Colombia has not known peace for more than half a century. Since 1985, conflicts have forced three million people (or 6.5% of the Colombian population) to leave their homes.
The story of Osiris Ortiz Cabilla and her family is similar to that of millions of other Colombians. In 2000 the village of Canzano, where they lived, was at the centre of fighting between the army and a paramilitary group. “The army came from one side and the paramilitaries came from the other. The fighters were everywhere, a helicopter was flying over the village, and the sound of gun shots was deafening. Two paramilitaries were killed right before my youngest daughter Yolanda’s eyes”, says Osiris. A cease fire enabled the army to evacuate the village and the 32 families were obliged to leave their homes, their school, their church, their medical centre: life as they knew it. Osiris, her husband and their four children fled, leaving behind them their possessions, without knowing if they could ever return again.
ECHO has been funding integral emergency assistance projects for displaced people in Colombia since1993. These projects are implemented by partners such as Spanish aid agency Movimiento por la Paz, el Desarme y la Libertad (MPDL). Sometimes landowners and local authorities offer land so that new settlements can be built for the displaced.
In 2002 the family tried to return to their village but became displaced again. They eventually arrived in Las Margaritas de EL Carmen de Bolivar, one of the neighbourhoods set up by MPDL and funded by ECHO. Now that their emergency needs have been met (shelter, food, healthcare and ... hope), the family can once more start looking to the future and try to rebuild their lives.
Since arriving to Las Margaritas, the young Yolanda is still unable to live a normal life. “She does not leave the house and she spends all her time under the bed or under the table. Whenever she sees anyone in uniform or hears a loud bang she is terrified”, says Osiris.
But Yolanda is receiving some psychological treatment, and since moving to the village one year ago she has made some progress. “Even if she is still weak, at least I can hope for a better future for her”, says Osiris.
As the emergency situation in the village is now over, ECHO has passed on the project to longer term development actors. Thankfully MPDL can continue the work it began with ECHO, with other donors. The material support is important, but it is the psychological assistance programme that gives Osiris some hope for her daughter’s future. Hopefully sometime soon, all this suffering will be just a distant memory.
Susana Perez Diaz
ECHO Information Officer