FARC Peace Deal

In Colombia, the conflict between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has officially ended as of September, after 52 years of unrest. From Havana, Cuba, the historic FARC peace deal between the left-wing rebels and the Columbian government is a vital step on Colombia’s path to prosperity. For Colombians, peace has been given a chance at last, and it is now time for society to create new hope for its children.

According to the Fitch Ratings, the peace deal is already paying dividends and will allow the government to rebuild its revenue base while also reducing debt. The cessation of conflict in previously-uninhabitable areas would prompt investment and allow space for new international markets, especially in mining and agriculture.

Furthermore, President Obama pledged $450 million in aid to Colombia in the next year. While many analysts do not expect a quick change, the economy itself has been recovering for the past decade. With the coming peace package, the economy will receive a much-needed boost.

The peace deal heralds great opportunities for Colombia, but progress will not come without considerable challenges. Reintegration, disarmament and a period of stabilization will have high costs to begin with. Alberto Ramos, head of Latin American Economics at Goldman Sachs, said that “over time, the economic peace dividend is expected to more than offset the initial costs associated with the disarmament and integration of the rebel forces into civil society.”

One possible threat to the FARC peace deal is the reconfiguration of rebel groups, since nothing is stopping guerrilla fighters from forming new extremist political groups and alliances. Violent groups and non-state actors could mobilize individuals to their cause and set their sights on any political power vacuum created by the emerging peace. Therefore, a new security game plan for Colombia is required.


Noman Ashraf

Photo: Flickr

Across the world, landfills are awash with plastic that takes at least 500 years to decompose. Poverty in Colombia is on the rise, and so too in numerous countries around the globe. In addition, there is a major shortage of inexpensive housing for the 40% of people in Africa and Latin America who are homeless. Thankfully, a new Colombian enterprise has found a way to solve both of these problems simultaneously, thus helping to alleviate poverty in Colombia.

Conceptos Plásticos

The organization Conceptos Plasticos turns recycled plastic into interlocking, lego-like bricks that can be easily and inexpensively assembled by four people in five days. The houses do not require adhesives, so they be dismantled and transported easily.

Founder Oscar Mendez created this program as part of his architecture graduate thesis. Inexpensive, mobile housing that helps the environment serves as the perfect solution for impoverished people in Colombia.

The lack of dwellings and abundance of plastic make Colombia the perfect place to launch this project. Across Latin America, 33% of families live in unsuitable homes. His project acts as a solution to poverty-stricken Colombians’ difficulty of getting the materials and skilled labor required to build in remote, rural areas.

Another complication is the large amount of internally displaced people. Since so many citizens do not stay in a permanent location, investing in homes proves very difficult for many even those who have the resources.

An Environmental and Fiscal Solution

The environmental impact of these homes is wonderful — Bodega, Colombia alone throws away 750 tons of plastic, and Conceptos Plasticos transforms this unused resource into inexpensive housing.

The organization boasts prices are 30% cheaper than other systems; each house costs about $130 per square meter, or $5,200 total. Their traditional model is 40 square meters, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room and bathroom.

The blocks can be used to build larger structures as needed. Ease of construction and mobility sets this organization apart from others, and having a house that can be taken apart and moved is invaluable for people in unstable living situations.

Since its founding in 2010, the organization has accomplished a remarkable amount. In Guapi Cauca 2015, Conceptos Plasticos built homes for 42 displaced families. Last year, they built three shelters and four houses.

On July 14 of this year, the organization was one of five out of 2,500 organizations to win funding from the Venture, a competition for businesses providing positive social change. Conceptos Plasticos was awarded the highest amount of $300,000.

Founder Oscar Mendez states that, “We will improve all of our processes and increase our capacity. We want to replicate our business model in other countries.” This funding will help him to not only alleviate poverty in Colombia, but the money will also allow Mendez to provide his innovative housing solution to people all over the world.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr

Cormack FamilyDave Cormack, president and chief executive officer of the healthcare software provider Brightree, along with his family, are funding a new Children International Cormack Family Community Center. The Cormack family is helping to benefit nearly 12,000 children in Cartagena, Colombia.

In Colombia, 11% of the country is unemployed and 37% of the country lives below the poverty line.

Children International has been working with Colombia for over 25 years to help children break the cycle of poverty. It has 10 community centers in Colombia serving more than 40,000 children.

“After having the opportunity to visit other Children International community centers, my family and I recognized the importance of these safe spaces,” said Dave Cormack. “We knew we wanted to help fund a center so that more kids have the opportunity to utilize Children International’s services.”

The new community center will include the Brightree Youth Computer Center, where children can do research, homework and learn valuable skills such as English as a second language. It will also have medical and dental clinics, a library, pharmacy and other meeting spaces.

The new youth center will have an outdoor multi-sport court, an art studio and other multi-use spaces. The centers give families a place to escape the negative influences of their poor communities.

Children in the program have access to a team of doctors, dentists, tutors and sponsors. The Children International Cormack Family Community Center is a safe place in the community and a path out of poverty.

The organization provides health benefits, including annual medical exams and health care during illness, providing nutritional support, counseling for children and families, dental care, clothing, school supplies and fees and items for the home.

The programs are focused on health, education, empowerment and employment. Through early intervention, Children International addresses children’s critical needs through daily interaction in community centers. The centers are unique facilities that enable Children International to reach its goal of eliminating poverty from children’s lives.

Jacqueline Venuti

Photo: Children International

War with FARC in Colombia

June 23, 2016, marks the historic ceasefire between Left-wing FARC rebels and the Colombian government, concluding the fifth and final item of negotiation. While peace talks have been ongoing since 2013, the peace deal witnessed by five South American presidents and a U.N. official should bring an end to the half-century war with FARC in Colombia. The U.N. will oversee the disbandment of FARC and hopes to collect all weapons by December 27, 2016.

Colombia’s long civil conflict was caused by many class tensions that hail back to its colonial history. The social classes are highly stratified between rich landowners of primarily Spanish decent and the poorer, generally mixed-race majority.

The power imbalance led to the formation of left-wing guerrilla groups like FARC. Drug trafficking financed their weaponry, significantly escalating the violence in the 1980s. Because the state was unable to defeat these groups, a right-wing paramilitary group called AUC (United Self Defence Forces) formed as a result. While the AUC was disbanded in 2006, FARC has continued to be in conflict with the government.

Both left-wing and right-wing groups have been criticized for horrible human rights violations. It is estimated that seven million people are victims of massacres, disappearances, kidnappings, murders and forced displacements perpetrated by both sides during the war with FARC in Colombia. Internal displacement alone currently affects 224,000 people, more than any other country in North or South America.

Five topics have been resolved over the last three years:

Rural Reform

Because much of the war with FARC in Colombia between the factions was fueled by social inequality, the agreement takes measure to balance land distribution to reduce poverty.

Political Participation

FARC’s leftist leanings caused the government persecution of nonviolent groups with similar political ideologies. FARC has argued for fair channels of political participation.

Illicit drugs

Drugs, particularly cocaine, have funded FARC and increased violence. The government is encouraging crop substitution and, most importantly, differentiating between rural growers and criminal groups driving trade.


To bring justice to the U.N.’s estimated seven million victims, Colombia’s government will allow an “international justice tribunal and a Truth Commission.” A Victim and a Land Fund will provide financial reparation. Amnesty will be given to FARC rebels who have not committed human rights violations and are willing to participate for justice.


This final phase began on June 23 with the official ceasefire. The U.N. hopes to have completely disarmed FARC by the end of the year.

While the ceasefire will not end all the Colombian people’s troubles, the agreements between FARC and the government provides a concrete end to the atrocities that have plagued them for decades and a plan toward peace.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: BBC

A Green Colombia

Humankind has achieved a level of greatness unknown to its predecessors: today we freely traverse the globe as we please and live comfortable lifestyles, infatuated with the belief that we live in a place where almost anything is possible.

Unfortunately, this whimsical attitude cannot last in a world unable to keep up with each and every whim and passing fancy of the human heart. With the inevitable effects of climate change ravaging the one and only planet in which we live, a growing endeavor to find sustainable approaches and solutions for countries around the world continues to be a top priority on the nation’s agenda.

Recognizing this importance, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved a $700 million loan which supported green growth in Colombia as well as environmental developments within the country. It was through this Development Policy Loan (DPL) that Colombian administration’s budgetary program was supported.

The National Development Plan for Colombia has several initiatives in support of a green growth strategy which include “reducing water and air pollution as well as the final disposal and recycling of solid waste,” states an article by the World Bank.

Challenges that Colombia faces in this effort include an aversion to adaption in the face of climate change and a “reduction in the costs of environmental degradation on health,” says the World Bank. However, this loan will present a unique and golden opportunity to promote social, economic and environmental developments for this country.

According to the World Bank, “the rate of exploitation of Colombia’s natural resources is greater than the average for Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) countries. For example, extensive cattle raising, mostly undertaken in unsuitable lands, has caused significant deterioration in land use. Equally, the industrial sector is one of the biggest culprits behind organic pollution and the deterioration of water quality in Colombia.”

With the poorest and most vulnerable people suffering the most from environmental degradation issues, advances in environmental sustainability will be welcomed and embraced throughout this region. This loan will not just benefit the very poor but also seeks to improve productivity and overall quality of life for all Colombians.

Future endeavors will focus on strengthening the response capacity to climate change and natural disasters that affect the country. As often as this is repeated, its message stays true: only by investing in these issues today can we create a future for tomorrow.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: DNP, World Bank

Colombian Small-holder Farmers Expand their Markets
Whoever uttered the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” wasn’t kidding. In today’s times, connections are key, and for Colombians trying to make a living in farm-based agriculture, the size of your market makes a significant impact on your income.

In fact, many challenges exist for small-holder farmers in Colombia. Hindrances such as low productivity, distorted information about pricing and selling prospects, and limited marketing access all remain obstacles for this group of farmers who end up selling their goods at open-air markets where there is more competition.

This automatically decreases a seller’s profits, furthering a cycle that seems inescapable.

Being a small-holder farmer can prove to be a difficult existence, at times feeling closed off from the evolving international markets of the world.

Other setbacks faced by farmers include selling through intermediaries, steep transaction costs to reach distant markets, and finally, a lack of means to produce the “volume, quality, and timely delivery” which large agricultural producers are able to generate.

Ultimately, the inability to expand and grow has contributed to poverty in this rural sector.

However, significant strides have been taken for those who fall under this title. An article from the World Bank addresses the solutions underway to improve the livelihoods of these farmers.

“In an effort to support Colombia’s smallholder producers to build entrepreneurship and compete more effectively, the Rural Productive Partnerships Project has been addressing the above-mentioned challenges by establishing, strengthening, and promoting productive alliances between rural producer organizations and private agribusinesses.”

Since the Rural Productive Partnership Project’s launch in 2002, many groups have received support through a process where partnerships are formed by competitive bidding partnered with an independent evaluation procedure. Today, this program continues to flourish and build from where it started.

The World Bank describes the program’s goal as one which involves keeping “production, sales and productivity” up through “investment grants, technical assistance and business development training.”

Aside from financial assistance, this project also seeks to dispel inequality however it can by reaching people who may have been neglected within the system, such as women, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians.

Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR) reports that between 2002-2014 more than 820 successful partnerships have been formed helping 55,000 households, with 72 percent of the productive partnerships continuing to work together after the conclusion of the program.

With the second phase of the program ending in June 2015, targets have been reached within the project with more than 9,900 female-headed households benefiting in the first phase, and more than 9,250 indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian households receiving assistance.

These successes have not only helped one small sector of farmers—but have reached far-away consumers and provided support for the vulnerable who live in Colombia, ultimately endeavoring to keep both their community and the world’s economy thriving.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: World Bank, YouTube
Photo: Google Images

Four years ago, the newly formed Colombian Ministry of Information Technology and Communications pledged to have 100 percent Internet access across the country by 2015. That goal is soon becoming a reality, with 96 percent of the country already connected via fiber-optic or satellite Internet.

The program is called “Vive Digital,” which means “Live Digital,” and its goal is to bridge the gap between connected urban Colombians and those living in rural communities who had no Internet access until recently. The Ministry of ICT states the increasingly well known fact that greater digital connectivity leads to higher employment, greater economic output and significantly reduced poverty rates.

Colombia is following the lead of another South American country. Chile recently achieved universal Internet access, and has since seen a 2.6 percent drop in nationwide unemployment. Colombia hopes for similar results.

The Ministry of ICT and the Colombian government hope that “Vive Digital” will inspire development in rural communities as well as bolster the ICT sector within Colombia’s urban areas. “It’s been proven that there’s a direct correlation between that massification, job creation and poverty reduction. Removing barriers to technology access is key to this objective,” said the minister of ICT, David Luna.

The initiative has seen some 8,000 Internet access points and hot spots set up across the country. These facilities house computers, printers, scanners and phones so as to connect all communities across Colombia. In addition the Ministry has provided 1 million computers to public schools and launched ICT training programs for publicly employed teachers. The Ministry of ICT expects to meet its 100 percent goal by the end of 2015.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Mintic, FOX News/span>, University of Pittsburgh
Photo: Sucre Communicaciones

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

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

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

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

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

Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia

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

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

Fundación Antonio Restrepo Barco

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

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

Fundación Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar

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

Asociación Metrópoli Colombia

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

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

Corporación Día de la Niñez

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

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

Fundación OCMAES

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

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


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

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

Fundación Terpel

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

Diana Fernanda Leon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandrea Jacinto

Sources: Foreign Policy, BBC
Photo: Caribbean Digital Network

Taking Steps to Eliminate River Blindness
The Carter Center in Atlanta is working to make the eradication of river blindness a worldwide goal for the World Health Organization (WHO), as the WHO determines which diseases will appear on the world health agendas.

River blindness is caused by a parasite that is spread through the bites of black flies. The flies breed in and near fast flowing rivers, which is where the disease gets its name. The larvae of the parasite causes skin irritation, itching and a range of eye diseases, including blindness in the worst cases.

People in 36 countries are at risk for contracting river blindness. About 99% of the 17.7 million cases of larvae infection are from Africa. Nigeria is the most endemic country in Africa, with reportedly half of the world’s cases.

That is why Nigerian businessman Sir Emeka Offor gave the Carter Center $10 million to aid to eliminate river blindness in his home country. This is on top of the quarter million he donated several years back. This is a huge turning point in dealing with the disease.

The Carter Center has been working with the Nigerian Health Ministry for twenty years. The program uses community-based health education and administers the only drug that can treat river blindness, Mectizan. In fact, the company that makes Mectizan made a commitment to donate the drug until every case of river blindness is solved. The donation from Sir Offor means that the Carter Center can reach more people, especially those in difficult areas to reach. Coverage will increase, meaning that the Carter Center will be closer to reaching their goal of eliminating river blindness by 2020. In 2014, 7 million Nigerians were treated.

The Carter Center has already been successful in Latin America. Colombia was the first country to be declared free of river blindness in 2013, with Ecuador following  in 2014. Both Guatemala and Mexico are currently going through the verification process to be declared river blindness-free by the WHO. The only areas left to treat are hard-to-reach areas of the Amazon in Venezuela and Brazil.

If the Carter Center can prove with this latest donation that their program is successful in the most plagued country, Nigeria, on top of their success in Latin America, then the WHO will be more likely to join the movement and target river blindness as a disease to fight.

– Katherine Hewitt

Sources: AP News, Carter Center 1, Carter Center 2, Inside Philanthropy
Photo: GHIF