Video: 'We've relied on each other to survive'

Colombia, May 5, 2010

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The youngest, 40-year-old Nancy, was first to arrive in 2007. She was squeezed out by intensifying fighting between guerrillas and paramilitaries and a death threat she couldn't ignore.

Giovorny, 52, followed after her family was robbed and threatened off their bountiful farm by guerrillas.

Last came 42-year-old Nubia, from Cauca, after her husband was kidnapped and killed.

Ever since, Nubia said, "We've relied on each other to survive."

It hasn't been easy. Each has two young ones in her care: daughters, nieces, grandkids. All 12 share the same space: a cramped rental house with no land.

Giovorny has to care for an epileptic niece and cope with being apart from her 64-year-old husband, who earns money farming land that's several hours away. "He's from the country, so he needs his liberty" Giovorny said with resignation. "He feels trapped in this small house."

Nancy's husband sells cell-phone minutes on the streets from 7 in the morning until 9 at night. He makes about $3 a day. The bulk of the sisters' income comes from the small-goods store they run out of the front of their home. It offers packaged food and sundries ranging from chips and bread to toilet paper and diapers. The income isn't sufficient: They're sometimes so low on food that they take from the store to fill their bellies.

Mercy Corps helped them open the tienda with a grant of nearly $200, and gave them pots and pans, bedsheets, hygiene kits and more than two months' worth of food.

We've also helped restore their sense of dignity. The trio faithfully attended weekly trainings to learn how to assess and respond to family violence. Giovorny, whose formal schooling didn't go beyond first grade, proudly showed me her graduation certificate. "As displaced people, we are sin honrado," or disrespected, she explained. "But this shows that we are learning and that we can go forward, that we are capable of more."

Miguel shot and edited this video of the sisters and their families as they went about their lives: