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International Women's Day: Colombian refugee in Ecuador

"I'm happy in Ecuador at the moment, here you can live a quiet life, in peace: here there is no war," said a Colombian refugee, despite facing the daily hardships of supporting her family in Quito. (Jesuit Refugee Service Ecuador)
Friday, March 08, 2013

(Quito) March 8 2013 — Life of refugee women is doubly difficult. The testimony of this Colombian refugee woman demonstrates the multiple difficulties that a mother of four children has to face, fleeing various kinds of violence at home, and now crisscrossing Quito trying to avoid the local police in an effort to make ends meet selling her craftwork.

Despite all her hard work under the sun on the streets of Quito and the constant surveillance of the local police whose job it is to prevent people from selling on the streets without a permit, she confesses, "I love life and want to live until I'm 100." Instead of just telling us her life story, she sings it. "What gives me most strength is seeing my children grow up, they are my reason to live…"

My name is Cristina*, I'm a 34 year-old mother of four children, who eat like horses.

So I sell costume jewelery, earrings and the like to put food on the table. Here in Quito I have a roof over my head, children, my life and health. I don't need anything else. If I hadn't gone through what I did in the past, I would have lived serenely in Colombia.

"When you remember me take a breath in the wind" [she started singing us her testimony from fragments of the song When you remember me by the Mexican singer Antonio Solís.]

I'm from Pereira [in the central western region of Colombia]. Everything was normal before, very normal, I had a grocery store, and business was good. My husband also worked as a construction contractor; but when we separated I was left with the two eldest girls.

I started to have problems after guerrillas killed my brother. There were 11 of us, although we lived apart, we all used to live in the same area until we were forced to flee. This was many years ago now and I can't remember everything.

"I also remember you in a beautiful way…"

My brother was shot eight times by guerrillas [armed rebels]. He had lots of problems. He had refused to pay the guerrilla. First they threatened him and he was forced to leave the farm; later, one day when he was coming to the house on his motorbike, they killed him.

Then they threatened all of us, so we abandoned our farm; I opened a shop in Danubio Valle district. The guerrillas again forced me to flee. They told me they needed an informant; at first I accepted, then I told them I couldn't; they then gave me 24 hours to leave and I came here for the first time.

"You are the refuge where I like to hide myself"

I spent some time here and went back to Armenia [in the central western region of Quindío] because I had nowhere to leave my children while I worked. There I opened a small shop. In 2010 I was forced to flee again because I faced more threats. Members of the guerrilla shot my nephew who was living with me.

In January they came to my house to see with whom I was living.

"If you are lying you'll face consequences," they said.

So I packed my clothes and at 11 p.m. I was in the [bus] terminal. From there I came here again [Ecuador]

I have maintained my home alone since separating from my first husband in 2005. We continued to see each other for a while, but I don't receive anything from him or from the fathers of my other two children. Living here is very difficult as I don't have any financial support. To start my jewelery business I had to borrow money, it is not easy to work from nine in the morning to six in the evening, from Sunday to Sunday to support the household. I don't have any days off or any space to myself, I don't have anything.

"When time is too slow I think of you"

What I miss most about Colombia is the freedom. I'm very happy in Ecuador, but freedom is how you feel in your own country, to move around, work, get documents and show them to the police, go to a nightclub, send your children to see family members, take them out for a walk. I'm happy in Ecuador at the moment, here you can live a quiet life, in peace: here there is no war.

I would like to stay here in Ecuador. What gives me most strength is seeing my children grow up, they are my reason to live…"

"Only in you"

I'm happy, there are people who have boring lives; whereas I try not to think about my debts, but instead how I'm going to earn a daily living… and look there the local police are coming again, we have to run to the next street….

*The names have been changed for reasons of security. 

RELATED: Film commemorates International Women's Day

In celebration of International Women's Day, please join Jesuit Refugee Service/USA for a screening of the documentary We Women Warriors on Monday, March 11, at the Gala Hispanic Theatre in Washington, D.C.

WE WOMEN WARRIORS follows the lives of three indigenous Colombian women who use non-violent resistance to defend their communities from the devastating effects of nearly 50 years of armed conflict.

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