Bolivian colonists try to move past traumaBy Tim Huber Mennonite Weekly Review
In the isolated Manitoba Colony of Bolivia, Old Colony Mennonites are beginning to move on with life after the conclusion of a trial that focused global attention on the community.
On Aug. 25, seven men and an accomplice from multiple colonies were convicted in the rapes of more than 100 women and girls over five years.
Forty-three of Bolivia’s 67 Low German Mennonite settlements are Old Colony. They make up about 85 percent of Bolivia’s 56,000 Low German Mennonites.
Mennonite Central Committee Low German coordinator John Janzen visited Manitoba Colony, home to about 2,000 people, in September.
“I didn’t see a community that was in turmoil and not functioning well,” said Janzen, of Winnipeg, Man. “Inside the lives of individuals, that’s a different matter, and I didn’t get to talk to any of the men who are in prison.”
For victims of sexual abuse, confidentiality has offered a measure of well-being. Janzen said a number of victims who were single have gotten married. In spite of occasional drought or disease, the community’s agrarian lifestyle is thriving.
Though residents are deeply saddened and don’t like to talk about it, Janzen was able to discuss the trial’s aftermath with residents, including someone who translated during the trial.
“People I talked to in the Manitoba Colony said, ‘Where there is smoke there is fire, and there is guilt, and this thing happened,’ ” he said. “Certainly not all people at fault are in prison, but something happened.
“I don’t sense in the colony an acceptance of this — that it happens a lot or it’s all right. They’re putting distance between themselves and it.”
Janzen said some changes are evident.
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