Thursday, October 18, 2007

Colombianitos and Project Medellin

As you know from a previous post, we recently had the inauguration of Project Medellin which was a big success. Diana and I visited the project again this week to get to know the team members there a little better. The team consists of a Coordinator, psychologist, social worker, and two soccer trainers.

80% of the people living in the immediate area of Colombianitos are displaced families as result of the guerilla conflicts going on in the countryside. For those who don't know, the guerillas control a substantial part of rural Colombia. As they move into new territories, families are forced out and many flee to the cities for opportunities. Our Colombianitos project is located high up on the mountainside that surrounds Medellin. Just 15-20 years ago this was just open land, but it is now filled with poor displaced families. Many of the families are headed by single mothers where the fathers have abandoned them.

The godd news is that Colombianitos is here to help and the project has started off with a big success. We had close to 200 children enroll in the first couple of weeks. The week following the inauguration, over 100 more children enrolled! Marcelo who is the coordinator for Medellin, started up our project in Cartegena. They now have 450 children but he said Medellin is way ahead of Cartagena in terms of where they were after a few weeks.

The team expressed many concerns in what they have seen so far in the children. The education level is very low and this is one of the main goals of the Colombianitos program. Colombianitos provides a lot of support in helping the children with whatever they need to do well in school. One requirement to participate in the Colombianitos soccer program is that first, you must attend school, and second, you must do well.

Colombianitos requires that each child presents the appropriate identification documents. Many of the children are lacking these which basically means they don't exist to the the Colombian government, and therefore are not entitled to the benefits that come with that. Obtaining the documents is a simple matter of the parents going to a government office to obtain them. Hopefully Colombianitos will be the incentive for these parents to get their children legally recognized by the government.

I talked with Marcelo in some detail about Cartegena to try and gage any comparisons or differences he sees between the Cartegena project and Medellin. It was really encouraging to hear the impact that Colombianitos has made on the community in Cartegena. When he arrived, he said drugs were openly consumed on the sidewalks and houses in plain view of all the children. Now, although the drug trade continues, consumption is no longer accepted within the community. He says you can see a definite distinction when walking from one sector into the sector where Colombianitos is located. It's encouraging to hear that Colombianitos is making a difference.

The psychologist and social worker are having an open meeting this weekend for the parents. This will be the beginning of establishing a dialogue with the parents. In the future, the idea is that the parents should feel free and open to come to them for support and help. At the same time, Colombianitos will be contacting them directly when they find particular problems with the children that need to be discussed with the parents.

One great idea that they are working on is a cooperative which they hope to establish to gain employment for the women to clean and cook. I think it's a great idea to use our contacts and credibility within Colombianitos to identify people willing to help out by providing jobs.

The soccer trainers already are very busy. They run classes from 8 or 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. The school program runs a morning and afternoon program so Colombianitos has children all day long to work around their schedules. There are only 2 instructors and up to 60 children in one class which is something we may need to look at and improve as we expect the program to continue to grow in numbers.

The Medellin team is currently in the diagnostic phase, identifying the main problems and concerns which need to be addressed with the children and community. Once they have a clear idea of the problems, they will then develop programs to address them. The soccer program is much more than just soccer. For example, let's say that determine that they need to develop values in the children to respect property (the surrounding area is very dirty with trash). They will teach this on the soccer field, rather than having them listen to a lecture. This could involve some type of exercise on the field, while stressing the importance of property. They might put cones on the field where each cone represents some type of value they are trying to teach. What is impressive with Colombianitos is that the entire team works very close together in achieving their aims. On our visit to Bogota last year, we were extremely impressed with the programs about family and social values that the soccer coaches had in place.

All in all very exciting. It will be very exciting to see the progress made when Diana and I make our next visit. There are some challenges. The current office is not adequate so we will need to address the budgeting needs for this. I can already see that the soccer coaches are stretched in terms of number of children so this will also need to be addressed. But there is a great team in place and great support from the community, so it really is quite exciting for the children there and for Colombianitos.

As a reminder, you can support Colombianitos by making a donation at

We are also selling Christmas cards to support Colombianitos which you can buy in the store at ITH:

No comments: