The Perez Family have been displaced by war in Colombia
Marriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “hero” as a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.
I admire the Perez family for their work ethic, for their humility, for their resolve and for their positive outlook through trying times. In my opinion they are Colombian heroes.
As an immigrant in Southern California I was raised with the mentality of “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I believe in that statement wholeheartedly and now that I’m in my own country, living comfortably, it is time that I do something to give back and change someone’s life completely.
Two years ago I decided to help an elderly man who sells bananas downtown. Thanks to the generosity of all the Medellin Buzz readers I was able to gather over $2,000,000 pesos in donations.
You can read that story here: http://medellinbuzz.com/justo-manuel-true-colombian-hero/
And the follow up story here: http://medellinbuzz.com/justo-manuel-true-colombian-hero-update/
I was overwhelmed with emotion to see how many people were willing to donate. My friends donated, but what was amazing was when people I had never met started to donate.
People want to donate to a worthy cause, and Mr. Justo Manuel was.
I told my father about the story and how things panned out and that I wanted to help more people, but I didn’t want to just choose people at random. My father advised me to wait, that everything happens for a reason, and that in the same way that Justo Manuel found me, another worthy cause would find me.
I met the Perez family two months ago when I saw them gathering a bunch of recycling material (boxes, glass, plastic, etc.) on the corner of my street (Carrera 43F No 12-16) at 8:00 p.m. I observed and noticed their schedule: they arrive on Tuesday at around 4:00 p.m. and work until 11:00 p.m., then on Friday from 4:00 p.m. until 12:00 a.m, sometimes 1:00 a.m. even in the rain.
My life is pretty awesome here in Medellin. I live in Barrio Manila, which is in El Poblado, one of the affluent neighborhoods in Medellin. My office is two blocks from my apartment, I employ awesome people, who have become my best friends, and my brother works with me too.
Therefore, when I saw the Perez family working hard, late hours, in my own neighborhood I could not be a spectator.
I approached Walter (father) one night. I asked him how he was doing and how work was going. He proceeded to tell me that he was good, that it wasn’t raining (the night before it had rained a lot) and that he was optimistic that that night would be a good night.
I asked him about his wife and his family and he told me their whole story.
A Family Displaced by War in Colombia
The Perez’s are an afro-colombian family: Walter (father), Marta (mother), Joan Sebastian (15 years old) and Jason David (13 years old),
The Perez family story starts in 2006 in the department of Cauca, in a small town called López de Micay.
Walter was providing for his family by working on farms, he’s a handyman and carpenter. He had served in the military as a young man and loves Colombia.
Thus, when he was approached by the local armed resistance group he denied their recruitment.
Walter explained, “They didn’t like that I didn’t want to join them, so they told me that I was to sell drugs for them in the town. They threatened my life. That’s when I knew that we had to leave to Medellin.”
Andrew: You’ve been displaced since 2006?
Walter: Yes, we’ve been displaced since 2006. The government is supposed to help displaced people like us, we’re supposed to receive about $950,000 pesos per month ($320 USD). We haven’t received anything since 2012.
Andrew: So what have you been doing to earn a living?
Walter: I’m a carpenter, so we’d move from town to town and I’d work on farms, but everywhere we’d go we were either not welcome or I’d be threatened by the local armed group.
Andrew: How did you end up in Medellin?
Walter: I had come to Medellin back in 2006 looking for work, but nothing came about and I had to go back to Cauca, to my family. I fell in love with the city and the people, so 3 months ago, after being threatened again by local gangs where we were living we decided to buy a bus ticket to Medellin.
Andrew: Do you have family in Cauca?
Walter: Yes, but I can’t go back, I fear for my life. Medellin is my home now, and this is where we will work. My wife, Martha, and the kids can go visit her family, but I will not go back.
Andrew: Where do you guys live?
Walter: We rent a small motel room in Niquitao.
* For those of you that don’t know, Niquitao is located in downtown Medellin and is considered a hot bed of drugs and crime.
Andrew: How much do you pay there?
Walter: We pay $18,000 ($6.00 US) per day. And we’re behind right now about $180,000 ($60.00 US).
Andrew: Tell me about your kids.
Walter: Joan Sebastian is the oldest, he’s 15. Jason David is 13.
Andrew: Are they in school?
Walter: No they’re not, Joan Sebastian (15) has completed up to 4th grade and Jason David (13) has completed up to 2nd grade. It’s hard for us because we have been moving constantly and have not had enough money to get their school supplies and books.
I Interviewed Joan Sebastian
Andrew: So tell me, what’s your day like?
Joan Sebastian: Well we wake up early, around 6:00 am to go to work. We work all day and into the night. Jason and I have the job of gathering all recyclable things like cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, paper, and stuff like that from homes and businesses and bring it back to our spot here. My mom has the job of separating them. My father fetches the heavy materials and pulls the cart, he also teaches us how to breakdown and divide materials, he knows a lot.
Andrew: Do you have any hobbies?
Joan Sebastian: I like football (soccer) and basketball.
Andrew: Do you play often?
Joan Sebastian: No I don’t have shoes, nor a ball.
Andrew: Whats your favorite subject in school?
Joan Sebastian: Spanish.
Andrew: If you could get anything you wanted for Christmas, what would it be?
Joan Sebastian: Some Nike basketball shoes.
I interviewed Jason David
Andrew: Jason, I see that you’re wearing a hat, why?
Jason: I found it once and my dad wears a hat, so I do too. It looks cool.
Andrew: Do you have any hobbies?
Jason: I like to listen to Romeo Santos (bachata) and play soccer.
Andrew: Like your big brother?
Andrew: What do you do at home when you’re not working?
Jason: We have a T.V. that gets a couple channels, I like to watch cartoons. I also like to cook.
I interviewed Martha
Andrew: Martha, what do you need most right now?
Martha: We need a stable place to live. We don’t like living in a 50 square meter room in a dangerous neighborhood.
Andrew: What would you do if you could move out of that place?
Martha: If we had a stable place and enough money our kids would go to school.
Andrew: What else are you lacking?
Martha: We’ve been blessed enough to make enough money to feed ourselves these past 3 months, but clothes and shoes are hard to come by.
I love my family very much and I knew an angel would come and help us one day.
What We Have Done To Help
The Perez family is more than just a charity project for me, they are my friends and have grown to love them. My best friend Joel Duncan and my brother Francisco Macia have helped and will continue to help.
November 8, 2016 – We shot the footage for the video you see above. Watch it on YouTube.
November 11, 2016 – Joel bought some tools at Home Center, that will make their job easier.
November 15, 2016 – We met with the family, Walter told me about a house with a large patio that can double as a storage facility for all their recycling material.
November 18, 2016 – Joel and I met Martha and Walter at the Chamber of Commerce in downtown Medellin and helped them register their business name WM Reciclo.
November 21, 2016 – Joel and I met with Martha and Walter back at the Chamber of Commerce in downtown to pick up their official paperwork. We have an official business name and tax ID number!
November 22, 2016 – I met with Walter and gave him $190,000 to get up to date with his motel room payments.
November 25, 2016 – Joel met with the family at Bancolombia and helped them get their first ever bank account open.
Walter has my phone number, but was shy to ask me to help with their motel room debt.
Walter: The last thing I want is to ask for money.
Andrew: Do not hesitate to ask me for help. You are my friend now and friends help each other out. No matter what comes of the blog post and the video, I will be here and I will help you come out on top. Only good things will happen from now on, I promise.
Walter: May God bless you so much!
Andrew: God has already blessed me. I have met you and your family and that’s a blessing.
November 28, 2016 – With the help of your donations we were able to deposit $1,700,000 into their bank account to show the rental agency that they had enough money to cover the first 2 month’s rent. They were accepted and got the keys to their new place!
December 1, 2016 – With the help of your donations we were able to put another $1,500,000 in their bank account which will be used to boost their recycling business by buying two weights and cash to purchase recycled material at a discount in order to resell it.
December 7, 2016 – With the help of your donations we were able to buy 2 scales for their WM Reciclo business. One of the scales in s a big one to weigh tons at home. The second scale is portable one that Walter can take with him on his push cart. He’s now able buy recyclable material from people on the street. He couldn’t before because he had no way to weight it.
December 10, 2016 – I have a queen size bed frame that I have in storage. I’ll be delivering it to their new house today.
WM Reciclo Business
Walter is a smart man and knows the recycling business well.
This is his plan:
- To save enough money to rant a location (in downtown) near the major recycling centers, where he can store recycling material.
- He’d buy recycling material from people that collect it the way he and his family does now.
- He’d be able to accumulate large amounts of materials, compress them, and sell them directly to the recycling center for a higher price.
I told Walter to get me all the information on what the payout for each type of recycling material is. The very next day he came back with this:
What You Can Do To Help
I want to make this Christmas the best the Perez Family has ever had!
I could use your help.
Of course that the kids need clothes and shoes, aside from that they need to move out of the drug and crime laden neighborhood they’re in. In order to do this we need to raise enough money for them to be able to pay 3 month’s rent at a decent apartment.
Like I told Walter, no matter what comes of this blog post, I will be here to help them.
Let’s make this December amazing for the Perez family. They are not asking for a hand out, they are not begging for money, they are working their butt off every day, let’s surprise them and make their life better.
Thank you for reading my blog post.
Goal = $3,000 US
Current donations = $1,500.00
About the writer – Andrew Macia
Hello, my name is Andrew Macia and I am the founder of the Medellin Buzz. I am an advanced level English teacher here in Medellin, and I also have a website development, and marketing company here in Medellin.
I love living in Medellin and I love Colombia. I want to give back to the community and this is the best way I know how.
About the Medellin Buzz
I created this blog a few years ago with the intention of helping my advanced level English students. This blog is evolving. It not only helps English as a foreign language students in Medellin, but it’s also a good place for visitors to get information in English about the city.