In Bogota, An LGBT Refuge For The Most Vulnerable

For those in the gay, lesbian and transgender community rejected by their own loved ones, a shelter in the Colombian capital offers comfort, but also practical support to build a new life.

Daniela at Bogota's LGBT shelter
Daniela at Bogota's LGBT shelter
Santiago Valenzuela

BOGOTA — Daniela, a transgender woman, has an "endemic fear" of all people.

She says she was beaten, attacked, even "starved," by both her brother and mother. At the age of 16, she ran away and began living on the street, which did little to improve her life.

"Rejection kept coming back. There was no getting away from it," says *Daniela, now 19. "Nobody accepted my decision to become a woman. My family excluded me and doesn't know where I am now."

There is an echo in the room as she speaks. She is at home now, in the city's first shelter for the gay community. "I was the first transsexual woman to arrive here," she says of the December day when she arrived crying, a wreck. "It was like a life boat."

On Nov. 27, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Bogotá city government's rights office opened this shelter for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. Two months later it had five residents.

The residents today are Daniela and Johnattan, both away from their hometowns and isolated from their aggressors. The idea, says shelter coordinator Sandra Montealegre, is "that they re-establish bonds and their rights are restored in the four to six months they are here. When they arrived, we established a life plan, helped them psychologically, with health, teaching and legal counseling." While it is by no means a jail, she says, "there are times for coming and going that must be respected. They can go out to work or study, though."

Johnattan arrives after 10 p.m. Employees found a job for him in less than a month. "They threw me out of the house," he says of his family, and "humiliated me in other places for being the way I am. Because I like men." After suffering discrimination at home and school, he decided to leave his hometown. "My mom abandoned me when I was seven," he says, now 23.

Montealegre says there are currently only two people in the house, because "society is not conscious of the pain" many LGBT people feel, often in contrast with the problem of battered women. "If a woman goes to the family police, they send her to a shelter, no problem. With LGBT people, the violence is somehow natural and unspoken."

Daniela says her transition to becoming a woman was difficult. "Though I wasn't discriminated against by people at school," staff and family were very hostile. "They bullied me all the time. Initially I thought I was gay, but ... I realized I wanted to be a transgender girl." She looks down at her painted fingernails. "I thought about killing myself, because I didn't know that what I wanted would have such a high cost: being abandoned, beaten, wounded and hungry."

People working at the shelter have discovered that the violence affecting victims causes them to lose their "affective networks," and so they often have no family or friends to count on, says Angélica Badillo, a social worker at the shelter. The psychological problem "comes from home," says Johnattan, "because my parents humilitated me. When my family began to beat me, I couldn't imagine greater opportunities."

International inspiration

Three women brought the shelter to life: Sandra Montealegre, Angélica Badillo and psychologist Laura Sofía Céspedes. They envisioned it to be like projects they found in three other cities, namely shelters in Washington D.C., New York and Nepal.

Casa Ruby in Washington D.C. provides lodging for the LGBT community, but also job possibilities, counseling and HIV testing. In September 2013, the Himalaya Rose House center was opened in Nepal, the first LGBT shelter in South Asia.

The Ali Forney Center in New York was founded in 2003, six years after the shooting death of Ali Forney, a 22-year-old homeless gay man. His mother abandoned him at the age of 13 when he told her was gay. This shelter, conceptually similar to the new Bogota shelter, now receives 100 people a day.

"At least today I think I can aspire to something greater than prostitution," Daniela says.

*The names of shelter residents were changed to protect their identities.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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