we give you the details of our projects, we would like to take a moment
to briefly outline the current political, social, and economic climate
in Colombia. If you would like to skip this section, please scroll down
to the heading Mariquita Project, the first
of our 3 project areas in Colombia.
is an amazing country. Strategically located, it boasts extensive coastline
on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and its extensive biodiversity
is attributed to the fact that the country hosts every climate in the
world. Colombia also houses a vast amount of natural resources. In addition
to petroleum, the country's largest source of foreign income, Colombia
is the top gold producer of South America and one of the worlds
leading exporters of coal; it has the largest platinum deposits in the
world and supplies about one-half of the world's emeralds. Primarily
an agrarian nation, it produces the second largest annual volume of
coffee after Brazil. The rich Colombian culture shows a mix of various
European, indigenous, Spanish, and Caribbean cultures, all noted in
its music and art and cuisine. The country boasts several internationally
renowned artists, including the painter and sculptor Fernando Botero
and the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Unfortunately, however, Colombia is the only country in Latin America
that continues to struggle with civil war. A conflict that began in
the 1940s, there are two main leftist guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN),
that challenge the government rule and control nearly half of the country.
Additionally, although paramilitary activities have been denounced by
international human rights groups and against international law since
1989, there continues to be an active paramilitary presence in Colombia.
In addition to the political confusion, Colombia has become the international
focus as the worlds main supplier country for illegal drugs.
In 1999, the current president Andrés Pastrana ceded an area
the size of Switzerland in southern Colombia to the FARC in a good-will
attempt to open peace negotiations. Meanwhile, the ELN stepped up its
attacks on civilians in an attempt to gain a similar concession from
the government and to be included in the peace talks. In April 2000
Pastrana granted the ELN a safe haven in the northern part of the country.
After making these concessions, Pastrana's government outlined an anti-drug
plan that attacks the problem at its source. The strikes at the cocaine
supply include using the military and police to invade the coca-producing
regions that are located in guerrilla territory. The United States under
the Clinton administration pledged $1.3 billion in aid for the overall
Furthermore, due to the political, social, and economic instability,
Colombia has become one of the most violent places in the world. The
risk of being kidnapped in Colombia is greater than in any other country,
according to the U.S. State Department, and the risk of being murdered
is eight times greater than in the United States. Bank robberies, highway
robberies, assaults and muggings are also commonplace in addition to
the kidnappings and assassinations associated with the war.
By all standards, Colombia suffers a human rights nightmare. The country's
civilian population is surrounded by the military and political ambitions
of leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries, besieged government
forces and ruthless drug traffickers. Over 1.5 million Colombians have
been forcibly displaced by the war, and the majority of the population
finds itself caught in the crossfire of the warring factions.
the unrest and uncertainty have combined to produce Colombia's worst
recession since the government began keeping records nearly 100 years
ago. The war scares away much foreign investment and all tourism. The
GDP per capita was U.S. $2,280 in 1996as compared to $30,000 in the
US. The average annual inflation rate is 23%. As of July 2000 the "official"
unemployment rate hit 20.4%, the highest on record and among the highest
in Latin America; this calculation does not includes either the rural
areas, where unemployment may be at least two times higher, or the underemployed,
like those that sell trinkets at street corners. Over 55 percent of
Colombia's people live below the poverty line, and over half the population
is under 25 years of age. With annual school related costs, for just
one child, at more than 10% of their annual income, education is a luxury.
education in Colombia is not free at any level. Beginning in elementary
school, families are required to pay a monthly stipend, to purchase
the required uniforms, and to cover the costs of the schoolbooks and
Currently, the Pastrana administration is putting through a reform to
privatize education. In spite of the month-long public school strike,
the restructuring will be finalized, implying more costly education.
de Mariquita, located 5 hours from Bogotá, is a community of
approximately 26.500 inhabitants, with about 20.000 in the urban zone
and 6.500 in the rural areas. About 45% of this population is under
18 years of age and 41% find themselves in a situation of poverty with
their basic necessities of food and shelter unsatisfied.
In Mariquita, we were very fortunate to find a group of hard-working
and dedicated professional women, including three teachers, a dentist,
a psychologist, a doctor, a social worker, and the mayor, who have facilitated
our project. They were able to find a school to donate the use of a
classroom. The mayor and her office assumed part of the cost of the
monthly tuition, freeing up some of our resources for vitamins, worm
treatments, dental hygiene basics, and limited medical treatment. Additionally,
the women were able to convince the Colombian Anti Narcotics Police
Air Base in Mariquita to provide us with air transport for travel between
Bogotá and Mariquita, facilitating the project logistics.
For the 2001-2002 school year, the social worker has selected 18 children
between eight and thirteen years old who have never before been enrolled
in school. As these kids have not had the benefit of any formal education
to teach the discipline and routine of school, our volunteer psychologist
monitors their development and special needs. Integrating impoverished
children, with no basic educational skills, into an established classroom
system has been a very challenging, and rewarding project.
We are extremely impressed with the community effort at the Mariquita
project, and we plan to develop it much further in the coming school
Currently we have
approximately 58 students attending school in Mariquita. The students attend a variety of schools in the community. Because these children have little or no previous education, the schools must provide special classes for our kids until they can be integrated into their proper grade level.
Four of our sponsored children attend "La Escuela de Esperanza"...The School of
Hope - a special school for developmentally disabled and learning impaired children.
In the future, most of our growth will take place in Mariquita. There is an un-ending number of children that can not afford school and we have a solid infrastructure consisting of good social workers, helpful school administrators, and a Mayor that is excited about our project.
2003 - 2004 Update
The new school
year started with over 100 children attending school in Mariquita as a
result of our sponsorships!! FFTC's partnership with the municipality of
Mariquita and some very dedicated and hard working social workers has
made the Mariquita Project a HUGE success.
a very small agricultural community located two hours from Bogotá.
The primary crop is sugar cane, which is used to make panela, an unprocessed
sugar product with a very low profit margin. The most common professions
in the region are found in the sugar cane farms. The cane is cut by
hand with machetes, an incredibly hard days work that renders
Within the last three years, a struggling rafting industry has appeared
which provides part-time jobs to some of the youth. However, Colombia
has no international tourism and very limited national tourism. For
that reason, it may be a quite a long time before the local economy
realizes any benefits from this industry.
Due to the depressed economy and limited job opportunities, many of
the families in the area face difficulties paying the school fees. Again,
in families with 3, 4, 5, or more children, the parents often have to
make the horrendous choice of which child to send to school. Additionally,
many parents simply do not see the value in education in order to justify
the economic sacrifice and prefer that their children begin to work
in the cane fields when they reach their early teens.
Our project in Tobia encompasses the entire school system for the community.
The tuition at the elementary level, in Escuela Tobia Grande, is relatively
affordable. For this reason, we only subsidize six children in extreme
need there. However, the school is very poorly funded, due to the low
tuition, and had only three teachers for 120 students! At a ratio of
one teacher to 40 students, the educational process was practically
nonexistent, and the school resembled a childcare facility. We believe
that the first years of education are critical. Hence, we are also currently
sponsoring a fourth full-time teacher; this enables each teacher to
have more control over the class and make more productive use of the
At the Colegio de Tobia, the middle and high school, we are currently
sponsoring 18 children. Most of these students are the oldest of large
families, and due to the increased costs of high school education, their
parents could not afford to keep them in school. Missing high school,
their opportunities immediately close. Their options then become limited
to the volatile income from work in the sugar cane fields. Additionally,
more than half of the areas youth are forced to go to Bogotá
to search for work. With a high school education, a young person can
go earn $150 a month in Bogotá. In comparison, at a larger farm
that process cane twice a month, the typical pay is $80 dollars a month.
At this time we are identifying the last few children in the Tobia community
that would like the benefits of education but cannot afford it. At the
start of the next school year we hope to have every child in Tobia attending
classes! With your help this will be possible.
In Tobia, a much smaller town than Mariquita, every child who wishes to do so now attends school. We are fully or partially sponsoring over 60 students. Only a handful of children are not in school and only because they do not desire to do so. As a result, we do not anticipate much more growth in the Tobia project. It is our goal to maintain this situation and see that every child gets through high School. In fact, this year we will have several kids graduating and we are looking at providing college funds for one very
promising young lady.
Part of our sponsorship this year covers a shuttle for children that could not previously attend due to the lack of transportation. We also will be providing lunchtime meals for many of the children in elementary school.
We are maintaining
our goal of keeping all kids in school that wish to attend. Our
enrollment of fully and partially sponsored children is staying constant
at about 55- 62.
2003 - 2004
We are very excited to announce that we have a new project in Medellin,
where we are helping 14 street orphans with their education through a
wonderful organization called Poder Joven.
Poder Joven, or Youth Power, is a non-profit organization formed by
university students and young professional volunteers in the city of
Medellin to help the street children. The neighborhood Guayaquil in
Medellín is a dangerous urban area known for prostitution, violence,
drug dealing, and gangs. There is a tragically high number of children
who live on the street, many of whom sniff glue and other substances to
alleviate hunger and boredom. These kids have few or no future options.
Poder Joven’s mission is to offer some of these children opportunities
with housing, medical, psychological treatment, and nutritional support.
Unfortunately, the cost of education for these kids is a luxury their
budget does not allow. FFTC is now sponsoring the education of 14
at-risk youth in this facility. Our goal is to provide educational
opportunities for all the children cared for at Poder Joven…..approximately
One of the Poder Joven volunteers has a digital camera, so we will be
able to send frequent photo updates of this project. We are also quite
pleased that a couple of the student volunteers speak a little English,
allowing Jim a reprieve from struggling with his Spanish when Cynthia is
unavailable for translations. :-)
is a dense rainforest region in southern Colombia, located in the center
of the Zone of Extension, the demilitarized zone the size of Switzerland
that the government granted to Colombias largest guerrilla group,
the FARC. The Zone serves as the FARC's headquarters during their peace
negotiation process with the government.
What does this special situation imply for the region? First and foremost,
La Macarena does not receive government funding. For this reason, we
are not only trying to subsidize children. The problem is more basic
than that: There are very few schools to offer education and even fewer
teachers to run them. Due to the region's limited infrastructure, many
children travel as far as 12 hours through the jungle, literally, to
get to school. For this reason, the schools that do exist are simple
structures that bear the responsibilities of providing shelter from
the rain, meals, and basic sleeping accommodations, such as hammocks
and mats. We have found that these kids are excited to attend school
and revere even the simplest resources, like pencils and notebooks.
For logistical purposes, in this project, we work with a small, existing
non-profit group that has the approval and support of the local governing
body. Combining our resources with their infrastructure and contacts,
we are able to provide teachers, schools, and scholastic materials in
areas that would otherwise be untouched by any educational institution.
Our sponsorship is currently supporting a small jungle school of 22
In March of 2002 the rebel guerrilla group FARC kidnapped several Colombian Congressmen and a Presidential candidate. In response, the government called a halt to the peace deliberations and declared a state of war. As a result, the Zone of Extension (the demilitarized zone that the government granted to the
FARC, and the location of this project) is no longer neutral and has become a hotbed of guerrilla activity and military conflict. Because of the escalating violence the organization we work with has pulled all of it's teachers from the region for the foreseeable future. Our energies and resources will be directed to the Mariquita and Tobia
2003 - 2004 Update
hostilities in the La Macarena region prohibit any possibility of
sending in volunteer teachers. In fact, the situation has deteriorated
so much that La Macarena is one of the most dangerous areas in Colombia.
It is highly unlikely that FFTC or any other charitable organizations
will be resuming activities in the region for a very long time.