Saved from Drowning

An Introduction to Wilfrido

Wilfrido is 17 and lives with his mother in a small house in Apartado. They are very poor, and Wilfrido had to work by the time he was seven. He has a sister living in Medellin, and his father is divorced from his mother.

Wilfrido says that he was saved from drowning like the serious side of David (see How Wilfrido Fought for Peace) when he joined Return to Happiness. Millions of people who haven't joined are drowning right now.

"I used to think that in order to survive, you had to have a weapon in your hand. Now I know that what we really need are positive ideas."

Where in Colombia was this?

Wilfrido lives in Apartado, a town in northwest Colombia. For a time, he was displaced to Medellin. Wilfrido also traveled to many places while he was volunteering for Return to Happiness, including Pereira and Rio Grande, both suffering towns in Colombia with many displaced people.

Life for Wilfrido Before Return to Happiness

Wilfrido's life was very hard. His parents fought frequently, and then divorced. When they parted, the fighting stopped, but he became even poorer. However, he was still able to go to school.

At age 7, he sold barrio (deep fried snacks) door to door, from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. He was lucky if he made 50 cents day. That same year, he stowed away on a construction worker's truck. The boss, Edwin, couldn't bring him back, so he let Wilfrido stay, doing small jobs. Wilfrido kept coming back, and did harder and harder jobs. Eventually, he injured his back permanently. That meant the government military couldn't hire him, but the other groups could, and it would be even harder.

At that time, he went to school to play and fight. Edwin, who was like the father Wilfrido never had, didn't like that, and taught him responsibility so well that even the teachers trusted him.

But school, family hardships, poverty, and a job weren't all of Wilfrido's problems. He had to try to avoid the paramilitaries, too. At that time, war was considered a job option, but Edwin advised him not to join, since there was such a high risk, and they didn't actually give money. Wilfrido went home early every day to avoid being taken and forced to join, or being killed by the sicarios, or assassins, who rode around town randomly shooting.

Why Wilfrido fought for peace

Here are a few events that influenced Wilfrido's choice to fight for peace:

One day, a truck pulled up next to him and a man with gun turned to him. Then another said, “No, not him, he isn't the one...” then they drove away. He had almost died of a mistake.

Eight of Wilfrido's friends joined paramilitaries for money, and six are now dead. Later on, another two of his friends, both innocent, died when they were caught in the crossfire.

Wilfrido liked one of the girls at his school, but she didn't like him because he was black. This annoyed him, so he frequently pulled he hair. One day she grabbed his hand and bit him, and hepunched her face on instinct. Her face was in bad condition, and when he saw her with her parents glaring at him a week later, he apologized. They didn't seem to care, but he felt better anyway.

Nidya Quiroz, an Ecuadorean member of UNICEF, cam to Wilfrido's school to talk about therapy by entertainment, which interested him because he knew he was funny. Graca Machel had visited a year previous, when he was 13, but it didn't interest him then. Now hundreds of displaced people had entered Apartado, and Wilfrio wanted to help.

How Wilfrido fought for peace

To fight for peace, Wilfrido volunteered for a group called Return to Happiness. He traveled around from town to town, entertaining displaced or hurt children. They often play a game called "la pulga", or "the fly" where an imaginary fly hops around from person to person. The volunteers also sing and dance for the children. There are two specific places mentioned in Out of War. One is Pereira, a town devastated by an earthquake, and the other is a Rio Grande school that had recently received many displaced children.

Wilfrido was one of thirty volunteers in Pereira, and he stayed for three weeks. While he was there, he met 11 year old David, who was living with his mother, two brothers, and his sister in a shelter. His father was murdered in front of the family, and David wanted to kill for revenge. It was as if he was drowning when he thought of his father. Wilfrido visited David during almost all of his free time, and when he left, David sent him a letter saying he knew it would be wrong to kill, since he would be no better than his father's killer.

In Rio Grande, he met Jacinta, a girl abandoned by her parents because she had especially dark skin. She lives with her grandparents, and was sad when she saw other children's parents bringing them to school. Wilfrido felt sorry that such a small child had to endure poverty, abandonment, racism, and violence.

The Drawbacks of Helping

Not everything related to Return to Happiness was good. Wilfrido was sometimes threatened when he returned home, and when he was at school. No one was sure if the threats were true, so he was displaced to Medellin with his sister. Wilfrido soon returned to Apartado, but received more threats and stopped volunteering for Return to Happiness. He became depressed, and soon began helping children again, no matter the risks.

The volunteers also had workshops, but they were nothing like those for the children. At the workshops, they often cried and despaired about all of the hurt children. Some blamed God, but Wilfrido knows that is not true. He says, "But it isn't God who is hurting these children. Other people are doing it. Sometimes their own parents are doing it.

What the future holds

"Making peace isn't just about talking-it is about taking action."

Wilfrido seems hopeful for the future. He knows that a big part of ending the Colombian war is educating people on what is happening, since many of the rich don't even realize how huge the war is. He also understands that the more people who join organizations like UNICEF, or are visited by organizations like Return to Happiness, the more people and communities are healing. Both education and organizations are getting bigger, so more and more people are trading war for peace.