Love as the main ingredient of her life
At the beginning of our conversation, raindrops fell in rhythm with her voice and later with her tears and those blue eyes so rare in this country, Colombia. Claudia Tapias’ hands were grabbing at something as if it was precious. Later I knew it was. Part of her most precious dream was hanging there in those little hands, being carried in a very special way: her desire to build a house for herself and her family. In a very practical sense, this petite woman did not appear to be the most powerful woman of Santa Elena, the rural area where she grew up and where she had lived most of her 47 years.
Neighbor to a major and very famous city, Medellín, and one of the five townships of this huge municipality, Santa Elena has been a very important land not only for the municipality of Medellín but to the other 14 ones very close to the territory. People here grow corn, potatoes, lettuce, a huge diversity of vegetables and fruits such as strawberries, blackberries, ochuvas, and a tremendous variety of flowers but mainly this area is a big protected area named Arví which gives pure water and oxygen to the municipalities around.
Most families here are "Silleteros" traditional flower growers, that Claudia considers the most vulnerable people in this territory, along with food growers. She seeks everywhere to find for them new opportunities in their markets and she also develops projects involving this community.
Today as the President of one the 16 Community Action Boards of this township, Claudia works seven days a week without being paid as these organizations barely have the resources to develop their own projects. For three years, she has been one of seven elected town councilors of Santa Elena.
Although she does not have any formal university education, Claudia Tapias pursues her dreams and advocates for people’s needs without doubt. Her words are strong and she directly asks the Mayor and his secretaries for what she considers to be the most important thing for her people: a fair market.
Growing up with six brothers, Claudia married young as a way to get out of her mother’s responsibilites. Claudia has three children, aged 26, 25 and 22, and is now a widow by the violence of Colombia where most killings are unpunished and many families never get an answer for their sorrow.
Claudia finished high school but she wishes she had had the chance to go to university to study political science or forensic medicine. These two careers might not have any connection you know, she says, but they have. “When I look people in their eyes and see how deeply they need to get help, I know that if they do not get any of the help they ask for they might get killed or die in an attempt to survive. And if they died, I need to know why. What happened? Who did not do their job? Why they did not do it if life is so valuable?”
Claudia does not have an income as most of her work is for local community which is mainly peasants. Her community work started when she was very young as she learned it from her grandmother, Ema, and from her father, Jaime, who was the inspector of her township Santa Elena. They both were into politics and being young, she asked them to help the poorest and helpless to find a fair life, a new life.
Sometimes help did not arrive and even though Claudia did not blame her father or her grandmother, she decided to help people herself by going to government officials and finding new ways to find the best for her community. She did not wait. She did not know how as she thought she did not have any official training, but she found a way in her soul and in her wisdom to go and find what rural growers needed so badly: opportunities, equity, education, health, employment, and food, but mainly dignity, self respect, and pride of what they have been doing their whole lives.
Claudia has done more than any other for this land and these people and yet, she does not even know it . She is focused on people’s lives and does not give importance to things which might not lead her to people’s dreams. Her priorities are ones many people do not even consider . She has been involved in many projects which give people opportunities in many fields as education, health, and green houses for peasants. In the last year, she was involved with her board in one project which gave drinking water to more than 10.000 people in Santa Elena.
Claudia knows challenges will be always an issue for her. As a passionate woman, she believes now in her dreams in contrast to when she was a child when she does not remember having dreams or being allowed to have them. She basically learned to do everything for her older and younger brothers and then for everybody without asking anything in return. And she continues that way. Her heart is big and strong and she would give her own food for someone who might need it.
Living a day by day life with so little, she does not expect much. She shares her father´s house with her sons, a brother who became a beggar and used to live in the streets, her partner Edwin who is 17 years younger than she is and some days also with her grandaughter Sofia, who is the center of her life.
Claudia has a dream, to build her house, and now she has 100 bricks, a toilet, a sink and 10 huge glasses stored at her father’s house. One day she may have the house of her dreams where she can live with her whole family and will prepare for them the delicious food she knows how to cook with so much love: the principal ingredient of her life.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.