Thursday, January 8, 2009

First day away from Bogota

Quibdó, Colombia

Monday, 6.16.08

Quibdó is sitting in the middle of a department that became a battleground between government forces and paramilitary groups. The years between 1996 and 2008 saw
a huge displacement of 90,000 within Choco. This was coupled with huge displacements of people from the department of Antioca, east of Choco. CRS and Caritas have worked together to help people return to their original home regions.

We land at the airport and catch a cab to the hotel we’ll call home for the next couple of nights. The ride from the airport wasn’t too long but it was rough! The roads aren’t paved
in most parts of Quibdó. We pass all kinds of housing on the way, from tumble down shacks with rough plank floors and no windows in place to stucco homes with masonry walkways and lawns. 

A Room with No View

At the hotel we go to our rooms to settle in but we can’t get too settled in—we have a meeting at 6p.m. Our meeting is at the Bishop’s residence with Padre Jesus Albeiro Parra Solís. We meet in the lobby and walk over to the Bishop’s residence just a couple of blocks away. The humidity has now become a steady drizzle and the town silhouettes of the buildings are defined against a darkening sky.

As we walked down the ramp to a patio entrance we can’t help but notice a sign, it’s an international emblem, recognizable anywhere, it says no automatic weapons.  Now I know why I’ve been asked to where the tan field vest with CRS and Caritas boldly embroidered on the back and front. They told us in Bogota at the briefing that morning that it would be recognizable and many factions had a respect for our joint efforts.

I looked at the inky Atrato River reflecting the lights of the waterfront walk and saw a hollowed log boat crossing to the far side of the river. Bogota seemed like a distant memory, yet I had been in Colombia for a little over 24 hours.

A receptionist showed us into a room where Padre Albeiro Parra was already seated at a table in a large air-conditioned room. When we exchanged business cards I noticed Padre’s was beautifully designed, bright orange with an image suggesting a sun, a visual play on his last name Solís. His title was Director Pastoral Social—Diócesis de Quibdó.

We were joined shortly by Yesenia Cordoba Cordoba, and Yaneth Moreno Rodriquez as Padre Albeiro began telling us about some of the people we’d visit the next day. They are displaced peoples he said, Afro-Colombians, campesinos, and indigenous peoples. They were from the region of Choco. I asked him how CRS and Caritas help them when they arrive in the area.

They are given aid and legal advice that can help them qualify for governmental aid as a displaced person. This process is often lengthy and but entitles a qualified person to three months of housing and food aid. The housing stipend is less than adequate and often people live with extended family.

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