What You Need to Know about Fair Trade
Imagine being in the local supermarket, perhaps in the coffee aisle. There is an abundance of options, from decaf to french vanilla and everything in between. Some of the choices have a special seal marked “Fairtrade.” But what does that mean? Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade.

What is Fair Trade?

One fact to know about Fair Trade is the difference between Fair Trade and Fairtrade. Fair Trade is a set of social, economic and environmental standards for companies and the farmers and workers who grow the food millions enjoy each day. Fairtrade, on the other hand, is a trademarked labeling initiative that certifies a product has met the agreed Fair Trade criteria.

For farmers and workers, standards include the protection of workers’ rights and the environment. For companies, they include the payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium. This premium can be used to invest in business or community projects of the community’s choice.

How does Fair Trade combat poverty?

The Fair Trade argument is that the poor are being paid less than fair prices for their products in the free market trading system. The Fairtrade foundation states that its goal is to “empower marginalized producers to become economically stable and self-sufficient and to promote sustainable development, gender equality, and environmental protection.”

Offering decent prices for products can help support jobs and improve living conditions for producers, their families and the local businesses they buy from. It can also divert young men from involvement in militias. The intention is that this will ultimately decrease conflict levels in impoverished nations.

While not all poor states are volatile, data indicates that violent conflict contributes to poverty in a number of ways. It can cause damage to infrastructure, break up communities and contribute to increased unemployment and forced displacement of peoples.

Additionally, free trade boosts economic sectors, thereby creating more jobs and a source of stable increased wages. As developed countries move their operations into developing countries, new opportunities open for local workers. An increase in the general standard of living reduces hunger and increases food production. Overall, a higher income makes education more accessible, increases literacy, increases life expectancy and reduces infant mortality rates.

Fair Trade focuses on the exchange between individuals and companies. Fair Trade supply chains utilize direct partnerships that take into account the needs of individual communities. Often times, cross border supply chains strengthen ties between two or more nations. By bringing people together in mutually beneficial trade pacts and policies, Free Trade can contribute to a sense of peace in war-torn areas. Through cultural exchange, there is a rare absence of marginalization in this type of commerce.

What are the disadvantages to know about Fair Trade practices?

Although the Fair Trade movement has good intentions, it also has a few disadvantages.

Fairtrade targets farmers and producers who are financially secure enough to pay certification, inspection and marketing fees, which are necessary to ensure compliance with government regulations. Thus, the poorest farmers who would benefit most from Fairtrade certification are often excluded.

Fairtrade minimum prices and wages ensure fair payment of farmers. However, farmers for non-certified products are left at a considerable disadvantage. When prices fall in the world market, it is the non-Fairtrade certified farmers who suffer. That being said, prices in stores are not monitored by the Fairtrade Foundation. Thus, the producers receive only a small piece of the revenue from retail mark-ups.

Conversely, research conducted by various groups such as CODER, the Natural Resource Institute and Brazilian based BSD Consulting has shown positive impacts of Fair Trade practices around the globe. In Colombia for instance, a 2014 study by CODER assessed the impact of Fairtrade for banana farmers in small producer organizations and workers on plantations. The study concluded that Fairtrade, with the support of other organizations, contributed to a revival of the banana sector in Colombia and increased respect for human and labor rights. Other studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Fairtrade on worker empowerment in Ecuadorian flower plantations and the benefits of Fairtrade orange juice for Brazilian smallholder farmers.

Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade that can help consumers make informed decisions in their daily lives. Many everyday food items like coffee, chocolate, fruit and nuts offer Fairtrade certified options in local grocery stores. Change is already happening in the Congo where Fairtrade certified gourmet coffee is sourced from war-torn regions. Companies such as Tropical Wholefoods have begun to sell Fairtrade certified dried apricots from northern Pakistan. Just an extra minute in the grocery aisle and a few extra cents to choose Fairtrade can make a big difference.

-GiGi Hogan
Photo: Flickr

Floating SchoolsFloating schools are exactly what their name suggests, they are schools floating on water, typically on a boat. They are essential to providing year-round education in regions where rainy seasons and flooding often disrupt the school year for the most vulnerable children. Floating schools have proved to be incredibly effective in providing an uninterrupted education in places like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Colombia where extreme weather often makes getting an education more difficult.


Bangladesh is located in the massive delta created by the Ganges, the Meghna and the Brahmaputra Rivers meaning that the majority of the country is below sea level. The monsoon season, from June to October, can leave up to two-thirds of the country under water. Naturally, this extreme flooding makes it impossible for children to get to school for a significant part of the year which can be very harmful to a developing mind.

Enter the nonprofit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha and its 23 floating schools. The floating schools usually take the form of large boats and use solar panels to provide electricity and power computers. These schools bring the classroom to Bangladeshi children when they cannot get to it themselves. In addition to the school boats, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha operates a flotilla of boats acting as libraries, adult education centers and solar workshops. In 2012, the organization won the U.N. Prize for Inspiring Environmental Action.


The neighborhood of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria spans across the Lagos lagoon making the region at perpetual risk of flooding and waterlogging. Around 250,000 people live in Makoko in crude housing that often deteriorates because of heavy rains. These conditions make it especially difficult to give children in this community a consistent education. The Nigerian architect, Kunlé Adeyemi, in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the United Nations, designed and built Makoko’s prototype floating school. The school was three stories, used plastic drums to stay afloat and housed around 100 students.

Unfortunately in 2016, after the school had been decommissioned, the structure collapsed during heavy rains after what Adeyemi described as “three years of intensive use and exceptional service to the community.” The Makoko community and the international community alike welcomed the school. In 2014, the floating school was shortlisted for the design of the year award and an improved version of the school is already in the design process to replace the collapsed one.


In northern Colombia, in the town of Sempegua, the rainy season invariably brings flooding and disruption. Andres Uribe and Lina Catano, in partnership with the United Nations Development Fund and Colombia’s National Disaster Risk Management, constructed and inaugurated the first floating school in Latin America in 2014. The architects behind the project designed the school so that it could float during the rainy season and function on ground during the dry season, making it operative year-round. The schoolhouse can fit 60 children and around 400 underprivileged families will benefit from the floating structure. The school is also part of a loftier project that Uribe outlined, “and when we talk about floatable housing solutions, we are not just imagining schools, but houses, health centers, sports centers, or commercial zones, so the town can continue to be productive.”

These floating schools provide consistent access to education to children who otherwise would not be able to get to school on a regular basis, but also provide viable infrastructure solutions to places where persistent flooding has been disruptive for decades. Floating schools are just the beginning; the future leaders educated inside these schools are sure to continue developing the full potential of floating infrastructures for their communities.

– Isabel Fernandez

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Colombia is making remarkable strides towards improving its public health outcomes, including life expectancy.

Once ravaged by political instability and violence, the nation’s outlook is steadily improving. However, although the quality of life in major cities is improving, with increased access to health care and sanitation, rural Colombians have unequal access to these benefits that improve life expectancy.

In the article below, top 10 facts about life expectancy in Colombia are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Colombia

  1. According to the CIA World Fact Book, Colombians’ life expectancy rate is currently at 76.2 years, ranking the country 90th worldwide. Females live an average of 79.5 years and males live for 73 years. Overall life expectancy is up for nearly 20 years from the first data collection in 1960, when the life expectancy rate was at 56.75 years. The rate has increased by 5 years since the turn of the century.
  2. Concomitant with an improvement in life expectancy is a substantial decrease in infant mortality rate. When the World Bank began collecting data in 1960, Colombia’s infant mortality rate stood at 93.9 deaths per 1,000 births. As of 2017, that rate is 12.7, which is a reduction of 739 percent.
  3. Rising GDP per capita may help explain the increase in Colombia’s life expectancy. In a 10-year period, from 2003 to 2013, GDP per capita soared from $2,246 to $8,030. Although that number is slightly declining, this long period of sustained economic growth allows for improvement in health care infrastructure. Furthermore, more Colombians are able to afford access to clean water, sanitation, and health care treatments in comparison with previous generations.
  4. An astonishing success story in Colombia is a rapid decrease in the homicide rate. For decades, guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) waged a war of terror, resulting in millions of internally displaced persons and a high homicide rate. In 1996, during a particularly violent phase of the conflict, Colombia’s homicide rate stood at 71.8 per 100,000 persons. Today, two decades later, that number is at 25.5.
  5. Although urban access to sanitation and potable water is well established, rural Colombia lags behind. Colombia is an extremely mountainous country, with many villages and towns geographically isolated from urban centers. While 96.8 percent of the urban population has access to improved water sources, only 73.8 percent of the rural population does. Similarly, urban and rural differences exist in terms of improved sanitation, standing at 85.2 percent and 67.9 percent, respectively.
  6. Many rural villages suffer from inadequate medical facilities. Rural populations near the tropical rainforest and Magdalena River must also contend with mosquito-borne diseases including malaria, yellow fever and the Zika virus. According to Malteser International, in the tropical departments of Magdalena and La Guajira, almost 59 percent of the population suffers from malnutrition, and only around one in seven are able to access basic medical care. Additionally, indigenous tribes in Colombia often do not receive adequate health care. Many of these tribes reside in rural regions adversely affected by the conflict with the FARC. Consequently, the government has limited influence in terms of public health initiatives. Furthermore, environmental degradation from mining has threatened the health of Wayuu group, Colombia’s largest indigenous population. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs states that, as a result of coal mining along the Rancheria River, as many as 14,000 Wayuu children have died from starvation or thirst.
  7. Inefficiency among insurance providers in impeding the quality of treatment Colombian population receives plays a huge role in life expectancy in the country. All working Colombians have access to government-funded health care plans through their employer, although the individual providers of said plans can improve their implementation. A report from the OECD recommends “stronger performance and account management for health insurers”, meaning a better system to monitor insurers’ purchasing of services.
  8. Colombia is partnering with international organizations to improve food security for malnourished populations. The World Food Programme is working in conflict-affected regions to improve access to nutritious food. These initiatives include providing community meals, nutrition education and crop support for independent farmers.
  9. Both private and public sector expansion of the health care industry is taking place in Colombia. Drug companies and medical device manufacturers are investing in the market, reducing costs for Colombians through competition. Furthermore, the government is working to improve the number of hospital beds available. The current level is relatively low and stands at 1.58 beds per 100,000 individuals.
  10. The country has recorded continuous improvement in educational attainment. Since 1990, expected years of schooling increased from 9 years to 14.4 years. Education strongly correlates with higher personal health outcomes, as an educated population tends to make more health-conscious choices, such as improving their diet and visiting doctors. Education also correlates with higher socio-economic standing, which corresponds to improved sanitation.

The coming years will be critical for Colombia and its development. Positivity abounds a growing economy, increased foreign investment and security in the country, as the top 10 facts about life expectancy in Colombia described above point out.

The incoming administration of the new president, Iván Duque Márquez, promises reforms, especially regarding rural infrastructure in rural Colombia. Implementing the same strategies that have served its urban areas well, should benefit rural Colombians’ health care outlook.

–  Joseph Banish

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Colombia
Colombia is well-known for its coffee plantations and scenic mountains and beaches, but also for harboring conflict and political unrest. After 50 years of civil war, the country has finally entered into a peace agreement and is now in a post-conflict period of reconstruction. Because travel to the country was considered unsafe until quite recently, there are many aspects of Colombia that are widely unknown and most foreigners have little concept of what life there truly is like. Below are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Colombia.

Top 10 facts about living conditions in Colombia

  1. Colombia has a population of over 47 million people, with 23.6 percent of the population residing in rural areas. Colombia is ranked the seventh most inequitable country in the world, with almost 63 percent of national incoming going to the wealthiest 20 percent of the population.
  2. After 50 years of conflict, President Juan Manuel Santos signed a peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), winning himself the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. This was the first major step toward ending violence in the region, creating economic growth and altering the global perception of Colombia.
  3. Due to regional conflict and violence, many locals were forced to leave their homes. Since 1985, 5.9 million people have been displaced, with the majority being women and children. After Syria, Colombia has the second largest population of internally displaced persons. As a result, 5 percent of the population has been left homeless, and 30 percent of Colombian families (3.8 million) do not have adequate housing.
  4. Displacement has led to the formation of informal settlements on the outskirts of major cities. These communities are characterized by a lack of access to schooling and health care, unsafe home construction, houses built on land that is not owned by the homeowner and limited employment opportunities. Groups like Habitat for Humanity are working to improve conditions by assisting with housing construction and community infrastructure, as well as promoting local engagement and providing training workshops.
  5. While water infrastructure is commonplace in urban cities, many Colombians continue to struggle for access to clean water and proper sanitation systems. One in four individuals residing in rural areas lacks access to drinking water, which is considered a basic human right.
  6. Despite recent economic improvements that make the country to have one of the world’s emerging economies, poverty remains a prevalent issue, with 34 percent of the population living below the poverty line. This is a result of multiple factors, including low-income, high unemployment rates (10 percent of the population) and residual impacts of conflict and displacement.
  7. Agriculture has become a government focus and is seen as an opportunity to improve the economy, lower unemployment rates and connect Colombia with the global market. The agricultural sector is responsible for almost 7 percent of the country’s GDP and offers employment to over 15 percent of the population. With less than 30 percent of its arable land currently being used to produce crops, there is significant room for growth in this industry.
  8. Despite being rich in natural resources, Colombia has high rates of food insecurity that affects 43 percent of the population. Chronic malnutrition impacts over 13 percent of children under the age of five and individuals that have been displaced or belong to an ethnic minority group are more likely to suffer.
  9. The World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked Colombia in 22nd place for their health care. In comparison, the United States ranks number 37. However, access to these resources is limited for those living outside of urban areas.
  10. With its scenic, diverse landscape and rich culture, Colombia has recently become a popular tourist destination for travelers around the world. The New York Times ranked Colombia in the second place for the touristic destination in 2018. This offers the opportunity for growth in the tourism industry and a chance for Colombia to share its history, resources and traditions with the world.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Colombia demonstrate that the country has come a long way since creating peace in the region, but is still dealing with many socioeconomic issues. Continued efforts by government and advocacy groups offer hope for security and growth in the upcoming years.

– Georgia Orenstein

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Colombia
Colombia has various laws to prevent human rights violations; unfortunately, these laws often go ignored and are broken. Colombia is commonly referred to as the country with the ‘worst human rights record in the western hemisphere,’ but there’s always more to a story than popular taglines. Here are 10 facts about human rights in Columbia.

10 Facts about Human Rights in Columbia

  1. The Colombian government recently reached a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group to formally end the 52 years of conflict in their country. The civil war left 220,000 dead, 7 million displaced and led to numerous human rights violations — including the recruitment of child soldiers by rebel groups.
  2. There continues to be around 8,000 child soldiers in Colombia today. Colombia has a law that prohibits any person under 18 from engaging in military behavior, but children are still being recruited for guerrilla groups. Fortunately, FARC rebel groups in the past few years have promised to start releasing child soldiers and to stop recruiting under 17 year-olds.
  3. It is dangerous to be a trade union or social activist in Colombia. Many hoped violence would subside after the signing of the peace treaty, but attacks on union and social activists have actually skyrocketed since. In the past 20 years, over 3,000 unionists have been killed, making Colombia one of the most dangerous countries for trade union members.
  4. Even Colombia’s government military has committed human rights crimes against citizens. During the civil war, the Colombian army frequently executed citizens and reported them as enemy combatants in order to increase their body counts against the rebel groups. In 2017, the Attorney General’s office began investigating such atrocities and have convicted around 1,200 soldiers.
  5. Over 7.7 million Colombians have been displaced since the civil war began; in fact, around 48,000 people were displaced in 2017 alone. In 2011, a Victim’s Law was passed by which the Colombian government has been attempting to finish land restitution for millions of hectares of land. Although the program has made some progress, it is still moving slowly.
  6. Gender-based violence in Columbia is also common. The large amount — approximately 2 million — of displaced women are especially susceptible to high rates of rape and abuse. The government has attempted to reform laws addressing human rights in Colombia (such as gender violence), but the country lacks a proper system to enforce these laws.
  7. The U.S. is heavily involved as a foreign actor in Colombia. The country received almost $400 million in aid from the U.S. in 2017, a good chunk of which is allocated for human rights in Colombia. The money will also go towards anti-drug efforts, military education and anti-terrorism.
  8. FARC is the main rebel group known to commit numerous human rights violations in Columbia. Since the group’s inception in the 1960s, its members have committed atrocities such as child recruiting, sexual violence, murder and abductions. Thankfully, attacks from FARC have decreased since they declared a cease-fire in July 2015.
  9. Since the peace treaty, the U.N. has assisted Colombia in fighting for human rights in Colombia. The U.N. has urged the nation to create a regimented schedule that will enforce laws against human rights atrocities. They also recommended that Colombia start using an incentive system to prevent rebel groups from continuing violence.
  10. Indigenous peoples in Colombia are disadvantaged compared to other groups. Due to their lack of access to drinking water, child deaths are higher in indigenous groups in Colombia. They are more likely to live in low-income communities and have limited access to social resources.

A Brighter Future

Colombia has one of the worst human rights violations records in the western hemisphere. Despite such a reputation, the situation has improved since the end of the civil war, and the government is continuing to work towards a better future for the country.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

Medellín’s Transformation
In 1993, Colombia had the highest homicide rate in the world at 420 per 100,000 people, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Medellin was said to be the most dangerous city in Colombia during this time, but has gone through great changes in the past two decades. Medellín’s transformation is an inspiring model for many cities previously affected by violence and war.

Danger of Medellín

In the 1980s, Medellín was considered to be one of the most violent cities in the globe. In fact, TIME Magazine named Medellín the most dangerous city in the world due to the high crime and murder rates in 1988.

At the time, Medellín was home to Pablo Escobar’s cartel and cocaine empire. There was a lack of government control of the city and crime rates exponentially increased. Additionally, the nation was also affected by the internal conflict between Colombia and the internal guerilla groups. In 1991, the city experienced 6,349 killings, bringing its annual rate to 181 per 100,000 people.

Transformation of Medellín

Since then, the city has put in place many violence prevention programs, invested in social entrepreneurship, created effective public transportation, transformed public spaces and improved some of the worst neighborhoods severely affected by the internal war.

In the past 20 years, homicide rate has been cut by 95 percent and the poverty rate by 66 percent.  Now, the annual rate of killings per year is fewer than 50 per 100,000 people and it contributes more than 8 percent of Colombia’s GDP, as its second largest city.

Forty percent of Colombia’s exports now come from Medellín. Additionally, 9 out of the top 50 medical facilities in the Americas are located in Medellín. In 2012, Medellín was even named the most innovative city in the world by the Urban Land Institute. Medellín’s transformation began with its public transportation system. The first metro ride in Medellín took place in 1995, and since then, it has become the most effective public transportation system in Colombia.

Transportation in Medellín

Additional lines were added and the cable car were built in the 2000s. The transportation project in Medellin connected the entire city, including slums previously neglected by the government. Additionally, escalators were built to facilitate access for people in the slums — citizens in areas such as Comuna 13 used to walk 1,300 feet, but due to the transportation advancements, they came to experience further integration with surrounding areas.

Such developments allowed many living in poor areas outside of the city to take on jobs in the city center, and shortened the commute time for all people in Medellín. To this day, the metro and its stations are still very clean, safe and well maintained within the city.

Social Entrepreneurship and Social Change

Medellín’s transformation is also largely due to its investment in education and social programs. Medellín is known for its investment in social entrepreneurship. A part of revenues earned by the city is invested in organizations such as Ruta N, which work to promote social innovation and technological development.

People in poor areas are also encouraged to start their own businesses, shop, or cafe; such business endeavors are facilitated by entrepreneurial development centers that provide cheap credit loans. Medellín’s transformation ignited economic growth and rapid change for the city by becoming an international hub for business, innovation and tourism.

Such developments have shown that areas affected by violence can change for the better through investment in urban development and innovation.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Pixabay

internet to isolated communitiesAround the world, 1.3 million of people do not have access to energy and 3.5 million cannot access the internet. To minimize this problem, the global foundation Un Litro de Luz (Liter of Light) has created Linternet – smart poles that provide access to light and the internet to isolated communities in Colombia. Through a micro-franchise model, the initiative connects the most vulnerable sectors of Colombia’s society to the internet while also creating employment opportunities.

Founded by Camilo Herrera, Un Litro de Luz is a sustainable illumination project that aims to bring low-cost solar energy and internet to isolated communities, empowering them and teaching them how to build simple illumination systems.

Bringing Internet to Isolated Communities

“Linternet was born as a stage of Un Litro de Luz in which we empower communities so that they can build and replicate the internet coverage model in Colombian rural areas,” says the ambassador of Un Litro de Luz Sergio Espinosa. With the goal of transforming communities, the project is present in several other countries such as Ghana, Pakistan, the Philippines, Kenya and the U.S.

Finding Solutions to Limited Resources

According to Espinosa, Un Litro de Luz and Linternet both represent extensions of public resources. The projects aim to teach the communities’ residents that, even though these resources are limited, they are able to find their own solutions. The citizens are the ones who build the whole system during a workshop with Un Litro de Luz. “They understand how the system works, can learn how to maintain it and, also, at the end of the process, feel like the light poles belong to them and they take care of it,” explains Espinosa.

The lights are made with solar panels and plastic lamps, have low power consumption, and high luminosity and durability. In the light poles, there are signal replicators that allow the connection to the internet. The poles have a connection range of two kilometers so people can have internet not only next to the light poles, but also at home.

Creating a Positive Impact

Un Litro de Luz and Linternet have several positive impacts. They help the environment, by promoting recycling of plastic and solar energy. The internet also facilitates education in these communities and allows better health care via systems of online appointments and medical diagnosis. Lighting dark paths provides safety, especially for women and girls. 

So far, more than 237,000 people have benefited from the organization’s illumination systems and 3,500 have access to the internet because of Linternet. “When we bring technology and internet to isolated communities, we not only provide them with infrastructure but also with opportunities and information,” says Camilo Herrera.

– Júlia Ledur
Photo: Flickr

Girls Education in Colombia
Extensive progress typically does not happen overnight, especially when the subject at hand is an entire country with numerous socioeconomic factors in play. However, Colombia has impressed the world and set a remarkable example in cultivating girls’ education.

Facts About Girls’ Education in Colombia

  1. The average number of school years girls complete grew about 23 percent, from 3 to 3.7 years, between 1900 and 2000.
  2. In rural areas, more than three-quarters of children in primary education go on to the next grade compared to almost 90 percent in urban areas.
  3. Between 1989 and 2011, girls’ completion of lower secondary school increased from 37 percent to 94 percent.
  4. Girls’ education has led to increased participation in the workforce, growing from 30 percent to 43 percent between 1990 and 2012.

These staggering present-day successes were achieved while Colombia also worked to help its internally displaced population. Internal displacement refers to people who are forced to leave their homes but remain in the same country. Colombia has had approximately seven million people internally displaced due to conflict within the country, one of the highest numbers in the world.

Despite the relatively difficult circumstances, girls’ education in Colombia continues to develop, which has helped Colombia create a prosperous and peaceful present and future.

An Inspiring Project

The Medellin Regional Corporation, supported by UNICEF, established the School in Search of the Child project that aims to reintegrate conflict-affected children back into the education system. The project provides funds to cover any expenses related to keeping children in school.

According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, in 2004, its first year of operation, 310 out of 375 children enrolled in the program were effectively reintegrated into schools, a more than 80 percent success rate. The project has proven to be a fruitful endeavor that with further assistance could be much more far-reaching.

De Cero a Siempre – “From Zero to Forever”

Colombia’s national government established the From Zero to Forever strategy in 2010, which introduced a now-common structure to organize the children’s well-being and development sector. The strategy is unifying key participants in the sector, both from private and public sectors as well as domestic and internal organizations and agencies. From Zero to Forever has linked several relevant policies and programs in the sector to provide poor children with much-needed comprehensive early childhood care and education.

Fundación Escuela Nueva – “New School”

The New School model innovates traditional teaching practices in Colombia and has been doing so since the late 1970s, growing to cover more than two-thirds of Colombia’s rural education system. The model has effectively delivered the following results:

  • Brought education to rural and misrepresented areas
  • Made school affordable
  • Fostered a team-building environment in students’ work
  • Trained teachers to initiate and manage settings conducive to learning
  • Tailored education to focus on children of varying levels separately, rather than addressing all levels simultaneously
  • Stimulated entrepreneurial teachings, modernized education skills and fostered leadership aptitudes among children

40 by 40 Program

Oscar Sánchez, the former Secretary of Education of Bogotá, presented the 40 by 40 program in 2012, with the goal to increase class time in schools across the country so that students attend full school days totaling 40 hours per week, 40 weeks per year. The program extended children’s access to extracurricular activities such as sports and arts that can ultimately fulfill children and promote fair and higher quality education.

Girls’ education in Colombia is one of several areas that the country has sought to improve. The effects are entirely positive and thereby reveal the capacity for a country to meet its goals, even during great adversities that would appear crippling. Fortunately, Colombia has flourished, and with its investment in the necessity that is girls’ education, its continued success looks very promising.

– Roberto Carlos Ventura
Photo: Flickr

 ColombiaEver since the rise of drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s, Colombia has been an easy target for negative media portrayals and has been susceptible to misrepresentation. Movies and TV shows provide the best examples of how the media misrepresents Colombia, because they often show the country as a war zone filled with drugs.

Although this may have been true at one time, it is no longer the case, and the media’s depiction of the past should not be mistaken for the present state of the country.

How the Media Misrepresents Colombia: Drug Lords and Cocaine

Hollywood has portrayed the lavish life of Colombian cartel leaders and the danger of Colombian guerrilla groups for many years; however, the Netflix show Narcos, which is a great example of how the media misrepresents Colombia, has recently brought more attention to the country’s dark past and has sparked an interest in Pablo Escobar, along with the Cali and Medellin cartels. The show now attracts more than three million viewers.

Pablo Escobar’s son, Sebastian Marroquin, has spoken out against Narcos for glorying his father’s crimes. “Series about narcos have turned my father into a hero and given young people the idea that it is cool to be a drug trafficker. I am not against telling stories, but I am against glorifying criminals and showing trafficking as glamorous,” he told El Periodico.

When an advertisement for Narcos was displayed in Madrid’s central square, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos spoke out against the show in a radio interview by saying, “we Colombians lived the drama of Pablo Escobar and that suffering still hurts. Escobar should not be held up as a hero and honoring [him] goes against everything that is right.”

In addition to shows about Pablo Escobar, the American media widely covers the activity in drug-producing countries like Colombia; however, the abundant supply of drugs only continues if it is met by a demand for drugs in first world countries. Many of the people producing coca leaves are farmers looking to put food on the table for their families.

It is true that Colombia produces the majority of the world’s cocaine, but if people around the world were not consuming it, the supply may not have continued for this long. For instance, in a Washington Post article that covers cocaine use in the United States, the author places blame on Colombia’s producers and smugglers, yet only speaks of the consumer briefly by stating the rise in consumption and wraps it up by saying, “This surge in consumption can be traced directly to Colombia’s bumper harvest,” instead of further analyzing other factors that could result in an increase in American drug consumption.

The Reality: Peace and Development

A lot of good things are happening in Colombia, but the media ignores these events because they are not as exciting or dramatic as the war on drugs. A new era is here for the Colombian people and it deserves as much coverage as the war.

In 2016, the famous Colombia Peace Treaty put an end to a 52-year war between Colombia’s Armed Revolutionary Forces and the government. Additionally, the government is also carrying out negotiations with ELN, another armed guerrilla group which has caused violence in the country for decades. This led to President Santos being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

The newly gained political and economic stability has opened up the country for business. The poverty rate in the country has fallen from 20 percent in 2001 to 4.5 percent in 2016. According to the World Bank’s 2017 ease of doing business report, Colombia ranks 53rd out of 190 countries, ranking only below Mexico in Latin America. Additionally, the country seems to be moving forward with technological development. In 2012, Medellin was named the innovative city of the year.


This is one of the common themes in how the media misrepresents Colombia. While it would be incorrect to claim there are no drugs or conflicts in Colombia, it is also incorrect to claim that cartels are operating at the same scale as they were in the 1980s and 1990s. The Medellin and Cali cartels were dismantled when the Colombian government, along with the U.S. government and DEA, carried out the assassination or incarceration of their leaders.

Although drug production continues, a violent drug empire that attempts to control the government, such as Pablo Escobar’s, no longer exists. Even though Colombia was considered a fragile state for years after Escobar’s death, ranking 14th in the 2005 Fragile State Index, it has now fallen to 71st in 2018. Colombia’s safety has improved greatly in the past 20 years.

As of January 2018, the U.S. Department of State has upgraded Colombia to a Level 2 country for travel after being considered a Level 3 country for many years. This means that instead of being a country that Americans should reconsider traveling to, it is now considered a country that can be visited with reasonable caution. Additionally, the New York Times has named Colombia as one of the top places to visit in 2018.

The media represents Colombia as it was in the 1980s and fails to report on the many changes that the country has undergone since this tragic time. The Colombian people are ready for a new chapter in their nation’s history and the media should accurately represent their efforts to close the chapter on war and drug trafficking and beginning an era of peace and stability.

– Luz Solano-Flórez

Photo: Flickr

Facts about Poverty in Colombia 
Colombia is a beautiful country with a landscape marked by rainforests, Andes mountains and numerous coffee plantations, but poverty in Columbia remains a problem. Below are facts about Columbia’s poverty problem.

10 Facts About Poverty in Colombia

  1. The population living below the poverty line is 34 percent. Though the economic growth of Colombia is among one of the world’s emerging economies, more than three out of ten Colombians still live in poor conditions. Colombia is also the world’s seventh most inequitable country.
  2. Colombia’s unemployment rate grew to 9.4 percent in 2017, making it the country with the highest unemployment rate in Latin America after Venezuela. According to Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics, another 8.5 percent of the population was underemployed in the last quarter of 2017.
  3. Colombia has been experiencing violent internal conflicts for more than 50 years. Since 1985, over 5.9 million Colombians have been displaced. People then migrate to urban areas and create informal settlements on the cities’ borders.
  4. There are about 3.8 million households, nearly 30 percent of all families in Colombia, that do not have adequate homes according to Ministry of Housing estimates. About 662,146 families are homeless, which is five percent of the population.
  5. Colombia’s informal settlements result in challenges. These include lack of access to basic services, poor structural quality and low accessibility to resources for the progressive construction of a house. There is a lack of secure land tenure, meaning people are building homes on land they don’t own. Informal settlements also result in limited access to social and health services, education and employment possibilities.
  6. Colombia has dealt with internal struggle for more than 50 years. According to The World Bank, if the country had found even 20 previous years of peace, the income per capita could have been 50 percent higher than it is now. Economic growth was responsible for over 70 percent of extreme poverty reduction between 2002 and 2013.
  7. More than 12.7 million people in Colombia live on less than $2 a day. According to Opportunity Colombia, an organization to enable marginalized people to engage in the local economy, only 2.5 percent of Colombians are using microfinance services.
  8. Additional facts about poverty in Colombia show that in rural areas, more than 7 million people are poor and 2 million are living in extreme poverty.
  9. The unequal distribution of the country’s wealth and welfare resources affects Colombian people and is a cause of poverty. The country’s income concentration is very high compared to the international averages. The per capita income of the richest ten percent is 46 times greater than those of the poorest ten percent.
  10. In 81 percent of poor rural homes in Colombia, there is no connection to the piped-water network. Additionally, 68 percent of the population suffers from overcrowding.

These facts about poverty in Colombia will help provide a better understanding of the social and economic situation in the country, as well as the progress made and the work that still needs to be done.

– Julia Lee

Photo: Flickr