Visit to Mocoa

On April 1 of this year, the city of Mocoa, Putumayo was struck by a deadly mudslide that killed over 300 people and wiped out entire neighborhoods. Last week I was invited by the Lutheran World Federation office in Colombia to join a monitoring mission to learn about a project that helped mudslide-victims get back on their feet. Both the Disciples of Christ (Week of Compassion) and the United Church of Christ donated to the ACT Alliance emergency appeal that funded this project. Here are some pictures, with further explanation about the project, from my visit:

Mocoa River as seen from the plane as we were approaching the Villagarzón Airport (which serves Mocoa).
Near where the mudslide began. See the small trickle of muddy water in the lower right hand corner? That’s the creek that grew into a massive mudslide.
Two men cut a fallen tree into boards. They help give a sense of the size of the boulders and the width of the mudslide.
This used to be a preschool. All the other houses around it were completely destroyed.
Tattered remains of houses. The sign reads: We are victims. Do not forget us. Barrio San Miguel lives!
This used to be a neighborhood.
More destroyed houses.
Further downstream, you can see the mudlines inside what remains of this storefront.
Sign welcoming project participants to the closing ceremony. It reads: “Reborn together for Mocoa.”
Some of the families that benefited from this project. After receiving training in investment and financial planning, they each received about $200 to invest in something (mostly family-run businesses) that would help provide a livelihood.
This man now makes and sells sandals.
Presbyterian Pastor Luis Fernando Sanmiguel and I had dinner at this woman’s family-run restaurant (where she invested her money). Her previous restaurant was destroyed in the mudslide.
Lucy used her money to buy hens, that now provide her and her daughter with eggs. Lucy and her daughter survived being swept away by the mudslide when their house gave way.
A mural by the Catholic Diocese that celebrates the women of Putumayo “Weavers of Life”.

The pain of so many lives lost and so many homes and dreams that were swept away was still palpable. But I was also amazed by the resiliency and strength of the survivors, like Lucy, that I had the chance to meet. In closing, here is what several of them told me about the project:

“This project helped us take a step forward. Today my wounds are healed. Now I can go forward even stronger than before.”

“This project helped me change my way of thinking. My children are doing better now and can speak about what happened without it hurting them.”

“When I got this opportunity [through the project] I decided to go back to what my Mom did: raising chickens. I now have one hundred chickens and not a single one has died.”

“With this money I was able to get my beauty salon up and running. I even had enough money left over to buy something for my children for Christmas. Thank you for giving us this money with no strings attached.”

“I am grateful that through this project I was able to buy some hens that I will raise and then sell. That had been my dream for a long time.”

“This project has allowed me to start over again. When I lost everything I felt so small. I asked several banks for loans, but they turned me away because I had lost everything. This aid has allowed me to be reborn.”




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