Sunset over the surroundings of Minca, Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia. Unsplash

Sowing hope again in community

  • March 24, 2023

She walks into the room, and I see she is wearing a very familiar straw hat with a coloured band. I have seen the hat, and its owner, a thousand times: in our Share Lent poster, our mini-magazine, and countless other campaign images — even my e-mail signature. It is like she has walked right out of an image and into our lives — incarnate for us.

She lives in the mountains of Colombia. Now she is in Canada for the first time, on a speaking tour for Share Lent. She has suffered much in her life. She has lost loved ones and been displaced multiple times. But she is not here to talk about suffering. She is here to talk about hope. What follows is a reflection in her own words, Finding Myself Again. It has been translated from the original Spanish.  

“My name is María Raquel Soto Ramírez.

I come from a country where the splendor of creation reveals itself with magical skies. It is a place where the air is filled with more species of birds and butterflies than anywhere else on earth. I come from a mountainous region in the north of this country, from a biodiverse territory where water gushes down pathways and rivers flow over the hills. I come from a campesino (peasant) family accustomed to growing their own food and medicines. We are accustomed to coming together to build community solidarity with our neighbours to rebuild the social, community, economic and cultural fabric. 

I come from a country that is rebuilding itself every day. It is trying to overcome a long war that has affected all of us. It has stripped us of our land and taken away our loved ones. It has taken away our social leaders who have denounced injustice, who have mobilized and organized Indigenous, Afro-descendant and campesino communities.  

I come from La Fe (Faith), which is the name of the family farm in Río Verde de Los Montes. The farm has now been converted into a “Casa Cultural Campesina.” The Casa welcomes young people, children, women and families from other villages. They come together to create art, receive training, exchange knowledge and contribute to building our culture. Art has allowed us to understand and integrate our own history. It allows us to build memory, to value and admire the strength of our mothers, of our communities, to re-imagine the beauty of the territories we inhabit. Prayer and faith have allowed us to face our grief and console our spirits. They have given us the strength to continue on our way, to return to our territories and sow hope again. 

I have been part of the “Documentary Creation School” for more than 14 years. The school is part of an organization called the Antioquia Campesino Association (ACA). Being part of the school has been like finding myself , like living again. The support we have received from Development and Peace is very important.  The school has been a lifeline, allowing us to be able to think differently, to start believing in ourselves, not to be afraid to dream, to do collective work, to participate. 

We don’t have to go to the city in search of other opportunities. From where we live, we can explore and nurture the creativity and capabilities of young people. Today we are developing spaces for training, education and artistic creation with peasant families in five other municipalities through our Voices without Borders project.   

The land has taught us to wait, to persevere, to fertilize the seeds, to care for the soil, to harvest the fruits, and to give thanks for the rain and the sun. What we do is possible thanks to you. It is thanks to your solidarity through Development and Peace. Your solidarity allows us to transform lives and strengthen communities. 

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts from all of us who are part of this family that has allowed us to transcend borders. Solidarity has brought us here to build bridges that connect dreams and hopes. Solidarity allows us to continue to meet on the road, trusting together in a better tomorrow for the peoples of the world and for the common home that needs us.” 

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)

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