The members of the Ortiz family are Sara, Fernando and their three children Cristian, Brayan and Yesica. Sara and Fernando have lived in the neighborhood of Santa Marta for 18 years.
Working together from the home, they provide footwear for various companies. As a family, they work very long days (12-13 hours), 6 or 7 days a week.
Together they work in the preparation of distinct parts of the shoes: Sara tints the borders of leather, while Fernando smoothes by hand the edges of the cut pieces for assembly and sews them together.
Working as satellites for shoe companies in Colombia is a difficult job, largely due to the working conditions that are offered by the employers. The pay is low, the companies demand a high number of shoes each day, and they don’t offer the benefits that other normal state employees or regular employees of large companies enjoy. Apart from working under difficult conditions in order to provide for the basic needs of the family, they have confronted other harsh situations. Here is one of them:
Two years ago, the entire family went out for a walk when they were stopped by the police. They asked Fernando for his identification and immediately took him to jail without any explanations. Fernando was accused of terrorism, kidnappings, extortion, and murders. His family, the Mennonite Church of Santa Marta and the Community Council Board worked arduously to prove that Fernando is not the Fernando who appears in the records with hundreds of crimes against Colombia. Fernando was liberated three days after being incarcerated but he remained linked to the case for another 9 months. During this time the government had their phone line tapped.
His identity stolen, false accusations given and the government reaction against Fernando and his family have affected their well being in various consecutive ways. Fernando no longer goes out to play pool with his friends nor visits his family. He lived an entire year in fear of being stopped by the police, detained and taken away again to jail. Two of their children failed an entire school year during this time.
Although Fernando and his family are still affected by this history, they continue struggling forward with their lives. After Fernando’s liberation, they fought against the psychological repercussions, the mistrust on behalf of the police, and the traumatic effects of being observed through the phone tapping. Today, their children have taken up their classes with good attitudes and work hard to do well in their studies. They continue to share their story and through this process, continue to heal from the government-induced trauma.
Although a challenge, this experience has strengthened in Fernando the value of the work he does alongside Sara and the need to fight for their rights.
For example, two months ago in the company were Fernando worked, Aquiles (Heel), a meeting was called for all of the satellite workers. The meeting was to inform them that from the present date on, they would be charged a 7% tax on their weekly salaries. Fernando stood up in the middle of his 80 coworkers and spoke, “I find it very sad that we have to pay in order to work and today is the last day I will be with this company.” Two hours later Fernando found work in another company with better working conditions. Fernando shared about this experience, “A person should value their work to the maximum so that their employers don’t take advantage of the needs that the people have and attempt to pay them whatever they’d like to pay them. When I search for work, I want my employer to value the quality of work that I do and this way my work will be well paid for. If they don’t pay me well, I look for another option were they will value the quality of work that I realize.”