I have never been to Columbia either, so when the Tulsa Global Alliance contacted me to have a conversation with one of this year's US State Department's International Women of Courage award winners: Josefina Zuniga, the first step for me was to Google her and her country.
The award honors 12 women each year who have "demonstrated extraordinary courage, strength and leadership in improving the lives of others and their communities." After reading about the range of the work these women do, I had enough time to catch my breath before tuning into the conversation, not with all twelve women, thank goodness, just the Columbian woman who with her words, I believe has changed my life.
Josefina began by introducing herself as a woman, a woman who had been like many of her peers ashamed of her black skin and her kinky, curly hair in a culture that devalued impoverished people and place she grew up. Her country is rich from mining some of the most precious stones found in the finest jewelry stores in the world, but in her district with twelve pristine rivers that flow to the warm waters of the Pacific had not been "developed" and the Black and Indigenous living there remained poor and neglected. But they were rich in the knowledge of the jungle that surrounded them, and neglected meant they had retained their cultures and languages. She says the jungle is their head and water is their heart and within the jungle home is the responsibility to maintain the resources for all humanity.
This woman began to value her own self, her color, her hair and removed her own stigmas and no longer saw poverty as making her or the others victims. She had her own personal revolution. And this led her to encourage these revolutions in additional people. The new generations feel loved with their equality insured. "We will plant our seeds in the future as we take on the present," she said.
She became a social activist and life was her own resource. The model of life she developed brought her to the place where her soul feels at peace."I am determined by water." Aren't we all determined by water?
As she became centered, she turned then to create a model, a common good model and the shared vision that would be required for the residents to claim their home as a national treasure of unspoiled resources, keep it that way and bring people to experience being immersed there. She began by bringing journalists and found that they were her home's best allies. Using hope, faith and optimism she brought Eco-tourism to her jungle, understanding its auto-management was the correct vision of their environment. As hosts, accommodating visitors to deal with their fears of the "dangers" and helping each to see the beauty of the diversity of their home. Tourism is dominated now with positive new stories as they introduce ways to bring the public to treasure their home. There is power in telling the good news and inviting visitors to surf, whale watch or help release baby turtles to the sea!
This woman came to care for her own essence, helped others find theirs and saved her jungle homeland from corporate development, giving visitors the opportunity to see undisturbed nature and to find the Pacific coast a perfect place to see whales and their young undisturbed. Her life is a personal celebration, and her "Changed Hand" organization has changed hearts and minds of the impoverished and may have helped the Colombian President Iván Duque announce Columbia will be planting 180 million trees to restore acres of degraded land in a campaign known as Sembraton.
I was able to tell her, I was a woman with parts of our treasured home wounded. As they came together to promote their home to others, we will have to band together to fight to have our Tar Creek restored. The Superfund site completed will benefit us all because we, like Josefina we are determined by water. She woke up to value herself and the jungle treasure with clean rivers and generations will continue to protect that essence by sharing it. She has learned from Tar Creek, they must be diligent to protect the pristine.
The good news, the power of Tar Creek's "tourism" has continued to bring scientists and activists, federal, state agencies and tribes together to find solutions. Teachers have used our site as the largest outdoor classroom, inspiring students for decades to pursue answers. Having an Endangered River status for a SECOND year running through town is our wake up call.
And people who never been to Oklahoma, sort of have - learned to value home.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim