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The Secret Truth of Mental Health in Colombia Colombia is home to some of the most unyielding forms of violence, such as assassinations, assaults and homicides. Significant acts of violence and conflict were first introduced during the La Violencia period. This occurred in 1948 when territorial and civil issues rose between property owners and poor farmers. Historically, violence has been a prevalent theme in Colombia and has heavily impacted many families and communities. Colombia’s low mental health rates increase in rural areas due to trauma, substance abuse and gang violence. Colombia has the largest population in the world of expatriates by an armed conflict, which can have a significant influence on the population’s mental stability. This article will discuss the silent truth about mental health in Colombia.

Trauma Causes Indefinite Effects

According to a scientific research report, the displacement process can cause “physical and psychological consequences associated with exposures to harm and loss during disasters and complex emergencies.” Crime and acts of violence predominantly occur in rural areas; however, the removal then requires significant adjustments to urban areas. Internally displaced individuals are often victims of armed conflict, so they are often removed from their own homes. These adjustments can increase the chances of mental disorders such as “depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.”

According to a study, anxiety disorders are prominent in victims who have experienced more vile acts of violence. Even so, side effects and symptoms begin to deplete after nearly five years. Individuals also experience more side effects if they have suffered trauma due to the actual act or witnessing of violence, rather than the loss of a loved one. Furthermore, pursuing or witnessing violent actions causes behavioral issues. These events induce physiological trauma, which then affects others directly or indirectly.

Substance Abuse Takes Full Control

There are many factors as to why individuals experience mental health issues. However, a pattern has developed among the type of issues between genders. According to a psychological survey inducted in Colombia, women experience a significant increase in depression, while men experience increased alcohol addiction due to violent behavior or witnessing violent acts. In terms of the drug market economy, Colombia is well known for supplying cocaine internationally. However, on average, alcohol is the most popular drug of choice, beginning at the age of 14, which leads to the vulnerability of alcohol abuse.

The continuous rise in drug addiction can lead to a lack of financial stability, which thus leads to poverty. In 2018, the poverty rate was 27.8%, a 0.09% decrease from 2016. The lack of finances can lead to more stress on individuals, which exacerbates mental health conditions and proves that the silent truth about mental health in Colombia has a continuous domino effect.

The Aftermath of Gang Violence

Violent gangs are a prominent vessel for drug transportation within Colombia and according to the United Nations, they have displaced over 800 people due to drug trafficking. After the repercussions of La Violencia in 1948, a peace treaty emerged. Nonetheless, it caused many Colombian natives to break apart into two political groups: paramilitary and guerrillas — both involved in drug trafficking. Gangs are the primary group engaging in drug trafficking and members typically acquire deadly weapons for many purposes. Moreover, weapons can cause years of psychological trauma for gang violence victims.

Street crimes such as robberies are currently the most predominant type of crimes in Colombia. However, gang members usually commit these criminal acts and increase the crime rate countrywide. Although crime rates increase for multiple reasons, including gang activity, Colombia’s government must take further action. The government must take measures to ensure that no more citizens fall victim to gang violence or the aftermath. The consequences of these experiences cause mental disorders for those involved in criminal acts and those associated with individuals involved.

Addressing the Issue

Although there has been a low rate of conflict in Columbia currently, according to a research report, 8 million people have been internally displaced since 1985. The Children of the Andes Foundation is working towards offering more basic rights and a positive environment for children suffering from exposer to violence. The organization was founded on the belief that every at-risk child should have the opportunity to better themselves.  The foundation offers a home to “62 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 18.”

Furthermore, many health institutes have developed in Colombia to combat mental health disorders in hope of decreasing acts of violence. Nevertheless, until their government develops a solution for the ongoing violence, the silent truth about mental health in Colombia will remain.

–  Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

BetterTogether ChallengeSince 2015, roughly five million people have left Venezuela in hopes of finding a better life. This marks the largest displacement of people in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Its economic collapse has rendered the local currency practically worthless and thrown Venezuelans into rampant poverty and hunger. The average Venezuelan lost about 25 pounds of weight in 2017 when 80% of the population lacked reliable access to food. The BetterTogether Challenge aims to support struggling Venezuelans.

The Collapse of the Venezuelan economy

Despite having one of the largest oil reserves in the world, the Venezuelan government’s mismanagement of its resources and economy led to a cataclysmic collapse. When measured by income, 96% of Venezuelans live in poverty and the average citizen lives off a paltry 72 cents a day. The 2019-2020 National Survey of Living Conditions found that 65% of Venezuelans live in multidimensional poverty, an increase of 13% from the previous year. Multidimensional poverty incorporates measurements such as access to health care and education, in addition to income.

A Mass Exodus of Venezuelans

The abject poverty Venezuelans have experienced has led to mass emigration to neighboring countries. Colombia and Peru collectively have had over two million Venezuelan immigrants. The integration of Venezuelans and their culture has been abrasive in countries such as Peru, where negative attitudes persist toward Venezuelans.

The displacement of millions of Venezuelans has disrupted a highly educated generation. A whole 57% of Venezuelans living in Peru have received higher education and roughly 25% have university degrees.

While negative views of Venezuelan immigration have limited the number of incoming Venezuelans, neighboring countries would be wise to recognize the inherent value possessed by the Venezuelan people. The displaced Venezuelans carry massive potential, which if properly harnessed, can have a substantial impact on local economies and innovation. Furthermore, the integration of Venezuelans into the labor markets of their host communities would provide additional cash flow that could boost local economies.

BetterTogether Challenge Empowers Venezuelan Innovation

As a strong and steady champion against poverty, USAID has partnered with the InterAmerican Development Bank to create the BetterTogether Challenge to support Venezuelans. The goal of the challenge is to fund innovative solutions from Venezuelans to support their resilience, test solutions to be integrated and promote communication between Venezuelans and their new communities. In August 2020, the BetterTogether Challenge Award winners in South American countries were collectively awarded $2.97 million.

The BetterTogether Challenge awardees are focused on increasing social cohesion, fighting xenophobia, empowering women, improving employment opportunities and improving access to health care, education and food. These solutions are crucial to rebuilding Venezuela and reducing poverty in their communities.

International Rescue Committee in Colombia

One of the most impactful organizations chosen for funding was the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Colombia. Nearly 1.5 million Venezuelans have found refuge in Colombia, with roughly 35,000 crossing into Colombia daily to purchase supplies. The IRC supports Venezuelans in Colombia by providing safety, access to healthcare and economic assistance while protecting the women and children that may be disproportionately vulnerable. A key initiative launched by the IRC is the Families Make A Difference Program, which provides essential management and support to children who have been harmed and educates families to prevent harm.

Supporting organizations such as the IRC are vital for fortifying Venezuelan resilience and providing people with life-changing resources during times of need. Furthermore, initiatives like the BetterTogether Challenge empower Venezuelans while addressing poverty.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Cafe Femenino FoundationEstimates place women’s involvement in coffee production at as high as 70% of all the labor, making women an integral part of the coffee industry. However, women face high levels of gender discrimination within the industry in terms of access to “land, credit and information”, resulting in lower incomes and crop yields when compared to men. The Cafe Femenino Foundation looks to change this.

Cafe Femenino Foundation

Noticing the inequity, Garth and Gay Smith founded the Cafe Femenino Foundation in 2004 to empower women working in the coffee industry. The nonprofit organization provides grants to women’s coffee collectives in nine countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Sumatra. The grants can be used for a vast range of initiatives including food security, income diversification and health, to empower women socially, politically and economically.

Food Security Initiatives

Cafe Femenino Foundation provides grants to combat food insecurity in multiple countries’ coffee-growing regions, which also helps women earn extra income. In Peru, training sessions teach women how to preserve fruits to prevent spoiling and extend the period during which they can be eaten. Preserved fruit can also be sold at markets when the supply of fresh fruit is diminished, allowing the women to sell for higher prices. Women who participated in the training sessions went home with 10 cans of each fruit they preserved, which is credited with helping lower rates of child malnutrition in the regions.

Similarly, in the Dominican Republic, Cafe Femenino Foundation grants supported women’s coffee collectives to start growing passionfruit and breed both cows and goats. Passionfruit is used in many foods and drinks, making it popular among the women themselves and at the markets. Since 2009, more than 200 women and their family members have benefitted from access to passionfruit. The goat and cow breeding initiatives provide women with milk and meat to feed their families and to sell for additional income. As of 2013, almost 30 women participated in the animal breeding programs.

Health Initiatives

In Colombia, grants have been given by Cafe Femenino Foundation to the COSURCA coffee cooperative to improve women’s health through kitchen remodeling. Since kitchens are traditionally women’s spaces, they are often not remodeled and are constructed of poor materials with dirt floors. The kitchens of 18 women have been remodeled as of 2013 to include outdoor ventilation that prevents smoke inhalation and running water to improve cleanliness and hygiene.

Cafe Femenino Foundation has provided similar grants in Peru to improve health conditions by improving stoves. The new stoves decrease smoke inhalation and respiratory illnesses that occur as a result.

Women’s Empowerment Initiatives

Also in Peru, Cafe Femenino Foundation grants have supported the building of community safe spaces, called Casa Cafe Femenino, for women in multiple coffee-growing communities. These spaces provide women with opportunities to meet and talk in places that are not “borrowed from the men”, promoting women’s independence and agency. Casa Cafe Femeninos are also able to act as temporary shelters for women facing domestic violence. As of 2013, these spaces benefitted more than 800 women from two coffee collectives.

Cafe Femenino Foundation also supports the education of women. In Peru, the nonprofit helped five women complete training to be promoted to the role of internal coffee inspector, giving these women more power within the coffee industry. In the early years of the nonprofit, a grant provided scholarships for 600 girls, all of who were the daughters of coffee producers, to attend school.

Equality in the Coffee Industry

The coffee industry is made up largely of women yet these women face gender discrimination and inequality. Cafe Femenino Foundation strives to eliminate the gender gap in coffee production by providing grants to women’s coffee collectives in a range of areas, including food security, health and women’s empowerment based on the needs of the women. The projects, while benefitting the women, also help to teach leadership and problem-solving skills through a democratic process of distribution, furthering women’s empowerment.

– Sydney Leiter
Photo: pixabay

Venezuelan MigrantsThe poor living conditions that have escalated in Venezuela since 2013 have led to a surge of Venezuelan migration into neighboring Colombia. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is an especially dangerous and difficult time for these Venezuelan migrants and refugees, humanitarian organizations are working to support their needs.

The Current Situation for Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia

Since 2014, the number of Venezuelans pursuing refugee status increased by 8,000% due to the political and economic instability in Venezuela, coupled with a severe shortage of food and medical supplies. There are currently 1.8 million refugees and migrants in Colombia.

Colombia has put containment rules in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which have limited opportunities for Venezuelan migrants to find employment and access food. Because the majority of Venezuelan migrants do not have stable employment contracts, their reliance on daily jobs, which are now more difficult to find, has left many families without the proper income to afford basic necessities. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Bucaramanga, a city in north-central Colombia, already had malnutrition rates of 20% in children and 5% in adults. The following humanitarian organizations have helped provide for the unmet needs of this population.

The Start Fund

In April 2020, the Start Network, a nonprofit committed to localizing funding and innovation for humanitarian action, developed the Start Fund COVID-19. The initiative has been able to tackle challenges from the pandemic that is “neglected or underfunded.” It is with the Start Fund COVID-19’s financial support that prominent humanitarian organizations are currently able to provide relief for Venezuelan migrants.

Fundación entre Dos Tierras

Fundación Entre Dos Tierras is a Colombian humanitarian organization that emerged to support especially vulnerable Venezuelan migrants in Bucaramanga. Before the pandemic worsened conditions for this community, volunteers already hosted the Programa Tapara, which provided food, clothing and medicine, along with three other programs. Fundación Entre Dos Tierras has become a local partner to two international humanitarian organizations to combat food insecurity for Venezuelan migrants attempting to return to the Venezuelan border.

Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International

As a result of the current health crisis, many Venezuelans have had to live in hotels or congregate in parks. Venezuelans in Colombia who are homeless or have experienced eviction are the target population of Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International’s work. Each day in Bucaramanga, 750 people receive two meals and 800 people obtain hygiene kits.

Because of the complications for employment that Colombia’s containment rules have caused, some Venezuelans are attempting to return to Venezuela. Of these returnees, 1,600 migrants are to receive hygiene products and enough food to last 48 hours.

Solidarités International

Solidarités International has also constructed rehabilitation programs for Venezuelans along their migration journeys. There are four shelters present on one of the main routes that go through Bucaramanga to Medellín and Bogotá. The humanitarian organization, in partnership with Première Urgence Internationale, has increased the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene and WASH services. As a vulnerable community during COVID-19, sheltering in these spaces creates a safer refuge along their journeys.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only aggravated food and housing insecurity for Venezuelan migrants and refugees residing in Colombia. The collaboration between Fundación Entre Dos Tierras, Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International has created temporary aid for thousands of Venezuelans. It is imperative that this vulnerable population continues to receive support throughout the pandemic.

– Ilana Issula
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Colombian agribusiness
As of June 2019, approximately 4 million Venezuelan refugees had fled their home country in search of shelter from the “State-Sponsored Terror” of dictator Nicolás Maduro; by the end of 2020, this number could increase to as many as 8.2 million total Venezuelans seeking refuge. Already, around 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees have sought shelter in neighboring Colombia, creating an overwhelming demand for food and other supplies in regions closest to the Colombia-Venezuela border. In response to this emerging humanitarian crisis, a Colombian agribusiness has found an innovative solution that ensures Venezuelan refugees receive food and humane treatment while also helping struggling local economies. What exactly is this solution? The agribusiness of imperfect potatoes.

Agribusiness In Motion

The Colombian agribusiness company Acceso works to revitalize the economy of a nation whose rural poverty rate is 35%. Acceso’s success derives from its business model, which links rural farmers to urban marketplaces and provides a variety of resources to farmers–from startup cost aid to seed access–to ensure that they turn a profit.

Essentially, Acceso acts as a middleman between small Colombian farms and larger stores. Acceso buys crops in bulk from small Colombian farmers in order to resell them in commercial marketplaces. However, in doing so, Acceso often ends up purchasing products like “imperfect looking but edible potatoes.” Despite their imperfections, these potatoes hold the key to the success of Acceso’s entire operation.

Crops that are too small or have visual defects like scratches are still nutritious and viable; their defects, though merely visual, impair the ability of farms and Colombian agribusiness firms to sell them in commercial marketplaces. For the small farmer, growing imperfect crops elicits a loss of money. In normal farmer-market relationships, imperfect crops either have to be sold by small farmers in local markets for a lower price or they go to waste.

Because Acceso buys all of a farm’s crops regardless of their condition, they assure that farmers are adequately compensated for all of the crops they grow. An Acceso partnership can increase the revenue of an individual farm by as much as 50%. It maximizes the profit of small farms because Acceso pays more than normal consumers would for every piece of produce grown, enriching every sector of Colombia’s farming industry and helping stabilize the economy of rural Colombia.

Colombia’s agricultural GDP has increased by 1,502 billion Colombian pesos (about $400 million) since late 2019. An increase of this quantity illuminates how the growth of Colombian agribusiness keeps small farmers from falling into poverty, rewards them for their hard work and expands the Colombian economy.

Kitchens Without Food

In 2017, 8 out of 10 Venezuelans reported having a reduced caloric intake due to a lack of food at home, and around one-third of Venezuelans eat less than three meals each day. This explains why many Venezuelan refugees in Colombia–especially children–come across the border severely undernourished.

As they cross the border into Colombia, these refugees–some of whom have only eaten salted rice for an extended period of time–need nutrition urgently. This creates immense demand for food in border cities like Cúcuta, which have seen a massive influx of Venezuelan refugees. The Colombian government has partnered with NGO’s to establish relief kitchens on the border such as Nueva Ilusión in Cúcuta in order to meet the nutritional and humanitarian needs of Venezuelan refugees.

Unfortunately, these border kitchens still struggle to find adequate funding. International relief aid for the Venezuelan refugee crisis has only totaled $580 million, a number woefully short of the amount needed to ensure humane treatment for all refugees entering Colombia. To remedy this, the Colombian government has launched over $230 million in credit lines to invest in border cities with high numbers of refugees.

Albeit, even an amount that large might be insufficient to meet the needs of the incoming refugees. Many border kitchens providing nutritious meals to Venezuelan refugees lack the appropriate financial resources to provide enough of it.

Supply? Demand.

Each organization mentioned thus far faces an issue. Acceso has acquired imperfect crops that they cannot sell. Border kitchens lack funding and need nutritious foods to turn into meals for Venezuelan refugees.

This is where supply meets demand.

Recognizing the gravity of the malnutrition crisis among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, Acceso partnered with border kitchens like Nueva Ilusión to give Venezuelan refugees the dignified treatment they deserve.

Instead of throwing away the imperfect crops that they cannot sell, Acceso now donates these crops to border kitchens. As of March 2020, the Colombian agribusiness contributed over 480 metric tons of fruits and vegetables to border kitchens, making 4.3 million nutritious meals.

On a daily basis, the products donated by Acceso are made into around 2,000 meals per day per kitchen, 600 of which are served to malnourished children fleeing from Venezuela. By donating food to meet the demand of border kitchens, Acceso has helped make progress towards alleviating the nutritional crisis that plagues Venezuelan refugees both young and old.

With their agribusiness, Acceso links the needs of two impoverished groups in Colombia and assures that their needs are met with reciprocal flourishing. In conjunction with both the farmers and kitchens, Acceso confers economic benefits to small Colombian farms while also ensuring that border kitchens have enough food supplies to provide refugees.

Acceso’s work linking the needs of small Colombian farmers and Venezuelan refugees has helped to fill the gap in relief created by a lack of funding for humanitarian aid efforts in this region. Its successes with rural farmers and malnourished Venezuelan refugees have shown how the most impactful relief can often be found in the most dignified mediums of exchange.

Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

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