Friday, July 30, 2010

I promise this won´t be as long as the last one...unless thats what you want....because I can make up a story or tell you about every Transmilenio adventure I have had since Ive been here. Today I saw a huge fight start which I am pretty sure ended with some sort of knife-bearing.

But anyway, a little update about tonight. The day started out kinda boring with meetings, but after that I had planned to attend Salud en su Barrio--a health program out on by the city of Soacha which basically brings health care to the neighborhoods which are far from the center of the city. So cool, I was gonna see a positive side of health care in Soacha. False. I went to call my contact at the Secretary of Health who said that there was no such thing that day. Either it got cancelled or they never planned it. So, not wanting to waste the day in the office, I decided to head to El Hospital Gaitan Yanguas, a public hospital in the center of Soacha. Luckily, I called one of the women I had interviewed and she said she actually had to go too. I got there a little early and looked around. They would not let me in as I did not have an appointment and was not bleeding from an orifice or missing a limb, so I waited outside. I ran into a girl I had worked with in Altos de la Florida, odd enough, waiting for her cuñado--brother in law, who was currently in the hospital. I was able to sit down and talk to her about the care there--since most of the people in a situation of displacement are attended to at this public hospital. She said it basically sucks and that they dont have what they need to help people and that family and friends have to wait outside--like in the street to hear about their family and friends. This was pretty frustrating, but has also become all too normal here in Soacha. I then went to wait for the woman I was going to meet and ran into another woman from Altos who had just come from an appointment. She had to wait 3 hours just to be seen since it wasnt an emergency even though her appointment was supposedly in the early afternoon. She got lucky and soemone cancelled an appointment, so her friend got her moved up. I cant imagine what it wouldve been like if she didnt get lucky with that other appoitnment.

I finally met up with Ana Adela who needed to go to the emergency room since she had been feeling chest pains all day. Chest pains, with referred pain from her back and shortness of breath. Thank God they let me in with her. She referred to me as her accompaniment because I am pretty sure they wouldnt believe we were we went in and still had to wait about an hour to be seen. Finally she got seen and her bloodwork taken which didnt actually take that long. The problem was having to navigate ourselves through the hospital and all the different testing rooms. As we did this, we were granted access to the emergency room and the triage centers. I have never seen an ER so packed and full of people holding their own IV bags, sitting on the floor, bleeding everywhere. It was quite the scene. The facility was nothing to be proud of either. As they are doing construction in the middle of the triage center, the smell of toxic fumes fills the air. We walked past the pharmacy and Ana got the drugs she needed...but only for the day. There is a drug that she needs to take everyday(I dont know what it is right now) but she cant because she cant afford to buy it and the one that she can afford (or at least is covered by insurance) isnt available at the pharmacy. In order to have her insurance cover that drug taht she needs, she has to go to the Secretary of Health and explain why its in the law that this drug be covered (since she needs it for health maintainance, they should cover it) she needs to present the papers of the law which state that she is in need of this and then go again to the pharmacy to inquire if its there. this is all about a drug that she should be taking every day. So in the waiting room we met a lot of people, thanks to Ana as she is very outgoing and generally curious about everything. People waititng there for hours...some since the morning. Oh and when she went to get her drugs, we had to walk to the kitchen to get water so she could take them. seriously though I have never seen a dirtier or more ugly hospital. I wanted to take Ana and run somewhere else, at least to a private hospital. Hopefully Ill be able to see how those function this week. So we got her labs back and got clearance to leave and we were able to talk about how she can better take care of herself so that she doesnt wind up back in the emergency room. Its hard to tell her that she needs to eat better food when the money for this kind of food isnt there. But we were able to talk about small things and small goals. Increase the walking, decrease the fat and the salt. She seemed to understand and was sincere about wanting to feel better.

We walked in the ER at 4 and finally left around 730, not horrible I guess, but in an emergency I do not trust that facility.

So we walked back and she introduced me to her beautiful family and I got to hear some music from Chocó, a region here in Colombia. Her brother in law showed me a dance that I probably couldnt learn if I had a year and a new set of hips.

Got home a little late tonight, so I think I´m gonna stay in tonight and see whats on TV since I havent watched anything for weeks. One thing that I am sad that I am missing though, well 2 things....the new season of Jersey shore and Shark if anyone can record either, that would be wonderful...

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and find something small to be grateful for.. I will be watching TV and debating going to the Daddy Yankee concert here tomorrow night.

Oh and other big news! There was an earthquake here yesterday afternoon and we were about 60 miles from the epicenter!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Health Care and Adventures with the Lost Boys

This post comes to you without pictures, so dont be scrolling down to look for them...I am currently at the office and dont have my photos with me. So I have heard that I have a lot to update ya´ll about. I have now been in Colombia for 59 days and have been learning a lot about health care and about how you sometimes have to start your whole life over again. I ill try to fill you in on all the high points of the trip so far...
I got the opportunity to attend a conference on the armed conflict in colombia and the recruitment of children into this conflict. basically its invisible children: the latin american version...which is a lot more confusing and sad. well not more sad but just takes on a whole different context in the face of narcotrafficking and such. I attended this conference for 2 days..all of it in rapid-fire spanish and was the only gringa for miles. but it was cool, i learned a heck of a lot and generally understood everything (the spanish, not so much the context of the issue). It was realy interesting to hear what the international community is doing to condem the use of children in the conflict and to guarantee that the government and Constitutional Court are seeing whats going on. Interesting thing about colombia though....the government says that there is no armed conflict--that its terrorism. Its a lot easier to unite people from within if they think the threat is from the outside. Basically the armed conflict is recruiting kids between the ages of 12-16 in order to fight, carry supplies, trade drugs or are used for sexual purposes. Thanks to guns being smaller now though, they have started recruiting younger children. The whole thing is bastante complejo...(substantially complex)...i never really have answers when i think about it, and basically just find more questions. but one thing i do know...drugs have always been involved. the buying and selling of cocaine in colombia came before the conflict, continues during it, and will probably continue until every crop has been fumigated, leaving the beautiful land of colombia completely barren.
So after that conference, I started my interviews. I am really nervous about them because i want the information i get to be useful to someone. Its hard to get answers in this system as there are so many hoops to jump through to get info and ultimately to get health care. My question for the summer: Do those in a situation of internal displacement in Soacha get the attention they deserve in regards to health? My answer for the summer: no.

So as i was meeting someone to interview them, i ran across a health post in one of the barrios. I was like, well looky here, something very interesting. lets take a look. So i went inside and asked around and finally got to talk to on eof the nurses there. She explained the whole process and what they do. This 3 room building was responsible for the health of between 8 and 10 barrios....thats gotta be over 5000 people. They cant really do emergency care and they have to hop ethat they can stabilize the situation and perform first aid well enough that they can get the people to the hospital. They have no doctor in house, but they will be getting one in a few weeks. The equipment is not to standard and they do not have a computer...
I wasnt able to talk too much more about the conditions as i had to meet the woman for the interview, but i will be returning to the post for further questions and a more complete overview of the health care situation there.

My first interview. I met Jenny, a woman from a rural region of Colombia. I asked if she had a problem being filmed and she said that it made her uncomfortable because she basically lived in fear that someone from that region could find her and possibly kill her. Because, oh yeah, they already killed her husband...leaving her with 5 beautiful little girls, to raise alone. I asked her if she was being attended to in the health sector, and she just answered, no, I am not receiving attention. It was as simple as that. It doesnt matter what the government has said about health care rights or what anyone is trying to do to help, the simple answer is she doesnt have health care at all. like, at all. She does not have a card enrolling her in the system, so if she tries to go to a clinic, she will be denied. She said that she basically just has to pray that neither she nor her little girls falls sick. Thats her prevention....prayer. as much as i am a believer in the Lord and depend on him, as an almost nurse, that is unacceptable. She has a right to health care and this needs to be granted. Not only does she not live legally in her neighborhood, but she lives in a one room shack and sleeps in the same bed with her 5 girls. It takes one outbreak of something to sweep that whole family. And she lives close to a river which is every so slighty rising due to the ridiculous amount of rain that this winter has given Bogota. Is there hope? yes. theres always hope. But with this hope comes the hoops which must be jumped through to get any sort of health care access. I will explain the process later, and i am super sorry if none of this makes sense. Basically all i want to say is that the government has promised this vulnerable poppulation health care, but they arent getting it. If this was because of a natural disaster or an outside cause, i wouldnt be so adamant about this issue, but it is actually directly because of the failure of the government that 4.5 million people are currently displaced throughout Colombia.

I then went with a coworker to her program with the young people in Altos de la Florida. I tried to get there by myself and ended up about an hour late. awesome, but i do feel more confident in Soacha now, so i guess thats good. I was able to navigate my way through the barrio and eventually got there without too many stares. So the program was all about the situation of displacement and the phases of displacement. There are 4 phases:
1. urgency
2. emergency
3. stabilization
4 Return to original land or be stabilized in new city

So, in short the phases are about how you go from being vulnerable in a different city to reestablishing your home whether its in that city or back where you came from. So Carol first asked if any of the girls knew anyone who was displaced. they answered that they knew people, but none of them were. I was surprised, i thought we just worked with those who were in a situation of displacement. I later asked Carol why were were there with them today, and she asnwered that they were all in risk of becoming displaced. That is because Altos is a very poor community with a lot of gang activity and recruitment issues. They also are not a legal community and run the risk of being thrown out at any time...thats about 600 families without a place to live. Because of these economic issues, they more intently look to groups like the guerrillas or the paramilitaries for an outlet and some economic incentives. Thats why recruitment is such an issue. These people see that being in the illegal armed groups at least gives them a place to sleep, some food, and maybe some money. Its not a lot and it wont get them anywhere in the future, but some of these families dont have time to think about the future. So, Carol is there to inform them about these issues to say, if you become displaced, here are the steps you take. And she hopes that by telling these girls, they will tell their friends and family members and run less of a risk of being caught in gang activity or being recruited. the sad thing is that illegal...and legal armed groups are stationed IN the neighborhoods with full intention of recruiting impresionable children. Also its curious how every military base is placed next to or in the direct periphery of a school...strategery? i think so.

That afternoon, we went to meet a bunch of kids from the neighborhood to talk about their upcoming project--a show that wilk focus on the hip hop culture and to prove that they arent bandits or gang members and that graffiti can be art. So i go to see all of their graffiti. very cool. It was all really socially conscious and very pro life. This is because recently on eof the girls in the group was killed. I dont know the details but i know that it wasnt a peaceful death. So they have a memorial for her and are making this program for the cause of ending the violence. this is the same neighborhood where the Falsos Positivos occurred. If you dont know what that is, go to my blog or look it up, its worth noting.

My interviews are now in full swing and am findning similar problems as before. Problems with nutrition, problems with information, problems with money for transportation to the hospital and time to wait at these facilities. One woman came in complaining about the system and about how she hasnt been able to get any attention. I continued asking her questions and she revealed that she has been feeling sick recently. That she sometimes cant breathe and can hear her heartbeat in her ears. She also has a severe headache and with all this she feels like she cant do anything--that she has no desire to do anything but sleep. and when I aksed her what she did when this happens, she said she goes to sleep and drinks some water. Im no expert, but i know this is not healthy and points to severe respiratory and coronary issues. Good thing is she was able to get an appointment for august 3rd so if all goes accorfing to plan, I will be able to accompany her and ask the questions that need to be asked. Her last physician gave her medicine, but this medicine makes her feel awful and she´s not going to take something if it makes her feel awful, I know I wouldnt, so that hurts compliance. Hopefully together we can find something that makes her fel better. and maybe find medication that she can afford. Another problem that I have found is the prevention part. It is important that she change her lifestyle and her food intake, but how do I tell someone they need to eat better food, get more sleep, have less stress, live in a better environment and get more exercise when she has to work odd jobs and make a meager income just to have enough money so there is at least some food on the table?

Thats what Ill leave you with for now. Its a messy situation and its not always very pretty. I apologize that I dont have really cool stories right now. Well I guess I have one. I went to Villa de Leyva with all the jesuits ( I call them the Lost Boys) and our bus broke down on the way--of course on one of those windy roads which you could easily fall off at any time. We had to get out and walk and then the bus would meet us at the top of the hill because it couldnt hold us all. But we made it, and it was beautiful! Also I have fallen in love with JUAN VALDEZ, not only because theres coffee, but because they put arequipe at the bottom :) if you dont know what arequipe is, look it up, its worth noting. maybe if youre nice to me ill bring some back to the US.

If you were patient/ kind enough to read all of that I will reward you with 2 palabras del dia. thats right--2!!
1. chichi--as in the restaurant, yes. when you say tengo chichi it means ¨i have pee¨ the day i learned it, i heard a 3 year old say it, so i know its legit.
2. parchar--to hang out with your friends. ¨No quiero ir a Mexico, yo quiero parchar con mis amigos!!¨

Honestly, they dont make postcards here, but once I find someone to give me paper, youre getting one. I miss you all, I miss the United States. It sometimes gets pretty lonely here, so please continue praying for me and ill do the same.

Los amo,

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fruit?..Thanks, but I´ll pass

I feel that I have an obligation to inform my friends and family when something moves me and makes me think. I recently came accross an article which is gonna make me think twice before buying groceries. The sad part is, I know this is not the only company involved in things like this. It makes me wonder what other companies I am supporting that I know nothing about what goes on behind the scenes. This isnt a guilt trip, its just a kind reminder that maybe we should be asking more questions about where our food (and clothing) comes from. More to come soon.
God bless,

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Falsos Positivos

As my work is focused in Soacha, Colombia, I feel that it is important to update you all on a very important event in the history of the people here.
In late 2008, 11 young men from Soacha were lured by promises of secure, high-paying jobs in the department of Norte de Santander. These promises were made by colonels of the Colombian military who took these boys to the region and ruthlessly killed them. Why would the Colombian military do this to citizens?
Simple...increase the body count.
What the military did to justify these murders was dress the bodies in fatigues that guerrillas would wear and claim they were killing the enemy, in order to impress superiors and to gain money for their brigade. This case is not isolated though, and has occured in other regions of Colombia. It is referred to here as ¨falsos positivos.¨ The government, including the then Secretary of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos (who is the president-elect), pushed itself away from the scandel until President Uribe was forced to acknowledge the human rights abuses committed by the military in order to fight the guerrillas. This has been attributed to what has been called the ¨body count mentality¨of the military. In order to look like they are successful in this battle, the military compromises lives of normal citizens who have been shown to have no connection to the guerrillas, paramilitaries, or drug trade. Unfortunately this idea has been imbedded in the nature of the military for decades. The history of falsos positivos is a long and painful story which will continue for some time.
If you have some time, I recommend watching these videos. They present a fuller picture of the issue and where I have been focusing my research.
Falsos positivos

Palabra del dia: ¨Mentiras¨--lies. El gobierno dice mentiras.

God bless,

Monday, July 5, 2010

Desalojo en Soacha

As promised, I have a lot to update you on and a little bit of a history/current reality lesson about Soacha.

Last week, the community of Altos de la Florida in Soacha, Colombia was threatened with a ¨desalojo¨ of the town. Desalojo, which literally means evacuation in english, is when a community is driven out of the land by the police with the support of the government. How is this possible you might ask? Well, the community of Altos isnt exactly legal. Its called an ¨invasión¨ and they are common in the outskirts of Bogotá and other large cities in Colombia. People move in to the land surrounding cities with their families even though they are not the owners of the land. Funny story about Altos though...these families did pay someone for these lots. Unfortunately, no one told them that thewere purchasing land from a ladrón (thief). Once this imposter received enough money to be satisfied, he or she left with all the money and left the people in a situation which is now weighing on the shoulders of heads of families throughout Los Altos. The real owner of the land has since returned and is calling in all the debt. He is asking the families to pay again. Remember that these families cannot always pay for water or food, but now have to pay for the land that they should already own. This was not the first threat of evacuation, and the people have lived with the fear of losing their housing before. A friend of mine here at the Juniorado (where I live) worked with SJR last year and witnessed an evacuation. Apparently they bring in bulldozers to tear the houses down. Of course organizations and lawyers representing the people of Altos are stepping in to fight for the rights of these people, most of whom are in a situation of displacement and would have nowhere else to go. This of course presents a problem which I have mentioned before. The citizens of Altos have the support of many organizations who speak for the people and are not working with them. This has made the people of Altos lazy in regards to their situation of displacement. I do not want to say that the people are lazy. Honestly, many of these people do not have time to think about the future, but must work every day to provide food and water for their families. I was in Altos all last weekend and the day before the supposed evacutation but was told on Monday night that it was not going to take place. It looks like the organizations have bought the barrio a little more time. I don´t know right now if that means a year, a month or a week of peace. There is hope though though that the people will come together for their barrio. Sunday morning, there was a meeting with the community about how they would peacfully resist the evacuation. There were only about 100 people at the meeting out of a few thousand inhabitants, but it shows that there is a growing internal support. I guess its getting more and more real with each threat.

Last weekend, I stayed the night in Altos in order to attend catechesis with the kids of the community. I went with three of my friends from the Juniorado because they were in charge of the catechesis and often go to Soacha on the weekends to hang out with the kids.. It was a lot of fun, and all of the kids were obsessed with borrowing my camera. This of course made me a little nervous, but they got some good shots and nothing broke!

I start my interviews this week and am getting really excited/ nervous about them, so please keep me in your prayers and I will do the same. If youre ever feeling hopeless, which I hope you aren´t, pray to St. Jude. He´s the reason I´m here and why I am doing what I´m doing.

Impossible is nothing. God bless.


Palabra del dia: marica. Originally it was a word to describe a homosexual, but has really lost a lot of that meaning and is used constantly here between friends. Its become a salutation. When I was on the plane coming back from Peru (I went to visit a few family friends this weekend) I knew I was on my way back to Bogotá when I heard ¨¡Oye, marica! ¿Que más??¨ from the guy in the seat behind he wasnt talking to me. Of course, you shouldnt use this word with your boss, your parents or your teachers, but it is a pretty harmless slang word good for friendly use.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Trabajando juntos

It looks like I have a lot to catch ya'll up on. Ive been spending a lot of time in Soacha the past few weeks--everyday for the past about nine days. The transportation sometimes gets frustrating, but its all worth it when I am walking around the barrios and interacting with the people. One day recently changed how I look at NGOs and the way they work in communities. I went to a meeting with a few women who were working to initiate urban farming into the community of Altos de la Florida. They talked for a while about what they wanted the project to be, but the conversation soon turned to current issues with organizations infiltrating the communities. Since internal displacement has become such an important issue in the United Nations, literally hundreds of organizations are currently working in Soacha. Many of these NGOs go into the barrios and tell the community what they want to accomplish. Of course, these organizations have studied these issues and have reason to be there, but, as I learned, there is a serious flaw with the way some organizations go about meeting their goals. I found that many NGOs come into the barrios, take pictures of everything they are doing, but also take pictures of dirty, sad children in order to bring attention to the situation. Of course, the NGOs need to let the public (the source of donations) know about the situation and to make sure they let them know where their money is going, but it is also unfair to the communities to take pictures, basically in order to make money off the needs of these people. It made me realize that in order to really make a change and to do something for the community, you have to do something with the community--ask them what they want to do, work together. These people have been living this life longer than organizations have been studying it. Of course I do not want to say that NGOs dont help, they are needed and I have great respect for them, but I feel that from what I have experienced, it is important to ask the community what they want to do. The problem with this is that some communities are not listened to when they talk, but some are also not talking anymore. This is the problem that I have found in Soacha.

All the attention from NGOs and their presence has made the people lazy. They know that they can get a small amount of money or food without doing anything for it. Im not saying its much and they cant live off it, but many people can find what they need without knowing that they have a right to more. This is the reason why I have come to respect SJR so much. As important as it is to be someone's advocate, I think it is more important and can get communities further if you teach someone how to be their own advocate. The old saying, give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime, comes to mind...i think thats how it goes at least.

Other than that, life is pretty normal here in Bogota. Jesuits from the US have arrived and it has been difficult to resist the temptation to talk in English with them. Theyre great guys and a lot of fun though. Im hoping we can get something together for July 4th.

I begin my interviews next week and hopefully I will be able to get more of a handle on the Colombian health care system,

I hope all is going well with everyone wherever you are. I apologize for the rant, but I feel that I have ignored you for a while and would like to keep you updated on what im thinking, however jumbled it is.

Que Dios los bendiga,


p.s. I decided to take a picture of the life of a Brueggeman Fellow..this is my night stand.
Theres more to come soon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

El principio de mi trabajo

Sorry its been a while since my last post, I´ve been trying to get my interviews together. I have decided to interview between 10 and 15 people (heads of families) about their current health conditions in comparison to their health in their respective homelands. My goal is to compile somewhat of a study regarding the health needs of the people of Soacha and surrounding villages. Soacha is a municipality completely distinct from Bogotá, although it barely seems so as the two areas seem to mesh together. Apparently there is a yellow building which distinguishes Bogotá from Soacha. This week I did some traveling into the villages surrounding Soacha. These are not legal towns, but there is a process to make them so. The people living there do not have addresses and must walk miles to get what they need from the city of Soacha. I am excited to start my research and interviews and I pray that they will work out well. I am also considering creating a survey to pass out to the community members to get an overview of the health needs of the many people I will not be able to reach with my interviews. With this information, I will compile a document for SJR and hopefully be able to offer something to the organization. Other than work, Fellowship life is pretty lonely sometimes. I´ve met a bunch of people from here, but its hard to cover up homesickness sometimes. The picture to the left is of a boy who was really interested in my camera. He took a few pictures and then handed it back to me, almost instantly making this face. He lives in El Manzano, a small village of about 50 people on the outskirts of Soacha. The next one is a picture of the view from El Manzano of Soacha. At the bottom is one of the houses. The people have made their home here and built their houses by hand. Yes, they do have electricity but I do believe it is a fairly recent acquisition. I am unsure of how they get their water though. Right now, a member from SJR is helping them create huertas, small farming areas to grow things like beans, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, and corn. The people have had to learn to grow food native to Bogotá, as many of them are not able to grow the foods they used to due to the change in altitude and temperature.

Of course I had to take another picture of the sunset today. I have fallen in love with my camera and try not to take her everywhere so she does not get stolen. Ill try to take some more pictures this week to give you all a better view of what I am doing.
Yesterday I went downtown to watch the USA-England fútbol game with a bunch of English-speakers. We managed to fill the bar and it was pretty fun. I then walked around downtown for a while and found a beautiful church and some great artisan markets. GO USA!
word of the day: rumbiar--to go out dancing/partying. as in--No quiero trabajar esta noche, vamos a rumbiar!!
I hope all of you are doing well, and if you have questions or comments, please email me at
Que Dios le bendiga