The Story of Afro-Colombian Hilaria has deeply moved Carlos Vives
Afro-Colombian Hilaria Sandoval Teran, 41, deeply moved singer Carlos Vives, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, and about 50 special guests. Some wept as she told them her tragic life. She detailed her grim moments, but also her rebirth and courage.
In I989 a group of armed man, who were illegally operating in the area, came to her house in Maríalabaja, Montes de María, Bolívar and killed her father and brother. She was raped. They looked like men possessed by the devil himself. Those were cruel times of war in that area of downtown Bolivar.
Hilaria became pregnant after the rape. A girl started to grow in her belly. Those were days of great pain and suffering. But Hilaria decided she would not let adversity overcome her. She bravely decided to have her daughter. No matter what would happen, no matter what people would say.
She and her siblings were displaced and had to leave their town. They settled in a crowded neighborhood in Cartagena. After a few months, her daughter was born and with her, a new hope propelled her desire to excel, to live and move forward. “My daughter is the most beautiful thing I have in the world, she is my in inspiration and my strength”, she said.
She just had enough to support her. She began to sell different sort of things in the streets to bring something home. She fell in love with a man who abused her and constantly told her she was a worthless Afro-Colombian. Hilaria wanted to study, but she needed to work to survive.
Because she was registered in the census of displaced families, one day she got a call from the [Acceso] Training and Job Linkage Program for Youth, African Descent, Indigenous and Victims of Violence. In Cartagena, this program offers training through the Clinton Foundation, businessmen from the city, and the government of Colombia and the U.S.
The U.S. ambassador in Colombia, Kevin Whitaker; Mayor of Cartagena Dionisio Vélez and singer Carlos Vives listen to several of the guests at the event.
She came to Acceso and her existence was lit. She thought it was a miracle. She knew this was her chance to prove herself and she became one of the most advantaged students of the kitchen assistant course. Such courses prepare individuals to work in the tourism sector of the city.
“When I complete the course, I will work in the best hotel in town; that’s a fact, I’m the best”, she said with a gleaming with smile and happy eyes. She is another woman. She said that at the program she has been treated as a queen and she tries to assimilate everything they teach her to be better every day.
More stories were told. We heard many other testimonies from other beneficiaries of these training programs that aim to generate employment for vulnerable sectors of the population.
In the event we had the presence of the U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker; Peter Natiello, Mission Director of USAID Colombia; Mayor Dionisio Velez and national government representatives, among others.
The training lasts for over six months and offers training programs for the formation of administrative assistants, contact center agents, port operators; confectionery and bakery workers; welding, cooking, metalworking and car part assistants, among others.
Of the four thousand [scholarship] quotas offered by USAID directly, to date 1,700 young people are in training. 44% are Afro-Colombian and indigenous victims of the conflict and 65% female.
In the first phase of the program, over 30 agreements have been made with different companies for apprenticeship placements.
The Ministry of Labour, meanwhile, has a quota of ten thousand people in cities like Bogotá, Pereira, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, Cali and Cartagena (in this city is two thousand). And twenty thousand additional beneficiaries of rural areas are added.
After the testimony of Hilaria and others like her, Carlos Vives stated that he was moved by their words of hope and faith. He asserted that Colombians “will be recognized” and will live life gratefully, despite the hard times.
“Together is the only way forward,” he added. He said he hoped the American dream of Colombians would not be to go to the U.S., but to stay in Cartagena and work with joy. Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador acknowledged that the history of Hilaria “affected me and I will take it with me forever.”