Saturday, April 3, 2010

Back in Bogota

We flew out of Quibdó in the morning and into Bogota in time to take a mad dash from the airport across town by cab to meet some colleagues in Soacha. The plane touched down and we were once again reminded of the military presence that is Bogota airport.

Soacha was once a small town south of Bogota that has witnessed an explosive growth in reent years due to the influx of displaced families moving toward the city. Jim Stipe, Matthew Bristow and I got there first and made our way to a little place where we had a great lunch of roasted chicken, potatoes, fried yucca, salad and of course fruit juice. A huge amount of delicious food that broke the bank (my treat) at the equivalent of $6.50 for the three of us.
We shortly met up with other CRS folks who wanted to show us a house being built to receive displaced families when they arrived in Soacha. The house was large and was meant to offer new arrivals not just a place to stay but a place to get some training in how to live in the city environ. Many of the new arrivals were from very rural settings. The mysteries of catching a bus; where to search for work; getting medical care for children would be explained.

The safe house is a great step forward and though it it not meant to house people for a long time it is a better start than many have experienced. Displaced families have nothing and often make a life in a shack built from discarded wooden crates and scraps of corrugated tin. The hillsides of Soacha are crowded with improvised shacks and some substantial cement block dwellings built by families. A temporary shelter often becomes a permanent home.

The government has built a modern highway and a bus route to Soacha that helps these newcomers find work in Bogota. The problem of the displaced is not one easily ignored. I wondered what this place would look like in 10 years, a bustling city, no doubt. The current population of Soacha is now 39,8295.

I asked our colleagues how many displaced people are estimated to arrive here weekly and the reply was 300 people. And those were the people that they knew about, many were off the books. I wondered how the house would accomodate the influx.

My colleague led us next to visit what we told were was a bakery. The bakery closed at five so we had to hurry. We ended up walking quite a way to the "bakery", which turned out to be a modest home with an industrial oven newly installed on the first floor. This was micro-finance at work, and the man and wife who lived here were very proud of the prospects before them. They did not tell me that, but pride is something you can sense, they were lovely people and I am sure they are doing well.

Above is our friendly host who was a beneficiary of a loan that has enabled he and his wife to get an oven. The will bake pastries which will be sold from this pedi-cart along with other goods (like those mangos) throughout the neighborhood. We chatted with them for a while through our interpreter and found out that they were desplazados. Soacha is their new home and they are hopeful about the future. My thoughts are with them even today as I type my post. I wish them a bright future.


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