The following story was written by a CRS’ program manager in South America to offer a window to the lives of the people you help through CRS.
By Anamaria Rodríguez and Andrés Veintimilla, CRS Ecuador
Luis was born in the Colombian town of Valparaíso Caquetá, close to the border with Ecuador. Like many men in the region, he chose to work in the countryside, got married and had children.
He started working on an experimental farm belonging to the Colombian government. By working from sunup to sundown, he obtained the title of ranching experiment boss on the farm. It was a stable, well paid job which allowed him to save money and buy his own farm with a loan from the Agrarian Bank. He bought cattle and began working on his own land.
When his son Gabriel turned 18, he was forced to comply with the mandatory military service and he left the region. One year later, Gabriel returned home, but the paramilitaries pursued him, pressuring him to join them. The situation became unbearable.
Luis didn’t know what to do. His son fled and he never heard from him again. “Today I don’t know if he is alive or dead, or where he is,” Luis says.
This robust man in his fifties breaks down when he tells his story: “One day, in retaliation for the fact that my son didn’t want to go with them, the paramilitary boss in the region showed up at my farm, and took all of my cattle in trucks.”
Luis could not recover. He ended up bankrupt and he had to sell the farm in order to pay off his loan. He lost everything and realized how unsafe it was to stay with his family in their home country. He heard that there was peace on the other side of the border.
He arrived in Ecuador with his wife and three of his four children, empty-handed. They went to Lago Agrio in search of peace, without a friend to take them in or money buy food.
In Ecuador, Catholic Relief Services helps Colombian refugees like Luis through local partners such as the Scalabriniana Mission. The CRS project provides information on their rights as refugees, workshops on how to cope with the effects of violence and a small capital loans to start a business.
“The best thing that happened to me was finding the Mission. They have helped me so much here,” says Luis, who now makes a living as a street vendor selling a variety of products.
Luis now rides a tricycle, selling hot dogs with French fries and chorizos in the winter and sells coconut water and artisan work in the summer.
His dream is being able to buy land and go back to doing what he does best: raising cattle and taking care of the land.
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