Colombia: María Eugenia Zabala viuda de Polo

They only left us fire and death. We were not left with anything but our lives. Except for something very important: the wish to go on.

— María Eugenia Zabala viuda de Polo

María Eugenia Zabala takes her strength and hope from the Colombian earth. She is a midwife who opens future horizons with each child she delivers. María Eugenia Zabala is a widow, a displaced woman and the head of her family. She leads a women's cooperative, the Enchanted Valley. She promotes the collective future of the group, a group formed by women who are single parents. She does not back down: she promotes a culture of peace and campaigns for the rights of women who are displaced and the victims of a political war.

She grew up in the care of her grandmother, playing hide and seek. Vowels, notebooks and school did not break the monotony of her rural childhood. In her adolescence, she discovered that the future was only limited by her aspirations. She took the risk: “I made the decision and went away to work. I decided to take care of myself, to be responsible for my actions.” The violence of war began early on December 14th, 1989. It destroyed María Eugenia Zabala's ‘nest.’ From that moment on, she had to begin the difficult task of surviving: “There was no time for crying for the dead, no time for grief, for mourning, for anything like that.” She left the countryside, taking on her new identity as a widow, a displaced person and the head of a family. In the city, the cruel urban environment and the indifference of the human swarm around her sparked off the beginning of her work campaigning, for the rights of the displaced women and victims of the Colombian political war. “In those neighborhoods, I got to know women and families that had fled from their original homes. Seeing people in need, I turned my home into a refuge for all of them. I also raised the flag and began to knock on doors.” María Eugenia Zabala organized, participated in and invented different initiatives to aid the cause of the displaced population. She transmitted her love of nature to the women's group, and they decided to go back to the countryside. In her role as a leadership, she was the first in Colombia to negotiate for plots of land for women and their families, as part of the agrarian reforms. Along with other women, they fulfilled a dream when they built the Enchanted Valley–a cooperative for agricultural and livestock production–where, on the human level, neither daughters nor sons have commerce with the war and whose desire is to achieve “a peace born from justice.”

Enchanted Valley Cooperative Colombian Women's Initiative for Peace