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Colombia: Every story deserves an ending

24-04-2013 Feature

In Buenaventura most of the missing persons are men, leaving behind their mothers and wives, often with children to look after.

“We call ourselves the victims who survive. It’s a very difficult time. You’re very confused and think you’ll go crazy. You’re never really able to mourn your family member,” says Sol*, a community leader whose husband is missing.

To come to terms with this situation, the role of the community and symbolic rituals to pay tribute to the missing person are vitally important. Families find it helpful to get together with a support group to remember, cry and, in some cases, hold a funeral for their missing relative.

Buenaventura the main port on Colombia’s Pacific coast is surrounded by forest and rivers. Because of its strategic location, various armed groups are fighting for control of the city and surrounding areas in order to control the illegal trade in drugs and weapons, among others. This takes its toll on the local population, with consequences of humanitarian concern including displacement, sexual violence, murder and disappearance. The plight of the families of those who go missing is one of the most desperate.

In conjunction with the Colombian Red Cross, the ICRC ran sessions for families of missing persons to get together and receive counselling. This gave them the opportunity to meet, draw pictures and talk about their missing relatives, share their rituals, cry, unburden themselves, embrace, and put their messages to their loved ones on pieces of cloth. Those pieces of cloth were then sewn together into a patchwork quilt commemorating all those who have been through the same experience.

Sol says that people sometimes call her crazy. “They don’t understand what you’re going through. They should be more compassionate, more sensitive. I talk to my husband, make food for him, sing to him, tell him that we’ll go out. It’s my way of paying tribute to him, so he knows that someone is waiting for him. Our story has no ending, but it deserves one. That’s why group support and rituals are so important, to anchor you, to help you keep a grip on reality and feel that you’re not alone. We mustn’t forget our family members, because the day we do, they will die.”


Their loved ones are still missing but, in Sol’s words, “memory keeps them alive, countering the passage of time.”


*Name changed.

 

Colombia activity report 2012


Photos

A therapy session in Buenaventura for relatives of missing persons. Talking and drawing helps them deal with the absence of their loved ones. 

A therapy session in Buenaventura for relatives of missing persons. Talking and drawing helps them deal with the absence of their loved ones.
© ICRC / E. Tovar

The drawings were then sewn together into a patchwork quilt, symbolizing the web of support woven with the help of the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross. 

The drawings were then sewn together into a patchwork quilt, symbolizing the web of support woven with the help of the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross.
© ICRC / E. Tovar