Family Strengthening in Colombia
A Community Mother is 'The Counsellor'
She was abandoned, became a teen mother, a shoplifter, and violent with her own children. Ten years ago, she promised to herself to get rid of that record and entered the Family Strengthening Program at SOS Social Centre Cazucá.
Her name is Alba Mercedes, she has got three children and today she is known as 'the counsellor'. Alba Mercedes, better known as Mercedes, is a new person. All she has been now belongs to the past. She became an educator and worked for the ICBF (Colombian Institute of Family Welfare) for several years. Now she works at a local company during the week and for SOS Children's Villages on the weekends. At the SOS Social Centre she trains pregnant women and women with lactating children on themes such as family planning, economy, self-esteem, family rights, and other topics. She is so good at what she does that women at the centre think that she only lacks a diploma in psychology.
Her daughters Karen, Jennifer and Carol were the first ones to enter the family strengthening programme organised at SOS Social Centre Cazucá, several years ago. 'At the centre my kids were given the food and assistance I could not provide, due to my mistaken behaviour. Later, I started receiving psychological orientation at the centre. This helped me understand my behaviour, it was the maltreatment and abandonment I myself was a victim of', Mercedes remembers.
The orientation worked so well that she soon started recovering her self-esteem and enthusiasm for continuing to live. She found a job and learned to respect her daughters, and to support them in any respect. Two years later, she was invited to work as an auxiliary of educators at the centre. 'That work was not paid, but my children were well-fed and received good education,' relates Mercedes. To me, it was a great opportunity for learning from the work of the educators and to sharing my life experience with many women in need attending the centre. Among other things, we worked with local businesses, foundations, and other NGOs to get their support for the displaced families in Cazucá'.
As a result of this work, SOS Children's Villages recommended Mercedes for a job at the ICBF, as a family educator. She was accepted and worked there for four years, listening to and counselling the families in need of the community of Soacha.
Currently, Mercedes works at an important goods warehouse company. She is in charge of sorting out the packages and parcels delivered to the company. On the other hand, on Saturdays she keeps on lecturing the workshops for pregnant women and women with lactating babies. For all this, she feels important; she feels like a professional family counsellor that the community of women in the deprived sector of Cazucá perceives with gratefulness. No one would believe today what Mercedes was like before the centre.
Cazucá is south of Bogota and is the largest illegal settlement of people displaced by violence in Colombia. Most of these settlements lack basic services. They have no electricity, no sewage services, and, many times, no water supplies. Illiteracy is still quite high, exceeding 25 percent. Despite several schools in the area, the school dropout rate is alarming, particularly in Altos de Cazucá. This is because most schools are plagued by problems of infrastructure, educational materials, and lack of teachers, one of the main reasons being the fact that children are forced to work and drop out of school anytime in order to support their families' livelihood.