Africans were first brought to Colombia to work as slaves during the colonial period of the 1500s. Many of their descendants still live in communities around Colombia. Although slavery was abolished in 1851, the Afro-Colombian community still faces much discrimination.
Jailer is a descendent of those slaves. He’s from Buenaventura, a port city on the coast of Colombia where most of the population is of African descent.
Buenaventura is a dangerous place for children to grow up. Many children experience abuse and violence within their families, which eventually leads them to lock their heart into an unbreakable shell to protect themselves. Many spend more and more time in the streets in an attempt to escape from reality, learning that only the tough survive.
As a child Jailer watched as this environment destroyed the dreams of his companions, who were seduced by the easy path and ended up robbing or killing at a young age, trapped in a lifestyle that’s not easy to leave.
But Jailer grew up under God’s protection and the care of a devoted mother who, with discipline and dedication, raised her children despite the difficulties of not having a husband beside her. Jailer never knew anything about his dad; he lived at home with his mom, his uncles and cousin.
When Jailer was young his mom worked with a nongovernmental organization doing social work. But the organization closed in that area and his mom lost her job. Since that time she hasn’t found a stable income and now her work includes domestic labor. Such work brings only occasional earnings of $10 to $15 dollars per day.
Jailer’s life changed when his grandmother heard of the work that Compassion was doing in the neighborhood and filled out the paperwork to present him to the child development center. He was accepted into the program, and thereafter he had the opportunity to interact with other children who were learning the same biblical principles.
At the center Jailer found an open space for interaction where he could play, talk and spend time with other kids, without exposing himself to gangs, drugs, alcohol and abuses.
Jailer’s goals and dreams of becoming a professional were threatened by the economic limitations of his family. In most cases such circumstances push children to start working at an early age, closing the doors to new opportunities like pursuing higher education. Thankfully, God had other plans for Jailer.
Due to his outstanding skills and commitment to the church, the center staff proposed that Jailer be a candidate and participate in the selection process for the Leadership Development Program.
In January 2007, he was selected to enter this program, and is now studying civil engineering at La Salle University in Bogota, with three semesters left.
Jailer’s journey has been led by God, but it hasn’t always been easy. He faced many changes, like going from a small town to a big city where he missed his neighbors, friends and family. “The hardest part was not having my mom around,” Jailer says.
One of the most difficult circumstances Jailer faced was because of his skin color, which exposed him to ridicule and rejection from peers who repeatedly assaulted him verbally and emotionally.
The barriers placed by the people who excluded Jailer because of racial bias affected not only his emotional health but also his academic performance, especially when one of his teachers joined these behaviors.
“Last semester a teacher separated me from the rest of the group and advised me not to expect to receive good grades in his class nor even pass it. He told me the best I could do was drop out of the university because according to what he said, black people only could work with a shovel. Meanwhile engineers like him were white people.”
Despite this painful challenge, Jailer knows the purpose of God is bigger than human prejudices. He knows that God, the engineer of his life, created a plan that includes being a professional.
Jailer hopes to help build infrastructure in his hometown by developing bridges and roads. He has seen the corruption that can surround engineering, but he knows he is called to a higher purpose. He knows his life will be a testimony to the importance of having integrity, maintaining the dignity God has given to everyone, and setting a good example of the perseverance and discipline needed to achieve goals.
“I want to show everyone the importance of my skin color, because that is the special design he made for me, a brushstroke that makes me unique!”