June 29, 2011
The voice of the displaced persons and communities is crucial for growth to ultimately blossom. We conduct surveys every distribution day; there’s a survey with every house visit; the displaced population is present at all the events concerning the IDP situation in Florencia. The attention and initiative is certainly there! But, sometimes, the interactions seem artificial as one simply jots down or clicks away at the answer to a question. The surveys must be that way, though, so that there are numbers and figures for IRD to measure the quality of the work being done.Development, in all senses of the word, requires progression. Progression always entails a beginning and an end, a past and a future, as well as a stimulant that nurtures that growth. For International Relief & Development in Florencia, development is nurturing. Nurturing internally displaced persons and communities through health, education, and empowerment allows IRD to support families’ and communities’ progress from a bleak and anxiety-ridden past toward a more stabilized future. The growth IRD hopes to see in beneficiaries is not one divergent from one’s past—and one’s identity—but one moving beyond one’s former troubles by re-establishing oneself through nutritional, social, and political integration.
The surveys must be that way, but the whole interaction with the displaced persons doesn’t have to. So, whenever I’m in charge of conducting a survey, a house visit, or meeting with members from La Mesa de Desplazados (“The Committee of Displaced Persons”), I look back in time to my days at the Gateway Center for Contextual Education I. The Gateway Center is a homeless services center in Atlanta, which makes my comparison nearly ridiculous. Atlanta is a thriving urban center whereas Florencia is a small city surrounded by huge patches of green. However, all my knowledge concerning the art of dialogue and listening is based on my formative interactions with the homeless persons of Atlanta. Simple things yielded great trust in those exchanges: being present, being patient, being an active listener, creating space for the dialogue to flow, not acting as if one should always give answers, which made way to life-learning experiences. I practice these same techniques in my interactions with the persons seeking support from IRD. As a “chaplain” at the Gateway Center, being present and attent allowed the other person to know I was there for them. And, by being there for them, I too, was in a position where the other was there for me. The art of dialogue is the art of listening and the art of communication. It’s not always about giving answers or responses. Many times, if not all the times, it’s about what one receives, hears, and understands that makes listening crucial for someone’s development—for the other and for me.
Development also consists of reaching a goal, of reaching justice cooperatively. The historical progression of one’s woes and thoughts must be confronted. Everything must hang, that is, everything that frustrates, scares, enjoys, and saddens one, must be brought out for true justice and reconciliation to be reached. Facing that which confronts us causes lament, but, in turn, peace and justice might be reached. IRD does a good job to let the people know who they are; they are victims of heinous crimes, but there’s a light at the end that can be reached with support from others—neighbors, international organizations (IRD, International Red Cross), national government (Acción Social), local government, etc. IRD wants to hear what bothers people. As a chaplain one also wants to hear what bothers people. That story (or stories) might contain more information than one at first notices (generative themes, as we’ve learned them). By delving into these loose strands one finds that the other person may be trying to get at something deeper. Afterward, one is better equipped to confront the situation together with the person seeking support.
Reinaldo (the psychologist) and I met with members from La Mesa de Desplazados (the grassroots initiative begun by representatives of displaced persons in predominantly IDP barrios or invasiones) one Saturday morning to write a document for the mayor. The document consisted of bringing forth the needs of the displaced population in Florencia. We sat down and conversed about the lack of services for the youth and older adults. We talked for hours and finally came up with a decent document. The needs are great, but the motivation for a solution is great too. The grassroots initiatives, such as working with La Mesa de Desplazados toward creating events and documents to make the displaced population known in Florencia, are terrific ways to make issues known. For example, an event named the Golombiao will take place in August (which I helped plan with Reinaldo), which will involve at least 250 persons from eight different barrios.
In all my experiences with underrepresented persons, I learned that change and development takes time. Proper development doesn’t occur willy-nilly nor does it happen fast. Proper development requires human evaluation that begins with hearing another’s history up to that point of contact. Any attempt to develop the social and political re-integration of displaced persons in Florencia requires the voice, thought, understanding, and cooperation of the displaced persons and communities. This type of development necessitates acute hearing, concentrated focus, total expression, and a reconciled approach toward justice. The other thing I learned was to remember that the other, no matter his/her situation, always has something to offer: the communities, the barrios, the invasiones always have assets (whether it is the youth, cooperation, skills, etc.). This is something, as a chaplain, I needed to learn to be an active participator in someone’s life—and allow the other person´s life in mine. Although I am not representing a religious body during my internship in Colombia, I am certainly making my internship represent a stage in my religious development.