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Gina Escheback: A Life-Changing Struggle

When you see her warm and welcoming smile, you can’t imagine all the pain she is carrying. Claudia Quintero, or “Gina Escheback”, is a survivor with a 24/7 available optimism. This Afro- Colombia woman, wife and mother, has experienced firsthand the strike of political violence in her country. “I am Gina, a displaced, a citizen journalist and now a forced refugee.” says firmly.

It's Friday, it's spring.We are sitting in a coffee shop in Buenos Aires: Everything about her exudes determination: Thick body, wavy black hair and sharp dark eyes: “Let’s share a coffee, I can’t be without it.” she says. Gina, as she prefers to be called, is learning how to live without the enveloping aroma of fresh coffee, the comforts of her sleepy town in the Andean mountains and the salty smell of virgin beaches. In this city, where the jungle is made of concrete and the noise of traffic replaces the sensual cadency of Cumbia music, this 30 years old woman is learning to live without a past.

A Girl Out of Place

She was born on the Colombian-Venezuelan border. She was a child when paramilitaries invaded her town and kidnapped young boys to recruit them as soldiers, killed her neighbors, and some of her relatives:” I saw the dead bodies going down the river, the water dyed in red." she tells. A shadow of sadness covers her face like a veil.

Paramilitary forces develop a state-sponsored strategy further the fight against the insurgency. They serve multinational groups and drugs traffickers to evict people from their land; they torture, murder and use forced displacement against anybody who tries to save their home: “They call the children and offer them cocaine. Children feel seduced, after becoming addicted and they make them do whatever they want, even kill their own mother.” she affirms.

As she was growing, Claudia decided to do something about: “I couldn’t stay just like that, putting my head down in silence among that violence and slavery we were subjected to for being poor and far from big cities.” She explains. She focused on empowering her people.

Between 1999 and 2001, she was a young leader in her town, helping boys and girls who had fallen into drug addiction. She led the “Drops of Creativity” program in Cucuta; art workshops and meetings to encourage youth to say ‘No’ to drugs.

Sadly, part of the youth involved in the program was murdered by Paramilitaries, without giving them the chance to recovery; some were kidnapped to be forced to act like assassins. The girls were killed after being used for prostitution: “I became a problem; I denounced what they were doing. I was a girl out of place.” she declares. In 2005, Paramilitaries turned to Claudia as a target, forcing her to run to Bogota, with two dresses and few drops of hope.

Becoming Gina Escheback

“In Santander – North of Colombia- I was aware of Human rights; In Bogota, responsible for defending them.” she says. Claudia got involved in civil groups of victims of displacement, and began to write about her experiences: “I don’t have formal studies in journalism but I felt a deep sense of duty to tell what happens, say our truth, record life stories and speak out in behalf of those suffering the spoil of their land and dignity in favor of big business.” She says. Thus, Claudia became Gina Escheback.

As Gina, she wrote about the actions of Paramilitaries, as the voice of those expulsed from their homes. She met Alberto, her husband and partner in the struggle: “I met him throwing stones in a protest.” – She laughs. - “He is also an armed conflict victim. We share the same tragic story; we fell in love with each other and with our common dreams.” She adds tenderly.

In 2010, Gina and Alberto created the “Anne Frank Corporation” a nonprofit initiative to defend human rights and victims of violence; “We collected information, made files, built nets of support.” she explains, “We started to be threatened because we have valuable information about what is happening in rural areas with people and how the government profits off that.”

On August 14th an ultimatum was sent to her home; a post saying: “Choose life or death, your decision.” Alberto and Gina sit in the dining room facing each other; it was evening after dinner and children were sleeping: “I said to Alberto we must leave and he said has to be immediately since we don’t know when they are coming for us.” tells Gina. They woke up their two kids, prepared a small backpack and left the house in a cool night. The pot with warm coffee remained on the table; Gina again was displaced by violence. The family came by land to Argentina, after a long trip crossing South America.

Being Refugee, Being a Shelter

Gina is one of 5 million displaced in Colombia: “Is painful to leave everything behind: Home and friends, my mission and people who count on us. We couldn’t choose; our only option is going ahead.” She says. But Gina re-starts again: searching for a house, a job, a new life.

She wants to use her experience to support other refugees: “People come to seek refuge from Colombia, Middle East, and Africa. We are children of the same pain. We arrive with fear not knowing anybody; I want to help as a friend, an advocate, a shelter.”

Gina will start law school in 2012; she uses alternative media and social networks to spread the message about displaced people; she is organizing a humanitarian program called “Argentina loves Colombia” to send help: “I write in my blog and speak in community radios about them; I prepare a book with the stories I collected during my work in Anne Frank. I want justice; we deserve Dignity. I won’t shut up. Life changes, but my struggle continues.” says Gina.

Our coffee is done. The sun goes down in Buenos Aires. In her eyes, courage burns.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

usha kc's picture

It's inspiring and touching

It's inspiring and touching story of how Claudia turns as Gina.
enjoyed to read and I could have image all the incidents of her life.

hum, by the way you completed your first module!!! congrats Nasreen.

hugs

nasreenamina's picture

Really it was vision-changing

Really it was vision-changing experience my interview with Gina. In some way, I am glad my first interview failed. This one was far away more interesting and inspiring.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

noreens's picture

A nicely written story about

A nicely written story about a brave lady! Good job Nasreen!

Noreen

nasreenamina's picture

Thank you very much for your

Thank you very much for your entusiastic reply. I am glad you like it. Gina's story is important since there are 5 millions in the same situation, losing their lives and homes because the intervention of paramilitaries in behalf of big money interests

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Celine's picture

Good Work

Hi Nasreenamia,

Good work!

The world needs women like Gina. She is brave and dedicated to making a change in her community.

A good work on profile.

Celine

nasreenamina's picture

Brave women are widly nedeed

Brave women are widly nedeed around the world. Bravery is necessary to make changes

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Leslie Stoupas's picture

Inspiring Interview!

What an inspiring interview! Women like Gina remind us how important it is to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. Thank you for sharing this!

Leslie

Leslie Stoupas

nasreenamina's picture

Thank you very much. The

Thank you very much. The thing is, like Gina, we must to stand up for Human rights even if we are directly involved or not. She remembers us we must to act in behalf of human being not only in ours.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

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MaDube's picture

Wow

She sure is a strong lady and you aptly captured that quality about her. Well done Nasreen.

nasreenamina's picture

Thank you, One of the thing

Thank you, One of the thing impressed the most about her is how she has registered every image and moment with details. That helped me a lot to make this profile.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

amiesissoho's picture

Indeed Courage burns in her eyes

Captivating and it is encouraging that she didn't keep quiet and was able to go to a safer place to continue her dream. Life goes on.

Amie

nasreenamina's picture

Thanks sis. I try to be in

Thanks sis. I try to be in Gina shoes and I don't know, even when I feel myself a strong person, If I could handle easily to see my life destroyed for thirds persons time after time, and still feel like laughing loudly. Indeed she is a very courageous women

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

msears's picture

In her eyes, courage burns

What an encouraging and inspiring story. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. This really helped me put my own life in perspective. It makes me feel very grateful.
Michelle
Create a relationship with the most important person in your life - You!
http://www.selfesteem-building.com

Create a relationship with the most important person in your life - You!
http://www.selfesteem-building.com

nasreenamina's picture

You have mentioned something

You have mentioned something important. Be grateful. In fact, there's no reason for not to be, everyday for everything we have or we have not. There's a reason behind everything and that belief avoid us to fall in despair. People like Gina knows that very well, she is very rescilience and that's inspiring.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

AchiengNas's picture

Great story!

Dear Nasreen, thank you for sharing this great story. You are a great writer! Gina is an inspirational woman, I read the story with keen interest and I have realized that visionaries will always use their experience to save others. Thanks to her for supporting the displaced people!
Tell Gina that I admire her strength and that she is one of the unique people transforming our world.
Thank you again. I look forward to reading more of your stories.

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

nasreenamina's picture

My dear, your words just

My dear, your words just encourage me to keep myself writing and searching new stories about women. Is very inspiring to receive all comments knowing in some way the words of Gina touch your souls and inspire you to work even harder and raise your voice louder for women in your community.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

olutosin's picture

BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED!

Ride on my sister.......so painfully beautiful

Hmmnnnn God Bless Gine and you....

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

nasreenamina's picture

You are very kind for

You are very kind for encouraging me and you're right: is painfully beautiful. Is from the ashes of our deep suffering where we found the jewels of our spirit and the strenght we need to raise again. We are sure we will come up from our dark holes of sorrow when we realize we have no more option than standing up. There is never more certainty that we will overcome the problems than when we give the last cry of despair

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

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Nusrat Ara's picture

Well done. You have done a

Well done. You have done a wonderful job. All the best.

Love.

Nusrat

nasreenamina's picture

Thanks sis. We're only the

Thanks sis. We're only the messengers. Those who really do wonderful jobs are women like Gina and all the others we have helped to spread their stories when we chose them for write a profile. A Big salaam

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Juliette Maughan's picture

YES YES YES

Mi vida!

Me encanta la cuenta. No es solamente una historia de una mujer de Colombia sino una historia de tantas personas en America Latina. Tuve la experiencia de visitar a Bogota y a lugares como Cauca en Colombia. El tema de los paramilitares es pesado no? Thanks for sharing.

I love how you write and how your passion and interest shines through. I hope one day to meet you face to face, you are so interesting.

Suerte

Juliette

nasreenamina's picture

Mi Bella! Your spanish is

Mi Bella! Your spanish is very good! Gracias por tu comentario. Is true. the 80% of displaced in Colombia are women with children. As you say, the situation is further than a problem of Colombia or paramilitaries. Is about the sistem we live in. The governments we choose, the people we vote for represent us. For those who are giving our voice? What are they doing with our rights and our name?

In seeking answers to these questions women had and have a major role and a firm voice. Stories like Gina's makes me think of the immense strength and wisdom of women. Wisdom that we are responsible for rescue and share. This is one reason why this program is so important.

Especially in our America. We are the product of suffering. Call it "Christianization" slavery, mining, etc.. Call it what you want, the feeling is the same, is pain. And it's a pain that has a female face

And it's because that painful "birth" our voices are more necessary to report violence, abuse of human rights. If we want change the face and fate of America at this pivotal moment in which all known models, especially models of oppression, are in crisis, we have the historic opportunity, as women, to harvest the seeds of wisdom, love and solidarity that are so lacking in our land.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Fabulous!

What a wonderful and moving profile. I loved the flow of your writing--it was incredibly passionate. The details you give about sitting with her, the smell of the coffee, the sun-setting, all help paint a very vivid picture of this woman and her life. Thank you for sharing her courage with us.

Keep up the great work!

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

nasreenamina's picture

What is really wonderful is

What is really wonderful is to have the opportunity to write about women like Gina. Thank you Rachel and all you guys in World Pulse, you make a lot for all of us encouraging us to do our best and give a voice to those otherwise won't be noticed.

Yes. I am passionate,many people say is not good in a lady...But I put my heart wherever I put my mind because I am madly IN LOVE WITH LIFE, with this wonderful experience I have to BE in this world and the chance to write my own story and try to accomplish my dreams. I am grateful for every moment even for those where I felt miserable, cause I learned about my dark side and that pushed me to improvement.This moment has never come before. this moment will never come again. All wisdom is about welcoming whatever comes.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Okeny-Lucia's picture

It is a moving tale!

Being Refugee captured my interest,because I have known that it is not a bed of roses living in another country ,with rules and restrictions that dont allow creativity.What you could have done home better,is limited in a foster country.This pain is deep and demeaning sometimes.I carry this pain along and I can see where she coming from,it is about moving ahead,but sometimes the ahead is not clear.Is sometimes held with fear,discrimination,racism and the only outlet could be drugs ,suicide amongst other vices.
Gina is a strong woman representing all other refugees women and men ,who have never known what it is to be true citizen of a country.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

nasreenamina's picture

My dear. I am a inmigrant

My dear. I am a inmigrant myself. I've been many times. Sometimes I was very welcome, sometimes I wasn't and I have to do my struggle to deserve my right to be respected.I am going to share a story with you. In 2007 I was working in Peru. Peruvians and Chileans had never arranged well. Our countries had a terrible war more than 100 years ago. Peru didn't have a good outcome from that conflict and chileans weren't honorable winners. So, a traditional hatred against chilean encouraged for books, press, and education system still burns in some places there, even in times of globalization.

I was project coordinator for a volunteering agency in Peruvians highlands, in Cusco a city with people with a high antichilean feeling. But I had to work and my work was to be in contact with communities and join effort to develop social projects with volunteers from abroad. It was common for me find people protesting against the presence of chilean investments and chilean people. Many of the protesters were leaders of rural communities I had to work with later.

I was very afraid and sometimes I felt lost and miserable. In the begining they didnt want to know anything about me. I was just "That chilean woman, descendant of abusive soldiers,who raped our women, burned our farms, have stolen our treasures and invaded our land.."

How you could live easily when you're the enemy? I suffered a lot cause people felt with the right to tell me anything hard, when they hear my accent. But I insist, with kidness, trying time after time, loving those people, that city, those communities with all my heart cause I think if I was there, that was also my land, my problems,my fears, my people.

You know what happened after almost 3 years when I had to come to Argentina? I hadn't co workers anymore, or just neighbors, or acquaitances or profesional relationhips: I had brothers,and sisters, loyal friends, a family. Even I still call Mamma and Pappa to the parents of my former co worker Gretty. When I announced I was leaving It was heartbreaking for me to see how people I used to work with claim me to stay. Some of them cried hard the last day I visited them. When I arrived I didn't have any program to work with. When I left I had 20 strong partnerships.

I've never let the fears of others and my own fears prevent me to do my best and give another try. I tried since the beginning understand why they feel so resentful against me and I was always open to listen and talk about our terrible history in common. Building links is important when you are in a new country and not always you have the best landscape to see from your window.

Do your best. If you believe in yourself and what you're doing is good never doubt to go ahead cause even the hardest contender one day will feel tired of hatred. Get them tired of your kindness, you commintment with their destiny, your excellence in your work in behalf of their improvement. Ahead never is clear, cause life is a dark night. What it means this? we never know. We go to bed everynight planning for the next day, next year, next 10 years, imagining the rest of our lives cause WE BELIEVE. Nothing is granted. We move on cause we have Faith. We trust deeply in the wisdom of life, even if you are aware of this or not. Faith is our engine, love for humankind the oil needed. So go on Lady! Happiness is a conquest!

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Maddy M.'s picture

Wow, amazing example of

Wow, amazing example of peace-building and kindness. I admire your strength to deal with adversity and hatred.

Peace be with you,
Madeline

malba66's picture

You made me cry. Not because

You made me cry. Not because I am sad for her but because you channeled her pain and strength so well. I am so proud of her for urging ahead and crafting her new life from scratch. It also gives me hope that she and her husband do this work together, as a family, and yet keep their family protected and unified. This is a hard feat.

I am so grateful that you have chosen to focus on the voice of a powerful woman, who is displaced. It reminds us of how resilient we are. Humanity's first charge is to survive at all costs, and our individual stories of survival are really a collective history of resistance and resilience.. Seguimos adelante as we unpeel the experiences of our families and communities...

nasreenamina's picture

Thank you very much for your

Thank you very much for your comment.It's me who is grateful to had the chance to share this story. I am grateful she opened her heart to me and talked with me as an old friend. Indeed the energy of Gina is amazing. She is full of projects and still when she is starting again, in that vulnerable condition, to be inmigrant, a refugee, with a family, two children who need estability she has optimism to share. She has only one option:going on because aquí se respira lucha y estamos todos de pie.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

One of Many's picture

Tapestry of a warrior and healer

Dear Nasreen:

You have woven a detailed tapestry of the hopes, the values, and the ongoing challenges of this amazing warrior and healer. We need many warrior - healers now: and that is a tradition that has continued since Joan of Arc -- and probably earlier. Because of voices like yours and the opportunity of World Pulse, the world can know this story, unlike so many over these centuries where the stories were hidden.

"Gina" also wanted the stories to see the light, and her perseverance is so moving. Thank you for sharing her story with such passion and detail, Nasreen!

Anna

Speaking my Peace

nasreenamina's picture

Hi Anna, I loved the

Hi Anna, I loved the comparison of waving a tapestry. It makes me remember a short story of Julio Cortazar, argentinian writer, called exactly " Subject for a Tapestry" that talks about a battle. Well, talking about battles, I think every human being has their own and as you say women have specially a lot of warrior and a lot of healer.

Sadly, we have not been writing our history until recently and that's why this kind of program are so important, because throught it we can strenght our inner power and improve our skills to become commintment story teller. Part of our mission in this journey to trascendence called life is being awake in heart and mind, in this case to find, listen and wave nets for spreading stories otherwise won't be noticed, like Gina and all the woman with wonderful stories that have been submitted here. Xoxo

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Stella Paul's picture

Refugee - I know what it means

Dear Nasreen
I was born in a family that was homeless and moved from one state to another. Then, it was my turn to become one. I have moved so many times, I have lost tracks. And every time, in this multi-ethnic, multilingual country, people tell me 'you are not from here'. That sense of not belonging - it hurts! I thank you for sharing this story that many of us seem to identify with.

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

nasreenamina's picture

I understand what you say.

I understand what you say. Many times I've been told also "Go to your country, you're not from here" I think: "You neither". Noone is from here, since we are all passengers. We're here for a while, travelling, and everything is borrowed. that's why is so important be grateful with every little thing we have (or not) cause all belongs to a "We-Our-Us". When you're inmigrant, refugee,you feel in flesh what it means to be a passenger, someone who belongs to anywhere and to everywhere at the same time. But there's something Gina said and is important for me: Lifes changes. Change and Death is what we have granted,this confirms the ephemeral and transitory of our passage through this world.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

You are so right, Nasreen -- in this life we are sure of change and death. We can change our perspective about people who tell us we don't belong. We can understand that people who treat other people that way are ignorant and selfish -- and likely in their own terrible pain. They forget that as you pointed out, we are all passengers, and that what appear to be differences among us are only the surface qualities...all is really one, and the illusion of separateness from each other and from Source keeps pain and suffering alive.

Your writing and your impulse to contribute to the world with it -- like Gina's --are part of the solution. I am sorry for the suffering of so many and I thank you for your writing.

Anna

Speaking my Peace

Abigail Fern's picture

Beautiful Work

Nasreenamina,

Congrats on a job well done! This is a deep, powerful story and you did a great job of describing the subject's experience with sensitivity and heart. I love the ending line in your story because it poetically describes Gina's incredible strength. I am proud of you for not only doing a wonderful job on your first assignment, but completing it early as well! Great work and I am excited to see what you write next!

Love,
Abby

nasreenamina's picture

Thank you Abby

I am glad for your comments. But nothing as good as this could be done without clarices's and your help and advice. Thank you very much for your patience and time.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

clarices's picture

Vivid and Quite Touching

Dear Nasreenamina ,

When I read your story about Gina, I was touched and heartened. You brought her journey to life with vividly and compassionately. You are off to a terrific start.

Brava!

Clarice

nasreenamina's picture

Clarice!!

I am glad you like it, but I couldn't do it with your support and Abby's. It was during our honest and warm conversations where my idea about this assignment started shapping. Thank you for your support, I am working now in the second and I am exciting to let you know my draft! Xoxo

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

clarices's picture

Vanessa!

Congratulations, Vanessa! Looking forward to seeing your next article. Hope you had a wonderful time with your family over the holidays.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year!

Warmly,
Clarice

Katherine Holt's picture

Provocative storytelling

I agree with Clarice, your vivid descriptions were immensely powerful. I could smell the coffee and wanted to join the conversation. Those descriptions along with the particular quotes that you chose to include helped us see and hear Claudia/Gina as she appeared to you that day. The way you told her story was both moving and inspiring. We could see the girl she was and the woman she is becoming. We got a sense of her motivation, and we could appreciate the enormity of the challenge she is tackling. Thanks for telling such a provocative story!

I also appreciated the context that you provided for readers who might not be familiar with what has happened in Colombia. On a personal note, I visited Las Gaviotas in the Vichada region back in 2005. I heard there are plans underway to create similar communities to help refugees settle in the Marandua area. Paolo Lugari at the Gaviotas office in Bogota would have more information about this.

Felicitationes y feliz año nuevo.

Katherine

nasreenamina's picture

Thank you!!

One of my aims with this article it was people who read it feel like meeting Gina and know more about her and her struggle. I am glad I achieved my objective. Being a writer, a citizen journalist is for me a way to expose stories but in the core, I want to connect people through those stories. Is not only about writing style, is about touching people. If you feel closer to Gina and maybe after read my article you would like to know more about displaced in colombia, and if that leads you to share with your friends and on and on.. well,in that case I accept I made a good assignment. Warms Regards

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

mrbeckbeck's picture

Great storytelling

Hello Nasreenamina,
I applaud your effort here! This is a very well told story, full of vivid descriptions and candid glimpses into Gina's life. I am so impressed by your work, including all of the quotes and details.

Gina is an inspiring grassroots activist. Someone who has endured, and continues to endure challenges from all sides. By telling the truth she is a radical, and I know that she will not stop. Thank you for sharing her story with the world.

Beautifully done! I look forward to reading more from you....
Best wishes for the New Year ahead!
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

nasreenamina's picture

mrbeck thank you very much

mrbeck thank you very much for your comments. Indeed Gina is inspiring. Telling the truth, in a world of pretenders is one of the most radical decisions a human being can take. Have a Happy new year mrbeck!

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

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