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Population: Over 47 million
Land Mass: 440,831 square miles
Currency: Colombian peso
Primary Religion: Roman Catholic
Infant Mortality Rate (per 1,000 births): 15.1
Colombia is a patchwork of geography and cultures. Its lush mountainous highlands – punctuated by active volcanoes – reach nearly 15,000 feet in places, while it also has sweeping coasts on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Colombia draws tourists from around the world, who come to enjoy the exquisite natural beauty and the warm and diverse nature of Colombia’s inhabitants. But there’s another side to the country…one few visitors see. Surrounding urban centers are slums filled with families living in deplorable conditions, struggling to make it one more day. These communities are where Children International’s work is having an enormous impact.
Barranquilla is known as the “Golden Gate to Colombia” because it’s situated on the Rio Magdalena, Colombia’s major waterway. The city of 1.7 million residents has a relaxed yet sophisticated European flair, featuring upscale restaurants, stores and nightclubs. Barranquilla’s poor live in slums such as Villa Esperanza (Village of Hope), which is anything but. There’s little work in these places. Most parents eke out meager livings selling water door to door, standing at stoplights hawking phone cards and handmade trinkets or setting up tables to sell fruit and vegetables. CI community centers are beacons of hope for these families. The libraries, health and dental clinics, and halls are normally filled with boisterous children, happy mothers and eager youth – all of them committed to bringing improvements to their lives and communities.
Children International also works in Cartagena, home to more than 950,000 people and a historic marvel filled with ancient buildings forged on the anvil of Spanish conquest. Colorful façades and cozy balconies draped with vibrant flowers grace many of the ancient buildings – most of which are contained inside a cobbled wall that was erected around the old city to protect Spanish settlers from foreign invaders. An ancient fort still stands on one end of the bay – a testament to threats that often came by way of the sea. Outside the old city walls, Cartagena’s slums are filled with families living in tiny homes made of scrap lumber. Many reside near waterways contaminated with trash, human waste and disease. These improvised neighborhoods are often populated with refugees seeking safe haven from the guerilla warfare that plagues rural parts of the country. With no homes, no belongings and nowhere else to go, they arrive with little but the clothes on their backs. Many show up at CI community centers in search of assistance. Sponsorship is a lifeline for their children.
Although in recent years violence has lessened, decades of armed conflict have taken a toll on families in Colombia. The country is home to the second largest population of internally displaced people in the world.
Unemployment is estimated to be around 10%; however, this doesn’t take into account the number of underemployed people. That is estimated to be above 30% of working-age people.
Education is free and compulsory for children in Colombia, yet school supplies, uniforms and transportation are often too expensive for poor families, leaving millions of children without hope of ever attending a school.
Health care is also free, but medicines are not, leaving poor families unarmed against illnesses like dengue fever, malaria, bacterial infections, diarrhea and lung ailments…which are only worsened by the conditions in which they live.
Colombia has embraced aggressive trade policies that have improved the standards of living for the middle and upper classes. But most job growth is in the service sector, and nearly half of all people in Colombia still live below the poverty line. That contributes to widespread hunger problems…about 16% of children under 6 are malnourished. Sponsored families earning between $100 and $164 a month spend 80% of that on food and still have trouble providing decent meals…all while having little left for other necessities.
More than 44,000 poor children and youth in Colombia are sponsored.
Sponsored children and youth receive vital assistance like free medical and dental care, nutritional support, educational assistance, family aid, clothing, school supplies and uniforms, shoes and more.
A community-based food program is fighting malnutrition in Cartagena neighborhoods where children live, making it easier to access and monitor these children.
In Barranquilla, small-business loans are helping unemployed families start micro-businesses that are helping them earn a better living.
Eleven CI community centers in Colombia – six in Barranquilla and five in Cartagena – are safe havens for sponsored children and youth.
In Cartagena, more than 2,500 youth participate in the Youth Program, learning about leadership, boosting their self-confidence and giving back to the community.
In Barranquilla, Youth Health Corps members have educated thousands of children and youth about health issues like alcohol and drug addiction, reproductive health and disease prevention.
Click on the titles below to watch videos and slideshows or read stories about our programs in Colombia:
Even the brackish waters of a contaminated swamp can’t drown the spirit of families living there. More...
February 15, 2011 – Tags: deep poverty, families living in Cartagena swamp
Tabling Malnutrition, Family-style
October 5, 2010 – Tags: fighting malnutrition, food programs in Cartagena
Sponsorship in Colombia
June 15, 2009 – Tags: Featured Video, Sponsorship Experience, From the Field, Poverty in Focus, Colombia (Cartagena), Colombia (Barranquilla)