“We’re closer to Heaven here!” exclaims eight year-old L.M. who lives in La Merced (Bogotà) and regularly visits Focolare-run “Social Unidad” Centre. Her family came to the humble neighborhood in the mountains south of the capital to escape the violence. Their situation was the same as many others who can be seen in this place, where they find a group of solid people who have welcomed in these families in search of a secure future.
In the beginning the situation was quite desperate. To stay alive working meant digging into the hard earth of that region in order to make cement blocks. It is a tiring process, demanding physical strength and strong lungs that can support the gas pouring from the enormous ovens. It also means forgetting one’s dreams, because this work takes up every minute of one’s time. Even children of five years have to put aside their toys or invent new ones as they share in the work of making cement blocks. And it is normal to see them with their faces blackened by smoke, but happy to be helping their parents.
Thirty years ago, inspired by Chiara Lubich’s invitation to “give our lives for our own people”, thirty members of the Focolare Movement, together with Fr Luis Dies and a group of pioneers got involved. The local inhabitants were very indifferent at first, due to previous negative experiences. “But how could we not open our doors,” asks P.T., “to people who had come only to help us?” The shared in our pain of finding ourselves so needy; they also shared moments of relaxation with us; they never judged us; they really loved us and, right from the start, they were engaged in improving the quality of our life. They brought a doctor, a dentist. . . they made us feel that we were people who are loved by a Father who is Love!”
Today there is a social centre. In the midst of many difficulties this community is working to become a model of coexistence in which the practice of human and Christian values is the basis of each day’s work.
At present, “Centro Unidad” offers scholarship aid to thirty-five children and teenagers, between the ages of six and seventeen. They are assisted by local youths and by others who work in the centre in cooperation with the social projects they are involved in. There is an instructional programme for twenty-four mothers who care for pregnant women and children between the ages of newborn and five years-old. There is a library service, cooking classes, health assistance with a medical doctor and dentist and computer training. . . One original idea was the “boutique” that offers home furnishings, home utensils, school materials, and whatever else is useful. There are also dance, theatre, and art workshops.
The Centre is supported by the New Families’ “Distance Support” project, which benefits seventy-eight children and teenagers from the local families.
This is one beautiful story, one which is still being written amid sorrows and joys. The doors of the Centre are always open for anyone in need, and also for those who wish to give. It is a small slice of humanity, which is committed and struggling to belong to a more just society, inspired by Gospel values.