At the Inter-American Foundation (IAF), our unique approach to development allows us to respond to a community’s needs with direct support and flexibility. In 2016, we responded to a growing need in Colombia for our grantee partners to participate in local and national discussions about the country’s future and the process to build peace. We awarded small grants to 18 current and past grantee partners to form a cohort of peace-builders around the country.
Recently we checked in with one of those partners, Anunciación Alcalde Vega, to see how she is building peace in her territorio.
Alcalde is a respiratory therapist and runs her own practice with support she receives through our grantee partner Corporación Socioecológica para el Futuro de Bolivar (Ecofuturo). Through Ecofuturo, she received materials and equipment to expand her practice and support to continue her education and training in therapy. True to her drive to help others, she provides therapy even when a client is unable to pay.
Why are you working with Ecofuturo?
When I am not seeing clients I am kept occupied by my small farm close to a natural reserve where I produce food and other products. What unites me with the group is the joy for protecting the environment. The respect for nature is what led me to work with them.
Tell me about your group that works with Ecofuturo. What kinds of businesses do members have?
We are 30 women in a very large territory, and we get together in meetings. Last Friday I went to visit one of the members who works by preparing and selling food at a cattle fair and auction in her town. There is another member that makes and sells sausages to other towns. Others cultivate flowers. Some make beautiful handicrafts. There are so many resourceful people with so many diverse small businesses. We share and learn from each other.
How has Ecofuturo’s assistance affected members of your group?
One person that comes to mind is Sandra, a food vendor from my community. Until recently she was abused by her husband and could not exercise basic rights. Being involved in the group empowered her, and now she is studying. She has changed a lot because she feels happy and successful now.
How has your life changed since Congress passed the peace accords?
The peace agreement in Colombia has served for many things. At this time we have a lot of hope. We have faith that everything that is going on in Colombia will build peace so that there is no more war. There have been many deaths, and that violence has brought many difficulties for Colombia’s development. All that money wasted on the war was reflected in the communities and in the health of citizens. The hope is that this transition will bring many benefits to everyone.
Do you see yourself as a peace-builder?
Yes, of course. I believe work gives a person dignity, and working every day is patriotic and builds peace. That’s what I do every day with my farm, with my clients, with everything that I do. I am a woman and peace-builder, and that’s how our community — our neighbors — see me.
What is the most important thing that has happened because of the demobilization of the FARC?
We no longer hear about such a terrible conflict. There is calm, and we no longer hear about so many things that terrified us. Both demobilized rebels and people displaced by the conflict pass through our town. They all come and go. People come from the Chocó.
One lives with a constant — maybe not fear — but one knows that the armed conflict and drug trafficking exist out there. We learn to live with it. The hope is that all this will go away — the fear, the armed conflict. The hope is that all this will come to an end in Colombia.
What do you hope the future will bring for your country?
When there are more jobs we can start to look differently at conflict. War here is largely due to inequality and lack of opportunities.
People would like to have more opportunities and to improve a little bit. They explain opportunities that they would like to start or to be a part of. How to help people is to develop programs that create economic opportunities based on community needs and people’s’ ability to participate. This is what Ecofuturo is trying to do with support from the IAF.
What do you hope the future will bring for your community, your family and yourself?
One of the things that I would like most is for the fighting to end. But it’s not only the war that affects us. There are great burdens that affect us in Colombia — one is the war and the other is corruption. All Colombians hope that when all this war and corruption in Colombia ends, we can be a free country. And we will have better health, better education, more affordable universities for our children and government subsidized research. It is hard for us, and we need better services and better outreach for what we do have.
And another thing: as a producer living off the land, we need more help. We should tell the state to support the campesinos. This is the hope: that the state will uplift the campesino and improve health and education. There is no peace if you are hungry.
For my community the hope is that we should have sources of employment so that people who leave to go study return to work.
Talk about community-led development!