Working to Overcome a Legacy of Violence in Colombia
Paul Lagasse, Global News, June 21, 2007
 
The civil conflict and resulting violence in Colombia, which has been ongoing for 50 years, has caused internal displacement of more people than any country except Sudan. Although estimates are difficult to come by, more than 1.5 million displaced persons have registered with the Colombian government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the region estimate the true figure is twice that number, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Despite the lack of publicity about this underreported humanitarian story, Global Impact member charities have been working in Colombia for decades to bring aid and assistance to the Colombian people.

Background

The civil war is being fought between guerrilla armies, paramilitary groups, the private armies of drug traffickers and the military—with rural farmers and villagers caught in the crossfire.

“Massacres, executions, intimidation and fear remain inescapable parts of everyday life,” member charity Doctors Without Borders USA has reported.

Rural farmers and villagers have been especially affected by the civil war, often ordered to leave their lands immediately “or else.” In the past 20 years, an estimated 200,000 people have been killed. Others, known as los desplazados, as the displaced are called, have left their lands in the country—and their only means of making a living—for urban slums. According to the UNHCR, displacement is increasingly an end, not just a by-product of the civil strife. UNHCR estimates nearly three-quarters of the internally displaced are women and children and reports that people are now being displaced a second or third time.

In addition to the large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs), other documented consequences of the conflict include executions and “disappearances,” dismemberment and casualties from landmines and sexual violence against women in unsecured IDP camps. Between 3,000 and 7,000 children have been forced to fight as soldiers.

A Country With Many Challenges

While the drug trade is perhaps Colombia’s most recognized problem, it is only one of the troubles that has hobbled the country for two generations.

Colombia has vast disparities in distributions of wealth and land. Although it has great riches from oil production and mineral and agricultural resources, an estimated two-thirds of Colombia’s 43 million people still live in poverty, primarily people of indigenous descent.

Forced evacuations and intimidation of farmers, coupled with deforestation and soil and water contamination from pesticides, have repeatedly disrupted the planting and harvesting cycle. Aerial fumigation, intended to wipe out illegal drug crops, has caused extensive illness and collateral damage to crops and livestock. As a result, there is chronic nationwide food insecurity.

Under these circumstances, perhaps it’s not surprising that reports of psychological trauma among adults and children are on the rise. Yet there is hope, thanks to the efforts of Global Impact member charities.

Member Charities are on the Front Lines

Global Impact’s member charities are engaged in a wide variety of vital aid programs across Colombia—in urban slums and refugee camps and in the nearly inaccessible mountain regions. Local and international staff work with refugees, farmers, former soldiers and with thousands of IDPs who have fled the crossfire among the warring factions and government forces.

Member charities:

Provide emergency food, shelter and medical assistance to people at risk.

Help IDPs and others in need to continue their education, train for new careers and launch small businesses.

Encourage better use of Colombia’s abundant resources through sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship.

Rebuild infrastructure such as homes, schools, sanitation systems and grain storage.

Protect women and children from exploitation as sex workers, combatants and forced laborers, and help victims find the aid and counseling they need to recover.

Advocate on behalf of Colombia’s at-risk populations and help to raise awareness of their plight both within Colombia and in government offices, churches and communities throughout the world.

Global Impact Member Charities in Colombia

For decades, Global Impact member charities have been working with Colombia’s urban and rural poor, its government and its many warring factions to not only save lives, but to repair the deep physical, psychological, environmental and economic damage wrought by two generations of civil war. Thanks to your support, aid organizations are able to report that progress is indeed being made.

ACCION International supports Fundación Mario Santo Domingo (FMSD), a private nonprofit microcredit organization that trains and funds “solidarity groups” of poor workers. ACCION and FMSD recently established a training center for entrepreneurs in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. A nationwide supermarket chain has partnered with the training center to carry goods created by participants and to provide them with career training.

AmeriCares has been working with the Order of Malta for eight years, delivering medicines, medical relief and other aid. AmeriCares provides the Order of Malta with donated medical supplies including surgical provisions such as anesthesia and basic medicines every two months. The Order of Malta distributes the supplies to hospitals, clinics and medical facilities, and physicians who help those in remote territories.

Church World Service/CROP funds and facilitates food security and women's programs through the local grassroots network Asociacion de Mujeres Afro Colombianas por la Vida (AMAV-ASOM). In April 2007, staff helped expedite delivery of a shipment of emergency supplies, including rice, beans, salt and cooking oil, ten 1,000-liter water tanks and recreational items for children to assist more than 6,000 Afro-Colombians recently displaced.

Doctors Without Borders USA has operated fixed health facilities and mobile clinics throughout the country since 1985. Its all-volunteer staff of doctors and nurses provide a wide range of preventive and emergency health care services to approximately 170,000 people in rural and urban areas, often in difficult to reach places near recent or ongoing violence.

International Rescue Committee provides educational and psychosocial assistance to IDPs living in urban slums and health services to people in the remote and isolated province of Nariño, near Ecuador. These programs were recently re-launched after a four-year hiatus necessitated by the ongoing violence.

International Youth Foundation supports two local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Fundación Restrepo Barco is a private foundation that provides education, technical training and cultural development for children and youth. Corporacion Region para el Desarrollo y la Democracia is a nonprofit organization that supports local and regional human rights, education and culture, urban and public policy and institutional development initiatives. Both of these organizations enlist youth and their parents, plus local, national and international organizations, in efforts to improve the quality of life so that Colombians can work toward creating a stable, prosperous and democratic country.

Lutheran World Relief supports the marginalized and displaced, emphasizing community-based activities that seek to promote dialogue, resolution of conflict and alternatives to violence. LWR supports agricultural production and micro-enterprises for resettled farmers and poor women entrepreneurs.

Mercy Corps provides medical and food aid and retraining to IDPs, especially rural farmers forced to flee to the cities—or, more frequently, to the urban slums—hence giving up their ability to provide for themselves. Mercy Corps lobbies the U.S. Congress to earmark at least 50 percent of U.S. funding for humanitarian assistance and halt funding for the Colombian government’s costly, ineffective and environmentally destructive aerial fumigation of coca plantations.

U.S. Fund for UNICEF partners with local aid organizations on important children’s rights issues including birth registration, food supplements and hygiene kits for displaced families, demobilization and education of child soldiers and the elimination of landmines. UNICEF supports the building of schools and shelters in areas affected by violence, and provides a wide range of child development programs ranging from vaccinations to organized sports. UNICEF also works with parents and teachers to recognize and respond to signs of physical and psychological trauma and to recognize sexual abuse and exploitation.

Women for Women International provides grants through a local NGO, Partners of the Americas, to Colombian women who are seeking to start up small businesses, go back to school or seek vocational skills training. Women for Women’s in-country program is currently staffed by two native Colombians, and their grants have helped entrepreneurs launch a community drug store, an employment cooperative and small companies that make everything from plastic bags to fruit pulp.

World Vision has carried out a broad range of services for impoverished families throughout Colombia since 1960. While child sponsorship is World Vision’s longest-running program, the organization also supports disaster relief, skills training and food aid programs. A decade ago, World Vision expanded its services even more to include a range of hygiene, health and education programs, infrastructure development and recreation programs.

With your continued support, Global Impact member charities can help Colombia create a longer-lasting legacy—one of peace.