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Poverty in ColombiaMacroeconomic trends show there has been equitable growth in Colombia. While as of 2017 Colombia holds the second-highest wealth inequality rate in Latin America, only slightly better than Brazil, it has been on a downward trend since 2000. Additionally, poverty in Colombia dropped by 15% between 2008 and 2017 to a low of 27%. Extreme poverty was cut in half from 2002 to 2014, with more than 6 million people moving out of poverty. This put more Colombians in the middle class than in poverty for the first time. Finally, between 2008 and 2017, the country’s gross domestic product grew at a rate of 3.8%. This is more than twice as fast as the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Problems

However, increasing exports drives much of the recent growth and reduction in poverty in Colombia. Commodity prices have risen significantly over the past several years. This growth is unsustainable, as a recent drop in prices has hindered the export industry. Colombia has also been struggling with such issues as a lack of financial inclusion, low productivity, low-skilled workers and a large informal economy.

The informal economy consists of such jobs as farmworkers, taxi drivers and street vendors where “they make no direct tax contributions, have no security of employment and do not receive pensions or other social benefits.” As of May 2014, informal workers made up nearly two-thirds of the Colombian labor force. This means millions do not possess a dependable income. They do not have the opportunity to contribute to or receive a pension fund or other government benefits. For these reasons, the large informal sector is also a big contributor to inequality and poverty in Colombia.

Another major issue holding back Colombia has been its decades-long internal struggle for peace. Nearly a quarter-million Colombians have died from the conflict, with 25,000 disappearing and nearly 6 million being displaced. Although a peace agreement was reached in 2016, tensions are still high in the country between the government and the rebel militia.

Solutions

Nonetheless, steps are being taken to ensure that Colombia is able to continue its recent progress. With nearly 6 million people displaced because of the internal conflict, land restitution is a key step to make. With the help of the World Bank, 1,852 land restitution legal cases were held by the end of 2014. Additionally, the World Bank helped the Colombian government give reparations to those affected by the conflict, with a focus on Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups who were disproportionately affected.

Digitalization and use of technology are being used to help formalize businesses by simplifying the registration process and making tax collection more efficient, enabling businesses and individuals to pay taxes and contribute to the pension system and providing them access to many social benefits. Digitalization also provides greater access to financial services. This is done by providing micro-credits, expanding the outreach of banking services, lowering the cost of financial services and simplifying electronic payments.

USAID’s Role in Poverty Reduction in Colombia

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has also been involved in helping decrease poverty in Colombia by increasing the presence of democratic institutions in the country. Through this, the USAID hopes to “foster a culture of respect for human rights, promote access to justice, increase public investment and provide services to historically underserved and conflictive rural areas.” This organization fights for inclusive growth and encourages investment in rural areas. Additionally, it helps producers expand their market, provides financial services and helps restore the land to its original owners before the conflict.

All of these efforts and many more are being made to reduce poverty in Colombia. The goal is to keep the country on a path toward equitable and inclusive development that leads to a reduction of inequality.

Scott Boyce
Photo: Flickr

The State of Venezuelan Sex TraffickingThe recent collapse of Venezuela’s economy and political stability has made the headlines of many news outlets. The controversial reelection of President Nicholas Maduro in May 2018 plunged Venezuela back into violent protests and demonstrations. As of June 2019, more than four million people had fled from Venezuela’s deteriorating conditions. In this mass exodus, women and children are especially vulnerable to Venezuelan sex trafficking.

Venezuelan Sex Trafficking

Venezuela’s sex traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Venezuela. More than four million Venezuelans are fleeing from their country, according to the Refugee International’s 2019 field report. The recent influx of Venezuelans fleeing their country presents a new boom in Venezuela’s sex and human trafficking. Neighboring countries, mainly Colombia, Brazil, Tobago, Trinidad and Ecuador, have experience receiving refugees from Venezuela.

What makes the situation especially difficult is the sheer number of refugees who are fleeing from Venezuela. The Brazilian Ministry of Justice reported that there were 2,577 refugee status requests made between 2016 and 2017 for the state of Amazonas. This makes up 12.8 percent of the requests made nationwide.

This increase in the number of people attempting to leave the country makes it hard for many Venezuelan refugees to use the legal pathways. Many Venezuelan refugees utilize illegal means, such as the black market or illegal armed groups, to escape their country.

In June 2019, a story of Venezuelan refugees shipwrecked near Trinidad and Tobago brought the dark underbelly of Venezuelan sex trafficking to light. Traffickers in the first shipwreck included members of the Bolivarian National Guard and a member of Venezuela’s maritime authority. These individuals were arrested after a survivor of the shipwreck spoke out against them.

Survivors of the second shipwreck testified that the traffickers charged $250 and $500 to everyone aboard the boat headed for Trinidad and Tobago. In both cases, captains of the boats concealed the fact that the women and children were headed to Trinidad and Tobago to work as prostitutes. Venezuelan women and children are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking in Colombia and Ecuador, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons report.

Venezuelan Refugees Entering Colombia

Venezuelan sex trafficking is not limited to domestic trafficking. Many Venezuelan female refugees entering Colombia are in danger of sexual exploitation. Since Colombia’s legal requirements to enter the country are very strict, many Venezuelan refugees resort to informal routes and illegal armed groups to enter Colombia. In the Refugee International’s 2019 investigation, many refugees testified that women and girls are forced to pay for their safe passage through sexual services to traffickers.

After entering Colombia through illicit means, Venezuelan refugees must live without any proper identification. As refugees without any identification or means to support themselves, many Venezuelan women turn to street prostitution in order to make ends meet.

The Colombian government is taking steps to register these refugees. Colombia passed Act 985, which created the Interagency Committee for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (ICFTP).  The ICFTP works with 88 anti-trafficking committees, which work with many NGOs to train police, government officials and law officials in identifying victims and providing legal assistance to human trafficking victims. Colombia also plans to grant citizenship to 24,000 undocumented Venezuelan children who were born in the country. Experts believe that this will reduce the reliance of refugees on illicit organizations in order to escape Venezuela.

The Quito Process

In September 2019, multiple Latin American countries came together in the Declaration of Quito on Human Mobility of Venezuelan Citizens. In the declaration, participating countries agreed to bolster cooperation, communication and coordination in collective humanitarian assistance for the Venezuelan refugees.

Part of the Quito Process’ goal is to prevent Venezuelan sex trafficking and assist the victims of sex trafficking in Latin America. By streamlining and coordinating documentation required in acquiring legal resident status, the Quito Process makes it easier for participating countries to more effectively assist Venezuelan refugees.

Experts recommend the participating countries further investigate and understand the demographics of Venezuelan refugees. Since many refugees escape to other countries for financial stability, experts recommend that participating countries work to make obtaining a stable job easier.

The Colombian government has been credited for its adherence and furthering of the Quito Process. In March 2019 Colombia fulfilled its commitment to the second Quito conference by allowing Venezuelan refugees to enter Colombia with expired passports. In addition, experts are demanding increased rights for displaced refugees in the hosting countries of the Quito Process.

The crisis in Venezuela is increasing Venezuelan sex trafficking. Venezuelan women and young girls are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking and exploitation. While the current situation is grim, it is clear that South American countries are coming together to remedy the current situation. Through the Quito Process, they are working to assist Venezuelan human trafficking victims and eliminate the sex trafficking of Venezuelan refugees. With these efforts, the international community hopes for a quick end to the Venezuelan crisis.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

5 Women Fighting Poverty in Latin America
Around the world, women bear the brunt of poverty. Specifically in developing countries, women hold the responsibility of household welfare and the gendered division of labor; in their attempt to manage both, women face the absence of autonomy and economic opportunities.

Here are five women fighting poverty in Latin America. These women are working hard to ensure their rights and the rights of thousands of people in their countries who are living in poverty.

Mariana Costa Checa

A businesswoman from Peru, Mariana Costa Checa is the brain behind Laboratoria. Laboratoria is a web-based education startup that uses online boot camps and corporate training programs to train women in the tech industry. The goal of the company is to enable women of all income levels to train for and connect with and work at tech jobs that have an impact at the systematic level. By providing women with a source of income and the knowledge to pursue various careers, Mariana has established a company that has the potential to draw hundreds of women, and their households, out of poverty.

Claudia López

Another one of the women fighting poverty in Latin America is Claudia López, who was elected as mayor of Bogotá in Colombia’s October 2019 election. This event marked a historic first for the country as Claudia López is the first woman, and the first gay woman, elected as mayor. In Colombia, the mayor of Bogotá holds a high position, often considered the second most important politician in the country after the president. López has reached a milestone for women, and she promises to continue fighting for women by providing educational opportunities and opening up more job opportunities.

López also prioritizes fighting corruption, ending child labor and putting more police officers on the streets. With her victory, the country has a chance to put an end to some of its most ongoing and pressing issues.

Erika Herrero

As the chief executive officer of Belcorp, Erika Herrero Bettarel has been making waves in the beauty industry and the community of women. Belcorp is a multi-brand corporation that specializes in beauty products and services based in numerous countries around Latin America. Belcorp believes that women are a major driver of positive social change, and the company aims to bring women closer to their idea of beauty and fulfillment. With Erika’s help, Belcorp has been able to help support over 1 million women in terms of receiving income, flexible working hours, appropriate training, social protection and micro-life insurance.

Belcorp has also facilitated over 1,600 scholarships for young Latin American girls and trained over 18,400 low-income adult women in areas of personal development, violence prevention and economic development. Erika Herrero says that by capitalizing on the importance of the beauty industry, she is able to use Belcorp to open up more networks and job opportunities for women in Latin America, promising women a better future by helping to end their poverty.

Lynne Patterson and Carmen Velasco

Co-founders of Pro Mujer, Lynne Patterson and Carmen Velasco, are leading women’s development through social entrepreneurship. Patterson and Carmen’s work has provided women in Latin American with health, microfinance and training services that are typically out of reach to women of low-income families. Pro Mujer works with over 277,000 women across five Latin American countries to help diagnose and treat health problems such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Individuals in poverty are at high risk for these chronic diseases due to economic problems.

When individuals in poverty are struck with illnesses that go untreated, their condition further deteriorates, perpetuating the cycle. Pro Mujer promotes healthy behavior among clients by holding meetings, offering health counseling and education and using innovative and financially sustainable health models to diagnose and treat illnesses. By offering below-market prices for its services, Pro Mujer is giving sophisticated health care to those in poverty.

 

Women may still carry the weight of poverty, but there are many women fighting poverty in Latin America. Mariana Checa, Claudia López, Erika Herrero, Lynne Patterson, Carmen Velasco and countless others are making a significant difference with their work. As women continue to make progress in Latin America, the region has high hopes of economic growth.

Shvetali Thatte
Photo: Pixabay

Cacay Oil
Amongst the incredible array of biodiversity which stems from the Amazon grows a small green fruit, the Cacay nut. A Google search for Cacay oil generates dozens of reviews by beauty blogs and skincare gurus who have tested the product. But what is Cacay and what makes it so special?

The Cacay Nut’s Uses

The Cacay nut, which is similar in size and color to lime from the outside, has three smaller nuts on the inside. The fruit grows on trees in Colombia and has a plethora of uses. People can use every part of the fruit, and this fact makes it a sustainable crop because there is no waste. It has a high nutritional value containing over 40 percent protein, all the essential amino acids and omega 3, 6 and 9. People can use the peel for compost or animal food, while the shell’s slow combustion properties make it a great source of biofuel. One can also make nut milk from the Cacay nut, which can serve as an animal milk substitute.

People mostly covet the Cacay nut for its beauty and cosmetic benefits. The oil from it contains 50 percent more vitamin E than argan oil, which is essential for skin moisturization. Additionally, it contains a high retinol and collagen content, which reduces signs of ages and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

Kahai Lifts Families Out of Poverty

Kahai, a Colombian-based company, has made it its mission to share the benefits of Cacay with the world and lift up the people who grow it as well. It sells Cacay oil for its incredible health and skin benefits and is the first to do so on such a large scale. Thus far, the organization has exported over three tons of Cacay oil worldwide. Kahai hopes that Cacay will take the place of many illicit crops that were previously a driving cause of deforestation across the region. The potential economic opportunities that farming Cacay will bring should motivate farming communities in Colombia to preserve their forests and plant thousand of more trees.

Kahai’s location in Bogota D.C., Colombia, is home to many impoverished peasant farming families. Because Kahai is seeking to farm the fruit on a commercial scale, it will utilize plantation-style harvesting. This has created over 200 jobs with sustainable incomes for the peasant families in this conflict-torn area. There is also the potential for upward growth within the company, with individuals who began working entry-level jobs now holding management positions.

Kahai’s Recent Initiative

Kahai’s recently launched initiative with the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes may also assist in both the sustainability efforts and the community development efforts. The initiative’s goal is to partner with the government and privately-owned corporations in the region to provide payment for communities who reduce their emissions and demonstrate environmentally-friendly farming practices. This will further encourage this positive development and further support the local economy.

As the benefits of Amazonian gold become more apparent to the rest of the world, Kahai and its employees will reap the economic benefits as the first large-scale Cacay oil farming operation. It is the organization’s hope that farming villages that operate under sustainable practices and receive consistent sustainable incomes will only grow stronger.

Gina Beviglia
Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in ColombiaWomen’s empowerment in Colombia has been steadily rising in the past few years. When measuring women’s empowerment, one looks at things such as political voice, completion of secondary schools, entrance into the workplace and capacity to shape law and policy on gender equality.

In 2012, 43 percent of women had joined the workforce, as opposed to 30 percent in 1990. In 2011, 94 percent of girls completed lower secondary school, a number that has been increasing and surpassing the percentage of boys, for years. Additionally, fertility rates have been reducing, with the average woman having two children in 2012. Thirty-two percent of the government’s cabinet was female, whereas in 1998 only 12 percent was.

As part of the Peace Accords of 2016, Colombia returned land to female victims of its 50-year conflict, indicating progress for women’s empowerment in Colombia. Additionally, the government provided start-up incomes to many women and families to kick-start their agricultural pursuits. Many of these women were forcefully displaced during the conflict. The return of their land shows an indirect step towards progress and an acknowledgment of women’s importance in the national economy.

The Peace Accords were also important because of a new commitment to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. This commitment was pushed, in part, and will be implemented by the Gender sub-Commission of the Havana Peace Talks Table. The agreement indicates an understanding of the importance of women in areas like rural development, political participation and the eradication of illegal drugs.

The United Nations Verification Mission works to effectively implement Resolution 1325 in Colombia. This resolution focuses on the participation of women in the negotiation and prevention of conflicts. The Colombian chapter of the Verification Mission has been one of the most successful in the world, with around 48 percent of the team made up of women. While this is an independent mission, it does collaborate with the Colombian government.

Ultimately, Colombia has made a lot of progress in terms of women’s empowerment and gender equality, but there is still a long road ahead. Women’s empowerment in Colombia has been improving, but it has benefited mostly upper-class urban women; women in poor, rural areas still face a lot of gender inequity. If the government continues to prioritize these issues and collaborate with the United Nations and other organizations, it has the potential to become a very progressive nation in terms of women’s rights.

– Liyanga de Silva

Photo: Flickr

Development Projects in ColombiaIn February 2017, President Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Army Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) successfully completed a definitive cease-fire agreement which ended violence in specific zones of the South American country. This event raised many Colombian citizen’s enthusiasm. But, not all problems in the nation have been solved, as Colombia’s economy depends on oil, exportation and tourism, which have been negatively affected in recent years.

However, the Colombian government and other investors are attempting to reverse this situation, developing new projects in order to help the country’s economy to grow. New highways, ports, as well as advanced infrastructure and stylish developments in several Colombian cities will attempt to improve economy over the next 10 years. Here are the five development projects in Colombia that are changing the nation’s face.

  1. Alfonso Bonilla and El Dorado airports
    The Colombian government has invested $230 million in modernization for the Alfonso Bonilla airport. The remodeled facility will have a new international terminal and six new boarding bridges. In addition, the old terminal was redesigned and new public spaces were added. In total, the airport located in Cali, one of the most important cities in Colombia, will be around 55,000 square meters. In Bogota, a $200 million investment has improved El Dorado airport’s landing zones and infrastructure. Now, it has better logistics that allows aircraft traffic to move faster.
  2. Cartagena port
    In July 2017, the Colombian government approved an investment of $93 million for the Cartagena port. With this contribution, it is expected that the port will triple its cargo capacity thanks to the new infrastructure, better operation and giant cranes that can receive bigger vessels. President Santos defined the Cartagena port as the most important in the Colombian Caribbean, as in 2016, it moved around 201 million tons of cargo containers.
  3. Agora Convention Center
    The new convention center, located in the capital city of Bogota, is the third biggest center in South America in terms of capacity and the most modern on the continent. In October 2017, the building held its first massive meeting for the United Nations First Young World; this left an economic impact of 14 million pesos for Colombia. Conventions and meetings generate 27 percent of Colombian tourism economy. The Agora project cost 414 million pesos and created 15,000 jobs in its construction.
  4. Bogota’s Elevated Railway
    Among all transportation development projects in Colombia, this particular one is essential. The new elevated railway is a local public transportation project that has been in planning for almost 15 years in Bogota. The first construction attempt was in 2000, but multiple government branches failed to reach an agreement. However, this year, President Santos’ administration and Bogota’s authorities revealed the construction will begin in 2018 and that the trains will be electric. It is expected that 35,000 Colombians will use the railway every hour. Authorities commented that the elevated railway construction will finish in 2024 and will be the first development of this kind in the country’s capital.
  5. 4G Project
    The 4G project is the most ambitious road infrastructure project in Colombia. The four generation plan will connect the entire country, making mobility easier and faster for citizens. More than 7,000 kilometers of roadway will be constructed and rehabilitated over the next several years with an investment of $50 billion. In addition, this project will work on bridges and tunnels that link the cities and towns over the mountains of the country. Projects such as Conexion Pacifico 3 and Girardort-Honda-Puerto Salgas have already begun.

These development projects in Colombia will positively affect the country’s future, improving the lives of Colombians as well as the Colombian economy. Although some projects are still in development, within the next 10 years, the Colombia will certainly be one of the most developed nations in South America.

– Dario Ledesma

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in Colombia

Colombia is divided into two different realities: the modern urban areas and the poor rural zones. In numbers, 40 percent of the Colombian rural population lives in poverty, which means that these communities lack basic services such as schools, roads and food.

The most visible problems that this social inequality creates are the education gap between rural and urban areas and the high rural malnutrition rates. Here are some organizations and solutions about how to help people in Colombia.

The digital divide is one of the problems that affect Colombia, impeding the education in rural zones. According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Colombia has one of the biggest gaps in internet access in rural zones. However, there are various organizations that are working to make this gap shorter.

One of them is Transformemos, a social organization that fights to provide education to vulnerable sectors. Among its achievements is the installation of 2,000 interactive rooms with a special education software that teaches general education. It has also implemented the first multilingual software in the country that has allowed education to indigenous communities.

Thanks to these efforts, Transformemos won the UNESCO Confucius Prize in 2012. Other organizations join the fight for education, such as Fundación Corona and Fundación Luker.

Another solution to reduce the gap in education is mobile applications. Eneza Education is an example of this advance. With its interactive multi-platform application, Eneza is already helping 2.6 million people in Africa. Technology like this can be adopted in rural areas in order to make education accessible and help people in Colombia.

Malnutrition still affects areas in Colombia, especially in places like La Guajira, home of the Wayú community. In this native settlement, 90 percent of the families have a cyclical food shortage. In addition, 2000 Wayú children under five years have severe problems of malnutrition, according to research conducted by El Tiempo.

The Foundation Wayuu Taya works for improving the living conditions of this indigenous community in the South American country. The organization accepts donations via its web page and it has also an online shop where it sells bags made by Wayú. All the resources it acquires help the Wayú community.

Fundación Pies Descalzos also provides better nutrition to children in poor communities, including the Wayú. It has developed a nutrition plan where the kids are able to have adequate levels of nutrition. The founder of this organization is the popular Colombian singer Shakira, who has also worked in other poor communities around the world.

The actual Colombian government struggles to erase the social inequality that exists between rural and urban zones. However, there are still problems that have to be resolved. The organizations and solutions presented above are ways to help people in Colombia, and the good news is that these foundations are looking for alternatives to reduce poverty in their country.

Darío Ledesma

Photo: Flickr

 Common Diseases in Colombia

As a country with a tropical climate, Colombia is susceptible to all the illnesses and dangers that go along with such a climate. Mosquitoes abound, the heat and great heights cause rashes and altitude sickness and contaminated water can lead to many different illnesses. Luckily, Colombia has some of the best medical treatment in all of South America, and many of these diseases are on the decline. Still, the following illnesses are some of the most prevalent and serious threats presently facing the country:

  1. Zika virus
    Like all the diseases on this list, Zika virus is primarily spread through mosquito bites, though it can also be passed through sex. Zika currently poses the greatest threat to pregnant women; infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. Pregnant women are therefore advised not to travel where mosquitoes are most abundant, which is anywhere below an elevation of 6,500 feet (which, unfortunately, comprises most of Colombia). Zika is also tricky to detect, as most people with the virus do not show symptoms. As of June 2017, there have been 1,342 reported cases of Zika in Colombia, a 60 fold drop from the previous year.
  2. Malaria
    Of the most common diseases in Colombia, malaria may also be one of the most serious and potentially deadly, and is, once again, spread mainly by mosquitoes. The disease occurs year-round, and is present everywhere below 5,577 feet. Travelers are advised to take preventative prescription medication, particularly if they venture into rural areas, where the risk is higher. Symptoms of malaria, unlike Zika, are fairly obvious, including fever, chills, nausea and vomiting. In 2016, 83,356 cases of malaria were reported in Colombia.
  3. Dengue fever
    Another one of the most common diseases in Colombia, is contracted through contact with mosquitoes, most commonly during the day and often indoors. While most people only experience a rash, fever and muscle pain for about a week, dengue fever can be life-threatening for some. So far, 2017 has seen 14,152 cases of dengue, a 78 percent reduction from the previous year.
  4. Chikungunya
    This disease is fairly new to Colombia, having first arrived in 2014. Yet another mosquito-borne illness, chikungunya is most common in lowland population centers. Its symptoms are similar to that of dengue fever, but it is not, as of yet, known to be fatal. In 2017, a total of 619 chikungunya cases were reported, a whopping 96 percent less than the previous year.

As is evident, a large number of the most common diseases in Colombia are spread through mosquito bites, so it is crucial to the health of those in Colombia that preventative measures are taken. Most, though not all, of the above diseases have vaccines that protect against them, which is good news for Colombians who live in cities with access to medical care. Rural areas, however, are still lacking in healthcare facilities. Other preventative options include mosquito nets, which are widely used, and mosquito-repelling sprays, though neither of these present a completely foolproof solution. It will be important in the coming years, particularly as the Zika virus continues to spread throughout South America, to ensure that healthcare is available to all who need it.

Audrey Palzkill

Photo: Flickr

Cost of Living in ColombiaJust like many countries, the cost of living in Colombia varies depending on the location, but, overall, the small South American country delivers a low cost of living to its citizens, while offering all the amenities of a more expensive country.

The low prices can be seen across the country in everyday expenses. Real estate ranges from as high as $1,250 a month in a major city to $350 in a small town. The same goes for buying property in Colombia. Land can sell anywhere from $1 million to about $250,000. Additionally, residents spend an average of $75 on utilities such as water, electricity and gas.

Although on average, expenses are generally higher in Bogota, boasting a price index of 88 out of 100, most places in Colombia boast cheap everyday prices for residents. Additionally, compared to major cities in the U.S., the cost of living in Colombia is generally 50 percent cheaper.

Low costs on everyday items are essential for native Colombians, as 27.8 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2015. Colombia also faces a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, both of which are caused by the social imbalances and unequal distribution of government programs.

However, with poverty steadily declining, Colombian citizens are able to enjoy more services, such as health care. Health care in Colombia is substantially cheaper than in developed countries like the United States. In fact, Colombian health care is reported to having procedure costs between 50 and 90 percent less than in the United States.

In addition, Colombia is a leading coal exporter, ranking as the world’s fourth largest coal exporter. The country also leads as the second largest coffee and cut flower exporter and is Latin America’s fourth largest oil producer.

The country’s GDP growth averaged 4.7 percent each year in the last decade. While Colombia has seen a recent rise in food and energy prices and an inflation spike, the country is still experiencing a 1.9 percent industrial production growth rate while boasting a $688 billion GDP in 2016.

Additionally, as the peso continues to drop due to the overproduction of oil, in 2016, one U.S. dollar could give residents up to 3,288 pesos, a 25 percent increase from the year prior.

With an increase in certain industries, such as coal and oil, and with the coupling of cheap healthcare and a low cost of living in Colombia, along with improved infrastructure, Colombia is quickly transforming from a country burdened with a high rate of poverty to a rising low cost country with all the amenities of a much more expensive country.

Amira Wynn

Photo: Pixabay

Strength of WordsJose Alberto Gutierrez, a garbage man in Bogotá, Colombia, turns trashed books into treasure for the children in his community. For the past 20 years, Gutierrez has collected discarded books in the trash of the wealthier neighborhoods in Bogotá. He takes these books to his home in southern Bogotá, where he turned the first floor of his home into a free community library called The Strength of Words.

Gutierrez’s family could not afford for him to remain in school beyond primary. However, Gutierrez said his mother would still read to him every night and he credits her with his appreciation for books. So when he found a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the idea sparked. He began taking 50 to 60 books home with him each day on the job.

The Strength of Words now holds more than 20,000 books, all of which were found in the trash. Before the library, the children in his neighborhood didn’t have easy access to reading material. Now, they have unlimited access to books that can help them with their schoolwork and fulfil their other interests. Either way, The Strength of Words has made it easier for the children in his community to learn.

The library is not just for school children. Adults also have access to the wide variety of texts. They can use the books to learn skills they otherwise did not have, which can help them get jobs or advance in those they already have. Gutierrez also provides books for Colombia’s peace process after being contacted by a fighter from the FARC rebel group, who wanted books to help transition fighters back into civilian life and prepare them for jobs.

No longer able to contain the whole collection in his home, Gutierrez distributes books to other poor and remote towns throughout Colombia. He believes that there should be multiple libraries in every neighborhood in all towns, cities and rural areas. And he is making strides to see his dream become a reality.

The success of The Strengths of Words is an inspiring story of how one man recognized a need in his community and sought to fix it. Because of Gutierrez, many children and adults now have easy access to educational reading materials in their own neighborhoods.

Hannah Kaiser

Photo: Pixabay