Colombia. Giving dignity

In the outskirts of Bogotà, some Comboni Missionaries are committed to giving dignity and strength to Afro communities.

The Afro people of Bogotà live in the suburbs of the city. Most men of these communities work in the construction and security sectors, while women generally work as housemaids in private residences. These people have moved to the capital city in search of better job opportunities and economic security. They have to face, however, a society that requires specific work skills which are often different from those required in their countries of origin. The Afro-Colombian people’s chances for a better job can also be affected by the quality of education they have received, or in case they dropped out of studies for different reasons or even because they have lost their cultural and social references.
In Bogotá, as in many other cities, there are men and women of all ages, races and cultures who have embraced the call of God and are committed to making the dream of God come true where it is needed most. The Afro Colombian Collective Education Initiative (IECA is the Spanish acronym) was born to this purpose. Men, women, priests, nuns, lay people along with members of the Afro communities in Bogotà participate in the initiative which is aimed at improving the reality of Afro-Colombians through education and productive projects. The initiative will help Afro-Colombians to be the architects of their own history and to transform their reality by benefiting from their own culture and spirituality and from the gifts they have received.

Courses are being organised to have primary and secondary school qualifications recognised, in order to provide tools for the development of communities and the improvement of the standard of education through an ethno-education process, that is, providing education by starting from the Afro-Colombian culture .
A team of teachers, committed to faith and solidarity helps, through courses, the people of these communities, to rediscover their culture and dignity, as well as to become responsible as individuals and as community members for the improvement of the common well-being.
The aim of this educational process is not simply providing a good education standard, but also achieving the integral growth of individuals, making them aware of their rights, of the importance of their own culture in the context of society. The goal of these courses is enabling the Afro-Colombians to integrate into society, so that they can improve their quality of life and their organisational skills as individuals and as members of Afro communities as well.

There is still a long way to go. The activists who support the initiative, are learning from their own experiences and from those of the pioneers who previously tried to help these communities. Much remains to be done and learned. The obstacles encountered along the way have been overcome by the commitment of people who believe in this initiative, by team work, by the faith … The initiative is carried out and coordinated by IECA’s Central Group, with the collaboration of the teacher team, which is in charge of the courses. Many groups of supporters also help to accomplish the goal, according to their resources; they are religious institutions, education foundations, Afro organisations, the Afro Pastoral Centre of Bogota and many others. But the Afro- Colombian people are those who play a key role in the project. They actively participate by attending the training courses and, in turn, they give their contribution by sharing their cultural knowledge and life experience with the others.

Although this initiative is not only Comboni, it reflects what was Daniel Comboni’ s dream: “Save Africa with Africa”. In his day, Africa was considered as the unknown continent, the warehouse of Europe, a wild territory, and its inhabitants were not even perceived as human beings but merchandise.
The African ancestors arrived to the American colonies as a result of slave trading. Nowadays, many things have changed while some others have not and many African descendants still remain on the margins of society. But now, the Afro-Colombian people, do not want to remain invisible to society anymore, they are speaking out against rights denied, they have started to rediscover themselves and decided to build a new society, where men and women, no matter what race or culture they are, can live in dignity and can contribute to the common well-being. The Afro communities have the task to accomplish this project drawing from their culture, knowledge, heritage, values and their way of living life.