Medellin in North-western Colombia has a familiar ring to it for most of us, an instant association with drug gangs and all that goes with them. Annie Irving, Globalteer’s Peru-based project manager for South America took a trip to the Colombian city to visit the projects that Globalteer supports through its Colombian Street Kids Project, and to find out what life is like for the volunteers we send to help.
The first of the two projects Annie visited is located in the ironically named “Barrio Triste” or “Sad Quarter” of the city. It was set up to provide a safe haven for children of families whose daily lives are blighted by drug-taking, prostitution, abuse and violence. The project currently works with over 60 children between the ages of 3 and 12.
Annie reports, “I was extremely impressed by the energy and commitment of the project’s director, Clared, whose passionate desire to help her fellow Colombians led her to set up this foundation 16 years ago. She and her dedicated and hard-working staff provide a protective environment for some very vulnerable kids”.
As well as drugs-related problems that affect countless children in Colombia, many country people have been displaced by the on-going battle between self-appointed law enforcers and drugs cartels outside the major cities.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, since 1985 more than 3 million people have been forced to leave their homes in the Colombian countryside to seek refuge in the major cities as a result of the escalating armed conflict between the illegal paramilitary forces and the guerrillas. This is the world’s third largest internally displaced population.
Once again Annie was impressed with the work she saw there. “The children I saw were full of smiles, constantly wanted to hug and play and help each other. It was a wonderful, though very humbling experience.”
Globalteer supplies volunteers and financial support to both of the projects Annie visited. Sadly, many people still wrongly assume that Colombia is an unsafe country to visit. While you do have to be aware of which areas of the city to avoid, the hostel where Globalteer volunteers stay is in the city’s best suburb and the projects are located in relatively safe locations.
Annie herself thoroughly enjoyed a spot of sightseeing in the city, saying, “What a beautiful, vibrant city Medellin is! I have been very pleasantly surprised by and thoroughly enjoyed its tropical lushness, its impressive public artworks, its modernity and its delightfully friendly people.’