Continued from our Field Office Diary of our Spring Newsletter (Page 8)…
During my trip, I also visited the Albergue, our partner who works with children who have been living or working on the streets. I was shown around the Older Boys House, a residential home for about 25 boys/young men. They were a lovely, friendly group of youngsters, all busy preparing for Christmas but keen to say hello to a visitor. We met one new arrival who Zulay, Albergue’s Director had not even met herself and I really liked the way she introduced herself as Director and put her arm round his shoulders.
The day was different to normal as their ‘Papa’, who is their mentor/carer/everything, was having a well earned day off. He lives in so he is a massive part of their lives, meeting with teachers, liaising with families etc. Our self- appointed guide, Cristian, who has lived there for 18 months, took great pleasure in telling us about their Papa, how good he is at basketball and how the place would be tidier if he were there to keep them all in check that day. Having said that, it was tidier than anywhere I live! I wish they had a bit more comfort and luxury but I’m not sure that’s what they want or if they are bothered. They had space to play outside and space to be children rather than adults, which came across in the way there was constant banter, ball throwing and joking with one another. Only one boy looked fed up and did not want much to do with us, but that just made things all the more real – these are after all teenage boys with all the mixed emotions that being that age brings! They would not have so much support without the Albergue’s stance that the ratio 1 social worker to 50 children (paid for by ICBF, Colombian’s Social Services) is not enough. The Albergue insists on 1 social worker to 25 children, and I’m glad COTA has helped with this because something is definitely working well here.
Later in my trip I visited our partner Renacer, who work with children who have been affected by, or who are at risk of, commercial sexual exploitation. It was great, every child introduced themselves – some more confident than others. It is impossible to understand how anyone could sexually exploit these young children aged six, seven, eight, nine. One of the young girls had a two month old baby daughter who usually comes with her but was not there that day; all of the children had a story to tell.
One class was working on a ‘Map of Life’, which showed a winding road with various road blocks and each child’s goal on the horizon. The children discuss road blocks they have experienced; one boy gave us the example of his Dad dying. All the children had written their goals, or rather what they would like to be – model, mechanic, beauty queen, doctor, vet, and are thinking about how they can get there.
One of Renacer’s staff members explained to me that some of the children live in buildings owned by a private landlord who lets out rooms. There is often one family in just one room, and these can be alongside rooms where drugs are being used and/or sold. Some are also in the area where prostitution is tolerated. Children at home alone in these circumstances are incredibly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. It really brought home to me the reality of the world that children in Colombia are growing up in. It’s hard enough for adults. I just wish it were different.
In all the projects I visited the commitment of the staff was overwhelming. They are so dedicated to the children who attend their projects, giving warmth and support on a daily basis. After two weeks in Colombia I returned to the UK with a complete mixture of emotions. I know I have only seen a tiny sample of an enormous and beautiful country so I hope to return one day to see and learn a bit more. It was interesting for me to learn about Colombian Accounting but the highlights of the trip were of course the children.
If you would like to support the work of our partners in Colombia, please make a donation online here.