El Río Habla

Fleeing the conflict and violence that has raged in Colombia for over 50 years, nearly 1,000 Colombian refugees cross into Northern Ecuador every year. Ecuador now hosts an estimated 160,000 refugees; 98 percent are Colombian. The government recognizes 54,000.

In 2009, 66 percent of asylum seekers who applied for protection in Ecuador were granted refugee status. It was one of the highest acceptance rates in the world. But three years have wrought significant change in policy. Though there were over 100,000 applications for asylum standing in 2012, recent restrictions have granted true refugee status to a select few.

About 60 percent of Colombians who come to Ecuador settle in poor cities. There they live with a refugee’s lot – discrimination and difficulty finding employment, lack of access to healthcare and lack of government support. The remaining 40 percent are less lucky.

After crossing the Río San Miguel and the Río Putumayo, they settle in small communities on the 353-mile-long border. Isolated and characterized by an utter lack of infrastructure, these villages have little means of communicating with other communities or with their government.

Poverty spurs violence. In one UNHCR study of the Lagros Aros region, 660 of 700 women surveyed reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime. There is no employment, healthcare or protection. And only the residents know it.

So they fight ignorance with awareness.

Since 2009, the UNHCR and Radio Sucumbíos have reserved a 15-minute slot for a program called El Río Habla, the river speaks. Well before each broadcast, refugees meet to discuss their experiences. They identify issues requiring public attention and design the radio program accordingly.

The show is not only a cry for help. Colombian and occasionally Ecuadorian guests have a chance to tell their stories. They speak about their lives as refugees and their lives before. They talk about themselves and their families. For thousands of Radio Sucumbíos listeners, they are humanized.

The UNHCR reports no quantitative analysis of the program’s effects. Still, workers and volunteers report a heightened public awareness. As public interests turn toward the disadvantaged in border communities, authorities are forced to provide services to people there.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Asylum Access, UNHCR, Cultural Diplomacy
Photo: UNHCR

Congressional elections in Colombia took place on March 9th. President Juan Manuel Santos, who is currently in peace process negotiations with the FARC guerilla group that has been terrorizing the country for fifty years, has narrowly kept his National Unity coalition majority in the lower and upper houses of Congress.

Many view the elections as a referendum on Santos’ negotiations with the FARC rebel group. The Santos administration has gained ground in recent negotiations with draft agreements already set for rural development and political participation for minority parties.

The elections also propelled former President and political rival of Santos, Alvaro Uribe, into the Senate. Santos had served under Uribe as Defense Minister until he won the presidency, and has since reversed many of the policies Uribe had fought for, including restarting the peace process. Uribe opposes government negotiations with the FARC rebel group, and his win in the Colombian Senate signals a fracture in public opinion on this contentious issue.

A narrow win for Santos’ Unity Party in congressional elections means that he has less of a mandate should he win in presidential elections to be held on May 25. In the Senate, the Unity Party won 21 of 102 seats, or 20.6%, while Uribe’s right-leaning Democratic Center Party won 19 seats, or 18.6%. In the lower house, the Unity Party won 37 of 166 seats, or 23.9% of votes, while the Democratic Center only won 12 seats, or 7.7% of seats.

Important to note is the high rate of voter abstention during the elections. Out of the 32,835,856 Colombians eligible to vote, only 58.11% actually voted. Further, out of the votes cast, 6.2% of votes for the Senate and 6.6% of the House votes cast the blank ballot option. Unmarked ballots drew 5.85% of the votes in the Senate and 3.4% in the House.

–Jeff Meyer

Photo: XinhuanNet
The Economist, The Economist, Reuters, Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports

In recent years, development organizations have sprung up and taken off swiftly around the globe. Headquarters hot spots dot the map from Southeast Asia to Northern Africa, from Latin America to the Middle East.

It is critical for these growing organizations to establish networks in environments suitable for development expansion; it is an investment that involves careful consideration and strategic planning.  As an aid, experts at Devex compiled a list of the top 5 best cities for development organizations to consider.  Taking factors such as location, demographics, resources and political environment into account, the top cities are as follows:

1. Bangkok, ThailandBangkok’s strategic location in the heart of Southeast Asia makes it a prime site for development networks.  Home to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the capital is already a nucleus for development efforts. Devex experts note that expected economic growth in the area means the city “will be even more of a regional hub” in the future.  Furthermore, Thailand boasts a lower cost of living than neighboring countries and tops the World Bank’s list of easiest countries to do business in for East Asia and the Pacific.

2. Bogota, Colombia – Another high-ranked country for ease of doing business by the World Bank, Colombia is a growing site for both private sector companies and development organizations. The Latin American capital possesses a young and skilled labor force due to the prevalence of universities and libraries. USAID Mission Director for Colombia Peter Natiello praises the city’s potential, claiming “Bogota allows USAID to build partnerships we need to achieve greater impact…with the private sector, NGOs, government institutions, and academia.”

3. Nairobi, Kenya – Africa as a whole is in the middle of a surge of financial and technological growth, with Nairobi at the center.  The Kenyan capital is home to more than 100 major international organizations, including the UK Department for International Development and UN Environment Program. Business analyst Naomy Wanga cites “communications technology, business development services, and the availability of both expertise and business opportunities” as major factors contributing to development success in Nairobi.

4. Amman, Jordan – Despite political tumult in the region, Amman boasts a relatively secure environment; the World Bank ranks it the least corrupt among low and middle-income countries in the Middle East.  Jordan follows an open-border policy and grants myriad public health and education services to the country’s more than 500,000 refugees.  Furthermore, Amman has a young workforce and improving status in health and education.

5. New Delhi, India – As both the world’s largest democracy and fourth-largest economy, India is a hot spot for growing development organizations.  New Delhi boasts a strong NGO community. In addition, the capital city is home to several UN regional offices and more than 140 foreign embassies and commissions focused on overcoming development challenges throughout India and South Asia. Though the South Asian region as a whole is struggling to reach several Millennium Development Goals, New Delhi shows potential for growth; the metropolis features an educated work force with strong English-speaking skills.

Each of these cities offers a unique package to expanding development organizations and demands serious consideration. Other cities Devex experts recommend include Manila, Philippines; Addis Adaba, Ethiopia; Dakar, Senegal; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Yangon, Myanmar.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: Devex, World Bank
Photo: Wikipedia

Patti Quintero and Michelle Frohlich-Klinger, creators of SoulShine, are proud to join forces with Waves For Water on a new effort to eradicate poverty in rural communities. This year, they have chosen to help women and children have better standards of living, food and water in one of the most impoverished communities in Colombia. Their goal is to eradicate poverty in Colombia’s rural communities. According to SoulShine’s official statement, the project “will be hosted at CNN Hero Catalina Escobar’s JUANFE, a non-profit organization that addresses the high rates of infant mortality and teen pregnancy in Colombia.” In addition, SoulShine Colombia will focus on providing water filters to over 100 women and families. “We will also work to empower the community by sharing a simple philosophy that we can all tap into our inner strength, wisdom, and joy through the practice of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness,” said Patti Quintero.

Moreover, SoulShine Colombia, also seeks to empower women in these communities. According to Quintero, “SoulShine Colombia will be traveling to Cartagena, Colombia to work with one of the most impoverished communities in Colombia. This journey will involve teaching the young mothers and pregnant women yoga, meditation, and mindfulness helping them tap into their inner strength and life force. Manduka was happy to donate yoga mats for the participants to use.”

Clean water will be created through new filters provided by the Waves for Water organization. According to Waves for Water “these filtration systems are portable, easy to use, easy to pack and effective. One filter can provide 100 people with clean water for up to 5 years. With these filters, dirty water becomes instantly clean – and drinkable.” Together with Waves for Water, SoulShine Colombia will provide a new, health focused method to keep Colombian women happy, and healthy and help rural communities gain access to clean water. The project is expected to launch this month.

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: Waves for Water, Manduka

Over the course of her career, Colombian recording artist Shakira has been nominated for five American Grammys and eight Latin Grammys, both of which are among the highest honors in the music industry, and has amassed an estimated net worth of a staggering $200 million. However, despite her international fame and incredible fortune, Shakira remains an avid humanitarian, having initiated and participated in many charity organizations, particularly those that target her home country of Colombia.

After solidifying her position as a true Latin American music star with the release of her critically-successful breakthrough album, Pies Descalzos, Shakira founded the Pies Descalzos Foundation (Barefoot Foundation) in efforts to aid the impoverished children of Colombia. While growing up in her native country, Shakira made it a mission to serve the country’s poor after watching children make homes out of park benches and street corners.

The extent to which early experiences impacted Shakira’s humanitarian motives is manifested in the name of the non-profit, non-governmental charity organization. Pies Descalzos not only pays homage to the album that launched Shakira’s musical career but also recognizes the thousands of children who are far too destitute to even afford shoes

One of the overarching goals of Pies Descalzos is improvements in international education quality – an opportunity that can enable needy children to break out of the confines of squalor. Pies Descalzos provides children with the opportunity for attaining an education and necessary tools for survival, such as food, that they otherwise would have been unable to access.

Since 2003, the foundation has launched six schools in Colombia that provide support to impoverished children and their families by providing education, food, and financial support. Also founded by Shakira, the Barefoot Foundation in America, rather than focusing its efforts solely on Colombia, takes its aid worldwide, promoting universal education.

After receiving honors from the United Nations in 2006, Shakira reinforced the urgency and importance of Pies Descalzos and other charity foundations by stating, “Let’s not forget at the end of this day when we go home, 960 children will have died in Latin America.” With her adamant support of global education and passionate efforts towards eradicating hunger and poverty, Shakira has demonstrated that the power of music can travel far beyond entertainment purposes to serve inspiring humanitarian purposes.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Ace Show Biz, Celebrity Net Worth, People
Photo: People

Coca-Cola has vowed to crack down on the company’s suppliers who ignore land right-protecting laws of local communities in developing nations, specifically suppliers who engage in land grabbing.

“The Coca-Cola Company believes that land grabbing is unacceptable. Our company does not typically purchase ingredients directly from farms, nor are we owners of sugar farms or plantations, but as a major buyer of sugar, we acknowledge our responsibility to take action and to use our influence to help protect the land rights of local communities,” the company was quoted saying in an article by The Guardian.

The recent statement from the company is the results of signed petitions promoted by Oxfam, committed to bring awareness of community land rights to food and beverage companies. After 225,000 people signed the petitions, Coca-Cola committed itself to taking steps to halt land grabs from occurring in its supply chain.

In the past, the company has been accused of causing farmers’ wells to dry up and destroying local farms and agricultural production in order to access water resources to feed its sugar cane plants. The over-extracting of ground water has subsequently also affected local peoples in the surrounding communities, who are not able to have access to vital water supplies. Thus, the growing of vital ingredients for Coca-Cola, such as sugar, soy, and palm oil, have been causing “large-scale land acquisitions and land conflicts at the expense of small scale food producers and their families,” according to a recent article published by The Guardian.

Based in Atlanta, Coca-Cola promised it would assess its critical sourcing regions in a third-party manner to identify social, environmental and human rights issues in which its suppliers engage regarding land rights. These regions include the top 16 nations where Coca-Cola sources cane sugar to make its products and the assessments will begin in Colombia and Guatemala this year. The remaining 14 countries will be covered by 2020, including critical sourcing areas such as Brazil, India, Thailand and South Africa. The company has also pledged to disclose the names of all cane sugar sourcing countries and their respective cane sugar suppliers. Of Coca-Cola’s top 16 sourcing countries, six have already been accused of human rights violations by the US Department of Labour.

The company’s zero-tolerance approach to land grabbing is further highlighted through its incorporation of “community and tradition rights” language to its Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles (SAGP), as well as addition of criteria to its Supplier Code requirement, and stricter enforcement of suppliers’ implementation of these requirements. Coca-Cola has also vowed to act as a voice in the industry-wide commitment to the support of responsible and legitimate land rights practices, including engaging with governments and international organizations on the issue.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: The Guardian, Oxfam, Coca-Cola, The Ecologist
Photo: Carsten Homann

Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee-shop operator, will open a café in Bogota, Colombia after almost a century of buying coffee from the country. The café will open in the first half of next year, along with an additional five locations by the end of 2014. The company, headed by Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz, hopes to reach the goal of opening 50 Starbucks in Colombia in five years.

“This is long overdue,” Schultz said at a press conference in Bogota. “There is tremendous enthusiasm as we talk to people and walk the streets—most of these Colombian people we talked to have consumed Starbucks coffee somewhere else.”

Starbucks will help to boost its sales by expanding to countries with growing middle classes. The company has about 8,000 cafes located outside the United States, opening its first in India in 2012 and opening one in Vietnam this year. According to Starbucks’ annual global responsibility report, the company bought about 545 million pounds of coffee from 29 countries in 2012, a 27 percent increase from 2011. Colombia has been Starbucks’ largest or second-largest coffee-bean supplier in its 42 year history.

Starbucks is also partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to invest $3 million into the security of coffee quality and supply in various regions of Colombia. USAID and Starbucks will each invest $1.5 million in research to benefit small-plot coffee farmers in Colombia over the next three years. The funds will go to Starbucks’ farmer support center in Manizales, which will pay for agronomists to analyze soil and inform growers on factors that affect profit and yield, including fertilizers, climate and pests.

Starbucks opened its first support center in Costa Rica in 2004, and opened branches last year in Colombia and China to help local coffee farmers improve the size and quality of their harvests. By 2015, Starbucks aims to sell all ethically sourced coffee.

– Ali Warlich
Sources: Starbucks, TIME, Bloomberg
Photo: Reuters

Escalating tensions over the issue of land rights gave rise to protests, which turned violent after security forces shot and killed four unarmed peasants on June 22 and 25 in Catatumbo, Colombia, as reported by Amnesty International. They are only the most recent casualties in the ongoing battle over land in Colombia.

Land is becoming ever more scarce for farmers throughout Colombia, as big businesses and mining companies have been consolidating their ownership over land for years. Rural farmers are struggling to earn a living, and growing enough food to feed their families is becoming increasingly difficult as land is disappearing from beneath their feet. Colombia is home to the world’s largest internally displaced population. Farmers are continuously forced to leave their homes and farms as more and more land is granted to wealthy companies. While the government has recently passed the land restitution law, no landholding entity has yet returned land to displaced peasants. Over 16,000 people involved in land disputes have simply “disappeared,” according to Catalina Ballesteros Rodriguez, Program Officer for Christian Aid.

The 14,000 strong protest this past June was organized by the Peasant Farmer Association of Catatumbo, with support from the Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyers’ Collective. CALCP is an all-female organization of lawyers, who offer legal advice and provide training to support grassroots organizations and displaced communities. Judith Maldonado, director of CALCP and winner of the German ‘Shalom Award’ for her human rights work, says “we seek to bring the rule of law to the communities… so that it can be a tool for the defense, protection and promotion of human rights, and for the transformation of their communal, social, political and cultural realities.” Their operations are based in northeastern Colombia, a place so rich in natural resources that it is a curse rather than a blessing for indigenous and small scale farming communities, who are forced off their land in large scale extractive projects to make way for big money-making business interests. They also advocate on an international level, to raise awareness about the violent removal of peasant farmers and land rights issues. Their work is done at great personal risk, and human rights lawyers have often been threatened, repressed, even “disappeared” or killed. Judith Maldonado has personally faced threats from armed groups, and illegal surveillance by the state. CALCP is supported by Peace Brigades International, a UK based group that provides support and protection to human rights defenders all over the world who are subject to repression.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: The Guardian, Peace Brigades International

child soldier facts
The subject of many a documentary, news report, and even novel, the figure of the child soldier emerged onto the global stage in the late 20th century, largely the result of publicized conflicts in places like Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The heartbreaking and sometimes frightening images of children—almost all of them African boys—turned into violent killers captured the attention of many in the west.  Like most images, these tell only a part of the story.  Here are five important and sobering facts about child soldiers.

1. Not all child soldiers are African. The organization Child Soldiers International reports that “since 2000, the participation of child soldiers has been reported in most armed conflicts and in almost every region of the world.” No exact figures have been compiled, but some estimates put the number at 250,000 child soldiers currently fighting in conflicts around the world. Countries where child soldiers can be found include Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, the Philippines, Colombia, Thailand, India, Somalia, and Yemen.

2. Child soldiers do more than just fight. Child soldiers not only fight on the front lines, but they also serve as runners, spies, and in some cases human shields. Many of them are also sexually abused and exploited.

3. Not all child soldiers are boys. Girls under 18 are often recruited or captured during conflicts, and most of the time they suffer sexual abuse and exploitation. An estimated 40% of child soldiers are girls.

4. Child soldiers are both recruited and forced into serving. Many soldiers are violently kidnapped and forced to serve in armies or in opposition groups.  Some, however, are drawn in because poverty and deprivation leave them vulnerable to the promise of money, food, and clothing if they take up arms. Desperation proves to be a powerful motivating force for some children.

5. Child soldiers can be and have been rehabilitated. Despite the horrors they have suffered and in many cases committed, these soldiers are children forced or lured into war. Many organizations around the globe work to provide the therapy, medical attention, and education that these children need. Hundreds of former soldiers have benefited from this kind of care and been reunited with family members and loved ones.

– Délice Williams

Sources: Child, Peace Direct USA
Photo: MW

Defining an Emerging Market
The term “emerging markets” was coined in 1981 at the International Finance Corporation when promoting the first mutual funding investments in developing countries. While the term is sometimes considered unhelpful, it is important to identify and define these markets. Emerging markets are a hot topic as they are predicted to surpass the US, German, and UK economies in the future.

There are three factors that distinguish an emerging market from a developed market. Firstly, rapid economic growth defines emerging markets. Great examples of emerging markets are Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS). In recent decades, these developing countries have boosted their large economies based on global capital, technology, and talent. The GDP growth rates of these countries have outpaced those of more developed economies, lifting millions out of poverty and creating new middle classes and large new markets for consumer products and services. The large labor pools of these countries give their economies a huge advantage over more developed economies.

The second factor that defines the emergence of a developing economy is how much competition it offers in comparison to developed markets. Along with the rapid pace of development, these countries pose serious competition to current dominant economies in developed countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy.

Lastly, emerging markets are often defined in terms of their financial situation and infrastructure. While their rapid growth and competitiveness are positive growth indicators, the amount of red-tape and inconsistencies involved in dealing with these markets marks them as emerging. Unfortunately, some argue that the corruption in these markets will halt them all together despite other growth factors.

While the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China are well on their way to surpassing “emergence”, the predicted emerging economies of the future are Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa (CIVETs). According to John Bowler, director of Country Risk Service at the Economist Intelligence Unit, the sizeable populations of some of these countries and the wealth of natural resources in others, just might make them the economic boomers of the next decade.

– Kira Maixner

Source CNN , Forbes
Photo ACF