concept as fish farms], which are a delicacy for the indigenous peoples in this region.

We visited all the participants gardens to discuss what they were leaning,
what challenges they were facing,
and how the project could be strengthened. 
(Photo credit -Curtis Kline)
A similar project exists in Boyaca (a department of Colombia, north of Bogota, and fish farming in place of cuy) with non-indigenous peoples. The idea is that these two very different communities will visit each other’s projects, share experiences, knowledge about ecologies and food/environmental issues, to learn from and share with each other, strengthening both projects.

The indigenous Pastos invited me to come and hold a workshop about the international system of protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as experiences other indigenous communities have had regarding the protection of their rights. This past week, July 21-25, I was able to go visit the environmental project, hold the workshop and get to know many of the leaders of the community.

Beginning my presentation with participants from the
environmental project and various community leaders.
(Photo credit - Jairo Suarez) 
A view of the participants of the workshop.
(Photo credit - Jairo Suarez)

The community received the issues well, and invited me and the human rights program of the Lutheran church to continue in accompaniment with them around issues of the rights of indigenous peoples. We identified several vulnerable areas to focus on regarding the rights of the indigenous Pastos, ranging from the recuperation of their traditional language to protecting their environment against mining incursions.

After learning what rights are protected internationally as well
as in the Colombian constitution, the participants analyzed the areas
where the protection of these rights is not being implemented.
(Photo credit - Jairo Suarez) 
The possibility of replicating the workshop, as well as future activities with this community is exciting. The indigenous Pasto women are very involved with the association of indigenous women of Nariño, and could potentially involved four other indigenous nations in these workshops and discussion on how to protect their rights. 

The opportunities are numerous and exciting, especially the opening of space for intercultural dialogue, the learning of different ways of understanding the world, and the building of relationships of solidarity.

Above is a music video from a group of talented Pasto youth musicians. The video shows various important components to the culture, as well as many beautiful landscapes of their territory. 

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Two dollars and fifty cents

Karol styling her model's hair (photo credit - Katie)
One of the programs I accompany is a girl's (pre-teen/teen) program in the south of Bogota, in a barrio called Caracoli. The program is new this year, 'Proyectándome a un futuro'; there isn't a good translation of the name into English, but more or less it's projecting/giving myself a future. The idea behind the program is to help the young woman of this very impoverished community (one of the most impoverished in Bogota) see the options for their future. During July, many of the schools have a short break (the schools in Colombia operate on the calendar year with a few shorter breaks throughout the year). One of the goals of 'Proyectándome a un futuro' is to give the young women (ages 11-16) some job skills, so they can have enough money to stay in school and buy notebooks, uniforms, and help out their families, as well as understand a little more about business and money management. During this break 'Proyectándome a un futuro' brought in a woman to teach the girls some hairstyles. This was a 6 day class, spread over two weeks. The girls that completed the whole course got a certificate. Every day for the class the girls needed to bring their 'model', a younger girl who they could practice and learn on (bonus for their models was a new - free hairstyle everyday). I was a 'model' on Saturday for Tatiana. As you can can see from the collage below, these are very intricate hairstyles. Each girl was given their hair-styling kit, which included a book of all the different hairstyles they learned. Saturday their task was to let their model go through the book and pick whatever hairstyle they wanted. Tatiana, seemingly effortlessly did this style to my hair (I asked her to pick the style she thought would look the best, and be the best for an adult).

Tatiana styling my hair (photo credit all - Ana Medivelso) 
This last Saturday was the last day of class, the room was full for the award ceremony and cake that followed. During the ceremony one of the girls shared her story that already (before she had even finished the class) a neighbor girl came to her to have her hair done. A hairstyle like these cost about 5,000 Colombian Pesos (or $2.50). This may not seem like much, however this is considerable (especially when you consider the age of these girls) and that this money will definitely help out her family. Her story (I hope) will also inspire the other girls and definitely affirmed the skills they were being certified for. Hairstyles like these are popular, and with the certificates, these girls will have the opportunity to work and earn a little money.

We also used this class as an outreach tool for the community. We opened the class up to the girls in the community who are not yet a part of 'Proyectándome a un futuro'. There was a huge response, and many of the girls promised to come back and become an active part of the program. I am excited for the weeks to come to see how the 'Proyectándome a un futuro' grows, and how these girls continue to use their new skills.
The girls with their certificates (Photo credit - Leah Johnson) 

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Trinidad: Misión en el camino (Mission Trip)

Us with painted faces, left to right, Adi, Ida, and me (photo credit, selfie)
I just got back from another Misión en el camino (in April I wrote about a  Misión en el camino to El Cocuy). These trips are designed for a small group to go to another church to support them and their different ministries for a week. Last week was a very full week. Four of us from Bogota went to Trinidad, about a 13 hour bus ride. We accompanied the woman's group, children's group (similar to Sunday to School), youth group, we lead an activity at the CasaDia (day home for elderly), did some painting and yard work, and made several house visits to members of the congregations. From the moment we got there until the moment we left, we were busy. It is almost impossible, at least for me, to write about the whole week (well), so there are a few highlights I would like to share.
Most of the children with their crafts (photo credit - Katie)

The first is the Sunday morning. Sunday morning, before worship, we had a party for the children of the church and children in the community. These are parties that we have encouraged every congregation to have this year as a way to grow their children's ministry. Part of my role with the Christian Formation has been to accompany and support/help with these parties. We gave all the formation leaders of each congregation ideas for the party including a skit idea, games ideas, etc. So for this party (and other ones I have been at, we of course follow our own plan). We painted our faces before hand so it would feel more festive, and for a skit we did for the kids. During the fiesta (party) for the kids we had games. Adi lead the games and had all the kids laughing, involved, and having a great time in about three minutes. We did a skit, which was also a new type of Spanish for me - improv acting. We did a craft and then had a snack. After the snack we took our group picture, and then we gave everyone their party favors. I always enjoy the energy and life that children have.

Above: Antonio with his chinchorro (photo credit - Katie)
Below: A close-up of the chinchorro (photo credit - Katie). 
Another activity we participated in was at the CasaDia, day home for the elderly. We lead an activity called memory boxes. That went okay, but what really impacted me about the CasaDia was the conversations I had after our activity. In a large open room they have looms set up for the participants to make chinchorros (like hammocks, but a different material, for different climate). The chinchorros are all handmade, they are absolutely a labor of love. I sat and talked with Antonio. He showed me how the chinchorros are made, the different weaving patterns, and then we talked about his life. He had incredible stories to tell me about the different places he has lived, as well how the conflict in Colombia has affected his life. In one moment during our conversation, Antonio asked me what I thought of Trinidad, and mentioned it being "hot", I agreed, as the weather in Trinidad is hot, but that was okay with me, I liked the heat. He kind of looked at me and said no, hot with guerrilla. Ahhh, now I was caught up. The Llanos (the regionTrinidad is in) was a "red zone", high conflict, up until about 6-7 years ago (and there are parts that still are). This has affected the people there, their livelihoods, and the churches. I realize during these type of conversations the depth of the work that needs to be done AFTER there has been a peace agreement signed.

Upper right: Mamu with me before vaccine (photo credit - Adi Martinez)
Upper left: Us after the vaccine (photo credit - Katie, selfie)
Lower right: Medic bag, vacunacion means vaccine (photo credit - Katie)
Lower left: Mamu saying he's too sore to work (photo credit - Katie)  
The final highlight, or rather interesting thing to me, from the week....totally unrelated to the work we went there to do. We were doing some yard work, painting, and general fixes around the church property. I went to the kitchen to grab a glass of water, and while I was there the traveling, house medic came. Her job is to give the children vaccines. There is no clinic or doctor's office in Trinidad, so the most effective way to ensure children get their vaccines is for the medic to go to the houses (many of which are very rural). Two of the pastor's children were on the schedule for vaccines that day. I sat with Emmanuel (Mamu, 3 years old) while we awaited his vaccines, and held him while he received them (he needed two). He cried before and during, but after it was all done I got a pretty big smile out of him. He went back to work helping us, but every so often remembered he had gotten the vaccines, and told us he just couldn't work, all I could do was laugh, how could I not looking at that face.

It was a good week! A huge thank you to Pastor Edwin and his family for hosting us for the week!
Pastor Edwin and his family, his wife, Diana, (children tallest to shortest) Daniel, age 8, Ana-Bella, age 7, Jesus, age 5, Mamu, age 3, and Cristal, age 18 months. (Photo credit - Katie)
Right before we left, as a thank you gift to us, Pastor Edwin presented everyone in our group with a poncho. These are typically warn in the warmer regions of Colombia. These were handmade by a member in the congregation.
Our group (left to right): Ida Oliveria, Adi Martinez, Pastor Atahualpa Hernandez, me (photo credit: Pastor Edwin Toledo)