Empowering women and children in Colombia
December 12, 2017 / By Gracie Lynn Besse, Former Global Mission Fellow
I had the amazing opportunity to be part of the General Board of Global Ministries’ mission as an International Global Mission Fellow. I was placed in Bogotá, Colombia as media and program facilitator/instructor working with CEPALC, the Latin American Center for Inclusive Communication. CEPALC’s team is made up of dedicated individuals who are passionate about helping women and children realize their full potential. They do this by teaching about their rights and providing many different forms of media, including radio, magazine, and YouTube videos to express their concerns, opinions, and interests in their own voice through alternative media. Through their methodology of “learn by doing,” CEPALC is helping to create vital leaders in Colombian communities.
Colombia struggles with a very machista culture. That is to say, people have ways of thinking that are both patriarchal and chauvinistic. CEPALC helps to empower women, teaching them, that they have a right to voice their opinions, with the hope that they pass this down to their children to create a more peaceful future.
I had many different roles within CEPALC. I helped to lead workshops for children, youth and women; occasionally wrote articles for their magazine Encuentro (meaning meeting); participated in three different radio shows ranging from kids’ rights to politics; created a show called Mirrored Voices about gender issues in society; and taught about peace at a local elementary school.
One of the workshops that was most powerful for me was with more than 80 children speaking about gender in society. Gender equality is such a difficult topic for some kids to grasp because they have already been exposed to all of the social constructs that their parents, teachers, and society have taught them. For example, they are taught that boys need to be strong, can’t show emotions, should be good at sports, and should like the color blue. Girls are taught that men will take care of them, that they should be good at cooking and cleaning, that they should be lady-like, and should like the color pink.
After posing some questions for the kids like “How do we express gender?” and “Is one gender superior to another?” They discussed their opinions in small groups. Colombia is mostly Roman Catholic, with some very conservative views; however, these young people were eager to discuss, listen, and learn about something that is often voodoo to talk about in their society. At the end of the workshop, we asked for their reflections. One young girl said “This was one of my favorite workshops because we learned about Flora Tristan’s story…how she defended women’s rights because before that, women couldn’t do anything and thanks to her and other women, things have changed.”
Even though CEPALC now operates as a secular organization and is not directly affiliated with any church, they are most definitely living out God’s word and creating a more accepting and peaceful country. As we United Methodists partner with organizations already in place in many countries around the world in order to be in mission with the people of those nations, we have the opportunity to witness to our faith by spreading God’s love, and working toward peace everywhere. I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of this important work.
If you would like to learn more about CEPALC and the people they help, you can go to cepalc.com. To learn more about Global Mission Fellows, visit www.umcmission.org. You can also check out our podcast of Mirrored Voices on the iTunes podcast application and on Stitcher for android devices.