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Building houses, building hope for displaced families in Sencilejo, Colombia

November 15, 2010

By Paola Mora




Sincelejo is the capital of Sucre, Colombia. It is nested on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and has become central to northern Colombia’s agriculture and livestock industry. Throughout Colombia’s history, Sucre has suffered the consequences of armed conflict from numerous groups – including guerillas, paramilitaries, common thieves and confrontations with the local police, often leading to forced evictions for many families.

In the department of Sucre, displaced families have concentrated in a sector comprised of the Altos de Rosario and 17 de Septiembre barrios, or neighborhoods, of Sincelejo. Since 1995, these neighborhoods have absorbed some 80 percent of the department’s displaced families. Today, 1,300 families occupy 1,064 houses in this sector – leaving a deficit of 236 homes.

Habitat for Humanity Colombia, along with Acción Social, Comfasucre and the Government of the Balearic Islands of Spain, seek to support 33 of these 236 families living in overcrowded homes. The project supports the return and social reintegration of families displaced by armed conflict in Sucre through housing, as well as education and support in conflict resolution and citizen coexistence in a framework of peace.

These 33 families are natives of Los Montes de Maria, a group of mountains of the northern coast of Colombia. They are comprised of anywhere from four to nine members – some with mothers and some with fathers as heads of household. Most of the families earn their living by way of informal jobs such as motorcycle taxiing, house cleaning and selling items on the street.

This October, 15 volunteers from Bermuda arrived in Sincelejo to help build houses for some of these families.

In addition to mixing cement, digging, filling in land, pouring foundations and laying brick, the volunteers donated 15 suitcases of clothing, which was distributed among the partner families and other needy communities in Cartagena that had been affected by the winter rains.

David Thompson, who has traveled to more than 10 countries leading international volunteer teams, said, “It is a very interesting project, and the interaction with the families… we were able to complete the foundations for these houses and this is the most important part of a house… a good foundation. Just like in a family. We were able to enjoy ourselves a bit in Cartagena… it’s an interesting historic site. The project in Sincelejo is a big one and takes a lot of time… we worked hard five days a week with the volunteers, who are youth and have a lot of energy. We always felt well attended to… and were never left alone.”

Julian Carmona, representing one of the partner families, was always at the group’s side. “I feel grateful, because it was an experience that has left important teachings with everyone in the community about integrating and participating in the construction of their own homes,” she said.

Andrea Paola Mora Salazar is the Communications Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Colombia.