For Local 2204’s Shellie Bird it seems “a life time ago” that her local joined with other members of the Ottawa-Colombia Sisters in Solidarity group to assist two Colombian families to settle in Canada last year as part of the Canadian Labour Congress sponsorship program.
The project began four years ago when the CUPE local representing Ottawa child care workers, the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s regional women’s committee and Canadian Union of Postal Workers Local 567 (Ottawa) joined together to sponsor the families.
“We worked in all three unions through 50/50 draws, raffles and solidarity evenings,” Bird said. “That brought members from the different unions together to raise funds through solidarity events such as the auction and dance supported by the Social Service Workers Conference where we raised about $10,000.”
Today, both the Vargas and Romero families are on their own. But between 2003 and 2007, Local 2204 and the others raised over $30,000 to support the families to make a new home in Canada.
“We have been able to be there with both families to celebrate the good times and to share in the not so good times,” Bird recalls. “Working together we were able to support both families as they got themselves established.”
Bird adds, “We have come together in our homes to share meals and Canadian traditions like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en and Easter. I have been made the richer from taking part in Colombian traditions and cultural events.”
As part of the project, two members of OCSS went to Colombia to meet with brothers and sisters there and to purchase handicrafts that were sold in Canada at various functions.
“With the additional dollars from our many and on-going efforts we were also able to set up a micro credit system for women workers in Colombia,” Bird said. “This fund will support women in Colombia with small business undertakings that support their communities as a kind of ongoing legacy.”
OCSS has completed its mission, issuing its final newsletter in December 2007. Following its lead, the last word goes to one of the family members, Luz Marina Vargas Ochoa:
“As a newcomer in Canada for the first months I was feeling too much depressed and stressed, but when we found us surrounded by people who give to us financial and psychological support (like a family) everything is different and easier to overcome.”
Contact the CUPE Global Justice Fund for more information on how you and your local can get involved in international solidarity work for global justice.