Tennis Shoes to Climb the Mountain

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Narrating a day of work could sound boring, but for me it is an edifying opportunity.  Once I asked a friend, ‘What is your gold in life?’ And he told me, to live each day while giving thanks.  I have taken his gold and added my own: sharing in the wisdom of the people around me, listening.

Living in Ibague is a gratifying experience.  My work is divided between the two Mennonite churches in Ibague and the Foundation MENCOLDES.  I would love to talk about all of them, but I only have 500 words allowed.

Ruth blog3-1Because I am small I have always loved high heels, most of which I left in Peru.  Adriana, the person in charge of the CAID project at the Foundation MENCOLDES, tells me, “Tomorrow we are going to visit homes;  wear your tennis shoes just in case we need to run,” joking and telling me anecdotes about robberies and terrifying roads.  I listen to her and I am not sorry; on the visits one must walk for long stretches.

Ibague is considered the main receptor city of people who are displaced in the Tolima region.  MENCOLDES offers humanitarian help and psychosocial support to displaced families within the first year of their displacement.  Fathers and mothers arrive to the institution’s office with the hope of renewing their belief in humanity.  They were threatened and forcefully taken from their homes and their environment.  They left everything, their identity.  Faces with tears and breaking voices, they tell their odyssey.  Beginning again is their only option.

MENCOLDES offers seed money to working families in order to start a business.  Then we do follow up visits.  I get up early, I put on my tennis shoes, and I head out to find Adriana. We walk, we look at the mountain Gordo del Combeima, we take a deep breath: after a short while we stop, joking about our physical strength, and we continue.

We knock on a door and a woman with curls in her hair opens.  Her business is selling tamales.  The production has stopped; the family has been newly threatened, the tears fall.  Leaving for another place is an option, but they decide to wait.

Ruth blog3-2We head down.  In another part of the city we visit another participant.  Last December, the foundation supported this person with seed money for a mobile meat grilling cart and it was a success.  His brothers gave him a loan and now he has a restaurant.  “I care a lot about my clientele and I give them as much juice as they want,” he smiles at us while sharing his marketing strategy.  We leave with the promise of returning.

In a farm we find a woman with her baby sleeping to the sound of the blasting music from the neighbor’s.  Her husband went out to collect money from loans; they need to pay the rent.  His business is working in drywall, but he has gotten sick and “he needs to get better,” his wife comments melancholically.

This day we visit three more families.  Not everything is rosy for a business owner: there are road bumps, hunger, and a roof to pay for, but despite all of that, there is hope for a future that includes work and perseverance.  

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