They are beautiful women with strong character. They have big smiles that are constantly portrayed across their faces. Their hair is braided and they dress in bright colours that contrast with the intense black of their skin. They live under a sky full of stars, that they wouldn’t change for anything.
For decades, they have had to work very hard to overcome the thick jungle of the Chocó region, in order to be able to plant their subsistence crops and build their wooden houses. The houses have stilts to protect them from the torrential rains that fall in the region with the highest rainfall in the world.
They educated their children and tried to live happily, tackling everyday problems like any other woman in any other place in the world.
But, the women of Cacarica remember the day that the violence arrived as if it was yesterday.
The paramilitaries came and they insulted them; they beat the men’ and with machetes they killed a local peasant farmer who went by the name of Marino López.
The women of Cacarica, along with their husbands, had to flee their land. They left with their children on their backs and the little possessions that they could carry. Some went towards Panama and others travelled on boats to Turbo, the biggest city in the region.
They shed tears because their children became ill during this agonising journey; and they shed more tears when children died due to the diseases caused by the humanitarian crisis and the inhumane conditions they were forced to live in.
Using their resourcefulness, they found ways to feed their children despite only having scarce food available to them; they also found a way to maintain the personal hygiene of their children without having access to water; and above all, they found a way to not lose their dignity, maintaining themselves strong.
They feared for their husbands when they left the displacement camp to demand their rights from local governmental institutions. They knew that the people who had displaced them were at the doors of the camp, keeping watch over them as well as harassing them. They insisted on going with them in order to demand their rights, the rights of all displaced people.
They did not let the stigma or the accusations that their children suffered at school damage their education, and many of them eventually decided to study in order to become teachers.
When they returned to their territory, the women of Cacarica began to enjoy again the natural surroundings of their past. They returned to their pastimes of bathing and chatting next to the Peranchito river, endlessly washing the mud out of the clothes of their children, who once again ran happily through the terrain. They began to sow rice, yuca and corn in the land which they had to win back from the invasive vegetation. The merciless jungle had even appropriated itself of whole houses during the time that the inhabitants were displaced.
The women of Cacarica helped build a fence to mark the territory that was to save them from the armed groups who still operated around their territory. They painted in big letters “Humanitarian Zone” on large pieces of wood which they placed at the entrances of the settlement. They formed a peasant farmer community, returning to their old farms during the day in order to cultivate the land and produce the food they needed to live.
And above all they resisted; they resisted decades of an armed conflict whose belligerents frequently passed by the Humanitarian Zone, occasionally entering to harass the inhabitants. But during this time, they also were teaching themselves, empowering themselves and learning from the suffering that they had to live in the past.
Those who were girls then, are now women, and the women are old enough to know that despite the threats that they have suffered since, they are not scared. They can stand up to whoever violates the Humanitarian Zones and defend the fact that the Humanitarian Zone is a space free of armed groups.
The women of Cacarica do not want to be displaced again, nor do they want their children to experience the hardships that they have experienced, this is why they teach them to stand up to the armed groups.
The women of Cacarica will resist. They have done so during the last twenty years of war, in which they have lived in one of the most remote areas of Colombia.
Their children will grow and inherit the strong characters of their mothers in order to continue the struggle for their territory.
Bianca Bauer and Noelia Vizcarra