Yesterday I drove our borrowed SUV out to San Rafael. There we picked up a team of four women doing community work for the government, and drove on to one of the remote villages about 45 minutes away from the city center. Here’s proof:
We arrived to where there would be a community meeting, at which people from five villages had gathered to talk with government officials from Bogota. The problem was that the officials hadn’t made it, which the community didn’t yet know. As everyone walked down to the school courtyard, people smiled at Casey and me. Then the meeting got started, and soon the news was dropped that the people from Bogota hadn’t come. The attendees were ticked, and started complaining that they’d been getting tugged along in this program for over a year, skipping work and traveling long distances to attend meetings, and no one from Bogota ever showed up, and they hadn’t received any of the promised benefits.
Casey and I sat on the side as this went on. When a cloud blocked the sun, it was hot. When the clouds moved and let the sun shine, it was fierce. Even sitting half in the shade, I was sweating hard. Meanwhile most of the villagers sat nowhere near the shade, baking. Most had hats and a few had umbrellas, but still. These were all people who had been displaced from their homes during the conflict, generally after one of the armed groups had killed their family members of neighbors, and were now going to receive financial assistance from the federal government to help them rebuild their lives. But the program was taking forever. The scene reminded me of some of the community meetings I attended or hosted in New Mexico. People were so frustrated that promises weren’t being kept and that officials didn’t come talk them about why. Those meetings were valuable lessons for me, on how not to work for community through government.
At one point in the meeting, one of the older women started laughing, and explained that she had been excited when the meeting first got started, because two good-looking, well-dressed, white people had come from Bogota. She pointed at us. But, she said, when we didn’t get introduced, she realized that was not the case. People laughed and Casey and I smiled. After the meeting the woman was introduced to us. She was really nice, and told us to come back and talk with her more some time. We told her we would. And we will.