Fine Art, Family, Event, Documentary and Commissioned Photography
Faces of Granizal - NGO | Open Hands Initiative
High above the City of Medellin, Colombia, live more than 20,000 men, women and children who have been displaced by the country's violent, decades-long conflict. They live in extreme poverty and are not recognized as citizens of their own country. Here are some of their stories.
"On the surface, Granizal looks like many rural towns in Colombia; dusty unpaved roads up the mountains, houses made of wood and exposed brick, and warm and welcoming locals. What Granizal has achieved in the last two decades without the help from the State is remarkable. Most fled violence and arrived with nothing. They build cardboard shacks that, with their hard work, have turned into wooden and now brick houses. The community has organized itself to tackle its problems and to create progress. Its leaders have figured out was to provide water and electricity and systematically help new arrivals get established. Nonetheless, Granizal's problems are many and include poor water quality, lack of public safety, limited access to education, lack of economic opportunity, and difficult access to healthcare. I was inspired and proud of how much Granizal has built with so little. I can only imagine what it will achieve once it receives the recognition and help from the government to which its residents are entitled."
Dr. Andres Patino, Harvard University Teaching Assistant.
"Having been displaced for 16 years, I've seen the good and the bad. But I'm proud to know I can overcome obstacles and that I'm resilient. Being displaced and my husband's murder were very hard on me. Coming to a new city, with nowhere to live, with three somall children, without a job, losing everything, it's hard. But I feel I have conqured. I like to empower myself, and I'm always looking for ways to grow. That's what I'm doing as a leader.
Maria Gladys Munera, Community Leader & Founder of the Village Regalo De Dios
Nearly all the major advances in the Altos de Oriente and neighboring villages come from the impetus of the Community Leasers who work to ensure the community's well being. Community Leaders are representatives of the community and play a vital role in the short- and long-term development of the area. For example, they allocate plots of land, create resources for education and health, build partnerships with external agents, and advocate for the legalization of the settlement. Their leadership has helped mobilize the community in advancing shared prosperity and integration into the larger Colombian society.
"People-to-people exchanges that enable individuals from different cultures to work together to tackle common challenges, such as the health diplomacy exchange we led between Harvard University and the University of Antioquiah, provide a meaningful opportunity to build trust and form enduring friendships across borders. Through this and similar work, we hope to catalyze greater international cooperation by countering division with a vision for shared progress, development, and prosperity for all. Beyond health, the US and Colombia can learn much from each other, particularly on issues such as conflict resolution and civic participation."
Jay Snyder, Founder and Chairman, Open Hands Initiative
In populations where human rights are a major issue, it's even more important that trust is there and that it's there on so many levels. Cultivating that trust means listening to the community and not falling prey to intervening within a community and imposing what we think is best for them. Through the PCCPH Project and direct engagement with Altos de Oriente, we started to really understand the community when we listened and asked questions in a way that focused on the issues that they saw, through their eyes."
Dr. Gregg Greenough, Harvard University, PCCPH Program Leader
I've been living in Altos de Oriente II for about 12 years. I am not displaced, nor have I been, nor will I be. I'm from Medellin and I came to this neighborhood due to being unemployed. The government could do a lot to improve the quality of life here, starting with legalizing the land. Without legalization, we d on't have clean water. Without clean water, we are sick. Without rights, we have no health services, we have no roads.
Blanca Lia Alzate Restrepo, Community Leader
"When I decided to study medicine, I dreamed about being able to contribute to the transformation of vulnerable populations. Ultimately, being able to work with the people of Granizal in the last few years, has changed my life. Seeing first hand how the community is often forgotten, their suffering and efforts, the lack of protection ... it has reinforced my commitment to community work and the desire to work to create a more just and dignified life for vulnerable communities. for me, Altos de Oriente and Granizal don't just represent the chance to work in public health, but they provide an important space for learning, personal growth and inspiration. They represent hope despite adversity."
Dr. Marcela Garces, University of Antioquia, Faculty of Medicine
"Granizal has taught me that even in the worst circumstances, you cannot lose hope. Ten years ago, Granizal was invisible. It couldn't even garner the attention from the lowest levels of municipal government. But the indifference of government officials and lack of political will just motivates us more. The PCCPH visitors not only increased access to health services, but brought the media with them. I think we are fortunate for these visits that allow the entire world to know that Granizal exists, and that every day residents fight for their helath because this communityand ists families need support to ensure that their basic human rights are guaranteed."
Keyla Lopera, Community Leader
"What I would like to see 10 years from now is that the area is legalized, not to mention having proper drinking water and sewage systems. The problems I think we need to prioritize in the short term is setting up businesses or microbusinesses. Drug addiction is one of the biggest hurdles bankrupting young men in our community of bright futures. They're not engaged in anything productive because they don't see any real opportunities for work or something better, so they turn to drugs. We need to engage them in activities that will give them hope and spark their interests in improving the community because it affects all of our futures."
Estefania Montoya Agudelo, Student
The PCCPH Project in Altos de Oriente included hosting a Health Fair to address issues identified and prioritized by the community. The Fair included a first-aid training course, a de-worming clinic, a workshop on accessing health information online, and a census mapplng activity. Advances in telecommunications have allowed development settlements like Granizal. Mobile phones are widely used in the community and are a more affordable means to access the internet. The community uses mobile phones to connect with friends on social media, play games, watch videos, etc. Mobile phones also serve as a valuable took for monitoring health and wellness.
"When I came back to Granizal after seven years, I was overwhelmed by the love and the desire of its people to develop a just and equitable community. I'm amazed to see how much they have accomplished in so little time, and how community projects have superseded the needs of the individual. Pipe (sitting here with me) represents what Granizal has achieved. I met him when he was a toddler, as I was just starting to work with the community. His helathy childhood development and well-being is a testament to how the community is working to create an environment where its members can trhive. The community leaders have helped provide nutrition programs, recreational activities for youth, and opportunities to develop important life skills. Granizal provides a perfect example of how post-conflict programs can be implement and how displaced persons can rebuild their lives."
Laura Pulgarin, University of Antioquia School of Medicine, Student Ambassador
A man sells cotton candy on the roadside. Unemployment is a severe impediment to the community's development and well-being. Job markets in Bello and Medellin remain mostly inaccessible due to high transportation costs and limited access to education and vocational training.
"The biggest community need is a road. Right now, the first transport of the day, which is not at any scheduled time, comes around 4:00am. Sometimes it comes, other times it doesn’t. There’s another one at 7:00am, but sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t. Then there’s another at at 8:00am and 12:00pm, but not always. There’s another one, but it won’t come up if it’s raining. Usually when it rains, we will be stuck for days without a means to leave.”
DON LEO COMMUNITY MEMBER
“A lot of times, we will be waiting for the bus - and mind you, these buses go every two or three hours - and people will sneer at us and say, ‘You are the ones that live on the mountain. You are the people with yellow feet.’ It’s like this every time. They look at our shoes and see them covered in dirt and think we are less than them. But I say, for one to live well and to have a good community, you don’t need shiny shoes.”
MARÍA DOLLY SANTA VALENCIA COMMUNITY LEADER
"Despite the violence I suffered from being displaced, I am part of the indigenous Embera Katio community. Even with the many difficulties I have faced, I still have my family and I have been able to move forward with my children. I have made progress with the business I started, a confectionary shop. Even though I am a victim of displacement, and all we have suffered, we do our best so that the community can improve. Every day we work to create order and to mobilize community members. We are a very committed group of people, dedicated to our community, and no matter what, we will keep fighting for it.”
BLANCA IRMA ZAPATA ÁLVAREZ COMMUNITY LEADER
"From government, they really only offer support when they are campaigning, so that we vote for them. They tell us a lot about what they plan to do, but once they are elected, they completely forget about us. In this neighborhood, we have many people with disabilities, many children with malnourishment (because they don’t get enough to eat every day), and many elderly people who are dependent on others to live. There’s just a lot of poverty. As far as kids go, we need significant assistance as they constantly get diarrhea. Because the water isn’t treated, there are regular outbreaks. And because there is no way to get them to a doctor, they are often sick.”
BLANCA NELLY MONSALVE Community Leader
“I was tasked to man the laptop stations to help the people of Altos de Oriente with computer literacy and direct them to health information online… [T]he internet was spotty at best. But even if the internet was fully functional, the first visitor to my station had never created a Word document, saved files on a computer, or knew how to recover or delete files. I live in an environment that necessitates and provides access to learning, resources, and opportunities online. The people of Granizal also live in an environment that requires finding out about their school closings, health warnings, and government advisories – all available online. Access, however, is left to those intermittent times the laptops at the community center are set up and powered. Our visit to Altos de Oriente was a reminder that for whatever tools we make or programs we devise, they are only as great as how well they reach those who need them." NICOLE ESPY STUDENT AMBASSADOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY
“I have been drawn to public and global health since I took my first trip abroad. My experience with the people of Altos de Oriente only cemented my belief in the good and the incredible strength of the human spirit. We endure unbelievable suffering and cruelty. Somehow, we manage to not only survive, but to grow and inspire ourselves and those around us. The people of Altos de Oriente have inspired me to continue to work hard to gain the skills to make a positive mark in the world of global health.”
DR. NIRMA BUSTAMANTE HARVARD UNIVERSITY
“I think the best way local and international organizations can help the community is to support the projects and issues that the community has articulated and prioritized. This support can be financial, technical, in kind, but it should always be in ways that further the community’s goals and in a way that involves the community’s direct involvement and participation.”
DR. JAIME GÓMEZ SCHOOL OF MEDICINE UNIVERSITY OF ANTIOQUIA
"Helping others isn’t about winning prizes or getting something in exchange. It’s not about giving handouts. I do what I do as a leader because people have needs and I can help them. Right now I participate in an organization that is called “A Roof for My Country.” We build houses for people who rent or who have land but that don’t have money to do so on their own. We volunteer our services free of charge. We give food and drink to the people who do the construction. I’m in charge of cooking for 124 people who volunteer their skills and time to build these houses in our community. It’s just beautiful to see a family happy because they no longer have to worry about leaking roofs or bad construction. Now they can just live in a well built house and sleep peacefully at night.”
MARÍA DOLLY SANTA VALENCIA COMMUNITY LEADER
“I vividly remember the day I first visited Altos de Oriente: the bumps in the rocky dirt road as our bus scaled upwards, the warm smiles of the leaders who welcomed us like family, the hope and vitality that embodies the community as a whole. Upon returning to Boston, I took refuge in my memories of our visit. By the end of the week, I knew I wanted to return. Six months later, I had the incredible opportunity to return to Colombia for my Master’s thesis, using family visits and interviews to characterize health barriers of the Granizal community. Building off the work that we started together in January and guided by the expertise of Dr. Jaime Gomez, I hope to support improved community access to health and education services in Altos de Oriente and the larger Granizal community." KATRINA KEEGAN STUDENT AMBASSADOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY
“Despite a bitter history, the scars and bruises left from the war, and years of government neglect, the people of this community love life. The people, families and communities all have their own projects, and have not given up belief that there’s a better future to be had for them and for future generations. They are fiercely resilient. The way they develop and carry out academic, cultural, economic, and political projects stemming from their needs and benefiting their community is incredibly admirable.”
DR. CARLOS VALLEJO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE UNIVERSITY OF ANTIOQUIA
"Ten years from now, how would you like to see Granizal?
"I see an advanced community, one that’s progressive, that looks like a completely different neighborhood.… I imagine that this neighborhood looks just like any other modern neighborhood, full of houses and people that are happy, with lots of communities, with everything. At least, that’s what one hopes for."
BLANCA LÍA ALZATE RESTREPO COMMUNITY LEADER
"I left Colombia at age 10 because kidnappings were rampant and there was a direct threat on me. My Colombian childhood was truncated as I became an immigrant in another country. With a focus on assimilation, my formative years turned to survival and struggle. The sacrifice my family had to endure for the American dream was real and palpable. Fast forward… I revisit Colombia to explore a country I feel I am from but don’t really know, separated by the violence, but reunited by this project. These Colombian communities, born and raised, but now displaced and unaccounted, are struggling for identity and basic human rights. As I reflect on my own identity, I can’t help but to truly appreciate and understand their challenges. As a Colombian-American, and now partner in their struggle, I am hopeful and optimistic of the opportunities that lie ahead for my country and people, including the many 10 year old boys and girls who can stay and grow up to be the leaders of a new and peaceful Colombia."
DR. CHRISTIAN ARBELAEZ HARVARD UNIVERSITY
High up in the mountains surrounding Medellin, Colombia, live more than 20,000 natives displaced by 20+ years of violent conflict.