Colombia - Bogotá : EXPERIENCES OF BEING WITH OTHERS IN THE SOLIDARITY ECONOMY

’The possibility of life for those who are poorest, in the many different forms of poverty, is still being threatened. In this system of unjust globalisation the cry of those who are "unimportant" impels us to continue seeking alternatives for life, with others.’ 2011 General Chapter

In the course of these past few years we have been helping to set up various workshops and collaborating with Solidarity Economy processes in Bogotá. 
 
We began by becoming acquainted with some experiences in Altos de Cazucá, a marginalised area with situations of: poverty, violence, drug addiction and the reintegration of armed groups. We visited and became better acquainted with a family consisting of five brothers and a sister who were characterised by moving from place to place and with some other persons who had been drug addicts. They made notebooks of various sizes from recycled materials. They put us in contact with other young people and families who were involved in some productive activity in the area and whom we visited. 
 
Another project in which we are involved at present is the Nazareth Social Centre. This is a training centre for displaced women who are being accompanied by the Daughters of Charity-Vincentians, who offer training in: computer studies, ceramics, dressmaking, training in using sewing machines, making dolls etc. So that these efforts with the women might continue, we were asked to help through workshops about the Solidarity Economy. 
 
The Juanista Sisters also, in line with their charism, are involved in various projects with working women in a working-class and poor area. We had participated with them in some earlier experiences. On the basis of this acquaintanceship, they asked us to collaborate in the process with forty-five women who have different experiences in the context of the Solidarity Economy. 
 
With these groups we developed a holistic training programme that gives first place to the person, is nourished by the faith and promotes the human, spiritual, financial, organizational and administrative growth of the production units so that they may practice solidarity among themselves as a source of continuous support between producers, sellers and consumers. We are convinced that this training has repercussions on the families and the organisations to which they belong. 
We use the workshop method, taking into account the reality of the area, and the personal, group or association procedures of the organisations. Alongside this, we are constructing together some concepts that have drawn on the experience of living in solidarity. 
Here are some of the themes that were discussed in the groups: 
Approach to the elements of the Solidarity Economy, Associations, Book-keeping, Costs, Administration, Marketing Strategies, Communi-cation, Self-esteem, Leadership, Group Processes, Negotiation and Conflict Management. 
In a desire to strengthen the personal growth of the participants we decided, by common agreement, that those benefiting by this training would each contribute a dollar per session, this being the opportunity to highlight their personal effort in this learning process. This contribution was a way of collaborating in our transport costs. 
 
 
The journey that was made during those months showed us the capacities for reflection and the resilience possessed by individuals and groups; these qualities helped them to keep going in the midst of great difficulties and to carry out their production project. 
In order to simplify some accountancy concepts, we did some simple exercises based on family accounts. Like this, we were able to start from their reality and then move on to what is involved in the collective practice of handling money, seeking for equity and the common good. Some families have made improvements to their homes thanks to real solidarity and the sale of their products. Through all that we see constantly how the poorest of people trust in providence, certain that it will never fail them. 
To make the propositions of the Solidarity Economy better known we have exchange visits between the various projects. These are occasions that we value very much because of the sharing, the incentive we receive and what we learn from one another. 
 
This proposal for training has become an experience of ’Inter-Congregational Solidarity’ in which the charisms come together in order to strengthen the financial situation of the poor areas. It is together that we discover traces of the Gospel in the sharing of gifts and difficulties; we are brothers and sisters in the same mission. 
 
Lilia Amparo – Helena 
23/09/2014
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