Relief for a family displaced by conflict


February 21, 2014

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cully Lundgren/Mercy Corps  </span>
    After conflict displaced them from their homes, Miriam's family received basic household necessities as part of our initiative to provide emergency support to displaced families in Colombia. Miriam's baby grandchild and four of her eight children are pictured above. Photo: Cully Lundgren/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Cully Lundgren/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Miriam's family of 10 now lives in a makeshift shelter built above a mangrove, along with several hundred other displaced families. The home — which has limited electricity and no plumbing — can only be accessed by a series of rickety wooden planks built above the swamp surrounding it. Photo: Cully Lundgren/Mercy Corps

I recently returned from a visit to Progresso, a community on the northwestern coast of Colombia.

Everyone who lives there is an internally displaced person (IDP) who has been forced out of their home due to festering conflict between the government and guerilla groups in many rural areas of the country.

Progresso is one several communities in Colombia where we’re distributing essential supplies like cookware, bedding and hygiene kits to meet the emergency needs of displaced families, like Miriam’s.

Miriam met our small team at Progresso’s edge, dressed in beautiful blouse, pink pants, pink flip-flops and a silver necklace. She had a beautiful smile and she and her daughter looked clean, happy and healthy.

She invited us to visit her home, a makeshift house on the edge of a mangrove forest where several hundred other families have built shelters as well.

To get there, we had to walk over a rickety, crooked path they had built above the mangrove out of wood planks. Reaching her house required walking with arms outstretched — like on a balance beam — to a point, then turning our bodies and following the walkway in the next direction.

After a few minutes of starts and stops — and a few close calls — we made it to Miriam’s home. Four of her eight children greeted us, as did her granddaughter, although Miriam herself didn’t look like she was much older than her early 30s.

She welcomed us in and showed us around. The home was quite clean, with a corrugated metal roof and three rooms separated by thin partitions. Three generations of Miriam’s family — ten people — live there.

The small home has electricity, though it’s expensive and only available for a couple hours a day. And without plumbing, they store water in a large blue bin and use the mangrove outside their home — now filled with garbage and raw sewage — for a bathroom.

When one of my teammates asked Miriam where her husband was, she said he was working. But we were later told that he had left her long ago. She explained that she used to have a job selling fried plantains to wealthier Colombians at the nearby beach — but with eight children and no support she couldn’t keep working.

Miriam showed us where they cook, and the food and household items she received as part of our program to provide displaced families with emergency supplies.

After the tour, we thanked Miriam for welcoming us into her home, then balanced our way precariously back to solid ground while Miriam and her daughters followed, walking gracefully across the wobbly planks.

While saying our final goodbyes, Miriam thanked us for the support we had provided — the basic items we often take for granted but that her family urgently needed to survive.

She was truly grateful.

To everyone who has ever supported our work, thank you for your generosity. I hope you will continue to partner with us so that together we can positively impact millions of lives around the globe, including ten lives in the little town of Progresso on the northwestern Colombian coast.