Cora reflects on Women of Courage

Vigil at Puerto Salgar

This blog entry was written by CORA DE LA PENA

I feel fortunate to be invited by KAIROS to participate in this Women of Courage project. I feel so privileged to be able to accompany the women in Colombia. In the beginning I did not have much of an idea of what “Women of Courage” was, but I thought this would be the right time in my life, and thus I grabbed the opportunity without a second thought.

I arrived in Bogota August 29, 2010, and met up with another delegate from the Philippines, Vernie. We left Bogota the next day to Barrancabermeja.

The last few days in Barrancabermeja have been overwhelming for me.  The two day gathering was eye opening.  I heard the  voices of women and their struggles against rape, displacement and abuse.  As an advocate for migrant women in Canada, I have watched migrant women struggle because of unfair policies and regulations imposed by the government. I thought of this when I heard the struggle of women here in Colombia, especially the struggle of Indigenous women.  I had the opportunity to shake hands with them and I felt their purity and sincerity.  My heart went out to them and I pray that they will win their battle to beable to keep their land for their granchildren and the grandchildren of their grandchildren.  I totally support the women in Colombia against militarization.  On August 23, we went to Puerto Salgar where there was a vigil in front of the biggest military base in Colombia.

On August 24, 2010 at 3am, we arrived at the town of Giron. It reminds me of old town in the Philippines, the town of Ilocos Nortes – very Spanish Colonial. In the morning we met with Oganizacion Feminina Popular (OFP) for our round table meeting. We strategized and talked about recommendations to bring to the Canadian Embassy in Bogota.

After the roundtable, the OFP brought us to visit three communities. We met with locals in the neighbourhood, Espana. I was moved by their hospitality. They prepared lunch for us. The first question I asked Manuel, counselor for this municipality, was whether there was a public school in Espana. There wasn’t, nor was there a health centre. I asked myself a question: why would their government deny school for children? Why would their government deny education for children? Education is supposed to be for everyone.

The second place we went to was Las Nieves, we visited 6 families who live together in a very, very small place. There are 40 people there with one washroom. These families are marginalized and overlooked by their government. I saw indescribable poverty, my heart was overwhelmed. I felt ashamed, guilty and I could not stop crying, I had to leave the forum as I was embarrassed. It reminded me of 25 years ago when I left the Philippines but I must say that I thought I knew what poverty was, but perhaps not. I know when I go back to Toronto, I will do the best I can to share my experience. I truly believe that by making the world aware of what is happening here in Colombia, we will make a difference.

I would like to thank Diego and Dorothy for their effort as an interpreters.

Filed in: Gender Justice/Women of Courage, Latin America

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