Reflecting on Eleven Years

Jostled between Jerry and the cab window, I peered forward at Toni grasping the door handle to keep it shut. We were on our way in this sturdy pickup with its low canopy to a community that I had visited eleven years before. A new memory welled up with every bump in the road.

We forded the river several times – was it the same sever I recalled between communities devastated by floods and conflict? The truck had been larger, and my companions of that time are no longer able to travel. Kallie is a busy, happy mom with three children. The Brockas, limited now by health issues, share vivid memories of displaced Colombian communities prior to peace accords.

My companions now were Growing Hope Globally board chair Jerry Lundeen and his wife Toni; the capable staff team of Max Finberg, Eric Mattson, Carlos Malavé and Kaylyn Morse; and Michael Adeola of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

Familiar and new faces at MCC Colombia and Sembrando Paz, our local partner organization, shared the same values I’d heard before. I again saw those values affirmed by the communities they accompany in births, deaths, birthdays, and disasters to bring stability – stability that is so fragile as violence continues with periodic armed strikes. The future is murky with fear and people clamoring for change: national elections took place just days after our visit.

People balance challenges and hope in the midst of this uncertainty.  Neguith, the legal representative of his Afro-Colombian community and displaced during the 1985-to-2004-armed conflict, spoke eloquently of having been “born, raised and will die in this community.” Processing cacao has been part of his culture since his birth: packaging and marketing are new.

After sampling his product, we walked down the road through the natural “pharmacy” of medicinal leaves, bark and roots of almost every variety of tree. My senses exploded in this mini
Eden with its beauty and tantalizing aromas of flowering trees – fruit trees where “another variety is always ready when one ends.” Neguith sells locally and in Sincelejo once his family has eaten; he is careful to harvest only manageable amounts so there is no waste.

He shared about post-traumatic stress being still prevalent, in some cases worse, and his own personal tragedy with his wife’s death 3 months ago after a 2-year illness. He wonders about the future for his 5 children because of land challenges.  His father has 16 hectares (40 acres); his wife’s family has 32 hectares but 18 or more members who need to share it; and his mother has 24 hectares to be shared with his 10 siblings and their offspring. How will that sustain them all?

Land issues are one aspect of Sembrando Paz’s work. Staff advocate locally, regionally and nationally to support people in a nonviolent journey from vulnerability to sustainability – from being victims to being active citizens. Such efforts led to a 1000-person peaceful march that resulted in Neguith and I now walking on a paved road.

Eleven years have passed and much has changed since my previous visit to Sembrando Paz (Planting Peace). The familiar and new faces in Colombia and around the world will continue to change as we pass on the baton to future generations in Growing Hope Globally. Growing Hope Globally is a relatively new name, one that better reflects the values we were founded on and – a name that in Spanish, “Cultivando Esperanza,” takes on an even deeper connection to our agricultural roots.  I am so honored to be a small part of our story!

Bev Abma, Emerita Board Director

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