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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Bernarda Anaya: Writing to Give Voice to Resilience

By Duvan Caro. Photographs by Elmer Arrieta.

Born and raised in the village of Guaimaral, municipality of Córdoba Tetón, subregion Montes de María in the department of Bolívar, Colombia. Bernarda Verena Anaya Cohen, 57 years old, is a rural teacher and writer, who with her stories seeks to make the voices of rural women visible in order to help them realize their resilience processes in the face of the many difficulties they face. 

Prof." Verena Anaya Cohen began writing her own stories as a healing process after being subjected to different situations of domestic violence. 

She has been a teacher for more than 26 years, but a couple of years ago she started her path in literature. 

My first "dabbling

It all started when she was 16 years old and finished her high school studies in the city of Cartagena, where she reflected on the economic situation her family was going through, a situation that gave her the strength to return to her community and take a job as a teacher in the village of Bellavista, in the town of Guaimaral. 

Bernarda Verena Anaya Cohen
Teacher Verena and her 1st, 4th and 5th grade students.

This work allowed him to become aware of the challenges that the territory faces and that life itself presents. 

Knowing that they do not have the educational aids, the necessary implements to carry out a day of classes and the lack of tertiary roads to these territories close to the large cities of the Caribbean, make the work of teachers in rural Colombia more difficult every day. 

She currently teaches at the Centro Educativo school in Rancho Largo, where she and her students in grades 1, 4 and 5 of primary school teach their classes in the school restaurant or under the shade of a tree, because she does not have an adequate space where she can carry out her work and her students are comfortable to receive them.

This is due to the deterioration and abandonment of the school by the municipal and regional education secretariats and the Colombian Ministry of National Education towards rural schools throughout the country.

Current classroom of teacher Verena and her students. 

Bernarda is not only dedicated to teaching but also to drawing, knitting and writing as an exercise of resilience in the face of the hard times she has lived through due to abuse and domestic violence, to the point of hindering the upbringing of her children.

At the age of 27, her first son was born and two years later her second daughter was born, who at birth marked a milestone in her history as a woman and as a mother, who was being subjected to a scourge of psychological, verbal and physical abuse and mistreatment by her partner, which forced her to flee to her parents' home and assume the role of father and mother in the upbringing of her children.

Another of La Profe's passions is the preparation of delicious traditional delicacies that are part of the regional gastronomy of the Colombian Caribbean. 

Since he was young he has liked to prepare local sweets that he later sells to have another economic income to his home, such as the ripe banana bun, which is kneaded together with corn, ground, and wrapped in the husks of the cobs and then cooked, after 2 or 3 hours you can eat these delicious banana buns. 

"I am a person who likes to do multiple things and among them are those of having small sales of candy, food and other things that allow me to have little extra income. This is what allowed me in one way or another to pay for the upbringing and maintenance of my children". 

This is how Professor Verena Anaya begins her first book entitled "La Vida. La Vida. Strong and Striving Woman." which, in his own words, is written from the heart.

Each word in the story is wisdom given by God. Because many women will accept it and it will help them to move forward in their daily lives full of difficulties. This book is a tribute to life. 

"I write for women. For those women to whom life has presented a lot of obstacles and that as those obstacles advance, we have to overcome them".

"La Vida, la Vida", is a book composed of 7 chapters in which its author narrates moments of her childhood, the arrival of some technological inventions of the time to the town, her adolescence, the arrival of her first children and all those moments of tribulations and sadness that marked her life. 

This, his first book, is released to the international market this July 19, 2022 at 12 p.m. on the platform of amazon.com. 

Professor Berena wants the whole world to read, share and know the stories of the deep Caribbean that she tells in her book while sharing her feelings.  

What is it like to be a rural woman?

"We rural women are the ones who work in the fields, the ones who don't have everything at hand. Those of us who know that water is not going to come to us through the pipes, but that we have to go to the well on a donkey to fetch it. Those women to whom everything is going to be difficult because of the inequalities, because of the violence of the armed groups and the intra-family violence that we live in our communities".

"We, as rural women, have to be very hardworking and very strong to keep moving forward and to make a living for ourselves and our families. And these are the things that I seek to highlight in my book".

Prof. Verena's home in Guarumo.

In many ways, Verena has been overcoming the obstacles that she herself faces and continues to face as a mother, and now with her experiences she seeks to support other women in healing their deepest wounds rooted in the violence that rural, peasant and ethnic women suffer daily. 

Bernarda Verena Anaya Cohen
Professor Verena accompanied by residents of the community of Guaimaral.

The armed conflict

In the 2000s, violence marked the lives and work of many teachers in rural schools in Colombia. Teachers could not see, hear and even less talk about the violence they were living with their students in the schools, hundreds of communities were left in the midst of terror and horror established by the armed actors who moved day and night through the area without any control by the state forces.

In the community of Guaimaral horrible things happened, there was a lot of violence that to this day continues to mark the routine of its inhabitants. Many homes in the community experienced first-hand the harassment and violence exercised by the armed structures.  

Verena considers herself a phoenix, and is eager to continue writing Macondian stories of the region to show them to the world using digital platforms, where she seeks that people, especially women who have suffered domestic violence, find in her texts a path of resilience.

You may be interested in: Fleeing for survival: communities in the Colombian Caribbean face erosion and floods


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