Reference : V-P-CO-E-00263
Date : 08/2007
Country/Region : COLOMBIA
Caption : Santander. Family portrait of displaced persons.
Photographer : RIOS, Carlos
Confidentiality level : public
Publication restrictions : publication without restrictions
Copyright : ICRC
Description : Home > The ICRC worldwide > The Americas > Colombia
28-08-2007 Stories from the field

“In four months we lost what took us over eight years to build”
Essentially, Aurora Ávila is a leader. The problems she faced in her life confirmed her calling to do community work.
She led a normal life in Sabana de Torres (Santander) where she met Giovanni Castilllo with whom she decided to settle down. “We led a very quiet life in a large house with my parents and children,” Aurora recalls.
For eight years she taught in the village school. Her dream was to have a permanent teaching post. Her husband made his living as a fisherman. “While we had some problems – says Aurora – the area was very quiet and we could live without any concerns.”
In 1998, the presence of uniformed men became increasingly patent. Some persons from the area were found dead. Then they also started to involve the civilian population in their activities. Sadly, Aurora recalls: “My husband had two motors that he used for fishing but they started to force him to transport armed people from one group or another. That’s where our problems began.”
“In October 1998, some armed people entered the village, took out all of the teachers and threatened them, accusing them of helping an armed group. They furthermore had a list where my husband’s name appeared. They found him in my mother-in-law’s house. They were going to take him away but his mother resisted and he managed to escape. They told me that since I was the wife I should go and find him and tell him that if he didn’t return they’d kill his parents. I ran out to look for him – Aurora tells us – and when I returned with him they had already left. That’s when the threats began and the situation got really difficult. I was really scared for the children.”
Faced with this pressure, Aurora, her husband and children had to leave. While they managed to sell some things, the truth is they lost everything. She lost her job as a teacher and he lost his income from fishing. “In four months we lost what took us eight years to build,” says Aurora nostalgically.
Having nowhere to go, the family made its new home in some warehouses belonging to the national railways in Bucaramanga. In no time, over 150 persons were living crammed together in that same space. “It was terrible - says Aurora – there were no bathroom facilities and we had to fetch water. We organized a communal pot for meals and went to the market to beg for food. They’d give us leftovers and damaged produce. It was very humiliating.”
“When we arrived at the warehouses in Bucaramanga, the International Red Cross visited us immediately, evaluated our situation and then helped us for three months. That food came as a blessing – Aurora recalls – particularly for the children. That help was so much needed at that time.”
They stayed in the warehouses for some time, but upon learning of his family’s plight, one of Aurora’s brothers, who lives in La Pintada (Antioquia), suggested that they go there to see if he couldn’t help them. “A few days after we arrived at my brother’s house we learned that they were taking a census of the displaced in Bucaramanga in order to provide housing subsidies, so we decided to return.”
Seven years have passed since Aurora returned to Bucaramanga with her family. With much effort she managed to get a little house. She works coordinating the production workshops of a foundation that runs different activities to assist the displaced population.
“While I’m better off than when I was displaced – says Aurora – I’m continuously angry and very depressed. Being forced to leave my region was very unsettling for me and my family. Since we left Sabana de Torres my husband still hasn’t managed to find work and has fallen into a total depression that has led to other family problems that are difficult to manage.”
“There’s a stigma about being displaced. It’s humiliating. I don’t want to call myself displaced. And while I’ll never forget that I was displaced, I’d rather forget that whole nightmare.”

Original material : digital
Resolution : 2272x1704
Orientation : landscape
Colour/B&W : colour