Altos de la Florida in Bogota (Colombia)

’In your midst I will leave a humble and lowly people.’ Zephaniah 3:12

This is the heritage that has been left to us as Little Sisters: the poor and the humble, those who count for nothing in this globalised society and world. We can say that, for 146 years, this heritage has been confided to us by different generations of Little Sisters. It will always be with us because, as Jesus said, ’The poor will always be with you’ (Mk 4:7). Indeed, we do see this. They are present in all corners of the world. It is for us to respond in fidelity to this founding grace, to the charism that has been confided to us that we might keep it alive. 
In this situation where I am, I can still experience and hear the phrase ’Go with all your strength, am I not sending you myself?’. This is where I feel sent in order to be a witness to the tenderness of God through the simple gestures of daily life, aware of my possibilities and my limits but sure that He and our founders are my companions along the way, with the support of Our Lady of the Assumption. 
It is the power of this mission that impels me to continue bringing my little grain of sand to this place that is dear to me, Altos de la Florida. Here, I think of what Etienne and Antoinette could have experienced in the face of situations of dire poverty and pain and what it meant to them to encounter those poor and humble people in their lives: ’I saw there sufferings that I could hardly name...’ (EP) ’The suffering of others makes me suffer.’ (AF)
Last year I gave you my first news concerning this mission. Today, sadly, I have to tell you that the situation of some 5,000 persons has in many respects deteriorated; families are still arriving, displaced by violence, from different parts of the country. 
The work of legalisation that has been started is still very difficult because of judicial and bureaucratic obstacles. However, we have received light and strength through the setting up of the association Viviendistas de Altos de la Florida (Association of Homeowners in Altos de la Florida). This provides the possibility of collecting funds that help them to acquire their homes by paying what has been agreed with the proprietors. 
This year as well, violence was present in many forms: 
  • Different groups were making raids in the three sectors and young people of both sexes took over control of the territory with the accompanying disastrous consequences, creating a situation of insecurity that is increasingly alarming. 
  • The sale and consumption of drugs has increased. The children are the most vulnerable and are victims of this reality; there is also the presence of gangs, with robberies and threats, and once again, people are displaced. 
  • The narcotics traffickers take hold of the most vulnerable members of the population, children and teenagers, make them addicted and then use them as dealers. 
  • Hunger and illness are evident in various homes. 
  • There are fewer and fewer sources of employment. 
  • The struggle for survival begins every day about 2 or 3 in the morning when the people go out to "recycle" (pick out from the rubbish heaps anything that might provide a means of surviving). 
  • The spiral of violence and fear increases daily. In the last few months the inhabitants have experienced situations that kept them from going out after 6 in the evening. 
In this place of contradictions and contrasts (like others in our country), there are also signs of Life and of Hope: 
  • The music group in which about 150 children participate every week is a seed of life, a path of prevention, enabling them to develop their abilities and channelling their energy. 
  • I am here as a friend and a sister; most of the time is spent in the health centre, in listening and providing service through massage and other alternative means of relaxation and self-care that promote well-being and serenity. 
  • I accompany families through visiting, offering a service in the care of somebody who is ill, so that they may sense the closeness, the welcome and the tenderness of God, and feel that someone is interested in what they are experiencing. 
  • It is a privilege for me to enter into the homes and, barefoot, witness the joys and the sufferings that mark their lives; to be the servant who prepares the bed for a young paralysed man, doing the housework in his hut so that he may feel he is a person, with his dignity… and sometimes through dialogue or short times of prayer, we seek together for ways to overcome, encounter, forgive and be reconciled. 
  • In the family that has hosted me since my arrival in this mission setting and make it possible for me to live with them the days I am in the neighbourhood, there are also joys and sufferings: the presence of a new life, the birth of a lovely child – Sergio Daniel – who, in the midst of poverty and without being sought after, came to bring joy to the life of this home. This month he is celebrating his first year of life. Providence has watched over him and over them, and in the midst of poverty he is doing very well, thanks be to God. And, as the saying is, there is no perfect joy, the father of this child, Alirio, a young man, is very ill. It would appear to be a chronic pulmonary disease. Let us pray to God and ask our founders that he may receive the gift of health. 
  • The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation is encouraging individual vegetable gardens so that people may have some security with regard to food. 
  • All the above is a challenge to our creativity and hope. It impels us to consolidate the working committees where the different organisations meet every month to analyse these situations and, together, try to find responses. 
  • We have embarked on a community work plan with the aim of motivating the different groups to express what living in Altos de la Florida means for them, and to invite them to dream a little about: how we would like life to be here in 15 years time and, what things have we to do to make these dreams a reality? 
We see this path as an opportunity to guide the work of all the organisations as they search for ways that might lead us, with the members of the local community, to the fulfilment of these dreams. 
I am counting on you to accompany me with your prayers so that I may continue, for as long as the Lord permits me, to give this service through which I try to show forth the presence of the Reign of Jesus among those whom he prefers. 
Sister Hilda 

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