Communa 13 in Medellin- An Urban Miracle

I confess: I feel uneasy about “urban revitalization projects”. It often stands for  “let’s push the original residents & businesses out and bring in another high-rise condo.” At least it’s that way in my hometown. 

But after witnessing Medellin’s transformation into a bustling, vivid, architecturally beautiful, politically safe, infrastructurally sound city- I have to change my mind about urban revitalization. The Medellin, which I had the pleasure of living in for a month, was a long way away from its one-time reputation as Pablo Escobar’s hometown (base of his Medellin Cartel) and the Murder Capital of the World. 

And nowhere is this urban revitalization more prominent than in the neighborhood of Communa 13- which was once so dangerous that police and military wouldn’t dare go in, otherwise they would be immediately attacked. Health workers working in government-run clinics would be kidnapped for ransom, as they were viewed as government agents, thus “enemy”. Classrooms had piercings from bullets and students would be dragged out of class, tortured and killed, if they were suspected of being “snitches”.

Various Anti-Government, paramilitary and Communist groups fought each other for control of the land and its peoples. The kidnapping, the murders, the rapes, the terrorizing in the Communa 13 neighborhoods in the early 1990’s-2000’s is detailed in the first-hand witness book, “District 13”. 

But after a decade plus of painful civic reflection and rebuilding- the Communa 13 neighborhood I saw was a youthful, vibrant place with hope teeming for a socially and economically prosperous future.

Mind you, there’s poverty still. Communa 13 isn’t a well-off neighbourhood.

But the people we met were welcoming, proud to show off their community to tourists from all over the world. Many use their dancing and singing talents to put on impromptu open-air performances. Many run businesses in the community catering to tourists, ensuring that income gets funnelled into this community. 

But what this neighborhood is most known for is it’s colourful graffiti, depicting it’s painful, blood-soaked and terrifying recent history and the hope for a better future for its children. Many of the graffiti talk about the government operation of “Orion” done in October 2002- which finally pushed out the rebel groups once and for all; however, at a great cost to innocent civilian lives. 

I have a few pictures here but you need to see it to believe the beauty of this visual historical retelling. 

To see more, you can check out Chota’s Instagram account. Chota grew up in this infamous neighborhood and went on to achieve worldwide fame for his graffiti art. He now gives back to the same community that raised him by running a very successful cafe, providing local jobs, commerce and a stage for young rappers (check out @chota_13)

Seeing Chota’s work in all its glory will make you go- “Banksy, who?”  

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At the top of 7 escalators, taking you to the top of this hilly neighbourhood 

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Tree of Life 

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Chota’s graffiti art. 

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Travel Season is Here: Please Vaccinate Your Kids

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The title says it all really! I am and always have been a HUGE proponent in scientific facts. Scientific advances, more than anything else, have allowed us to live longer, healthier and with access to clean water and nutritious food.

A major part of the reason why we are living longer and with healthier lives is due to vaccinations. We are now able to have immunity against common yet dangerous illnesses such as polio, measles, small pox, whooping cough, tetanus, diptheria, Hep A, typhoid, mumps, rubella, influenza, Hep B, Hep C, malaria, dengue, yellow fever, pneumococcal, rotavirus…and these are just a few that I have come up with.

And believe me, there have been reported deaths. All from these illnesses.

Any of these illnesses would have killed vast numbers of children (and even adults) before the 1960’s or leave one with permanent disabilities including physical impairments, deafness and blindness.

In fact, during 1951-1954, an average of 16,316 paralytic polio cases and 1879 deaths from polio were reported each year. Meaning thousands of people would be left paralyzed due to polio, exacting a huge medical, physical, mental and societal toll.

Ask your grandparents, they likely knew people who had died or were severely affected by any number of the vaccine-preventable illnesses I mentioned above. Now think about it, how many people do you now know who are left scarred by these illnesses? You have vaccines to thank for that.

Despite or because of the public health victories due to vaccines,  we are now seeing measles return in larger numbers. And part of the reason it’s happening is due to vaccine-hesitancy and high-speed travel, causing un-vaccinated people contracting and spreading the illnesses from one corner of the world to another, in a matter of hours.

So Please vaccinate your children. They are the ones most likely to get severely ill or die, due to these vaccine-preventable illnesses. If you had a surefire way to ensure your children can live into their old age and be healthy, why wouldn’t you do it?

When you are travelling this year, you can prep your family and protect them in the following ways. This will ensure that you don’t spend your precious vacay-time sick, or in the hospital and incurring HUGHE financial cost:

  • Meet your family doctor or paediatrician. You can get prescriptions for travellers vaccines such as Typhoid (gotten from drinking or eating food made with untreated water). They can also administer the vaccine for free or a minimal cost.

  • Your pharmacist can also administer many travellers vaccines. There may be an extra cost, just ask.

  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine can be given to babies as young as 6months. Highly recommend as measles have cropped up in many countries. I have done this with both my kids and they are healthy, happy, and are not on Autism Spectrum (in case you were wondering).

  • Check your immunization card and see if you need booster shots. For Tetanus, you need a booster shot every 10 years.

  • A lot of workplace and private insurance cover the cost of getting these vaccines which are not part of your state or province’s regular immunization program

And for god’s sakes, please get your information from resources such as Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Public Health Agency of Canada. All of these direct links provide detailed and easy-to-understand info on vaccines, what they are made of and how they work to provide protection 

No, the former model with NO medical experience or training, Jenny McCarthy, is NOT a reliable source for life-preserving health information. Neither is that Facebook “vaccine choice” group.

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