Still not recovered from the time difference between Europe and Latin America, I wake up early (5a.m Bogota time, 11a.m UK Time) and check my e-mails. Nothing. And then my roaming cell phone and the network in Colombia decide not to make friends! So I take a deep breath and say to myself, shower, dress, get breakfast.
I reach the office at 8.15 a.m and am greeted by a celebratory hug from Robyn, our Country Director, and the news I’d been waiting for: the Save the Children Alliance is officially ‘unified’ in Colombia. Another step closer to us being a single, worldwide movement for children. We’ve combined our local expertise, put all the different ‘Save the Children’s’ under one roof, so that we can be more efficient and more effective, so that we can save more children…
It’s going to be a big day – but as we enjoyed our first few ‘unified’ hours (spent in a meeting with H.E John Dew – the British Ambassador, an expert in Latin America, conscious about Colombia’s disparity, equity and its impact on poor and marginalized groups) I had no idea that the day would also bring together a real family.
11am – time to meet those who will be the stars of today’s celebration – children from different parts of Colombia including deaf children, Afro-Colombian and indigenous children. They asked me “Have you ever been discriminated against”, “How did conflict start in your country – Sudan” and “What motivates you to work for Save the Children”?
Then it was the media’s turn: Why has Save the Children opted for unified presence? What will it bring to Colombia? What is the total investment of Save the Children in Colombia? Do we think that Colombian Government is doing enough to bring down conflict and its negative impact on the people of Colombia? What are we doing for the marginalized groups (Afro-Colombia, Indigenous, Roma…etc)? Our answers stressed the added value the collective action of Save of Children will bring to Colombia. We also emphasised that we are here to complement the efforts of the Government and local civil society, not to replace them.
The Clock is 04.00 p.m. We arrive at the main event – an impressive scene. It’ll be a celebration of the 90 years of Save the Children and the unification of Save the Children in Colombia. Colleagues and their families, children from our projects and staff from partner organisations wearing Save the Children T-shirts. Very colourful. Robyn and I endeavoured to greet everyone in person. I was touched to see three colleagues who have been made redundant (all change has its pain). I hug each of them. I joke with Heidi (ex Emergency Coordinator) and said to her where is your Save the Children T-Shirt? And she replied to me “though I am not wearing Save the Children T-shirt, Save the Children is and always will be in my heart”.
I will not be able to do the event justice. But there are two stories I must share:
100 children from our programmes including deaf children & children from the Clara Luna singing group took the stage and sang “One Voice for Children” – a song written for us to celebrate the unification. Despite all my years at Save the Children, visiting our work across the world, it was so moving seeing deaf children participating in the song. Suddenly, my translator saw the tears on my face and he too was touched by the song. I had never seen such a beautiful smile as the one I saw there on the faces of the deaf children. It was full with life and hopes. It taught me a great lesson about life and how important it is that we remain optimistic about life and the future despite all the challenges we are facing in our world of today. Then, to the audience’s delight and surprise, a very well known Colombian pop band, Wamba, joined the children on stage and everyone danced.
Bringing families together:
As I was leaving at 07.30 p.m, I passed Wamba signing autographs, I waded through confetti and a slew of red and white T-shirts that proclaimed One Voice for Children. I was then approached by a director of a partner organisation, whose children were represented in the event. He said I have to tell you something, and he pointed to the audience, where a lone man was sitting with a young woman, who was wearing a Save the Children shirt. ”See that, see what this event did for him… he found his daughter at this event, she never knew her father, and when we realized she would be coming to this event, her mother arranged for her to be reunited with her father, who she has never known.”
I was already very emotional from the event, and gathered my strength to walk towards him. As I walked towards him, I thought, what do I say to someone in this euphoric moment. I extended my hand to him, and said congratulations; you must feel very proud today. He looked at his daughter, who was nervously fiddling with her phone, and then he looked at me and said, “Yes, I have found her, I will never lose her again…” Wiping a tear from his eye, as he fiddled with confetti in his hands, he looked at her, and then at me, and whispered softly… “Thank you”
“Somos Una Sola Voz” “We are just one voice” written by Mauricio Lozano
Ahhh we are going to take care of our land
From Colombia we are Colombians and we will sing
Our life is always in Colombia
Our dreams, our hearts
We are only one voice
there are a few that want to dirty that
with sadness and pain
There are more of us that want peace and we want a better country
there are a few that want to buy us
they put a price on our nation
Our Colombia has no more value
Except that we dream of having a better life
one single voice, one dream,
oh oh oh
lets put behind all our pain
we are the voice of hope
with one single voice we sing
to make a better country