26 February 2012

Colombian kids

There’s no doubt about it - Colombian kids are cute!

I have recently returned from a week in Medellin, Colombia, where my employer, UK charity Globalteer, works with two local organisations to help the underprivileged children of Colombia.

The first organisation I visited was Poder Joven, which has two projects in Medellin. Poder Joven is a non-profit organisation, founded 16 years ago by students from local universities and young professionals, who resolved to work together to provide better life opportunities to the young victims of the humanitarian crisis in Colombia. 

I was extremely impressed by Poder Joven’s director, Clared, who is passionate in her efforts to help her fellow Colombians.

At the first of Poder Joven’s projects I visited, Casa Karah, the dedicated and hard-working staff provide a protective environment for kids who live daily with parental drug-taking, poverty, abuse and violence. 

Casa Karah is located in a poor inner-city suburb and assists 60 children between the ages of 3 and 14. These children live with their families in individual rooms (one per family) in a local lodge. The children live in very precarious conditions and are often mistreated and disregarded. Casa Karah’s work with this population is focused on providing the children with education, with two meals a day, and with psychological and medical assistance.

One of the beautiful young girls
at Casa Karah
And one of the cute boys, with the
remains of his lunch still on his face!
The next day I visited Poder Joven’s second project, Casa Maren, where the organisation is working in a community of displaced persons to try to assist both the families and their children to live dignified lives without the threat of poverty and violence. Just to put this problem in context, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, since 1985 more than 3 million people have been forced to leave their homes in the Colombian countryside to seek refuge in the major cities as a result of the escalating armed conflict between the illegal paramilitary forces and the guerrillas. This is the world’s third largest internally displaced population.

Casa Maren assists 70 children between the ages of 3 and 12, who are provided with food and education, and receive psychological and medical assistance on a daily basis.

The final project I visited was Antorchas de Vida, which means torches of life. It was established in 2001 by husband and wife team, Luis and Lucy. They gained funding from many sources to purchase a house to accommodate the children they wished to help, and Antorchas de Vida is now home to 68 children from 2 to 17 years old, many of whom come from the street, from very poor families or from parents with various problems that do not allow them to care for their children. The building is no longer a large house but rather a family home, where the children think of each other as brothers and sisters, and the staff and volunteers are their uncles and aunts. Where possible, contact is still maintained with the children’s natural families.

The international volunteers supplied by Globalteer play a vital role in supporting these projects, both through their donations, by teaching the children English and, more simply, by being there to provide the kids with affection and fun. Despite their often miserable life conditions, all the children I saw at the projects were full of smiles, and constantly wanted to hug and play and help each other. It was a wonderful though very humbling experience to spend time with them and to see the amazing work done by project staff and volunteers. I would like to have stayed much longer.