For Cielo Gomez, every day is a work day, starting with a coffee at 5:30 am. A mother of three, a wife, and now a coffee grower with her own land, it’s a labour of love.
Cielo and her family live in El Tablón de Gómez, Colombia. The town is known for its coffee and scarred by decades of conflict between the Colombian guerillas, army and the paramilitary forces.
“In April 2003, there was a conflict between the guerillas and the army. We were all afraid. A child was killed in the cross fire in La Victoria.” recalls Cielo Gomez. “I was in my in-laws’ house when the military came to our house. The guerillas had put bombs on the route between my home and my in-laws’ home, so the military couldn’t reach us.”
Cielo’s story is echoed by many others in the area. There was mass exodus of people, trying to escape the escalating violence, having to leave their homes, land and any possessions that they couldn’t physically carry with them. The Gomez family were among those who decided to come back after a month in hiding, as they had nowhere else to go.
“When we returned, we found that the roof of our house was destroyed, there was no electricity…The army said they had killed and buried the guerillas in mass graves.”
More than 7 million people in Colombia have been displaced by the armed conflict since 1985, and some 8.3 million hectares of land was illegally occupied. The Victims and Land Restitution Law (Law 1448) aims to return illegally acquired land to its rightful occupants.
Cielo and her family got their land back as part of the land restitution process initiated by the Government of Colombia. But at first the land was only in her husband’s name. It is thanks to UN Women that Cielo learned about her right to own land, and developed leadership and business skills.
“There were three lots of land, and now I own one of them, and the other two are under my husband’s name. We grow coffee in all three lots. Both of us are now land owners and that’s economic autonomy,” says a proud Cielo. Since then, she has taken a loan from the bank and bought another piece of land.”
“I have 10,000 bushes of coffee now. I used to think before that women can plant and grow coffee and harvest, but not trade it,” she says, adding that she asked her husband to help with planting the coffee. “It will be a 50-50 partnership, I told him, and we would both benefit from selling the coffee.”
Today Cielo and her husband work together as a team, growing coffee and sowing peace.
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