After a very full week of Colombian history, a relaxing four day retreat of getting to know the entire MCC Colombia team, we have finished as intensive week of studying economy, both that of Colombia and our own. On Monday, we looked at the structural power of our respective countries and economies, looking at the differences that were all of a sudden very apparent between those of us from the north and those from the south.
Things started to hit home when we talked about how, as a group, we would work within these differences. What do we do if some people have the economic resources to travel home to the north every vacation? Or to buy expensive food and go to resorts, while others do not have the resources, simply because of where they were born and the structures we are all living within? On the other hand, those from Colombia can go home or visit their friends much more easily than the rest of us. What do we do with all of these? How do we, as a group, reflect and act in a way that gives everyone dignity? These are hard questions, and we have not come up with answers, but we are committed to continue to talk about this.
This week, it was apparent that there are not only economic gaps between the global north and south, but within Colombia, and Bogota itself. On Wed, we started our day at the very north of the city, where only the very wealthy can afford to live. The inhabitants are mainly business owners, lawyers, and other so-called successful members of society. We toured a mall, admiring the beautiful architecture and availability of expensive emeralds. Traffic is calm and orderly, and water supply never stops. We heard stories of Colombians who would never imagine travelling to the parts of the city we went to next.
The south of the city is home to many of the 4 million internally displaced people who call Colombia home; although their actual homes have been taken over by various armed groups, and are now the site of multinational corporate investment. The southern hills contain people from all over the country, who now live in very poor conditions; besides a loss of material possession, they also live with a loss of community, as their displacement and vulnerable situation have resulted in a lack of trust.
Many of the people in the south work in the rich north, gaining a meagre substance from the very structural forces that pushed them off their land in the first place. The contrasts are not black and white. Within the very richest areas of the north, hidden from our sight, are the people from the south, who have travelled through traffic jams for literally over two hours to work so they can return home at night to hopefully support their family in some way. The people that they are working for have often been directly involved in their displacement and control the flow of resources within the country. The connections don’t end within Bogota. We heard a lot of information about the involvement of Canadian mining companies and Canadian investment that is directly related to the living conditions of people in southern Bogota. This video helps explain some of the connections.
This is a complex discussion for me, as in my home town in the Yukon, mining is on the rise, and our local economy is very dependent on mining. However, is this a sustainable form of economic growth? How can something that seems somewhat positive in one light, be so destructive in another? Mining has served to displace people in the Yukon too, but working for company that delivered fuel to local miners before going to university helped finance my education that allowed me to come to Colombia to see a whole other side of Canadian mining. I feel like I’m seeing another side of privilege, and all of the complexities within that discussion. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this issue!
David is a pastor of a Mennonite Brethern Church in Cazuca. Originally from the coast, but while living in Bogota, David started working in Cazuca around 8 years ago, with the goal of starting a Mennonite Church in the area. However, his vision soon turned into a social project, as he, with the help of Mennonite Central Committee and community organizers started a kindergarten for local children. The kindergarten turned into a primary school, a sewing workshop, and a computer lab. Displaced women face some of the most difficult challenges in Cazuca. The centre in Cazuca provides a place of empowerment for some of the local woman, as they are hired to be the teachers in the school, providing them with an income, and thus some control over their lives, as well as a sense of their own worth as people.
Unlike many of the people who travel from the richer areas of the city to volunteer in Cazuca, and return home at night, David and his family moved into the area six years ago and have been there ever since. David explained to us that he felt he could not simply start a church somewhere and tell people that God loved them without actively showing people the love of God through social transformation and willingness to live their lives with them. At the end of August, two members of our Seed group, Daniela and Erica, will join his family for the next two years.
(I think that is an important part of the mining discussion as well: are we showing people the love of God through our corporations and companies? If they cause people to suffer now or in the future, on the other part of the world or at home, is the love of God being manifested?)
Speaking of women involved in social change, we spent the day today travelling further north out of the city, to the Department of Tunja. We visited a very cool group called AgroSolidaria, an agricultural collective that works to encourage just trade, environmental care, informed-consumption and well-being. They are an organization of small farms, distributers, and consumers around the country. They encourage organic cultivation and community organization, among other things. We visited a quinoa farm and got to see every step of production, from the growing plant, to the finished product. AgroSolidaria works to support the involvement of women and children in the process, and it was really neat to see local women organizing our tour and showing us their fields of quinoa.
I’ll leave you with a very powerful song that we sung at the retreat, albeit in Spanish. May it be an encouragement to you and to me, to continue to work for good and wrestle with the difficult questions, even when they do make us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. By not being indifferent to suffering, somehow we must wrestle through these questions.