Colombia : Pernet Community – Cali, Colombia, The Esperanza Solidarity Centre “Cesoles”
On the slopes of Chorros, in the southwestern part of Cali, two Little Sisters decided sixteen years ago to work together for the children and families of this poor sector of the city. We did this with the firm conviction of our Assumptionist charism to attack the scourge of poverty and the lack of opportunities that affect the hundreds of families who arrive here fleeing the violence of the places where they lived and the disregard for the country on the part of the state. That was how, with a group of women (Blanca, Margoth, Paola, Miriam, Martha, Isabel) we set up and obtained legal status after a long time to an entity that we called: THE HOPE SOLIDARITY CENTRE “CESOLES”.
The year 2009
From the early stages we began by offering direct support to the women, responsible for their family, who have to leave home to work. After looking at their tiny houses we put in place with them a small garden where the children might stay while they themselves were working. In another little house a dining room was organized where, at the beginning, five little children came before setting out for school and this number increased quickly.
These services were very well received by the local community, and the requests constantly increased. This led us to look for external financial support that would enable us to consolidate a work team formed by the same women from the local community. We hoped gradually to generate rent conditions so as to offer the service to the whole sector, a service with connotations of full attention to the children, with high quality standards.
Using previous experiences, from the beginning we Little Sisters sought to reflect with the women on the principles that would be like the “laws” to which the persons would be committed and which would determine our way of acting as individuals or social groups. The Principles are not negotiable, they are not discussed. They are our internal norms and basic beliefs concerning the correct way to relate both within our organisation and with other persons and organisations. The values are the qualities that we demonstrate through our way of being and of acting and which we consider to be desirable as our own characteristics and with others.
We give direction to the principles and values of Cesoles from a CHRISTIAN ASSUMPTIONIST SPIRITUALITY as a catalyst for the actions. Life is a gift of nature coming from the creative power of God, Father and Mother, as the human being is in the image and likeness of God. These principles and values are open to transcendence and to relations with others. They are:
- THE DEFENCE OF LIFE and human dignity, seeking justice and equity. Life is a choice that touches all the aspects of the person: relation with God, with oneself, with the community. A life without violence, with tolerance and respect, and with the full exercise of one’s rights and duties.
- SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION as the aim of the practice. It starts from what is personal, going through what is physical, social, emotional, cultural, spiritual. The idea is to empower persons who are aware and convinced of the validity of our contribution to the transformation of oneself, the area, the city, the country.
- We wish to live all of this within a CELEBRATORY CULTUAL SPIRIT AND AS A FAMILY, with the joy of progressing as a community..
We have gradually transmitted these principles and values through the training workshops that were held periodically, first of all to the work team, then at the meetings with parents of families, to the group of teachers and other committed members of the community. There, we Little Sisters contributed all our efforts and the knowledge we had received, to a large extent, in the Congregation.
From the beginning of the Garden Programme “Creciendo solidarios” we supported it with children ranging from 2 to 5 years covering about 50 to 100 or 140 children. These children are accompanied by a group of teachers, women who qualified gradually. Because they are from the local community or the surrounding area they ensure stability with regard to work and have a strong sense of belonging. The children are offered up-to-date and qualified teaching, healthy and balanced food in a secure setting, one that is stimulating and loving for each child and teenager. We are committed to supporting their human development and their learning, to respect individual differences and help them learn how to live in solidarity, to collaborate and play in a co-operative way. We seek to encourage their awareness, their ability, self-respect, creativity, and physical wellbeing.
At present THE COMMUNITY GARDEN “Creciendo solidarios” is run by Fundapre, a state Services Entity that guarantees the operation of the garden, the salaries of the teachers, the food and the general services. What is important is that this staff was trained by us and provides the education on the basis of our principles, guaranteeing the quality of the training and the retention of our identity – something that is not always possible with other bodies.
SCHOOL LIBRARY: This is offered to the children who leave the kindergarten and go to school. Here we give them support for their homework, for mathematics, Spanish, literature for children, story time, creative writing, a workshop for a second language (English). This is in a kindly and protective atmosphere, in the emotional, aesthetic and social sense, where there is stimulation for spirituality, awareness and knowledge, expressive languages, play, dialogue, reading and writing, respect for differences, friendship, reconciliation through forgiveness and a reparatory action.
The artisticc workshops “Tierra fecunda” are on the timetable for Saturday, morning and afternoon: workshops for flute, dance, percussion and stringed instruments. The aim is to combine a music school, play activities and recreation. We offer them these spaces and alternatives that are different to those offered by the gangs, the drug addicts, the violent groups and the narcotics trade.
We are also working at present with a group of 15 pre-teenagers and 23 young persons aged between 15 and 23 years, most of whom come from the “community garden”. It is difficult work that we are able to develop thanks to the financial help from Misean Cara and professionals from the Catholic University, and in collaboration with various networks and institutions. The project aims to empower the participants of the pre-teenage group, the Cesoles youth group and young persons from the community in general as instructors, so as to implement preventive activities with regard to the problems that are hindering the youth from imagining and building their life project in harmony with the local community.
Our work team, consisting of a group of very helpful women, mostly founder members, have responsibility for the various responsibilities linked with the direction and co-ordination of the Projects. They do this in a responsible way, with a strong sense of belonging, professionalism, and considerable ability in welcoming and relating to the children, the young people and the community in general. They are able to link up with the leaders from the various institutions and they like to do so. They are also able to involve themselves in the pedagogical, psychosocial and cultural practice and they value the elements that forge identity. They work together without tensions and know how to give time to their family. María, who at present manages our resources, links up with networks and with other institutions when we are not able to respond to the particular needs of the groups. All the members of the Team feel that they are Lay Assumptionists, although not all of them are such officially.
The years go by and with them we are experiencing the deep satisfaction of having people to take over (at present there are daughters and sons of founders who are attached to Cesoles) and who are continuing the work in line with our Assumptionist Charism and spirituality.
We cannot fail to mention how, during those sixteen years, we felt close, very close to the consequences of the armed conflict and the cruel fratricidal war in Colombia. Very many young people murdered or wounded, families displaced by the violence, the drug trafficking, by the pursuit and obtaining of easy money, the people trafficking, the sexual abuse of young people, the attacks in schools etc.
Now, as we come close to the signature of the end of the war, the laying down of arms by the FARC, we can only pray and commit ourselves personally and as a community that this historic event will soon come about in Colombia. Working for PEACE, for tolerance, for the forgiveness of the many victims, even though we know that agreements are not everything and that we must work seriously against the political forces of power and corruption that do not allow any basic change to occur. But we continue to believe and work here and now so that, in our families and in our surroundings, our community of Esperanza may be a community where we can live PEACE.
We thank the God of life and the Congregation for our vocation as Little Sisters.
We would like to end this contribution with the invitation that Pope Francis makes in the apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), which says:
“God desires the happiness of His children …. He created all things
so that we might enjoy them… “so that all might enjoy them”
An authentic faith… always implies a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values,
To leave something better behind us
after our passage on the earth.
We love this magnificent planet on which God has placed us
And we love the humanity that dwells on it,
with all their dramas and weariness,
their desires and their hopes,
with their values and frailties.
The earth is our common house and we are all brothers” …
The. Pernet Community
Magdalena, Mercedes, Nora