To end 2014 two brigadistas (PBI volunteers) went on a trip that took us to almost the entire Western part of Colombia. We accompanied Father Alberto Franco, from the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace, and with him, we learned about the great social and cultural diversity of this part of the country and about some of the problems being experienced by the population of this vast territory.
The first day we traveled from Bogota to Popayan, known as the white city for all of its white-painted buildings. It is a city dominated by the Andean culture and whose people have a singing accent. Here we were present, along with Father Alberto, at the first anniversary of the murder of Gilberto Daza Vega, a councillor of the Democratic Pole party in the town of Sucre, and who was murdered outside his home in December 28, 2013 for working on behalf of the community.
Then we accompanied Father Alberto to a meeting with community leaders to learn about their work with the protection of water and territory. After eating together a delicious serving of corn porridge (mazamorra), typical of the region, Father Alberto explained the work of the Commission and talked to them about the importance of helping and supporting each other.
From Popayan we went to Cali, a city known for its extended valleys and its endless sugar cane fields, which are highlighted by the Western Cordillera in the horizon. We continued through mountains covered in rainforest, pierced by a landscape of tunnels which led us to Buenaventura, a city that appears on the other side of the mist like a world apart. We visited the “humanitarian space”, named that by the inhabitants of Puente Nayero Street in the neighborhood of La Playita, to reject violence. It is a space that has had the support of the Commission since it opened in April 2014.
In Buenaventura father Alberto also explained to us the situation of two Wounaan indigenous communities that have been displaced and forced to stay in the local coliseum since September of last year due to the presence of illegal armed groups in their territories. Seeing an entire community being forced to sleep on the floor of a Coliseum, forgotten by all but the Inter-church Commission, some NGOs and the local Human Rights Ombudsman, has emotionally impacted us. It made us want to do something about it; we want the world to wake up and take action, because the only thing that these communities want is to return home in peace.
Perhaps because he knows the needs of the people, Father Alberto never stops working. He works tireless from sunrise to sunset, and is multifaceted: talking with people to let them know their rights, and providing emotional support through faith. For the love he feels for Colombian people, and with a faith stronger than that of most, Father Alberto never complaints or shows signs of fatigue. Only occasionally, he lies back, and closes his eyes to rest while in a meeting, only to re-open them, jump back into the conversation and explain to the community what their next steps could be, as if he has never been away from them or the conversation.