San Nicolás is a neighborhood located in the far southwest part of the municipality of Suacha, bordering Bogota. I remember arriving here one Saturday, the 7th of December, 2013, precisely the day of the Celebration of Lights, a beautiful popular tradition in Colombia where everyone lights colored candles outside of their house; along with the Pastor of the Mennonite Church of the Resurrection, the organization that I am accompanying during my time of service, we walked all of the main streets of the community, allowing me my first impressions of the place where I would be living the next 22 months, impressions that have been confirmed as I live out each day here. I’d like to share with you the following general impressions I’ve had, pointing out highs and lows in the community:
- We have an abundant commercial zone in the main street: stores, supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants, internet cafes, fruit shops, hardware stores, office supply stores, discount stores, etc. All of these places favor the local economy and allow the folks in the community to access their basic needs without having to travel to the center of Suacha.
- Fluid transportation between San Nicolás and different destinations of Suacha and Bogota
- Access to primary and secondary education
- The feeding center Bread and Life, a program of the Mennonite Church in Teusaquillo that has offered lunch and integral support to hundreds of children and their families for more than 8 years
- The presence of many churches in the community, offering the opportunity for the people to fulfill their spiritual needs and to grow in their faith
- The community is very united and close, in general the most popular neighborhoods tend to be more affectionate, family-oriented and with their warmth they gave me a cordial welcome, helping me with my move, inviting me to their homes, offering themselves unconditionally, caring for me when I’ve been in danger or sick and sharing their lives with me.
- The culture in general: the people are happy, hard workers, humble, enthusiastic, service minded and very united. The youth are interested in music, graffiti and sports; participation in such activities becomes a challenge due to the difficult lived reality.
- The absence of a health center, to be attended one needs to travel to the center of Soacha. Rather than going to a clinic, the majority tends to stay at home when they get a minor illness, exposing themselves to more serious stages of illness including death.
- There are no green spaces, parks or a central area such as a cultural center where the community can hang out and go with their families for a time of relaxation y healthy recreation.
- Environmental contamination: clandestine garbage, unpleasant odors from the river that borders the community
- High incidence of unemployment
- Access to the universities is difficult for the youth due to scarce economic resources, the public universities can’t keep up with the demand, limited offerings
- A “Silent Violence”, I call it this because apparently you can go outside and everything is going fine but frequently we hear news about deaths or delinquent acts; when these things happen one asks, “when did that occur? Or where did that occur?” The surprising thing is that it occurs in any moment and on any street.
- Micro drug trafficking in the streets and even in the grade schools. From the age of 9, many children begin using drugs.
- Insecurity in various places in the community. Absence of police. Reports of several blockages in public transportation.
- Affects of sudden communications of social cleansing by paramilitary groups where at the hour stipulated in the night they proceed to kill people who they find in the streets with the purpose of ‘improving the community and security on the city”, which I don’t believe is justification for attempting to end human lives.
- Four years ago several youth from the community disappeared and were later found dead, today they are known as ‘false positives.’*
- High percentage of disintegrated homes, where the woman is the head of the household; the majority of children are raised without their father. A high percentage of other homes suffer domestic violence.
- There is a predominant indifference in politics, unconformity with those in government positions, “no one believes in so-and-so anymore”; this leads to a high level of abstention in the different democratic processes.
San Nicolás is a completely unique place in the world, with its highs and lows, possessing incalculable human value within a difficult context due to the multiple problems and needs that affect it. God bless this community!
*The scandal of false positives refers to the revelations that came out at the end of 2008, implicating members of the Colombian military in the murder of innocent civilians (mostly young people), in order to pass them off as deaths of guerrilla fighters in combat, within the framework of the armed conflict in this country.