Friday, March 14, 2008

On the Ground in Colombia

By the time you read this, I'll be on an airplane traveling back to the United States. But right now the wind is howling around my hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, as the night sea breeze assaults this ancient city of pirates, castles and the Spanish Inquisition.

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Last week we landed in Barranquilla, about 80 miles from here, where we spent several days before moving on to Cartagena over the weekend. Despite the possibility of rain (which never materialized) in the forecast, the weather was beautiful as we ventured out into the impoverished communities interwoven around and throughout these bustling cities that represent a fascinating mix of colonial grace and industrial progress.

My role in this trip is translator, and I'm one of three Children International employees (the other two being Gretchen and Brian) from the home office in Kansas City who are here to accompany a film crew from Toronto, Canada, as they visit our sponsored families and our facilities in Colombia. Kim, Michel, Alain and Mark are pros who have traveled the globe doing this kind of work, and traveling with them is a blast. (Don't be fooled by the names -- Kim, Michel and I are all guys!) We're also accompanied by Lisa, a great sponsor from Seattle.

We've seen some pretty gut-wrenching stuff...families so poor they live in shacks made of nothing but tarps and sticks; a family who was displaced from their home in the middle of the night by paramilitary forces and had to flee -- some of the children naked, the mother hobbling along on a recently snakebitten leg, and the father clutching a towel to his abdomen to sop up the blood that rushed from the bullet wound inflicted by the paramilitaries; a single mom who struggles to raise her two-year-old daughter who suffers from sickle cell anemia; a mom who walks 14 kilometers each day selling coffee for a living while her three young children stay alone in her tiny wooden shack in the backwaters of a filthy swamp, where the worst kinds of criminals roam and men and women settle their disputes with guns, knives and machetes; and a dying mother whose head is grossly disfigured by a massive cancerous tumor, and whose leg holds a festering wound where a rat crept into her house and attacked her a few days ago.

But we've also seen hope, reflected in the face of confident graduates of Children International's sponsorship program and in the smiling faces of happy schoolchildren for whom sponsorship has provided the uniforms and school supplies they need in order to attend school. And this same hope shines from the eyes of moms and dads who see in sponsorship the opportunity for the children to have a better life and a better future.

I had the chance to visit today with 8-year-old Belkis and her mother, Ada Maria. I first met Belkis four years ago, when a team of CI employees visited her in the hospital as she awaited surgery for a broken leg, the result of a cyst that weakened the bone. Children International was able to help provide the surgery she needed, and today she runs, jumps and plays like any other child.

Belkis' mom has hopes that her daughter will someday fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor. In Ada's words, "Education is the bridge between today's reality and my daughter's future."

Like most moms, I think Ada Maria is right. And it's very satisfying to know that we'll be able to help build that bridge.

P.S. I'll try to share some pictures with you when I get back.

1 comment:

Heather M said...

I can't wait to see the pictures!