Interview with Graciela Quintero Medina, a Colombian activist, member of the Mesa Hunzaua, a collective that brings together some 20 local associations in Bogota.
How was your vocation to help others born?
First I would like to talk about my parents. My mother is Benita Isaura Medina, born in Mongua (Boyacá) who worked as a cook, my father was José Quintero, born in Ocaña (Santander del Norte). He was a stonemason. I say this because they are my roots, I inherited the vocation of service from them, as well as the liking of work and solidarity. At home there were always boys and girls to take care of, friends to support and host; that is why I saw the example in the daily life of practices such as the convites, helping hands, chains, community meals as a solution to the economic and emotional problems.
We lived in rented housing for more than 30 years and my mother heard about a proposal for self-built housing. We then moved to Ciudad Hunza where we found everything had to be done. That is where this adventure began. We have now achieved 35 years of community work. During this time I have been participating in the co-creation of organizations that meet the community’s needs.
Could you tell us a little bit more about these organizations?
First, the Corporation for Community Development Ciudad Hunza “Corpohunza” and its Children’s Home program, the Corporation Casa de la Cultura Ciudad Hunza, Huerta Comunitaria, Mesa de organizaciones Comunitarias Hunzahua, Red de Bibliotecas Comunitarias de Suba. All these organizations in Ciudad Hunza include the practice of generating organization, leadership, community work, and networking. One organization is born from another and these in turn belong to national and international district networks such as the network “women of the world: a network for women’s autonomy” coordinated by “Quartiers du Monde”.
The Loma Verde Collective Association, whichwas born from a training process of the House of Culture “Women in Action” is a community-based environmental organization that develops a process of Solidarity Economy with a gender perspective, we have been working for 19 years in solidarity recycling through co-responsibility agreements with the neighborhoods of Cerro Sur de Suba, residential complexes, public and private schools, and District institutions.
In the diversification of income and as a strategy of environmental education we co-created the community store “ATA QUICA” in which the Recitrueque is implemented. It is the exchange of recycling for stationery, miscellaneous items, internet services, clothes, shoes, kitchenware, toys, books, plants, seeds, work.
How do you see the contribution of women to the SSE?
I believe that the SSE with a gender perspective is an alternative for change for our community, because it is centered on the defense of life. It takes into account the person and her environment, that is, the land as a subject of rights. It is an economy that re-establishes the bonds of solidarity and closeness, generates consensus and dissent that generates other visions of life, of happiness, of success based on values such as the ability to live together and respect difference, teamwork, adaptation to change, enjoyment of others’ success.
How did the Covid-19 crisis affect your work?
During the pandemic, the work of recycling was one of the exceptional activities; we had the opportunity to go out to work complying with the proper safety protocols but the prices of the materials fell, affecting households’ economy; it was possible to mitigate the effects by the network work that was done as the co-management of solidarity support from the government (markets, bonds) the Bancomunal proposal for savings and solidarity loans, and food collection for the families of the neighborhood.
You work very close to your territory but your collective is also part of continental and intercontinental networks. What are the benefits of these alliances in your opinion?
I see the importance of belonging to the continental / intercontinental SSE network because in practice it has proven to be the way to move forward together towards a fair economy and ensure that the discourse permeates all instances of participation in society. Thirty years ago we dreamed that this proposal would be implemented in the language and discourse of institutions. Today they are already talking about “sustainable business”, “socially responsible”! However, we must be careful not to distort the concepts and lose the essence of the proposal. We must continue to reflect and deepen our understanding of the SSE, which is above all the DEFENSE OF LIFE.
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