On Friday afternoon I was once again overwhelmed by the extreme contrast of poverty and wealth in Medellin as I literally crossed the city from one side to another on the metro. It was a reminder of two very different realities that exist in the same city – one that consists of shiny shopping malls and another that includes dirt roads and humble houses. The Granizal neighborhood is located up the mountain, north of Medellin and has been a place where people who have been displaced because of the violence in other parts of the country have come to start a new life. In listening to the stories of the residents, many of them they had been displaced more than one time before arriving here. While conditions have improved in this neighborhood over the years, most of the residents still live in poverty. Some houses are made out of bricks. Most are made out of wood and plastic. Many who have settled here are young women, single mothers, grandmothers caring for grandchildren. The opportunities for employment are scarce and life is challenging. Many of the teens never have the opportunity to venture out of their neighborhood. Joining gangs becomes an alternative for youth. Adolescent and teenage pregnancy is a major issue. Still, stories of hope and transformation emerge.
Years ago, alongside some of the residents, Shalom church began a ministry here with children and today there is a church and a social project that is reaching out to the community. “Community Transformation for Peace” is the name of the Covenant foundation that is finding ways to connect with residents in offering opportunities for training, education, counseling, and alternatives for youth, etc. Currently they are sponsoring a soccer tournament for girls ages 12-15. They have over 100 girls in the program, which not only includes soccer tournaments on Saturday morning, but workshops on conflict resolution and peace-building on Friday afternoons. Julio and I have been invited to accompany the girls on Fridays. These girl are precious. As we’ve interacted with them they’ve opened up to us about the reality of their lives, their struggles with school, their excitement in participating in the tournament, etc. The past few weeks we’ve been talking with them about the importance of making decisions, of how to handle situations of conflict, and how to relate with each other and the opposite sex. It was great to watch them engage in dialogue, laugh together as they created a drama to present to the group, and share their own stories. On Saturday afternoons some of the young professionals that are a part of our small group will be going up to help with tutoring as many of the girls are struggling with certain school subjects.
While the soccer tournament is great; it’s about more than just soccer. It’s about building into these girls the confidence in themselves and the ability to handle difficult situations in positive and healthy ways. It’s about creating a safe space for these girls to come together and learn from one another. Please pray for those leading the program, pray for volunteers like Diana who goes up every Friday to teach and on Saturdays to cheer on the teams. Pray for Julio and I that God would give us wisdom to come alongside these girls and have open hearts to receive what they will teach us.