From building housing for people living in vulnerable conditions to the promotion of education, Colombian organizations work on humanitarian causes in the country.

Poverty, education, health and living are the main areas that many nonprofit organizations in Colombia work on in order to contribute to the betterment of the Colombian community.

According to the Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE), 784,000 people in Colombia prevailed out of poverty in 2014. In the same year, extreme poverty also experienced a decrease of 407,000 people.

These results represent a reduction in the poverty rate of Colombia, making them the lowest results in the past 13 years.

Nonprofit organizations form a part that contributes to the betterment of the Colombian society. Here are 8 Colombian nonprofit organizations that are making a difference:

Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia

Considered one of the biggest rural nonprofit organizations in the world, the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia works for the betterment of the Colombian coffee farmers.

Representing more than 563,000 families, the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia works to improve the life quality of Colombian coffee producers by optimizing production costs and maximizing the coffee quality.

Fundación Antonio Restrepo Barco

Responding to the issues of a country that has different social conditions and tending to social problems are some of the activities that members of the Fundación Antonio Restrepo Barco do.

The foundation believes that the families living in crisis areas are more afflicted by social issues and problems. Fundación Antonio Restrepo Barco forwards projects related to the protection of children rights, education, health and social and regional development of attention to vulnerable communities.

Fundación Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar

This foundation, also known as “La Juanfe,” works to bring a better life to the children and young people from Cartagena, Colombia. They do this by providing health care, and by bringing psychological and affective care.
The entity works with various partners that are national and international businesses, and public and private agencies.

Asociación Metrópoli Colombia

This association works for the creation of spaces where people living under vulnerable conditions could experience personal growth, the transformation of their surroundings, and equal opportunities through education and culture.

Through the program “Espacios de encuentro para la construcción de la vida y la paz,” Metrópoli Colombia proffers the availability of spaces that provide access to education, wellness, arts and culture as a means of improving the life quality of children and young people.

Corporación Día de la Niñez

This is a nonprofit organization that promotes the importance that childhood has in the development and progress of the community and families, especially in communities that live under poverty and/or violence.

They have as a mission to promote children games in the familiar and communitarian aspects.

Fundación OCMAES

This is a nonprofit foundation that works to promote people’s talent. Fundación OCMAES foments the education among young Colombians that have an academic potential, but do not have the economical facilities to afford professional programs or continue with their studies.

Through the “Programa de Apoyo Universitario,” the foundation gives scholarships to young Colombians with academic potential.


This organization improves the life quality of the communities living in vulnerable conditions by the construction of houses for these Colombian communities.

The foundation is compromised with integral development and brings security, identity and the sense of social belonging.

Fundación Terpel

They work to bring quality education to Colombian children. The entity implements programs that develop competitions in leadership, mathematics and language for children and young people living under vulnerable conditions.

Diana Fernanda Leon

Sources: DANE, Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia, Fundación Antonio Restrepo Barco, Fundación Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar, Metrópoli Colombia, Corporación Día de la Niñez, Fundación Ocmaes, Fundación Servivienda, Fundación Terpel,
Photo: Fundación Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar

buenaventura_colombiaBuenaventura, Colombia, home to approximately 300,000 residents, has consistently been ranked one of Colombia’s (and South America’s) deadliest cities. It is home to the nation’s highest homicide rate at 144 murders per 100,000 people—more than seven times the rate of the nation’s capital, Bogota. In this seaside port town, fishermen and gang members have lived together in a fatal balance for years, contributing to the town’s notorious reputation. In recent months, however, the level of violence has exploded, leading many residents to leave the city in search of a safer life elsewhere.

Colombia has been described by some as a country with two faces: one face is the Colombia of the elite and wealthy, while the other is a Colombia marked by violence, gang lords and a vicious drug trade. Once considered too dangerous for visitors due to a brutal civil war between various factions of the government and paramilitary groups, which began in 1964, Colombia has since cleaned itself up, with major cities like Bogota and Medellin now considered hot-spots for tourism. Despite massive improvements that have benefitted the country in recent years, as of 2013 an astonishing 30.6 percent of the population was living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Colombia also remains the world’s largest cocaine producer, supplying 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States.

Buenaventura, a port town located on the Pacific Coast, is a perfect example of the way in which these “two faces” can collide.

On the one hand, Buenaventura struggles with a legacy of violence that continues to characterize the culture of the city today. During the 1980s, the city was a battleground between leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FARC, and right-wing paramilitary groups. When the FARC were driven out, paramilitary groups established themselves and began to engage in gang activity, helping to carve the city into rival gang territories and the port into an important regional focal point for the export of cocaine. According to a Human Rights Watch report, these groups have taken the lives of many Buenaventura residents, who are often dismembered in so-called “chop houses” for unwittingly crossing between gang territories.

On the other hand, due to its strategic location on the coast, Buenaventura has recently become the centerpiece of a government strategy to increase Colombian trade with Asian and Western countries on the Pacific, such as the United States, Chile, Mexico and Peru. To achieve this goal, the central government in Bogota has invested millions in development projects, such as the construction of a container port and industrial park, as well as the construction of a major waterfront development project that authorities hope will help attract tourism.

Residents, however, have argued that there is a link between the recent rise of violence in the city and the development projects. Locals, for instance, point to the fact that much of the violence has been concentrated in and has affected locals living in areas along the port. Residential habitation of the area obstructs government plans to turn the area into a tourist destination.

In response to protracted levels of violence in the town, which has recently received increased media attention, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos finally intervened last year, sending in an emergency infusion of cash as well as police officers from the capital.

According to Colonel Marcelo Russi, the police commander in Buenaventura, the added law enforcement has helped to dramatically reduce the murder rate and number of disappearances in the city. Alexander Micolta, the executive president of the Buenaventura Chamber of Commerce, however, has stated that not enough is being done to effectively eradicate violence from the city. “Here, everything that has to do with the port advances. But the city doesn’t advance,” Micolta said.

In order to save Buenaventura, it is evident that money invested in the city needs to be focused on protecting the people who actually live there instead of in efforts to attract foreign investment and tourist capital. Otherwise, the city’s long history of violence and gang activity will continue to perpetuate itself and invade every corner of the city once the police presence leaves. If that happens, then Colombia’s “two faces” will persist to rear their ugly heads in tandem in the country’s small, sea-side city of Buenaventura.

Ana Powell

Sources: New York Times 1, New York Times 2, World Bank
Photo: War on Want

In the 1990s, Medellín, Colombia had the highest murder rate in the world. The city set out to transform itself and lift its poorest sectors out of extreme poverty through architecture, the revitalization of public spaces, education and improved transportation.

Medellín’s new transportation systems are a major component of the city’s transformative project. The Metro Cable, a cable car that travels above the city, connects informal settlements in the upper regions of Medellín to the metro system in the lower regions, enabling much faster access to transportation. The metro system is clean, modern, and efficient. It reduces travel time from an hour to around ten minutes. The cable car system moves tens of thousands of citizens each day.

Medellín’s urban landscape sits upon steep hillsides. Residents used to have to climb hundreds and hundreds of stairs up these hills to commute to work and back. Today, the city has installed an escalator on this hill. It ascends 1,300 feet. For 12,000 residents, what was once a dreaded 30 story climb is now a quick 5 minute ride.

Another fundamental aspect of this urban transformation is the creation of public squares in the poorest areas of Medellín. Architects Horacio Valencia, head of Sustainable Urban Interventions at EPM (Empresas Públicas de Medellín), Carlos Pardo and Nicolás Hermelin, as well as the CEO of EPM (explain), Juan Esteban Calle, looked at images of the city from the air, and saw some unused, wooded areas. These, they thought, would be excellent ways to create public realms and bring a sense of community to impoverished, dangerous sections of the city.

Each public space is specifically adapted to the context and needs of the neighborhood it is situated in. One square, entitled Los Sueños, or The Dreams, “surrounds the solid concrete tank with jets of water, slides, plays of light and a designated area for events. Enclosed rooms are built into the topography to free up the largest possible area of open space, and house two multi-purpose classrooms, an internet café, public toilets and a launderette – a novelty in a city where it is not uncommon to rent a washing machine for half a day, and home-deliver it on a motorbike – describes The Architectural Review. The fresh public spaces have drawn residents out of their homes to interact with the urban fabric of their city.

Other initiatives involved in Medellín’s transformation involve education and the creation of libraries throughout the city. Residents voted to direct government funds towards funding new schools and college scholarships. In 2002, under 20 percent of public school students used to test at the national average. In 2009, over 80 percent do. Futuristic looking libraries enable all classes of citizens access to computers and the infinite information that comes with them.

EPM’s chief of operations, Federico Restrepo, now Medellín’s city planner, said “We took a view that everything is interconnected — education, culture, libraries, safety, public spaces. Obviously it is not just that we built and renovated schools. You have to work on the quality of teaching and nutrition in conjunction with architecture. But the larger point is that the goal of government should be providing rich and poor with the same quality education, transportation and public architecture. In that way you increase the sense of ownership.”

The Empresas Públicas de Medellín supplies the city with water, gas, sanitation, telecommunications and electricity. In Bogotá, the most impoverished slums lack basic needs like water and electricity, but in Medellín the EPM, mandated by the constitution, provides the most remote slums with these basics. The EPM has helped fund many of Medellín’s transformative projects such as schools, public plazas, metros and parks.

– Aaron Andree

Sources: Architecture in Development, Architectural Review, The Guardian, The New York Times, Planetizen
Photo: Flickr


Years of Violence
The infamous FARC terrorist organization in Colombia has the potential to end its years of violence and reign of terror with probable peace talks this month.

The FARC, or the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, has been responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 people in Colombia over the last 50 years since its establishment in 1964. The terrorist group has been notorious for violently attacking both civilians and significant political figures in the country throughout the years, as means of intimidation, gaining power and generally creating havoc.

The “revolutionary” group has been seemingly unstoppable through means of military force or political means, though the Colombian government has continued its efforts to end the excessive violence. However, lately, the government has discussed a potential ceasefire from the military in the midst of “peace talks” with the group. A discussion like this has not happened since the summer of 2012.

The question is, will these peace talks be successful and how long will said ceasefire last? Ending violence at the hand of the FARC have been attempted numerous times since 1964, while no solutions have been long-term. Issues with poverty and corruption in the government have led to continuous growth in the organization over generations, and many scholars argue that these attempts at peace will once again be unsuccessful.

What does this mean for the people of Colombia, and the overall security of Latin America in general? Most of the deaths at the hand of FARC have been innocent civilians in Colombia, many of which live in poorer and less secure regions of the country. The terrorist group is infamous for invading small communities, killing and torturing people and creating massive destruction. If said peace talks are successful, the 50 years of insecurity and terror for the people of Colombia may finally come to an end.

Alexandrea Jacinto

Sources: Foreign Policy, BBC
Photo: Caribbean Digital Network

Colombia is known to have one of the biggest illegal drug industries in the entire world, grossing around $10 billion every year. This huge sum is largely due to the existence of a rebel army called the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which is a guerilla group that has combated the government of Columbia for decades.

The FARC thrives off of the lower class, a group of individuals that have become enraged with the injustices being committed against them every day. While much of their money comes from ransoms, a large portion of it is also drawn from drug trade.

Since Columbia is a more tropical climate, farmers who are mostly lower class citizens, can easily grow cocaine between their crop rows without it being noticed by officials. This cocaine is then purified and packaged and sent through airports by drug mules who often do not get caught due to ingenious methods of hiding. But this is beginning to come apart.

Airport security is at an all-time high in Columbia, leading drug traffickers to become more ingenious with their methods. One example of this was using a mule posing as a hiker and filling his rope with liquid cocaine. Airport security is onto such tricks and has been able to cut down the amount of cocaine that is being trafficked. A shift in management is also called for as many officials could have connections with illegal groups such as the FARC. There has been a long standing war between the FARC and the government and it does not look like it will be ending anytime soon. However, there is a glimmer of hope in the blanket of darkness that envelops this country.

The long years of struggle between the FARC and the government has come to a standstill as government officials begin to accept their fates as prisoners in their own nation, but various NGOs have begun to step in to make a difference. NGOs have taken up the job of accounting for dead or lost individuals, monitoring violence, investigating links between the FARC and government officials, providing aid to individuals who have been displaces due to violence and providing education to those who search for it.

This education will eventually become key to decreasing the overall transactions of illegal drugs in Columbia. By providing education for the young children, NGOs are creating a brighter future for entire families. An educated individual can go on to travel overseas or to create innovation and business in their own hometowns. This education can also be spread through generations allowing entire families to rise in social standing.

When a family no longer relies on the production of drugs as their main source of income, the FARC may begin to lose supporters. It is a daring venture and one that will inevitably prove to be very dangerous, but for those bold few that seek out the education they deserve, it can make a world of a difference.

– Sumita Tellakat

Sources: Freedom House, Stratfor Global Intelligence,
Photo: Sekuritaci

Cocaine in Colombia Poison
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, a research arm of the World Health Organization, published a report on March 20, 2015 categorizing glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world by volume, so its new label has created turbulence across science and industry. While experts, governments and industry groups debate the study’s merits, poor farmers in Colombia may experience the most drastic fallout from the IARC report. Meanwhile, cocaine in Colombia receives a break from U.S. production curbing strategy.

Quickly following IARC’s declaration, the Colombian government suspended the aerial spraying of glyphosate. Since 1994, aerial spraying has been part of the U.S. strategy for curbing the production of cocaine in Colombia. In the last 20 years, 4.34 million acres have been sprayed, costing U.S. taxpayers roughly $2 billion.

Although defying U.S. interests, the U.S. Department of State is recognizing Colombia’s sovereignty to implement its decision. How this will affect anti-drug campaigns in the country remains to be seen.


Glyphosate Spraying and Cocaine in Colombia


Vanda Felbab-Brown, a global security specialist with the Brookings Institution, believes “Aerial spraying is politically controversial, costly and causes a tremendous amount of counterproductive side effects such as destroying legal crops, negative environmental effects as the chemical washes into streams, and alienating coca farmers from government authorities.”

A large cost has also been borne by farmers in regions where coca, the main ingredient in cocaine, is grown. From 2001 to 2012, the Colombian government processed 7,800 claims of crop damage as a result from aerial spraying. For the moment, the department handling these claims will have a break, and poor farmers in Colombia’s rural regions will experience less crop damage and a healthier environment.

Colombia’s decision to change tactics will open the door for alternative drug fighting policies and development strategies. These must fill the void that experts believe will be created by the termination of the spraying program. The incentives to grow coca are still strongly in place: the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime figured that cocaine was fetching roughly $2,500 per kilo back in 2013.

Alternative drug policies exist and are effective. The Washington Office on Latin America, which promotes human rights, democracy and social and economic justice in Latin America and the Caribbean, has outlined factors that need to complement an anti-drug campaign. Among these factors, the existence of alternative livelihoods plays a central role. Without other options, eradication programs will push farmers deeper into poverty. Implementing alternative and sustainable income generating activities makes coca production less attractive to farmers and shields them from a business decision that is subject to the whims of global drug policy.

The moratorium on glyphosate spraying comes as a relief to those living in targeted areas and provides an opportunity for sustainable development in the region.

– John Wachter

Sources: Al Jazeera, Brookings Institution, International Agency for Research on Cancer, LA Times, Nature, NY Times 1, NY Times 2, US Embassy, Washington Office on Latin America, Washington Office on Latin America
Photo: MercoPress

Poverty in Colombia
Poverty in Colombia remains an issue but progress has been made. In the 1980s, the capital city of Colombia, Bogota, started to implement a program of economic stratification of urban populations. The city ranked populations from one to six, one being the most poor and six being the wealthiest. Essentially, the stratification was supposed to direct city officials where to charge more for basic services like water and sanitation, and where to charge less. This program was officially codified into law in 1994.

Proponents of the program, like former Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalusa, say that the stratification only helps the government to serve the poor better by focusing infrastructure projects and providing cheaper services. Opponents, however, say that it makes mobility for the poor more difficult by legally separating them out, as well as increasing stigma around poverty.

When mapped out by strata, it is clear to see the physical separation of economic classes in the capital city. The wealthiest populations are clumped together in the northern part of the city while the poorest are in the south and along the outer edges. The distribution of wealth in the city is compartmentalized, depreciating an already underserved population.

Armed conflict in Colombia has been persistent for this century and half of the last. Due to this, Colombia has one of the highest rates of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world, reaching over five million in 2013. Many of these IDPs move to cities, especially Bogota. This shift has led to a large population without housing or resources, creating slums and shantytowns in and around the city.

Especially significant when looking at urbanization in Bogota is the development of a much poorer, extremely marginalized class on the outer edges of the city, where slums have grown significantly. Two of the largest slums, Altos de Cazuca and Ciudad Bolivar, house hundreds of thousands of people and are host to a myriad of social problems, most notably violent crime and poor access to essential resources like clean water, health care and education.

Conflict in the country has caused and contributed to countless problems, not in the least a robust drug trafficking industry. While peace talks with armed guerilla groups and narcotraficantes are ongoing, the outcome and impact for the urban and displaced poor that have been affected but not directly involved in the operations of these groups is not clear.

Levels of poverty have declined overall in Colombia in the last decade. Even more promising is the dramatic decrease in urban poverty in the two biggest cities in the country: Bogota and Medellin. While the legal stratification of urban citizens and rapid rates of urbanization have contributed to poverty in Bogota, the progress made against urban poverty is substantial. From the years 2005 to 2012, poverty has only fallen 7.6 percent in small cities in Colombia, but in Bogota and Medellin the rate has fallen 23.3 percent.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: UNHCR, UCL, ABColombia, Business Insider, World Bank, IFHP
Photo: Pasion y Vida

The range of wealth in Colombia is vast. The richest people are six socioeconomic brackets higher than the poorest, and a fraction of the size. 88 percent of the population belong to the lower half of the pyramid.

The Colombian government wants to erase the gap between the wealthy and the poor and they want to use the Internet to do so. The plan is to connect 63 percent of the population to the Internet by 2018.

When the initiative began in 2010, 2.2 million people were connected to the Internet. Today, Colombia’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology’s Live Digital Plan (Vive Digital) has increased that number to 8.8 million.

Diego Molano is Colombia’s minister for information and communications technology. He attributes the 2.5 million people lifted out of poverty in Colombia in the past three years to the program.

“When we connect, for example…a small school in the middle of the jungle to the Internet, those kids…have effectively the same opportunity to access the whole of information society—just like any kid in New York, London, or Paris,” Molano explains.

Molano recognizes, however, that connecting people to the Internet is not all that is needed. The Internet, he explains, is designed for the wealthy. It does not have applications for the rural shop-owner. “If you tried to sell Internet to them today…they say, ‘Why?’…no applications that impact their daily cash flow.”

The challenge becomes finding a way to provide Internet to Colombia’s poor rural populations as well as make it useful for them. To help with the challenge, Colombia has reached out to U.S. tech companies such as SAP, Google, Oracle and Facebook.

“Colombia is the perfect lab for them because poor people are already connected in this country,” Molano says.

One major issue, Molano has not addressed is that of electricity. In order to have Internet there needs to be access to electricity, and many parts of the country do not have that. An anonymous employee of Vive Digital told Colombia Reports that while he has delivered many computers to schools, a substantial portion have not been used because there was no access to electricity.

Colombia’s Internet initiative sees the equalizing power of the Internet, but is also finding challenges in its application.
“When you connect a potato grower in the Andean mountains, and he doubles his income thanks to Internet, you are reducing inequality,” Morano says, describing the ideal situation.

Julianne O’Connor

Sources: Colombia Reports, Washington Post
Photo: Elespectador

education in columbia
In the past decade, resource-rich Colombia has risen to become one of the second world’s emerging powers. Its resource production and role in global trade have increased rapidly, and in turn, education is in the process of reform. While education in Colombia has improved in recent years, the government is continuing to make reformative change.

Only 37.2 percent of young Colombians continued their education past high school in 2010. In response, the government made a goal for half of young Colombians to continue their education after high school by 2014. College degrees have been shown to make a significant difference in individual incomes: Colombians who get bachelor’s degrees generally earn about 3.5 times more than those who only graduated from high school.

The Colombian government formed the Everyone Learns program in 2012, which focuses on elementary students in public in schools in the country’s poorest areas. Everyone Learns is primarily geared toward mathematics and language and has reached approximately 2.4 million students. Education Minister Maria Fernanda Campo lead the program, which selected more than 3,000 of Colombia’s best teachers to bring in another 90,000 in the countrywide initiative.

Colombia is very focused on improving early childhood education. The country and its neighbor Ecuador have joined with Italy and the United Nations to support their desire for new childhood development goals to be included in the Millennium Development Goals. The countries are primarily interested in increased and accessible programs in early childhood education.

In a 2012 report titled Education for All, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) explained that the rapid growth of Colombia reveals existing inequalities in social class, gender and ethnicity, which is aggravated in large part due to a lack of access to education. The UNESCO examination reports that while Colombia has a good adult literacy rate, there is a low rate of education among children and an even lower index in post-secondary studies.

While many students in wealthier households might have access to education, those from families living in poverty often have less accessibility to schools. Forty-two percent of children from the poorest households start late, as opposed to the 11 percent who start late from more affluent families.

From when they begin school on into secondary school, the large majority of students from wealthier families have access to education, whereas about only half of youth from families in poverty attend school. “Colombia has been one of the fastest growing countries in Latin America, but growth is volatile, affected by conflict and discrimination,” the report said.

Colombia is in the process of evolving: the disparities revealing themselves as Colombia develops have left some of its poorer citizens with less access to education. However, the government is focusing on making change and is promoting initiatives to increase accessibility to schooling.

– Julia Thomas

Sources: OECD, World Bank, Colombia Reports
Photo: The Guardian

Colombian EducationThe Colombian government has struggled to improve educational standards within the region for some time. Only 37 percent of Colombian minors continued their educational studies or vocational training after high school in 2010. With young people representing nearly 30 percent of Colombia’s working age population, educational improvements could breed huge potential for the country’s economic development.

Although education statistics are not at the top of the global charts, President Juan Manuel Santos is determined to improve the Colombian education system and reach the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development standards.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, is a coalition of 34 countries that has strict membership standards and identify with good economic and political standings. President Santos is especially interesting in attaining membership to bring Colombia more into the global economy.

Colombia first applied for membership with OECD in 2012, the same year that the government launched an educational initiative called “Everyone Learns.” The program targeted elementary school students in the poorest regions of the country, focusing on the areas of language and mathematics. It was able to reach 2.4 million students within the past couple of years.

The program also selected nearly 3,000 of Colombia’s top teachers to lead this program, which was fully supported by Education Minister Fernanda Campo. However, despite these efforts, Colombia’s educations statistics still fell below OECD averages.

In a new effort to improve educational standards so that Colombia can reach membership requirements and achieve greater economic growth, the government is launching a nationwide language initiative.

Colombia’s National Training Service, or SENA, has arranged for 102 volunteers from English-speaking countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to teach English to thousands of students in Colombia’s vocational education sector. These volunteers are projected to educate and reach more than 4,500 students, while also working with and mentoring nearly 800 instructors who already work in Colombia for SENA.

According to SENA Director Fernando Rojas, these volunteers will be dispersed throughout the country, mostly in the states of Tolima, Antioquia and Valle del Cauca. The teams are expected to teach for two hours per day to a maximum of 25 students at a time to ensure individual attention.

The program is expected to receive another 100 or so volunteers to join later this year in order to expand the project and reach more students nationwide.

– Cambria Arvizo

Sources: Colombia Reports 1, Colombia Reports 2, The World Bank
Photo: Global Giving