Yoga to Combat Poverty
In a small Chinese village called Yugouliang, the 5,000-year-old practice of yoga has transformed the lives of hardworking villagers. They have started using yoga to combat poverty.

Yugouliang

Yoga has become part of Yugouliang’s identity as a small village in China with a population of less than 100. Most of the villagers are elderly farmers, many of whom suffer from poverty and depression. Lu Wenzhen, a government official, started an anti-poverty mission in Yugouliang to improve the quality of life for residents. Initially, he worked to advance trading networks, but he was unsuccessful because of transportation costs. He eventually turned to yoga to combat poverty.

Wenzhen, who had no yoga experience before this initiative, said he first noticed yoga when he saw a woman sitting cross-legged for over an hour. He began to contemplate the possible healing benefits yoga could offer to Yugouliang.

Locals were hesitant about yoga and confused as to why Wenzhen was not providing more financial relief, but nonetheless, they showed up to practice daily. When they noticed improved strength and flexibility as well as higher energy levels, they were able to work longer hours farming and expand their practices.

Villager Stories

Ms. Ge, a Yugouliang yogi, believes yoga relieved the pains that affected her ability to work in the fields. “Now, I don’t have to take a single painkiller,” Ms. Ge said to the New York Times. Wu Qilian, a 73-year-old woman, said that practicing yoga for two years helped alleviate her knee and waist pain. Yoga’s help with physical pain relief has eased medical costs for the villagers.

After a few years of regular group yoga routines, people now know Yugouliang as a “yoga village” that features drawings of poses on various walls. Wenzhen hopes this reputation will create tourism revenue, although the village is in a rural, hard-to-reach area of China.

Combating Poverty in Yugouliang

Yugouliang still suffers from poverty and needs economic relief in addition to structural changes. However, practicing yoga daily has given the villagers something to look forward to. They now have a mode of physical and emotional empowerment that has improved their mental health and ability to work.

Global Citizen Writer Joe McCarthy reflected on Yugouliang’s new culture of yoga to combat poverty, stating that it provides holistic benefits to the villagers’ wellbeing. “Yoga is certainly not a silver bullet for ending poverty, and providing people with benefits such as food, shelter, and health care go a long way toward improving people’s lives. But Yugouliang holds a lesson for people around the world and helps to situate poverty in a more holistic sense of well-being.”

Originating in India, yoga continues to spread across the globe as a means of spirituality and both physical and mental wellness. Yugouliang has adopted the practice of yoga over the past few years and, in turn, has created a community of healing and progress. Other anti-poverty yoga initiatives are emerging around the world in places like Kenya. Hopefully, more communities like Yugouliang can use yoga to combat poverty in the future. 

– Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Flickr

Solidarity Work in ColombiaGuerrilla warfare has been particularly devastating to Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in Colombia. These groups number more than 1.5 million people and comprise 3.4% of the country’s total population. Of the 7.5 million internally displaced people in Colombia, there are 192,638 Indigenous people and 794,703 Afro-Colombian people. Organized crime groups and paramilitary organizations target both displaced populations. Dr. Jessica Srikantia suggests that some humanitarian aid is inadvertently escalating the problem because of its approach and suggests alternative methods for effective solidarity work in Colombia.

Harmful Instead of Helpful

The Borgen Project interviewed Dr. Jessica Srikantia, an associate professor at George Mason University who spent years participating in solidarity work in Colombia with Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. She witnessed firsthand the consequences of structural violence on vulnerable communities.

To combat the humanitarian crisis in Colombia, global aid organizations have primarily funded the Colombian government to support nutrition and economic development. Although these organizations may have good intentions, according to Dr. Srikantia, they may contribute to ongoing human rights violations. In a process she labels “self-interested aid,” these humanitarian organizations may be doing more harm than good.

A common form of damaging humanitarian intervention is the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into local agriculture. The use of pesticides and GMO crops threatens the biodiversity of countries like Colombia, home to more than 30 species of maize. Grassroots organizations are trying to eliminate the use of GMO crops. As an alternative, grassroots groups advocate for providing local farmers with access to seeds and funding to preserve and expand the existing crops.

“Decolonizing” Aid

To conduct her solidarity work in Colombia, Dr. Srikantia had to “decolonize” her mind by learning to understand what communities need rather than implementing western “developed” methods. She stresses the distinction between on-the-ground grassroots organizations and organizations that work from a distance through existing power structures.

The first type of organization works with communities to be self-sufficient and maintain their identity. The other type tries to assimilate communities into the global economy, which can be detrimental to local culture and identity. Real solidarity happens when an organization builds a relationship with a community, she says.

Dr. Srikantia’s solidarity work in Colombia took the form of an urgent action response plan. This included organizing people, calling Congress, raising awareness and actively working on the ground. She referred to what she was doing as “putting out fires.” She also lobbied for policy reform to prevent damage to vulnerable communities.

Reclaiming What is Sacred

Dr. Srikantia believes the key to ending human rights violations can be found when “we reclaim what is sacred.” In Colombia, she witnessed communities that lived with respect for the interconnectedness of all living things. The current global development paradigm focuses on privatizing to create wealth. A better method, however, is to help communities by allowing them to keep their cultural identities and current way of existing.

Dr. Srikantia suggests that instead of trying to integrate groups into the global economy, humanitarian organizations should teach them to be self-sufficient and help them be content with what they have. Instead of teaching insecurity, which will only harm vulnerable communities, people need to learn to reclaim what is sacred: living with respect for the interconnectedness of life.

– Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr

Land grabbing has been a problem in Colombia for several decades, particularly for those living in rural areas. A mixture of political and business corruption, rebel groups, paramilitary organizations and drug smuggling has led to the displacement of many Colombians from the properties they own or inhabit. At their peak, land grabbers of varying organizations illegally held almost 15% of the land in Colombia. As a result, between 6 and 7 million people have had no choice but to leave their homes in search of alternative dwellings. As of 2011, that has all begun to change with land restitution efforts.

Law 1448

In 2011, Colombia introduced Law 1448, also known as the Victims and Land Restitution Law. The objective of the law is straightforward: return illegally held land to its rightful owners. As a direct result of the law, the government established a Land Restitution Unit. This unit aids Colombian citizens in the court system to help them understand how they can file for land restitution. The law also provides some leeway for those who might no longer have the physical documents that prove they own the land, which is frequently the case.

Resolution 181

Two years later in 2013, Colombia also passed Resolution 181. This law is designed to prevent land grabbing in the future. It helps new landowners properly obtain titles and registration documents to ensure that their land cannot be illegally taken or abused. It is another law that works at the judicial level to give proper guidance to those who might not be well versed in property law and related regulations. Both of these laws are designed to work in conjunction with one another to look after those living in impoverished and/or rural communities. They ensure that if and when land grabbing issues do arise, the courts will be able to review official documentation that clearly proves who owns what.

Technology Helping These Efforts

In addition to these laws, the National University of Colombia has designed a system that is significantly safer for storing land-related documents. Land titles and registrations now go directly into a blockchain designed exclusively for property owners. Blockchain technology is highly regarded as being the safest way to save information since everything is decentralized. That means that no single entity controls the data. In a blockchain, every user can see any new or old activity and monitor if something looks suspicious.

Hacking a blockchain is extremely difficult and no one in history has ever managed to do so. Hacking a blockchain is so difficult because any time a new block is created, there is information that links it back to every existent block. So if a hacker wants to change the code of a block in order to sign over a land title to himself rather than the intended owner, every single block in the chain needs to be manipulated to agree with that change. It also needs to be done before anyone notices that a change has occurred. There could be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of blocks in the blockchain for Colombian property ownership.

Next Steps

Colombia is moving in the right direction. Law 1448, Resolution 181 and blockchain implementation have been vital to land restitution efforts. Since 2011, rightful owners have reclaimed over 740 thousand acres of previously stolen land. While that number might sound large, more than 5 million acres of land still remain in limbo. To make land restitution efforts as effective as possible, Law 1448 and Resolution 181 must be enforced far beyond 2021. The proper framework is in place, but the Colombian government has to remain active in helping its citizens reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Flickr

Casa PintadaMany communities in Colombia have been decimated after more than 50 years of conflict. Despite the signing of a peace deal between the Colombian Government and rebel groups in 2016, violence persists in many parts of the country. Rural communities have been disproportionally impacted as government services are almost non-existent in these areas. Many programs have been initiated to assist victims of the conflict, one of them being the Casa Pintada project. This project involves members of shattered communities coming together to rebuild and repaint buildings that have been destroyed. It seeks to re-establish the sense of community that has been lost in the conflict.

Overview of the Colombian Conflict

The Colombian conflict began in the 1960s with the formation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). These two far-left militant groups embarked on a violent campaign against the Colombian state for more than 50 years. Kidnappings, assassinations and drug trafficking were commonplace during this time and at least 220,000 people have been killed.

The signing of a peace deal in 2016 was lauded around the world and then-president, Juan Manuel Santos, even won a Nobel Peace Prize. However, violence has continued as many of the promises made by the Colombian government have not been kept. Rural areas still are not receiving basic assistance and this has convinced many militants to resume fighting.

The Casa Pintada Project

Blumont undertakes the Casa Pintada project, an organization that provides developmental programs around the world. In the Casa Pintada or painted house project, people restore and repaint damaged buildings in various communities throughout Colombia. Focusing specifically on the Caquetá, Cauca and Córdoba states, it seeks to help the residents of these areas restore the sense of community among themselves by rebuilding their communities from the ground up.

At least 740 families have benefited from Casa Pintada and these benefits have gone far beyond rebuilding damaged infrastructure. The project also provides psychological assistance to those who have experienced years of violence and displacement. The act of repainting homes as a community breaks down barriers that have gone up over the years by instilling a sense of pride among residents of these areas. This helps to reestablish connections between neighbors, which in turn, goes a long way in healing the trauma caused by decades of conflict.

The Closing Gaps Program

Casa Pintada is a part of Blumont’s larger Closing Emergency Gaps to Aid Displaced People program. Called the Closing Gaps program for short, it is funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. This program seeks to aid victims of displacement in Colombia by strengthening the local government’s ability to care for refugees while providing for their basic needs and representation. Furthermore, as demonstrated by the Casa Pintada project, Closing Gaps is also concerned with treating the psychological impacts of displacement.

The Casa Pintada project reflects the multifaceted issues that arise from violent civil conflicts. The Colombian conflict lasted for more than five decades and left an indelible impact on much of the population, especially in rural areas. While the physical toll the Colombian people have suffered received much attention, Casa Pintada aims to address the psychological effects of the conflict. By having people repaint and refurbish damaged buildings in their neighborhoods, it helps heal the trauma they have endured by instilling a sense of community among them.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Slow Fashion In Colombia
Colombia is a South American country that ranks first place in Latin America for ethical practices and sustainable development. It supports international certificates such as ISO 14000, ISO 900 and BASC to ensure fair trade and environmental initiatives. In 2015, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, Colombia ranked second in social responsibility for its support of national artisans, indigenous communities and single mothers. Learn how slow fashion in Colombia helps artisans escape cycles of poverty.

Slow Fashion

Colombia benefits from slow fashion because it stimulates the economy and improves artisanal living conditions. However, these highly skilled workers are losing their jobs because of automated garment manufacturing fueled by fashion brands making cheap clothing at a rapid pace and at low costs. Consumers that support slow fashion in Colombia help empower artisans and fight extreme poverty. They also help preserve artisans’ cultural skills by supporting their handcrafted goods and allow them to work close to home.

Partnerships are vital in elevating slow fashion in Colombia. According to Aspen Institute, the second-largest source of employment in African and Latin American countries is from artisanal craft. However, artisans remain in poverty due to poor access to distribution channels and quality materials. Since fast fashion has forced artisans to seek different sources of employment, the loss of artisanal jobs risks that their cultural traditions be lost forever. This makes artisanal products reaching global markets and artisans receiving a fair wage critical for their livelihoods and for the preservation of their culture.

Growing Artisanal Sector

According to Artisanal Alliance, artisanal goods sold in international markets doubled between 2002 to 2012. Artisans are often women and informal producers that lack basic financial tools and market access to increase the production and sale of their goods. This is important because 65% of artisanal work happens in developing countries. These artisans could have better access to the global markets if they had the proper resources, tools and business partners needed to produce and sell artisanal goods. This would make it easier to sell goods to consumers interested in supporting Colombian artisanry and uplifting artisans.

Benefits of Slow Fashion

Slow fashion in Colombia empowers artisans, such as Leopoldina Jimenez. In 2017, she was recognized by Artesanías de Colombia with the Medal for Craftsmanship ‘Master of Masters’ for 48 years of work toward the elaboration of woolen fabrics. Her work has helped elevate artisanal craft while inspiring women to continue the legacy of their culture. She also finds it important to use her platform to provide greater visibility to rural artisanal communities in Colombia. Sopó Mayor’s Office fair highlighted her previous work and recognized her work with Exportesano with a Quality Seal.

Slow fashion in Colombia has also prospered through collaborative efforts like the Agua Bendita’s AB Hearts Initiative. This collective of 700 women artisans is empowered to take old Colombian beading and embroidery techniques and turn them into a business. Lead artisans distribute the work among the women and create prints that reference Colombia’s history and culture. This allows them to work at home and specialize in either beadwork and embroidery to complete requested design work.

Moving forward, it is essential that slow fashion in Colombia and around the world receives support and continues to grow. Slow fashion enables better livelihoods for artisans and is one way consumers can help alleviate global poverty.

– Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

5 Nonprofit Organizations Founded By Celebrities
Movie stars, singers, athletes and comedians spend a large portion of their time entertaining people, giving interviews and writing autographs. On top of that, many celebrities participate in charity events like fundraisers or benefit concerts, some even going as far as to create their own organizations to give back to those in need. Here are some nonprofit organizations that celebrities founded to benefit the world’s most vulnerable.

Charlize Theron – The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project

Charlize Theron is a famous Hollywood actress and U.N. messenger of peace who cares about charity. She has especially been working hard to fight AIDS in Africa. While the disease continues to be an immense issue throughout the entire continent, it remains the most prevalent in South Africa, which is Theron’s home country. She established The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) in 2007. The organization aims to raise awareness of the disease and contribute to its prevention. CTAOP especially focuses on younger people and collaborates with local programs to inform and support the youth in Africa. Furthermore, CTAOP partners with several companies and nonprofit organizations to successfully provide preventative means and guidance to South Africans.

Shakira – The Barefoot Foundation

The Barefoot Foundation is one of many nonprofit organizations that celebrities founded. Famous pop star Shakira has shown the impact nonprofit organizations can have. As such, she created the Barefoot Foundation in 1997. The organization acknowledges the importance of education and provides organizational and financial support to assure that children can go to school. In addition, the Barefoot Foundation also partners with the Pies Descalzos Foundation, an organization from Colombia that shares the same mission.

The Pies Descalzos Foundation opened its fifth Colombian school in 2009 to provide education, advice and general support in life to 1,800 students in the country. In 2010, Shakira promised that the Barefoot Foundation would build a school in Haiti and assured that the children attending the school would be able to obtain their academic and basic life needs.

Rihanna – The Clara Lionel Foundation

Rihanna founded the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) in 2012. Its name is a homage to her grandparents Clara and Lionel. The organization’s goal is to provide education and guidance to children and teenagers all over the world. The approach of Rihanna’s nonprofit organization is to tackle problems on both a local and global level. She wishes to raise awareness of several kinds of issues that the world’s youth is facing. Moreover, CLF is working closely with government organizations and companies to be more efficient and help as many people as possible. The organization has successfully established programs to provide basic education in places like Malawi, Senegal and Barbados. Furthermore, it provides a scholarship program to support students in their pursuit of higher education.

Bono – ONE and RED

ONE and RED are two nonprofit organizations that Bono created. The lead singer of the Irish band U2 has put a lot of effort into his charity work over the years. He has specifically focused on tackling important issues in Africa. ONE’s mission is to completely eradicate extreme global poverty and improve the lives of the poor. Bono’s lobbying efforts and the organization’s financial support have established programs. These programs aim to prevent the deaths of millions of people.

RED is a sister organization to ONE. It aims to spread awareness about AIDS and has successfully raised around $650 million to treat the disease in Africa. On top of that, Bono also co-founded The Rise Fund, a financial program that focuses on supporting progress for social and environmental matters.

Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore – Thorn

Actress Demi Moore and actor Ashton Kutcher founded Thorn together in 2012. The couple’s goal was to fight against child sex trafficking. A documentary about the issue in Cambodia motivated them to create Thorn. Thorn’s approach is to develop technologies for free and share them with law enforcement and federal agencies in order to save children. The use of technology against child sex traffickers has proven to be very successful since the organization’s establishment. Moreover, Thorn’s technologies helped identify 5,894 kids who were victims of the crime in 2017. Moreover, Thorn rescued more than 10,000 children rescued one year later.

These organizations that celebrities founded have shown vigor in countering numerous challenges from AIDS to providing child sex trafficking. The endeavors of the prominent celebrities above have led to improvements in the lives of many across the globe.

– Bianca Adelman
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Research in South America
Innovations for Poverty Action is a nonprofit research and policy organization that is working to establish research projects that address inequalities and discover global poverty solutions across 22 countries. The nonprofit organization continues to work with 830 research projects in eight areas: education, financial inclusion, health, peace and recovery, social protection, agriculture, governance and other enterprises. Today, the IPA continues to perform important research projects to present high-quality evidence to policymakers by analyzing results from studies focusing on the impact of financial education in various countries. This extends to COVID-19 research in South America.

IPA Colombia

IPA Colombia has conducted research addressing topics ranging from early childhood development and education to financial inclusion and gender-based violence. From June to August 2020, four researchers partnered with the IPA, Fundación Capital and The Family Compensation Fund of Antioquia to measure the impact of a COVID-19 WhatsApp intervention program on financial health, women’s empowerment and intimate partner violence of low-income individuals in Antioquia. The program originated from a Fundación Capital, IPA and Colombian government partnership that implemented a LISTA financial education program and survey for cash transfer beneficiaries from 2015 to 2016. Following COVID-19, a WhatsApp intervention program emerged and the IPA evaluated 1,549 women and 784 men in a treatment or control study. The interactive WhatsApp treatment program provided communication services, psychosocial support and a financial education program for participants from June to July 2020.

IPA Colombia and Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) Partnerships

The IADB partnered with IPA Colombia to start a Special Permit of Permanence for the Administrative Registry of Venezuelan migrants (PEP-RAMV) research study in September 2020. The PEP-RAMV permit program became open to census registered Venezuelan migrants for two-year temporary work and residence permits starting in July 2018. Researchers compared 4,000 registered or undocumented migrant homes through research, telephone surveys and 42 interviews to help policymakers understand how the permit impacts migrant healthcare and employment as information to base new Colombia migration policies.

The IPA partnered with two IADB researchers in a COVID-19 mitigation strategy compliance evaluation with 1,300 university students in Bogota as a strategy to support Colombia. The researchers partnered with the IPA and Rosario University to inform students about the participant and public benefits of following COVID-19 mitigation policies or controlled classical music treatment. Moreover, the researchers requested to send a participant opinion survey on COVID-19 mitigation strategy compliance to help determine whether COVID-19 mitigation policies should reduce.

IPA Paraguay

For several years, the IPA has worked on research-based projects in Paraguay addressing education and pension programs. From May to July 2020, IPA researchers conducted telephone surveys with 2,035 women entrepreneurs in rural Paraguay to determine whether microfinance loans for the self-employed can help businesses and households build resilience to overcome the impact of COVID-19.  The IPA telephone surveys asked the entrepreneurs interested in microloans about the impact of COVID-19 on their farms or businesses.

UCONN Agricultural and Resource Economics Professor and IPA Researcher, Nathan Fiala, has worked with a Paraguay microfinance organization since 2018. Fiala told The Borgen Project that a 2019 baseline survey addressed women “who have expressed interest in receiving a microloan” before they accessed loans from the Paraguay microfinance organization in 2019. According to Fiala, the IPA joined the project because the microfinance “research that exists out there is not of good quality and we’re trying to improve on the quality of that research” by 2022. Recently, Fiala found that the Paraguay microfinance organization is “expanding certain programming and doing more close work” with the women entrepreneurs based on participant needs.

IPA COVID-19 Response

In 2020, the IPA started the Research for Effective COVID-19 Responses (RECOVR) program with multiple partner agencies. The initial inter-agency funded RECOVR survey occurred between May and July 2020 in 10 countries while subsequent surveys were conducted between July and December 2020. The initial survey asked participants about the impact of COVID-19, while subsequent surveys focused on child welfare and domestic violence in August and November 2020 as a strategy to support Colombia.

A Look Ahead: COVID-19 Research in South America

The IPA partnered with the National Planning Department (DNP) of Colombia to observe the impact of the VAT Compensation in a telephone survey for 1,730 beneficiaries and 1,732 non-beneficiary households from June to November 2020. The DNP managed the 75,000 Colombian peso cash transfers before the Department of Social Prosperity took over management to reach 1 million social welfare beneficiary households every five to eight weeks starting on March 31, 2020. The survey found that VAT Compensation beneficiaries were more likely to support COVID-19 precautions than non-beneficiaries.

The IPA has developed 80 COVID-19 response evaluations and an International Growth Centre support partnership for COVID-19 Economic Impact surveys. The surveys helped increase COVID-19 research in South America and inform policymakers about how to regulate COVID-19 policies. Fiala continues to analyze the importance of microfinance loans in rural Paraguay. As the IPA continues to analyze results on the PEP-RAMV study, Colombia began to initiate a 10-year Temporary Statute of Protection for Venezuelan Migrants (TSPV) for approximately 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants in February 2021 as a strategy to support Colombia.

Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

9 Facts About IDPs in Colombia
For more than 50 years, Colombia grappled with a civil war that left more than 220,000 dead and millions displaced. The protracted issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) continues in the country despite the 2016 Peace Accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in rural Colombia. Here are nine facts about IDPs in Colombia.

9 Facts About IDPs in Colombia

  1. In 2019, there were approximately eight million IDPs in Colombia. This does not include the additional 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees in the country.
  2. There are still citizens being displaced since the peace agreement in 2016. As of 2019, the number of people of concern in Colombia has increased by 13%.
  3. The government lacks control of many rural regions of Colombia. Although FARC largely demobilized in 2016, there are other armed groups still controlling large swaths of the country that are perpetuating the IDP crisis. These groups are funded by the lucrative cocaine trade, which continues to thrive in unstable regions.
  4. Environmental impacts also play a role in the IDP situation. Colombia has the fourth-highest rate of deforestation in the world, a majority of which occurs in areas of origin for IDPs. Criminal elements and the government share responsibility for environmental degradation.
  5. Human rights activists are at risk. Since the 2016 Peace Accord, more than 400 human rights activists and environmental defenders have been killed in Colombia, many of which were from indigenous communities. These advocates are crucial in establishing crop substitution programs and helping resettle and empower IDPs.
  6. For IDPs living in urban areas, UNHCR and national NGOs have implemented the legalization of informal settlements. This has helped provide better access to government services, energy and the sewage system, along with lessening the stigma of not having ownership titles for housing. This UNHCR project has been ongoing since 2015 and has benefitted more than 24,000 IDPs.
  7. The Opción Legal NGO assists IDPs with reintegration into rural communities through legal means. Reintegration was included in the 2016 peace agreement but it is still in need of better implementation. With the help of funding from UNHCR, Opción Legal operates programs encouraging and strengthening political participation for IDPs. This NGO has assisted IDP populations in regions like Atlántico and Bolívar.
  8.  The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) is supporting the implementation of the peace agreement. The agency is seeking out durable solutions to conflict, such as education and job training. The programs have benefitted more than 10,000 Colombians directly and 235,000 indirectly.
  9. USAID is working to build institutional trust in regions with high levels of IDPs. Vulnerable populations in addition to IDPs, such as women, community leaders, migrants and ethnic minorities, are all considered crucial populations for funding and empowerment. USAID also has a strategy to build capacity for youth leaders, which is viewed as a possible long-term solution for peace and self-reliance.

Looking Forward

The 2016 Peace Accord was a big step in working to improve livelihoods for millions of IDPs in Colombia. Although many challenges remain in implementation, the legal frameworks are in place for the country to continue toward its ultimate goals of peace and stability.

– Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

Colombia’s indigenous people An effort to bring virtual education resources to Colombia’s indigenous people helps students learn in their native language and creates opportunities for them to break the cycle of poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has created food insecurity and economic challenges for many indigenous communities in Colombia and Latin America. Education has also undergone disruption as 137 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean are staying home from school. Fundación El Origen is addressing this lack of education during COVID-19 by bringing virtual learning to indigenous children in Colombia.

COVID-19’s Impact on Colombia’s Indigenous People

In Colombia, the economic toll of the pandemic has hit the indigenous people of Colombia especially hard. Across Colombia, an estimated 1.5 million indigenous people account for 3.4% of the total population, according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

The largest indigenous group in Colombia, the Wayuu people, live predominantly in the region of La Guajira in northern Colombia along the border of Venezuela.

The pandemic has been so detrimental to the indigenous people of Colombia because it has shut down the tourism sector and 90% of people in La Guajira work in informal sectors like tourism. At the same time, remote work or school is nearly impossible as only 10% of people have access to the internet.

Fundación El Origen: Virtual Learning

Fundación El Origen is trying to break the cycle of poverty by making virtual learning an option for all students and by focusing on other educational challenges faced by indigenous and rural youth living in La Guajira. Spanish is the official language in Colombia, however, estimates have determined that people speak 70 different indigenous languages in the country. This presents a challenge to indigenous students who may have grown up speaking a native language and then have to attend classes that teachers teach in Spanish.

To even the playing field for indigenous students, especially during the pandemic, Fundación El Origen has supplied students with tablets that offer instruction in their indigenous wayuunaiki languages. Roughly 260 children from the Wayuu tribe of La Guajira received tablets.

The tablets use a virtual learning program called O-Lab. This program teaches students in Spanish and in their native language. Moreover, it works without an internet connection.

“They have to adapt to an education system that was not made for them,” said Tania Rosas, executive director of Fundación El Origen, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

In Colombia, more than 100,000 kids dropped out of school during 2020, largely because of the financial hardships of the pandemic, Rosas said. The problem is daunting and organizations like Fundación el Origen can only help a small portion of students in need. So far, Fundación el Origen has brought online learning to 2,000 children and hopes to reach even more children in 2021.

Access to virtual learning is the latest education barrier but education is not a new fight for the indigenous people of Colombia or Fundación el Origen.

The Importance of Education for the Indigenous

“We have been fighting for many years to have the rights to our lands and have the right to access quality education for our communities,” Rosas said. Rosas sees education as the best way for Colombia’s indigenous people to have a voice in government and for an entire community to leave poverty.

“If we give them access to education programs to help them understand those problems and create solutions, we are eventually ensuring access to sustainable development in their communities,” she said. “We think that education is the best way to empower them and give them the tools to ensure sustainable development.”

Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr

Wheelchairs in Colombia
The country of Colombia is a land with four distinct geographic locations. In its Pacific and Caribbean lowlands are rolling hills that stretch east and reach the Amazon Rainforest. Both the Andes Mountains and the Cordillera Central mountain range run through the country as well. However, it is difficult for those who suffer debilitating physical injuries to travel around the country. As a result, wheelchairs in Colombia have improved many lives.

Colombia’s Half-Century of Conflict

The government of Colombia has conflicted with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) since the 1960s. As such, the conflict between the Colombian government has resulted in the displacement of 5.7 million people along with many deaths and disappearances. Additionally, there have also been paramilitary groups operating in the country that have contributed to the violence.

Improved Mobility for Victims of Conflict

Survivors of this long conflict have ended up with serious physical injuries. Many people have lost the ability to walk. This is especially troublesome when it comes to navigating around a country with various landscapes. In Colombia, around 200,000 people were living with a physical disability that resulted from the conflict. About 12,000 of them sustained injuries from anti-personnel landmines.

Researchers from various universities in Colombia realized that many of their fellow countrymen can no longer walk and have no way to get around their own country. Thus, these researchers set forth to create a solution called the All-Terrain Chair. These wheelchairs in Colombia had the specific design of helping people who suffered injuries from the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, these wheelchairs largely comprise magnesium, which is not only a strong material but extremely affordable as well.

MATT

The Colombian startup that people know as Mobility, Accessibility, Time and Work (MATT) has helped people with physical disabilities by providing them with employment. For example, MATT has organized three-hour wheelchair tours throughout the city of Medellin. People who can and cannot walk are welcome to join the tours. Furthermore, people with physical disabilities lead these tours. Wilson Guzman lost the use of his legs at the age of 17. Thus, these tours not only allow him to see the sights of Medellin but also gives the tourists who can walk a perspective on what it is like to not have the use of their legs.

Colombia’s economic productivity is low and has caused the economic growth of the country to lag. Additionally, Colombia has a sizable infrastructure gap. Despite the dire economic circumstances that the country is in, the government is doing its absolute best to provide jobs and a mode of reliable transportation for physically disabled people. The implementation of these wheelchairs in Colombia is a great first step in improving people’s lives.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr