Born in Colombia.
Living in Ecuador.
Colombia’s six-decade conflict between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces continues to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in the Western Hemisphere. Armed guerilla groups, drug traffickers and human traffickers have forced millions of people—many of them poor—from their homes. An estimated 250,000 Colombian refugees have sought refuge in Ecuador.
Imagine leaving home and not knowing where you will live or if you will eat. Imagine that, despite this uncertainty, you have to leave in order to stay alive.
Gustavo was a watch and jewelry maker in Colombia. Earlier this year, a group of men came into his workshop and took expensive gold and silver jewelry without paying. They returned a few days later and demanded more. But when Gustavo explained that he needed money for materials, they assaulted him and sent a threatening letter to his home.
He moved with his mother to his sister’s house, but the same group—known for kidnappings and extortion—found him. Without stopping at his workshop to retrieve his tools, he herded his family — sister Martha, niece Luisa and mother, Clara — onto a bus, rode it to the end of the line, then found someone to take them to Ecuador.
While receiving emergency assistance and shelter from HIAS, an American Jewish organization that helps refugees, Gustavo and his family connected with the Scalabrini Mission, which has collaborated with Catholic Relief Services for more than six years.
Colombian refugees face challenges including poverty, inadequate housing, domestic violence, lack of opportunities for young people, and lack of attention from local and national authorities. Scalabrini Mission helps refugees integrate into society, with legal support, counseling and financial advice.
“We think of our family and friends. We want to join other people and share with them and live a normal life,” says Martha. Luisa wants to feel safe. And Gustavo wants his tools back, to start over in his craft, support his family and regain independence and dignity.