My story is a bit painful, but I am here to tell it and move forward. The pain of my story is related to the death of the man who I chose for my life. Nine years ago when I finished my high school studies, I met a good man who was affectionate and who loved me very much. With him I formed a family; I have a five-year-old girl who is my reason for living. My life was very happy until March 2016, when something unexpected happened that surprised me as well as my community. My husband, as on many other days, went fishing with some friends. He said goodbye at the door of our house—I remember it as if it were yesterday. He went to fish on the river San Jorge, which we always enjoyed, when suddenly his hunting boat sank, and with his death, he left a huge emptiness in our hearts.
On March 17, his lifeless body was discovered. With the support of the people of the community we were able to give him a proper burial in a grave.
Then one year ago I became involved with several organizations in my community of Campo Bello, located in Planeta Rica, that have been implemented by the ANDA program. These include committees on communications, community management, housing, healthy environments, and water.
I like to work for the community towards making things better, and to show that even though adversity is present, with the actions that we develop with ANDA, we can achieve what we propose.
This past March I was in Monteria at the GHL Hotel for a communications workshop that was also attended by other representatives of the communities that have been working with ANDA on communications processes. After two days, during which we talked about how to tell stories which may not be relatable for journalists of the national media, I returned home motivated with firm ideas on how to take advantage of what was learned to tell our stories. One of these ideas is a journal that I present to my community in the hopes of sharing my experiences and helping others.
When my husband died, my world changed. I am not the same person as before; in my loneliness I remember him, I feel that I hear him. He was a hardworking man and good father. Everything has been different without him. As a mother I have had to be stronger because our daughter is still here and I have to give my best to help her get ahead.
I thank Program ANDA and its professionals who have helped me a lot in these difficult times. I wish I could return to the past and make things different. For the moment knowing that I can tell stories, and that I can tell my story, makes me feel a little better, and that through communication I can not only help the informative processes in Campo Bello, but also help and support our community.
I come from El Palmar, a rural community that is far from the municipality of Montelíbano, where nearly everyone makes a living from agriculture, fishing and cattle ranching. We have long been recognized as joyful, hard-working collaborators— but recently we also became leaders.
I am 25 years old, and although many do not know it, I have had to face some difficult situations throughout my short life. My parents were characterized by teaching me values, rights and duties, for which I thank them from my soul. Thanks to them I am the person I am today—an exemplary leader in my community. I have four brothers. I am the first of the men, so I have to be an example.
At the age of 12 I accepted God into my heart, and I currently work in a Children's Ministry where I advise leaders from other areas, in order to contribute to a more promising future for the children of our country.
One night in 2005, an illegal armed group came to the village. We were taken from our homes—all of us, regardless of condition, gender, or age—to witness an execution. They held us all night in the main square because, according to them, “They wanted to clean the town of gossipy people.” They accused us of having denounced them to the government.
After a long and frightening night, shortly after six in the morning, a group of community leaders gathered for the purpose of freeing all of us from the armed group and decided to negotiate peacefully with the armed group. The armed group did agree to leave, but only after plundering the community’s tents first.
Although we were able to put an end to this unfortunate event, there was a constant fear in all of us that made it difficult to regain confidence. For my part, I have held workshops on peace pedagogy among adolescents, in order to help them overcome the fear and uncertainty left by ongoing conflict in the area. In addition, I hope from all the teachings that the community can have some peace despite the difficulties we face regularly.
I want to start telling my story from when I was a student. Because of the economic difficulties we lived with, sometimes my parents did not have the money to feed my brothers and myself. But although we did not carry money in our pockets, the desire to study was so great that we often forgot that we had to eat, and that's how the years passed until I graduated from fifth grade. But the celebration became blurred with sadness, because we had no transportation to the next level of school in the village, and I could not finish my studies.
Time passed, and I had to work to buy things and help my parents, and my studies were postponed year after year. At one of the jobs on the farms where I worked near Mejor Esquina, I met a man, got engaged, got married and after three months of living together, I got pregnant. But as fate would have it I lost my baby. A few months later I became pregnant again—I had a beautiful daughter, but she died five days after her birth.
I suffered very hard times having lost my first two pregnancies. However, when someone really wants something, sometimes they finally end up getting it, and after that, I had my third pregnancy of which resulted in a beautiful girl who is now 20 years old. I was dedicated to taking care of her full-time with the help of my mother. Later my mother died, and I had two more daughters, so the desire to study was postponed for several more years.
When my daughters were growing up, the Transformémonos Program came to the community, and they offered high school classes, but unfortunately, our community was not able to pull together the number of students needed to meet the quota. When you have the need to produce to survive it is difficult for people to take time for other things. However, for lower grades people were able to get together, so I decided to repeat the lower courses and move forward into two others that were opened during the process.
Years later, an entity called Fidenza appeared and offered eighth and ninth grade, and without thinking twice, I decided to study both grades. But again, there was no way to continue after that: in the village’s school there were no chemistry and physical laboratories to study the remaining two grades, and in my family we did not have the finances to go to Buenavista to study there.
After that, the Savings Women Program came and taught us many things about making and saving money. I also started working for the Better Corner Community as a community leader. And with the arrival of the ANDA Program, its workshops, meetings, and each of its challenges that empowered us, I made the decision to complete this interrupted process that had begun years earlier.
In December of that year, my oldest daughter graduated from high school. I saw many adults graduating with her, so at her ceremony I promised that by 2017 I would graduate. Then the first months of the year arrived but again, they did not open the accelerated courses on weekends (when I could attend) in Buenavista. But since God's timing is perfect, at the end of March, I found out that my husband’s niece was studying in La Apartada, an hour away by car. The idea of studying came back in my head, and I called my brother-in-law to make the inquiries about the courses. Since April, I now get up every Saturday at 5:00am and my husband takes me on a motorcycle to the village, where I ride the bus and I am the first student to arrive in the classroom where I study with students even younger than my daughters. With the favor of God, in December of this year, I will reach my goal, and with certainty, I will be able to contribute more to my community as a leader, communicator and woman because of ANDA.
Yoni Alexander Valdéz García
My story dates back 20 years ago when I was a young man who lived with his family in the municipality of Antioquia. It was a time of good times with many future plans in the community; we treated others as a family and breathed an atmosphere of peace. But as life is composed of good and bad times, the bad ones came soon after.
Paramilitarist fighters began to act and my family did not escape from them. Our neighbors and countrymen fell into the hands of these groups, which made us determined to leave, to take distance, and I think it was the best decision to leave.
We arrived to the city of Medellin and lived there for two years but the situation in the city for a family that has been dedicated to working in the countryside is not easy. Then a relative proposed that we return to the country. This time we went to Versailles, a community of San José de Uré, south of Cordoba, where life gave us a new opportunity. Although violence has also been present here, I think we have learned to live with it. Today we have a community in which we play an important part, and most importantly, which has allowed me to develop as a leader.
In Versailles we work the land and we have accepted the call of different organizations like the ANDA Program, through which we have made the best profit and a better future.
Dary Luz López Árgel
On March 19, 2001, I arrived at Pica Pica Nuevo with my husband and two sons, Ramiro and Rossi. We were a happy family, thank God, and everything was harmonious and tranquil. My husband worked as a teacher and I as a housewife. We were all happy in the village, until in 2004 when two armed groups arrived in the middle of the community, which generated a constant conflict and we ended up being victims.
In 2009, on the banks of the San Jorge River, I lost the father of my children in strange events, as they say; the armed groups confused him with another person and the worst happened. Since then, I had to take the reins at home to get ahead with my children. I finished an early childhood care course and then studied to become a stylist. My early childhood training allowed me to lead the Families in Action project, which made me visible in the community and people knew my abilities.
In 2013, the ANDA Program arrived in Pica Pica. I was selected to work on the Management Committee and then on the Communication Collective, on which I hope to continue working more and more for my people, since they have put that trust in me.
Hugo Vásquez Alean
I was born in the Buenavista district. When I was two years old, my family moved to a very isolated community called Villanueva, which today is one of the communities of Puerto Libertador. My father abandoned us, so parenting was always the responsibility of my mother. Those were difficult years, but since we always wanted to prosper, I stood out as a good citizen in spite of the different difficulties.
I have been displaced by violence. In 2002, we were evicted by the self-defense groups. We went to Rio Sucio, where after arriving and thinking that things could improve, they also made us leave; leaving everything we had, including a relative in 2007. But I am very optimistic, in my town I am very respected and respectful, and I have characterized myself as a good collaborator wherever I go, through Cordoba and Antioquia.
I formed a family with a good wife. I had the opportunity to have two beautiful daughters with her and I have tried to educate them well because it hurts to see in young people the lack of opportunities to study.
Since 2015 and until today, I have been involved in the ANDA Program, which I am grateful for, since it has become a fundamental part for all the communities in which it is working to train people. In Villanueva I have a concrete pole factory that has grown because I have applied all the teachings of ANDA, which in addition to being important for my family, assures me that with small actions it is possible that we will achieve great changes.
Nelsy Villorina Vaquero
I am the daughter of José Villarro and Matilde Vaquero. I was born and raised in the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood, municipality of San José de Uré; I have a wonderful husband with whom I have two beautiful sons. I studied technology in the Seine and I am currently studying at the National Open and Distance University (UNAD) Agronomy. Being able to study has driven my life project, something that I started when I was 19 years old, when I finished eleventh grade in the High School San José de Uré.
The municipality of San José de Uré is one of the newest in the Department of Cordoba. Historically, it has ancestral musical traditions related to the tuna or dance song, Corpus Cristo, the Dance of the Devil, which was brought from Africa by slaves who came many years ago.
Uré has a beautiful ravine where people can enjoy their holidays, and it is nice for those who live in the region. It has some very dear people. During March 18-20, the holiday of the patron saint of San José is celebrated, and pilgrims come to visit the church that is in the center of the town, because according to some accounts, it has worked miracles.
There are also aspects in our community that can improve. Sometimes people fall into gossip and rumors, factors that can put an end to the morals of people and even families. But with maturity and necessary care, this behavior can be repaired. At some point people gossiped about me in the community, but thanks to the support of my colleagues and their advice, I managed to overcome the situation.
I live happily and empowered with community work. I am currently working for the development of my people, contributing to the construction of a new metallurgy. I have been congratulated because I am an excellent community leader and I am the president of the Community Action Board (JAC). Thanks to the ANDA Program for fulfilling my expectations and those of my community.
Eladio Manuel Márquez Areizo
I was born in 1992, but from the beginning of life I was struck with sadness and anguish with the abandonment of my father and mother. The person who raised me was my paternal grandmother—she educated me and taught me principles and values. Because of her I am who I am today in Arenoso, a community located in the South of Cordoba.
The troublesome events of life have led me to the need to empower myself through study, discipline, and the promotion of good values; because with the passage of time, I have felt that every step that I take gives to the life of peasant friends in the municipality of Planeta Rica. My goal is not to show off what I have achieved, but to impact and transform with what God has given me.
When I was born in 1981 in the village of Nueva Esperanza, my parents, seeking a better quality of life for their children, made the decision to go elsewhere, more precisely to a point called Rio Sucio, a path belonging to Juan Joseph.
In 1987, there was a terrible war between paramilitary groups, guerrillas, and the army. There were many massacres, fighting, etc., and we were forced to flee. We returned to Nueva Esperanza, where we were able to survive and dream of a new life.
In 1995, I started a lovely relationship that took place too late, because soon after, criminals took the life of the father of my first child. In 2000, I began a new life of struggles with much work and suffering, but in 2005 I formed a family again, and from this relationship two other children were born.
In 2014, a beautiful program appeared, which helped this struggling mother tell herself that she can do everything she proposes. ANDA came to Nueva Esperanza to train us, and we took these trainings despite the difficulties we faced. In 2016, the community chose me as president of the Community Action Board because they saw in me that when I learn I am able to help other people. I will continue struggling to overcome other problems that come my way.
I come from the Department of Antioquia and live in the district of La Rica in the municipality of Puerto Libertador. I arrived at 35—very young. I fell in love with my wife, we were engaged for two years and then got married. We have been married for 28 years, and eight children were born from our union. Over the course of these years we have lived very sweet times, but also, others bitter.
Since I went up to La Rica I had to live with the weight of violence in the south of Cordoba. It was very difficult to believe in anyone. I remember that during four months in 1989 we had to sleep on the ground so that the guerrilla bullets passed over our heads and wouldn’t hurt us. However, every moment became a reason to get ahead with the other peasants in my community.
One day a great team came to the community—it was the ANDA program—and it made a difference because it changed our mentality and we learned to overcome everything that affected us. ANDA returned to the people the trust that the conflict had taken. We have learned to appreciate the trainings, and so far we are learning more and more and we will continue to. Now that I am part of the Collective Communications, I have a new way of seeing the world as I prepare the community to tell all its stories.