Who is Laura Álvarez Velásquez?

I am Laura, an assistant doctor in anaesthesiology and intensive care medicine at the UKB Bonn. I was born in Quibdó, the capital of the Chocó region in Colombia, where I lived until I was twelve.

My childhood in Chocó was a very happy one. I have many fond memories of playing in the rain with my friends or learning to ride a bike with my siblings. Due to all the rain, there were also regular floods in our district, but although people were up to their knees in water, they continued to laugh and deal optimistically with the difficult circumstances. What I liked most was the social cohesion within the neighbourhood in difficult situations. My parents and neighbours always helped as much as they could those who were hardest hit. They taught me that we are stronger together and that this is also the best way to get ahead in life.

From an early age, I was aware of the problems of Chocó in all its facets. It is a remote region, mired in poverty and corruption. The politicians in charge prefer to put money in their own pockets instead of helping the general public and especially the disadvantaged children. Children who suffer from malnutrition and have no access to existential needs such as health care or education.

When I was twelve years old, my family moved to Barranquilla, a city on the Caribbean coast in northern Colombia. It was a stark contrast to our previous living conditions. Before, we had lived in a smaller village in the rainforest and now in a big port city on the dry coast. We kept in close contact with all the family members in the Chocó and always visited them at Christmas. It was always my intention to return one day to help in some way. As a native Chocoana, I feel obliged to make a small contribution to the positive development of this region.

How did you come to Germany?

During my medical studies in Barranquilla, some fellow students did exchange programmes to Germany and were enthusiastic in every way. My brother did his practical year at the University Hospital in Mainz and recommended that I follow a similar path. One year after my brother, I was able to travel to Germany in 2015, learn the language and complete my practical year. Many friends, family and especially my parents helped me on my way here. Today, I am infinitely grateful that this dream came true.

What are the differences between Chocó and Germany?

Arriving in Germany was an extreme change for me, everything is different here. The daily life, the culture, the social and organised structures, the infrastructure, etc. are all different. Some of these differences stand out in particular. One of them is punctuality, which plays an important role for Germans. In my eyes, it clearly shows a sense of responsibility and respect for one’s fellow human beings. I have internalised this value very much here.

The food in Germany is also very different from that in Colombia. Above all, the spices used give the food a completely different taste. Although there are countless varieties of sausages here, the taste of the Chocoan bratwurst will always remain unrivalled for me. For me, it remains the best sausage in the world.

Something I admire a lot is the German health system. It gives everyone access to quality care, regardless of social status or origin. For me as a doctor, it is a privilege to be able to gain all these experiences here. Hopefully, these impressions can help me to implement them in Colombia in the future in order to change something about the situation there. In the rural regions of Colombia, many people do not even have access to a small doctor’s practice with minimal equipment.

How did you get to know CASA HOGAR?

Through my work at the University Hospital in Bonn, I got to know Theodor, the founder of CASA HOGAR, with his remarkable goals for the Chocó. I immediately became aware of the programme and wanted to get involved in this non-profit organisation. I know first-hand the condition of women and girls in Chocó who live in extreme poverty, accompanied by oppression from a macho society. There, our support can make a real difference and help those affected to live a better life.

I was fascinated by the commitment and dedication of all the CASA HOGAR volunteers, who – for the most part without knowing the people of Chocó – give us a real lesson in sacrifice, passion and solidarity.

What motivated you to become part of CASA HOGAR?

I am aware that the fundamental needs of girls in Chocó, Afro-Colombian or indigenous, cannot be met at the moment. There is hardly any access to medical care, education or even clean drinking water. The girls there are born without these privileges or basic rights. Very few women in Chocó have a school degree and even fewer attend university. In addition, there is the macho social structure in Colombia, which systematically oppresses women, especially in the remote regions, and also prevents them from holding leadership positions in society. In this context, it is very difficult for girls to dream of a certain self-realisation, as the traditional family image continues to restrict women very much. These hurdles are a sad reality and it will take generations to overcome them. Only by working together can we make progress.

What is your message to other people who want to support CASA HOGAR?

We all deserve a chance to realise our dreams, but some people need a little more support than others. As a Chocoan doctor in Germany, I have been given the opportunity to realise my dream and speak to you here today. I enjoy certain privileges and have therefore had better opportunities than others from my home country, but we should all have equal opportunities worldwide. That is why I will use all the means at my disposal to support the girls and women of Chocó. I cordially invite everyone to do the same, because only together can we bring about change. It’s now or never!