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A Community that Transforms Fear into Empowerment

Published 01/22/2013 by Global Communities

A Community that Transforms Fear into Empowerment
Global Communities Colombia
In 1995 guerrillas began to spread fear in Montes de Maria by threatening Community Action Board (CAB) leaders, as they considered any organized group a military target. On February 17th 2000, approximately 300 paramilitaries arrived to Arena del Sur, a community located in El Carmen de Bolivar, and kidnapped 15 women and nine men to use as human shields against other armed groups. The previous day, the same group had entered El Salao and killed more than 60 people. Although the inhabitants from El Salao fled in fear, the people from Arena del Sur chose to stay in their community to prevent the injustices and distresses caused by forced migration. Fifteen days later, the Colombian army arrived.
In 2004, after more than 10 years of guerrilla harassment and persecution against leaders and organizations, the community decided to burn all the legal documents that proved the existence of a CAB.
In 2008, the community decided to legally reconstitute the CAB in order to obtain funding from a company that was working in the region. Eriberto, who had secretly been President of the CAB, was reappointed, and although the security conditions had improved, there was still a great deal of fear. According to Eriberto, “a leader was seen as a bad person who caused conflict and an informer who was highly persecuted by guerrillas. For this reason, I didn’t tell anyone when I attended meetings. Faced with this situation, I was able to achieve very little”.
Emil Gutierrez Ribero, the current CAB President, expressed that “when Colombia Responde arrived to the community in 2010, it gave us a new breath to live and demonstrated to us that we were worthy. It helped us to overcome the fear we lived in”.
As a result of a community planning process focused on organizational and psychological strengthening, in 2010 Arena del Sur formed a community development committee that brought together different organizations and people. The committee defined a common mission for the community, re-building their history and identifying problems as well as potential ones.
As part of this process, the community started to strengthen their institutional relations with the municipal government and manage projects to improve their quality of life. They created a community home that supports 13 children daily, improved the facilities of the local school and built a computer center. They also obtained a projector powered by a solar panel to project movies every Saturday evening. Before the movie, they play bingo; a total of $16 is collected from the participants so that the winner receives $8 and the other half goes towards other community activities.
These activities are led by the CAB and the radio production center, “Peasant Voices”, which uses loud speakers to inform, educate and entertain the community. The CAB and “Peasant Voices” organized celebrations for special events such as Mother´s Day, Christmas Eve and soccer championships. Emil affirms that this is the first year that 115 children from Arenas and surrounding communities received a Christmas gift.
The community development committee is currently managing road repairs, since farmers have to walk more than three hours in order to reach public transportation to El Carmen de Bolivar during the rainy season.
Emil and the rest of the leaders recognize that their organizational capacity and empowerment level allow them to be optimistic about the goals they will achieve in the near future. He acknowledges, that although the 164 inhabitants face many problems, including lack of electricity, water and housing, the big difference now is that “there is nothing hidden, because we are not afraid anymore. Now, leaders and organizations have acquired a great management capacity and we can freely express ourselves”.
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