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Friends in need

An AFP member's partner makes a difference in Bogota.

By Graham McBean

Tyneil Renwick decided that accompanying her husband, Detective Sergeant Nathan Renwick, on his posting as Liaison Officer Latin America was an opportunity to lend a hand to some of the world's most needy women and children.

The Renwicks arrived in Bogota in June 2015 and Nathan quickly got to work in the new post. Tyneil was immediately confronted with the daily life in Bogotá.

"I thought that if I could somehow make a small difference in one person's life, then it would be worth it.  I am fairly fortunate living in the diplomatic circle so it was just something that I felt I needed to do," Tyneil said.

In December 2016, a friend asked if Tyneil could help with a Christmas function for the Colombian non-government-organisation (NGO), Taller de Vida (TDV), meaning workshop of life.

"I agreed and it was the most life changing experience for me.  We helped raise donations for Christmas gifts for about 80 children from impoverished and displaced families here in Bogotá.

"The children were mainly afro-Colombian or Indigenous Colombians and they had never received a Christmas gift or celebrated it in the way that we normally do, or those from wealthier parts of Bogotá do."

Founded 25 years ago, TDV provides critical psychological and legal services to mostly Afro-Colombian and Indigenous children, woman and men. TDV strives to keep them safe and protect their rights. 

A group of people dancing
Taller de Vida teaching the value of self worth through dance.

TDV works with the survivors of the internal conflict who are now undergoing a process of social reintegration and provides them with tools to restart their lives.
Tyneil says it is hard to explain how she feels about life in Colombia. Though she is moved to help, Tyneil realises her contribution "is only a drop in the ocean" of what the victims in Colombia need.

Recently, TDV began a project with the New York based NGO, Madre, in one of Colombia's most impoverished region, Chocó. Tyneil says Chocó is still heavily controlled by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) or dissidents and other criminal groups.

The project in Chocó seeks to actively raise awareness about the experience of sexual violence of women and girls in this region, which has been legitimised during the years of conflict and which is still happening today. The project also provides psycho-social support to these woman and girls.

"TDV builds a safe environment for the victims and their families and teaches them the skills needed to rebuild themselves and their lives.  From day-to-day skills to those such as hairdressing or cooking that may help with future job prospects."

In Chocó, Tyneil met the mother of a former child soldier.  Her son was taken by the FARC when he was about 10-years- old.  He was taught to fight, to fire a weapon, to pillage and to commit horrible human rights violations.

"His mother is an incredibly strong and resilient woman.  Her son escaped the FARC and with his family they fled their town and are now one of many of the displaced families living in Bogotá hoping for a better life.

"TDV is working with the son, the family and his community to help reintegrate them all.  In the same community, TDV is also helping the victims of the crimes committed by the child soldiers and others.  There is obviously a delicate balance, but they are all victims in need of support and assistance."

Five people walking
Friends of Taller de Vida meeting the support network in Chocó.

Tyneil also volunteers with the "Friends of Taller de Vida", which was recently gathering clothing, toiletries, sanitary products and books to take to the region.

The book collection aims to provide uplifting stories on resilience, self-worth and gender equality. They also look to provide a factual approach to sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases and what is and not allowed when it comes to women and girls' bodies – a stark difference from the reality of their current lives. 

A pile of books
Above and below: books and products raised as donations for the Taller de Vida charity in Bogota, Colombia.
Household products on a table

Tyneil conducted a fundraiser for TDV at the Canadian Embassy in Colombia earlier in the year with the help of the AFP Bogotá Office and the Canadian Embassy.

Tyneil raised $AU275, filled 80 cosmetic cases with products for women, and obtained substantial toiletries including toothpaste, toothbrushes, nappies (diapers), sanitisers, shampoos, wet ones, deodorants and cotton rounds.

She also provided about 15 kilograms of soaps, shampoos, conditioners and lotions collected from hotels and 20 large bags of clothing and shoes for men, women and children.

In addition, Tyneil raised a further $AU225 from Australia in support of the book drive, which assisted in the purchase of more than 120 books detailing empowering stories with strong female characters to be provided to local communities.

Tyneil says there is no direct way to donate to TDV from Australia but if people want to make donations, they can contact AFP Bogotá Office to facilitate a donation. Tyneil and the Friends of Taller de Vida are currently working with TDV to improve processes and procedures so that in the future international donations can be received.

"I am so pleased to be able to assist them in raising funds and awareness so that they can concentrate on promoting healing within Colombia and the building of more peaceful communities."