On going...

Blanca Cecilia Santana Cortés, Jumilito. I called it jungle, she called it community fields.

Blanca Cecilia Santana Cortés is a candidate to priesthood. She’s 50 years old and got married only few years ago with the love of her entire life, Quan, that is 64. They both worked as missionaries for more than 20 years in the poorest cities of Colombia and South America. They decided to not have children, because they wanted to dedicate their lives to serve everybody in need.

Blanca especially works with “mujeres de la prostitution”, sex-workers, and with afro-colombian women that live in extreme poverty. She doesn’t provide for them like a charity could do, she educates them to be free individual, to fight for their rights, to be feminists. She teach them how to work and provide for their families. She doesn’t teach them to be Christian, but to be like Christ, to follow the Gospel’s teachings. She reads with them the story of the Exodus in the Bible and explain that everything starts with courage and freedom.

Blanca in her garden in Jumilito

She has a very strong personality, but wrapped in sweetness and joy. Blanca behave like a funny angel most of the times, but carry inside her such a fire! I wasn’t’ surprised when  she told me this story: Because of her desire to become priest, she joined few years ago the Episcopal Seminar in Quito, Ecuador. She recalled a teacher that began his class saying “Now I’m going to shock you. Jesus never existed”, she quietly stood up in class and said “I am, and we are, women of experience and knowledge, adult women, and we are not shocked easily. Now you can go on with your hypothesis.”  After 6 months they sent her away, without even a certificate.

Only a few months ago she and Quan were able to buy their first piece of land with all their savings. They built an octagonal construction (in bamboo and what seems to me just plasterboard) and a two stories building. They lived in the octagon without any modern comfort (in order to be ecological), and planned to invite two families that are very poor to live in the other house and work the fields with them using permaculture, with the condition only that they will not stop trying to improve their life. She never called it charity, but community life.

Colombia, a country of women

Sandra Torres, former sex worker in Popayan

Barrio Oliva's market place, the market of Campesinos

Sandra is 8 months pregnant of her third child. The father is a elderly man and customer. We met her in the studio where Blanca works and does manual lymphatic drainage. Sandra was excited that I was going to photograph her. She stands by the Coca plant that somebody planted in the middle of the building. I asked Blanca if Sandra is still working as sex worker and she answered me that she did until a month ago. Since she was very pregnant, she was able to ask more money to the customers. This thought horrified me, suddenly I stumbled against a candle and spilled hot wax all over Sandra’s belly. Blanca helped her remove the wax and gave her clothing for the baby that was going to be born soon. I took the photo in silence.

I met many of the women Blanca is helping and supporting. One was a drug addicted, another had her daughters removed from her, so many sad stories.

The owner of a pub where the local Baptist Church pastors and Blanca are meeting sex-workers to empower them through Gospel's reading

Cristobal Ribera Ochoa, head of the Baptist church in Popayan

Every time Blanca spoke of them she never implied with words or in the tone of her voice that we were better than them. Not only, she never behaved like they were receiving something or were supposed to say thank you. Blanca was always happy and sharing joy in the two weeks I shadowed her, only one day she didn’t talk and I understood she was deeply sad. 

Popayan, traveling