I started writing this post over a month ago, just as I was getting ready to leave Ecuador, the place I began to call home for the past year. I got sidetracked with all of the goodbyes and tears that were shed during this final week…so I am finally finishing the post knowing I will finally be able to do so without crying (hopefully)…Here it is:
Unfortunately I haven’t written much throughout the second half of my journey for a few reasons, mainly because I’ve been extremely busy with my placement, and taking advantage of every second I have here with these incredible people. So I plan on writing a post attempting to sum up my past few months.
BUT this isn’t an easy task…how does one write about something so indescribable?? I can share my stories with those who care to listen, but I will never be able to share the feelings I felt, or all the love, happiness, sadness, and heartbreak that came from this job, but i’ll do my best.
I’ve spent the past 5 months working in the area of humanitarian assistance with migrants, mainly Colombian refugees who have been through some horrific and heartbreaking stories. I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to share these stories on something so public, so I will just say that I have met some of the most inspiring people who have been to Hell and back. I have once again been reminded to be thankful that I was born in Canada, however, it also reminded me of exactly why I don’t belong in Canada.
Sadly, most of the world is unaware of what has been going on in Colombia, they all know it as a country full of drugs and crime, they assume everyone is ‘dangerous’…but that is far from true. Colombians are some of the happiest, joyful, sweet and giving people that I have ever come across.The people I worked with were innocent victims of a corrupt situation, people who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. There has been a violent conflict ongoing in Colombia for over 50 years, leading to guerrilla warfare, a lot of violence and death of innocent civilians. Because of this conflict, there are thousands of Colombians each year who become either displaced within their own country or become refugees. Ecuador, a neighbouring country tends to become the new home to thousands of Colombian refugees each year.
The things we see as “suffering” back home seems so insignificant to me now. Don’t get me wrong, breaking up with your boyfriend/girlfriend is quite heartbreaking, and not being able to buy that new iPhone you want because your parents wont give you the money definitely sucks, but these are things we can and should get over, things we should learn from and move on. In my mind these things are like paper cuts, something that hurts in the moment, but will heal and the pain will stop eventually. I’m not trying to sound like a snob or a know-it-all, but after spending these past few months with people who have had to flee their country due to death threats or the death of loved ones, these things just no longer seem so difficult. We all have the right to be upset, to complain and to cry, but I now know that my complaints will no longer last more than a few hours. I have not been forced to leave my country due to violence and internal conflict, and I have not been forced to re-start my life with nothing in a place where I am discriminated against because of my nationality…I think the only complaints I will have for the next year will surround the fact that I will miss my friends here and that I wish I could still be here working for what I think is a very important and incredible cause…but yes mom and dad, I agree that my education is important and that’s exactly why I’m returning.
I have been tested in every way possible, but emotionally more than anything. The stories I’ve heard have broken my heart, and not crying in front of them was not easy…I spent a few nights alone in my room crying for the pain and injustice these people have faced. From these experiences working with the social worker and hearing these stories, I learned something extremely important. That “something” being that everybody is struggling with something, we all have our difficulties and barriers that sometimes seem too high to get over, and every problem should be recognized, whether it be depression, anxiety, bullying etc. However, I’ve noticed that it tends to be the people who are suffering the most that never complain, never say anything. For example, when asking people how their situation was they would say something along the lines of, “oh it’s okay, we are surviving”, or ” the most important thing is that we are alive”…and when we’d later go for a house visit to see what they need, they’d have absolutely nothing. Some families didn’t have electricity or water and were sleeping on the floor and living in slums, however they didn’t feel that they should tell us how much they were truly struggling. And on the other hand there were some people who were doing just fine, with all the necessities, yet all they did was talk about how we need to buy them this, that and the other. I couldn’t help but continually remind myself of many people back home who don’t understand and will probably never recognize how blessed they are, people who will never realize that their complaints could actually be considered as blessings in the eyes of others. Of course, I too am guilty of this.
One of my favourite things about the organization I work with is that they are so welcoming and supportive of the people that come in looking for help. The goal is to make them feel safe and at home, and numerous people have told me that this organization is unlike any other because we go out of our way to give love to those who need it, we don’t treat them like they are below us, instead we treat them exactly how we would want to be treated if we were in the same vulnerable situation.
I will never be able to forget these people, especially the youth that I worked so closely with. People who have changed my life, touched my heart and taught me the most important lessons I have ever learned. I’ve learned more here in Ecuador than I ever could have learned during my past 16 years spent in classrooms. As cliche as this all sounds…they are the only words I have that come close enough to expressing my feelings.
I know I will struggle upon my return to Canada, and I have no idea how I will answer all the questions I will receive about my “trip”, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t think it’s possible to put my experience into words…it truly was something I did for myself and I have accepted that nobody will ever understand. I lived through this journey on my own, and am grateful to have grown as a person, learned from so many diverse people, and to have had the reassurance that I am in the correct field. As heartbroken as I am to be leaving, I am leaving completely inspired to go on and finish my studies in hopes of one day returning to continue with the work that made me fall even more in love with the idea of becoming a social worker. I know I will be going home to feelings of sadness, nostalgia and worry due to the fact that I will have little contact with these people. But all I can do is pray for their safety and protection, pray that they keep finding the strength to continue, even during the days that seem so very hopeless.
The sadness I feel is also indescribable. I have never in my life felt as loved as I do here. My time here has revolved around one thing: LOVE. The giving and receiving of love. It makes me feel uneasy knowing that I will be leaving this community of people who may not have everything they desire, but who have more than enough love to give.
Sadness, because I have made some of the truest and most genuine friendships here, so very different than the ones I have at home, and now I have to leave, not knowing when I’ll see them again. Although I know that I am loved at home, and there are many people that I love too, there is something different about it, which once again I cannot explain because I can’t even pinpoint it myself.
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11
Colombia por la paz
Paz y amor