By Mariana Campiño Ruiz, MSW ’20
I had the blessing of being born in a country full of contrasts, full of folklore, full of beauty. A country that has an extensive history of violence, pain and injustice and, despite this, portrays an incomparable joy. I am a proud Colombian. I say that statement with all my heart and I hope many people around the world get to experience the magic that is Colombia.
UCLA GPA program provided a couple of classmates and I with the opportunity to travel to the city of Medellin, Colombia to work with an agency called Fundacion Visibles during the summer.
This organization works with the homeless population of the city, offering spaces of social inclusion and making them feel part of the population at large. This organization also works with children in poverty, offering spaces of creativity, play, social and emotional support. Being a volunteer for Fundación Visibles in Medellin, Colombia showed me the power of inclusivity. I volunteered for this organization for a short period of time in the year 2016. This experience allowed me to grow and confirm my vocation as a social worker. The street inhabitants of Medellin taught me that their addictions and dirty clothes do not define their worth. They have so many talents, abilities and beautiful stories to share with the world.
The experience of going back to work for this organization as an MSW intern was invaluable. The skills and lessons learned during my first year in the social welfare program allowed me to serve the homeless population of Medellin in a more effective manner. At the same time, I learned immensely from the organization’s professional team and members who work really hard every day to achieve the mission of the organization.
I was able to have meaningful and profound conversations with individuals who are, most of the time, rejected by society. I witnessed the way they opened their heart and emotions when telling their unique stories to me and other volunteers. They trusted us because they saw that we genuinely cared. They knew that we wanted to listen and to be present.
Fundación Visibles is in the process of launching a new program called Centro de Ayuda Intinerante. This program will serve the purpose of offering holistic companionship to certain street inhabitants of Medellin. The idea behind this project is to provide pathways of assistance for the economic, psychological and social needs of these individuals. This program will hopefully serve as a model for future implementation of similar programs that will tackle the systemic marginalization of the homeless population of Medellin, Colombia. During our time in Colombia, my classmates and I assisted with the structuring of this new program by sharing the knowledge we obtained during our first year placements at different homeless serving agencies.
Apart from the progress made regarding the goals of the organization, my classmates and I also had the opportunity of enjoying the beauty of the city, its music, its art, its innovative projects and most importantly, its people. I believe my description of Colombia would be incomplete if I do not emphasize the uniqueness of its people. The people of Colombia are passionate, joyful, charismatic, community and family oriented, caring and serving. It is almost guaranteed that anyone who visits this country will greatly enjoy being around colombians, as their favorite hobby is making others laugh.
Colombia is also rich in biodiversity, music and art. It is now time to begin changing the erroneous stereotypes that still exist around the world regarding this beautiful country. Although the past cannot be erased, the majority of colombians have been working hard during the past years to change the image that we still have around the world. Yes, Colombia has a tragic history surrounding drug trafficking, mafias and cartels. Trying to hide this fact would be futile. Yes, there is a history of pain, violence and agony, a present full of transformation and, better yet, a future full of hope.