A Future Filled with Hope
By Michelle Scott*
July 9, 2008—Today, the children of Brisas del Mar are happy. A visitor brought them a soccer ball and they have played non-stop. This small community in northeast Colombia near Cartagena sits at the edge of the country's vast ranchland just before its rolling hills reach the sea. Its name is descriptive: Ocean Breezes.
Simple homes line the footpaths of Brisas del Mar. And life seems typical for a small rural village, but after awhile a visitor will notice that something is different here. Many of the people in Brisas del Mar, young and old, do not speak. They were struck mute by the horrors that caused a gaping hole in the village population—an entire missing generation.
A Dark History
One will find very few people in Brisas del Mar between the ages of 18 to 30. For years a paramilitary group in Colombia held this small town because of its strategic location near the sea. The residents of Brisas del Mar were terrorized. Its young men were sent to the front lines to die in a conflict that had nothing to do with them. Its young women were kidnapped in the night, raped and killed.
Those that survived carry a mantle of silence and deep emotional scars.
"They are a forgotten people," says Bishop Juan Cardona of the Methodist Church of Colombia. He describes the town: "There's about 150 homes, just little huts—three to four families in each hut. There's no employment."
Beyond the trauma, the town was in need of basic services such as better access to water and health services.
Help from the Church
A Methodist pastor in a nearby town started helping some of the people in Brisas del Mar and soon got others involved.
"There is everything to do there," Bishop Cardona says, explaining the depth of need in Brisas del Mar.
In late 2007, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) became aware of Brisas del Mar and began exploring work in the community through Global Ministries' Mission Context and Relationships unit. The community's terrible past and need for some of life's most basic necessities brought together several units in Global Ministries with capacities to bring help and healing for this community.
"We want to bring new life into this community that has suffered so much," said Sam Dixon, UMCOR's top executive, who also has responsibility for the Health and Welfare and Volunteers in Mission office of Global Ministries. "This cooperative effort between Global Ministries, the Methodist Church of Colombia and the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean will help bring the people of Brisas del Mar the help they have needed for so long."
The first steps of this comprehensive response happened when a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team arrived in April 2008. The volunteers repaired a long-neglected well and installed a pump to bring clean water right into the community. Not only does this give them better access to healthier water, it also means that the children no longer have to walk the half mile into the forest, past mass graves to scoop contaminated water from a shallow well.
Clint Rabb, head of the Global Ministries' Mission Volunteers Office, led the initial volunteer team that repaired the well in Brisas del Mar. "I've never seen a community so devastated by violence, this service is the least we could do to ease their suffering," he said.
Mission Volunteers is planning to construct volunteer housing in the area so that more teams can come and stay within the remote community, instead of commuting long distances to work there. It will also provide housing for doctors and community health workers.
Shannon Trilli, a Global Ministries Health and Welfare executive, went with the volunteer team to work with community members to start a community health program.
A projected clinic, to be constructed by volunteers, will provide primary health care for the community—just one component of a community health program to be established in Brisas del Mar.
"The community health program will empower people to take charge of their own health," said Trilli. "Knowing something as simple as the importance of boiling water to prevent illness is empowering. It's one more thing they can control after so many years of powerlessness."
How to Help
"The effort is to create a new reality, for a future filled with hope," said Bishop Cardona of the work going on in Brisas del Mar. In addition to the water pump, clinic and volunteer housing, plans are being made to bring further assistance into the community over the next few years.
You can help the people of Brisas del Mar. To go as a volunteer, contact Robert Rabb, the Volunteer in Mission coordinator for Colombia. Financial gifts to Hospital Revitalization, Colombia, Advance #982168 will support the health program there.
*Scott is the communications director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).