On Thursday, March 29, Trinity’s chapter of Amnesty International hosted the nonprofit organization called Give Us Names, which works to abate, if not end, the displacement of citizens in Colombia. Dan Roge, a member of the group’s six-man team, spoke to a small group of Trinity students about the three to five million displaced people in Colombia, the highest number of internally displaced people for any country in the world, according to a 2010 United Nations report.
The group defines displacement as “the enforced departure of people from their homes, typically because of war, persecution, or natural disaster.” The high number of displaced people in Colombia is, in large part, a result of a policy called Plan Colombia. In 2000, Plan Colombia was instated by Colombia and backed by the United States, calling for, among other things, increased aerial eradication as a strategy for eliminating drug crops, specifically the cocoa plant, which is cultivated and made into cocaine. According to the presentation, a stronger version of Roundup is sprayed from planes over farms in Colombia growing cocoa, an illegal crop in the country, without concern about farmers’ other crops.
Roge showed a documentary entitled “Leaving La Floresa” made by the group about a trip to Colombia, during which they met the Joya family, one of the many families displaced as a result of the ongoing fumigation. Abelardo Joya and his wife Olga, who have been together for 13 years and have five children, lived in the countryside and grew cocoa, used to make chocolate, not cocaine. Regardless, in the spring of 2010, the Joya’s farm was covered with the herbicide used to kill coca plants, destroying their crops and livelihood. Sadly, the Joya’s case is not unique.
The fumigation damage meant Abelardo could no longer provide for his wife and children. They were forced to move to a slum outside the city of Barrancabermeja, where Abelardo worked 12-hour night shifts at a construction job for little pay. Feeding his family in the slums was difficult for Abelardo, and the area surrounding their slum was dangerous. As a result, the Joya family would spend the majority of time in their house, a shack no bigger than what most would consider the size of a single bedroom. Often, the family went hungry. In the documentary, Olga stated, “If you don’t have money in the city, you don’t eat.” In addition to food, other things that were naturally available in the country cost money in the city, making even more difficult for the family of seven to survive.
Upon leaving Colombia, the six men of Give Us Names promised to work to change the United States policy known as Plan Colombia. They also vowed to get the Joya family out of the slums and back onto their farm. After a year and a half of fundraising and spreading awareness, with the help of one unique Colombian organization (ACVC, Asociación Campesina del Valle del río Cimitarra), Give Us Names was able to help the Joya family move back onto their farm.
The next step for Give Us Names is to help as many other families like the Joyas as possible, while always working to bring attention to the problem and change the policy that causes such unwarranted displacement. Roge spoke about the fact that most solutions have to do with food and shelter; they are basic, yet important aspects of everyday life. While the basics have to do with the seemingly simple concept of housing, Roge recognized that there is a greater issue of “home” at hand. More than a roof over the head of a previously displaced family, home is about the combination of neighbors, economy, and support from the community so desperately needed by many in Colombia.