Returning to Santa Rita
Colombia has been in war for approximately half a century. Three to five million people had to leave their lands and became «internally displaced». The increasing unequal land distribution brings up the importance of the restitution of the properties and the possibility for people who have been displaced to return to their place of origin.
It is in this context that this project takes an interest in the Colombian village «Santa Rita» situated in the North of Colombia close to the Caribbean sea. Santa Rita represents an emblematic case of the Colombian armed conflict. Through its fertile lands and strategic, geographical position Santa Rita became attractive to paramilitary groups. After several threats, massacres and the destruction of the village, the whole community of Santa Rita left the village and fled to other places in the departments of Magdalena and Atlántico.
Currently, about 130 families, approximately one-eighth of the previous population, returned to the village. The families returned voluntarily and without state accompaniment.
Before the displacement Santa Rita was a prosperous village where people pursued activities like fishing, agriculture or small and medium scale cattle-breeding. The properties, which have been stolen from the community, are now used for large scale farming of cattle, buffalo and agriculture practices. The new use of the properties has damaged the environment by affecting the water flow, the lagoon complex and its flora and fauna.
This has affected people’s self-sustaining way of living. People now live in extreme poverty, not a single hectare of their previous lands has been restituted, most of the houses are still ruins and the village is abandoned by the state. There is no real health or security system and access to education is limited.
The women's association
During my time in Santa Rita I discovered the village, its wonderful inhabitants and the women’s association. Analysing the experiences of return and their strategies to re-appropriate the village, I had the opportunity, to accompany and observe the activities of the association.
The association is composed of approximately thirty women. The women regularly meet, give social support to the women and families of the community and mobilize resources for improving the living conditions in Santa Rita (access to health care, the infrastructure). They also create working opportunities for the community, like cooking and handcraft courses. The association conducts activities for raising awareness, as cleaning actions and creating spaces for the kids and contributes to the social cohesion of Santa Rita by organizing a Christmas dinner and celebrating the women’s day.
The women’s association has also been supporting the creation of another women association in a village close to Santa Rita, which has also been affected by paramilitary incursion.
This is why I need your support
The women’s association has already accomplished many things in Santa Rita and plays a crucial role in improving the community’s living conditions and therefore promoting the sustainability of the return to Santa Rita.
For pursuing their activities, the women’s association has expressed their wish to refurbish a house in order to conduct their meetings, their courses and further education, where they can create a space for children and host people, who are visiting the village or staying for research activities.
This project aims at supporting the refurbishment of the house and thus the creation of a safe place, where the women’s association can meet. The refurbishment of the house fosters the better conditions for the commitment of the women and therefore the continuation and further development of their diverse activities for the community.