Paso a Paso, a scholarship program, was started in 2007 by Friends of Colombia. It currently provides 35 elementary and high school students with their registration fees, books, uniforms, two pairs of shoes, and a backpack for the school year, along with family workshops and tutoring. This year five students will graduate from high school. It costs $800 a year for educational support of a Paso a Paso student. In addition, the director of the program, Alba Lucia Varela, is seeking ways to raise funds, $20,000, to construct a small dwelling where the students will have a safe place to receive tutoring and workshops to enhance their education. FOC is the principal support for Paso a Paso.
The Magdalena Foundation has provided 76 college scholarships during the past 12 years, with visible results—many young recipients become leaders in their communities and provide support and encouragement to other young people with college ambitions. The annual scholarship awarded is $900.
The Marina Orth Foundation supports four One Laptop per Child schools in and around Medellín. Through public/private sponsorships, over 2,500 students receive their own laptop computers as well as computer technology training, English language education and leadership training. This year, in memory of Colombia 66-68 volunteer Steve Bergren, who passed away in August, his family has set up with the foundation The Steve Bergren Engineering Scholarship to sponsor a student from the foundation’s schools to receive a full five- year scholarship at EAFIT University. Details of this fund and all the foundation’s activities can be found on MarinaOrthFoundation.org.
The Colombia Project (TCP) supported over $275,000 in micro-loans to 1,300 entrepreneurs from 2000-2013. Permanent loan pools developed through TCP have enabled its partners to now be able to issue over $50,000 in loans in marginalized communities each year. As of 2014 TCP will be providing free consulting services, rather than financial support, to help organizations implement similar loan programs in Colombia and other countries.
American University Peace Corps Colombia Archives preserves our legacy by archiving photos, letters, articles, and books donated by Colombia Peace Corps Volunteers.
Because of the generosity of our membership in response to our 2012 fundraising request, we were able to develop a teacher training workshop for 40 English teachers in
Medellín in conjunction with the Marina Orth Foundation and the Department of Education of Medellín. We were also able to donate $2,000 to the building fund for Paso a Paso in addition to supporting the program. Our total donations for 2013 were $19,700.
Please remember that you have an opportunity to continue to support grassroots projects in Colombia as an extension of your service as a Peace Corps Volunteer by sending your donation to Friends of Colombia, P.O. Box 15292, Chevy Chase, MD 20825. You may designate a project for your donation. To ensure that you are receiving our new electronic newsletter, please send your current e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to renew your membership or join as a new member. See the attached membership/donation form on the last page of this newsletter.
The total trip to Andes from Medellín took about six hours since there were stops at Fredonia, Bretana, Bolombolo, etc. I was beat when we got there. What impressed me most were the steep cobblestone streets and houses supported on stilts—they seemed to be ready to fall into the river at any time. Another Andes characteristic was the tango music that could be heard all over town, especially in the cool nights. Men on horseback, wearing their ruanas, machetes, hats and carrieles or man-purses like the Scots, were common. Their horses would make distinctive sounds when their metal shoes hit the cobblestone surfaces. It was reminiscent of how the Wild West may have been in the U.S. Andes was the largest community where I was assigned, but wait—there I was told I wasn’t there yet! The next morning, Luz Elena Espinal, a mejoradora de hogar working for the Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros, took me to Santa Rita, a corregimiento of Andes. Other than the business-like Luz Elena, I did not have an American or Colombian co-worker.
Santa Rita was unique in that it showed no visible means of support or existence. When you got to Santa Rita, it was the end of civilization. There were no more roads, no more villages, no more anything except the uncharted wilderness of the Andes mountains that made a spectacular surrounding. Reportedly, some native Colombian tribes were out there somewhere and beyond the horizon, there were impassable, steamy tropical jungles.
Nice place to semi-retire! Adventure into business world of restaurants! Great weather, great people, beautiful country! An ad for Colombia? Yes, and the story of my life.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a reunion. This summer will find me—RPCV Gary J. Gonya—and my Colombian wife, Diana M. Gaitan, traveling from Medellín, Colombia to Orlando, Florida to attend the First Gaitan Family Reunion on Diana’s side. Of the 100 attendees, we will be the only ones arriving from Colombia as all others now live in the U.S.! This ‘flip-flop” of countries has taken place during the last 50 years!
I served in Ibague, Tolima from 1966-68, where I met Diana, who was born in Ibague. Upon finishing my tour of service in Peace Corps, Diana and I were married by Pope Paul VI at the famous XXXVIII International Eucharistic Congress held outdoor at Templete (today still found in Parque del Salitre) in Bogotá on August 24, 1968. This “little chapel wedding”/ “low-key ceremony” was attended by over 600,000 people including Cardinals and Bishops from all over Latin America as well as Pope Paul VI (first real traveling Pope)! Many things brought us—an international couple—together, love itself plus a call to service to others. Both of us were inspired by Saint (today) Pope John XXIII, who opened the “doors and windows” of religious change through Vatican II. We also felt called by our own citizenship of our countries to be of service to others. JFK and RFK inspired me, while Presidential candidate /martyr Jorge Eliecer Gaitan inspired Diana.
In early 1969, we moved to my hometown of Fremont, Ohio. We worked in education and entrepreneurship as well as volunteering /service in church and government in Ohio, then Pennsylvania and New York. During this time, our three sons were born and joined in the family adventures. We also continued our contact, support and guidance for José Orlando Castañeda, a “rags to riches” story of a young Colombian boy I had taken in back in Ibague, Tolima. José Orlando later became a college graduate/ lawyer/judge/writer!
Today, all of José Orlando’s family members also live successfully in the U.S. They in turn have passed on the caring, volunteering and service philosophy we support. The third goal of Peace Corps certainly lives on in many strange ways!
The following years found us inviting more of the Gaitan family to the U.S. but also making more return trips to Colombia for baptisms, weddings, tourism and maintaining relationships. Teaching, education, and research work took us
to Spain and the Panama Canal while service-related volunteering during national crises and natural emergencies took us abroad. We were involved in a Sister City outreach of Toledo, Ohio with Honduras for Hurricane Mitch; in Colombia for earthquake relief in Armenia and missions and parish outreach to orphans in Nicaragua through Mustard Seed programs.
Service to church and community found us involved in politics as we served on city and statewide commissions, trained people for the U.S. census, worked and served as county party chairmen for elections of Ohio Governor (former Peace Corps head) Richard Celeste and U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
Papal connections continued as we attended 25th wedding anniversary ceremonies in Bogotá and then served as representatives from the International Eucharistic Congress of Colombia to visit personally with Saint (today) Pope John Paul II in Rome and also to visit the tomb of Pope Paul VI who married us in 1968.
After the weddings of our three sons, we served in a different but very pleasant way as “professional nannies” for our six grandchildren for many wonderful years.
The culinary world, with Diana as Chef and me as “Sous Chef” again brought us back to Colombia on several occasions. We opened a Tex-Mex restaurant called Fajitas in Cartagena that became a hot spot for tourism and international dining during the peak seasons in the famous walled city on the northern coast of Colombia. Of course, besides the culinary businesses,
volunteerism, church-related service and teaching continued for us. Later, we opened restaurants in Medellín named Ay Caramba!, Fusion Boogaloo and Arriba! Arriba!
Since being in Medellín, we have worked with and served at schools of Fundacion Marina Orth. Recruitment of volunteers for kids at risk in these schools, teaching English at schools and assisting with growing of school garden programs have been recent achievements.
Finally, as this written journey began with a family reunion story, we will end with another. As you will be reading about our journey between two worlds and countries—the
U.S. and Colombia—we will be attending in early July the fourth Gonya Family Reunion (Gary’s side) with our sons and their families in the Boulder/Vail regions of Colorado! The Love Relationship between two international people, who certainly “have a foot and a heart in two countries” still lives on.
For us, the worlds of culinary arts, education, service, volunteerism, politics and business are alive and well! We’re still trying to inspire and not yet retire! We prefer to “let our feet do the talking.” Some people might ask, “Why return to Colombia” ? ....... We would respond, “Why Not”?
In the mid-1960s, as Colombia 8 Volunteer Faye Hooker lived and worked in Usiacurí, Atlántico, it’s doubtful she imagined a future as a Superior Court Judge, and she couldn’t have known that one day she would rule on a key case involving California’s controversial death penalty.
Those of us who knew Faye in Colombia were familiar with her leadership skills and keen intelligence. Midway through her service in Colombia, she was tapped to be the first female Volunteer Leader, and following PC Colombia, she was PC staff—as Associate Director in Costa Rica and Program Officer in Washington, D.C. for Venezuela and Central America.
Faye married, had two daughters, and moved to Marin County in northern California. After a divorce she changed her name to Faye D’Opal in honor of her mother, Opal. She attended law school in San Francisco and began her career. In 1980-84 she was a paralegal with the Legal Aid Society. She opened law offices and became involved in training for police in domestic violence cases. She was appointed director of the first legal self-help program developed by the Marin Superior Court. This program, recognizing that attorney fees were out of reach for many in the community, provided access to information, use of computers to fill out forms, and guidance through procedural aspects of the complicated legal system.
In 2004, Faye decided to run for election to the Marin County Superior Court bench. It was then an audacious ambition. Her opponents were nine men, including older attorneys and up-and-comers in the District Attorney’s office. She won the 2004 primary election decisively, becoming the third woman on the court. Her key support came from volunteers who worked tirelessly on her campaign. Used to hard work and paying her dues, Faye took on assignments with patience and good will. She served in felony trials and in as supervising judge of the Family court. She is currently Assistant Presiding Judge, and will move to Presiding Judge in 2014–2015.
This brings us to the death penalty case Faye ruled on last year.
A California law which provides for capital punishment offers persons sentenced to death a choice between execution by lethal injection or by lethal gas. In 2007, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger elected the so- called three-drug method for California executions, despite the fact that one of the drugs, pancuronium bromide, was known to cause excruciating pain. A more humane alternative, a one-drug solution (a fatal dose of sodium thiopental), was available but was not being used.
In August, 2010, new regulations were enacted. Among them, it was stipulated that the one-drug alternative must be offered. Subsequently, however, this regulation was not complied with—the three-drug alternative continued to be administered— and there were many more regulations that were being ignored or skipped over. Lawyers on behalf of Death Row inmates filed a law suit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which operates all state adult prisons and juvenile lockup facilities.
In her ruling, Faye enjoined the CDCR from administering executions of inmates until the regulations governing them complied with requirements that were in place. This ruling effectively put a stop to all California executions, not only of male inmates (named in the suit), but females as well.
Marin County is the location of San Quentin, which houses California’s only Death Row facility for male inmates (condemned women are held at Chowchilla State Prison). When you live in Marin, you can’t ignore San Quentin. It’s a small, self-contained city partly surrounded by water, in full view of every passing ferry or wind-surfer. (San Quentin Village, unconnected to the prison, lies just outside the prison gates). Executions have taken place at San Quentin since 1893—originally hangings, then the gas chamber, and from 1996 to the present, by lethal injection. Executions are few and far-between. There’s a strong anti-death penalty movement in California, and every execution has been accompanied by appeals and candlelight vigils outside the prison walls. Many are held on Death Row for years.
After the state decided not to appeal the ruling, Faye was able to comment on the case. “When I had to make the decision, I recognized it was a major issue in the state of California,” she said. “The lawyers representing the inmates on Death Row argued that the State wasn’t following its own regulations. No one had checked to see if they were complying. The regulations must be observed or someone may be killed unlawfully. Until compliance, there can’t be any further executions.” So although it was a narrow administrative issue, the effect is profound. It may take years for compliance to be fully in effect.
Meanwhile, Faye’s latest routine assignment is Supervising Judge of the Juvenile Court. Challenges in the legal system and within families make it complex and rewarding duty, she says. Additionally, she has formed a community volunteer committee with other judicial officers and court personnel whose projects included revamping the court’s community service work program. They’ve helped fifth graders make a video to explain what goes on in the courtroom, and have presented real DUI trials to high school juniors and seniors.
Twenty percent of Marin County’s population is Spanish-speaking, but until recently, Faye was the only Spanish-speaking Superior Court judge (now there are two). Her Spanish and Portuguese language skills have been of use as she listens to people speak in court. “You learn to listen so that you don’t speak through your cultural bias unwittingly,” she says.
That’s something RPCVs can understand and appreciate.
Abby Wasserman (Colombia XIII) is former Editor of the FOC Newsletter. To contact Faye D’Opal, email email@example.com.