“I have realised that my life is valuable and I must fight for it!”

Leo is a child living in Bogotá’s ‘tolerance zone’ for sex work.

He was in danger of being groomed and sold for sex.

Not anymore…

“Growing up I spent most of my time on the streets, where I saw people take drugs. My uncle is one of those people. He told me about the places around here where people sell their bodies to buy drugs. I really miss my uncle – when I was little he would take me to the park and we would have fun together. Now, when I see him, I ask him to come home but he’s getting worse and worse. At school, I met someone from the project. At first I didn’t want to talk to them, but in the end I opened up all about my life, and I told them that I didn’t want to end up like my uncle. I have realised that from bad influences and mistakes I had made in my life I was heading down the wrong path, like my uncle did when he was young. Since working with the project, I have realised that my life is valuable and I must fight for it and commit to achieving my goals.”

It’s estimated that over 35,000 children are involved in commercial sexual exploitation in Colombia but many more cases go unreported.

Children are particularly at risk in Bogotá’s sex work ‘tolerance zone’. The police rarely enter this neighbourhood, making it a focus for criminal gangs. Drugs and gang violence are everywhere.

Children see people all around selling their bodies for sex – often members of their own family. So, for many children, selling your body can come to seem normal. Schools near the zone have become prime targets. Adults wait outside the school gates and force children to recruit their classmates into being used for sex.

All this makes children and young people extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse.

Because of this, Children Change Colombia is working right at the centre of the tolerance zone. We provide specialist care for children at high risk, like Leo.

Today, thanks to Children Change Colombia, Leo is safe from sexual exploitation.

But many children are still at risk.

You can help protect a child living in poverty in Bogotá’s sex work ‘tolerance zone’ from being groomed and sold for sex.

£7.50 will provide a month of counselling and care for a high-risk child at our specialist children’s centre. They will learn to protect themselves from the risks that surround them.

Please donate today and help us protect more children like Leo from sexual exploitation

*This is a real story. Only the name has been changed for child protection reasons.

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What it’s like volunteering for Children Change Colombia

During my time volunteering for Children Change Colombia, I helped with various tasks such as translating case studies for the website, which gave me a true insight into the work they do alongside their partner organisations. Through translating these case studies of young people my age, or sometimes even younger, who have been through situations I hope never to have to experience, I got to fully understand why the work CCC is doing is so important.

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My name is Lina, I’m 18 years old, I was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and whilst I wouldn’t say that I come from a very wealthy family, I would say that I am a privileged person. I don’t say this to boast, but so that anyone who reads this story and who comes from  a similar, better or worse situation to my own bears this in mind and  can understand my point of view.

following the recent peace process that took place in Colombia , lots more information has been published about ex-combatants, about those people who are still linked to the armed groups. Information has been provided about the conditions they were living in, the things they were doing and generally what their day to day life entailed. Thanks to this, people like me, who fortunately have not truly suffered due to the conflict, have been able to understand in some way what the lives of these people were like.

However, the information is only that; information, numbers and statistics, when really it is people who are behind those numbers that is important. We probably all know this already, but we don’t understand it, we don’t internalise it. Or at least I didn’t fully internalise it until I read and translated and  the individual stories of the young people that Children Change Colombia and their partner organisations support.

To conclude, I think it is extremely valuable to not only be aware of the facts and the figures relating to the conflict, but also to look into the lives of the people who are currently trying to reintegrate into our society; to do everything possible to understand this situation in which thousands of people find themselves, knowing nothing else but fighting to survive; and above all to try and put ourselves in their shoes before judging their life decisions and rejecting them.

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Mi experiencia de ser voluntaria en Children Change Colombia

“Gracias al trabajo que hice como voluntaria, traduciendo información para la página web mayormente, en Children Change Colombia tuve la oportunidad no solo de entender el trabajo de esta y otras fundaciones que trabajan juntas, pero también pude traducir algunas historias de personas de mi edad o más jóvenes que han pasado por situaciones que espero no tener que pasar nunca.

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Mi nombre es Lina, tengo 18 años, nací en Bogotá, Colombia y a pesar de que no diría que vengo de una familia muy adinerada si puedo decir que soy una persona privilegiada. Lo anterior lo digo no por presumir, pero para que quienes lean esta historia y vengan de un contexto parecido, mejor o peor que el mío puedan entender mi punto de vista.

Con el proceso de paz que se llevó a cabo en Colombia hace no mucho se ha publicado mucha más información acerca de los desmovilizados, de aquellos que aún están vinculados a los grupos armados, de las condiciones en las vivían, de las cosas que hacían y en general de su día a día. Gracias a esto personas como yo, que afortunadamente no hemos sufrido realmente por el conflicto, pudimos entender medianamente como eran las vidas de estas personas.

Sin embargo, la información es solo eso; información, números, cifras, cuando lo que realmente son personas las que están detrás de esos números. Esto muy probablemente ya todos lo sabemos, pero no lo entendemos, no lo interiorizamos o al menos yo no lo interiorice hasta que traduje y entendí cada fragmento de las historias de las personas a las que estas fundaciones ayudan.

Para finalizar, considero extremadamente valioso no solo el entender las noticias y las cifras en lo correspondiente al conflicto, pero investigar acerca de la vida de las personas que en estos momentos están tratando de reintegrarse a nuestra sociedad, hacer lo posible por comprender la situación en la que miles de ellos están al no saber nada más que pelear para sobrevivir y sobre todo intentar ponerse en sus zapatos antes de juzgar sus decisiones de vida y antes de rechazarlos.”

Lina

 

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My experience as Programmes Research Assistant at Children Change Colombia

Read our previous Programmes Research Assistant, Jade’s experience working at Children Change Colombia.

“I feel like there are so many amazing things I want to write about my time with Children Change Colombia that I can’t possibly find the words to explain it all!

As a starting point, I will say that one of the huge benefits of volunteering with Children Change Colombia is that I feel as though I have been an integral part of a small team making a real difference. Of the three projects I was assigned to do over the five month period, I saw real evidence of the information I collated, the research I was doing and the figures I found being put into actual use both on the website and in the new leaflet. This makes for a truly satisfying experience, and contributes to a real sense of achievement.

In addition, I have developed so many really employable skills. I have developed my research skills, fine-tuned my Spanish reading ability, got stuck in to end of year reports and been exposed to how the organisation runs as a whole. I was invited and encouraged to attend weekly team meetings, I witnessed how the newsletter is put together and saw the planning that goes into putting on a variety of events which I was invited to attend. I was even fortunate enough to be volunteering when we had a visit from a Colombian project partner and attended an interesting discussion that they led. I now also have a much better understanding of how a charity works, and I have real experience of working in an office – something I had not done prior to this role.

The organisation, and especially the two managers responsible for me and my work, showed me consistent pastoral care and monitored my work closely. Whilst they allowed me to continue with my work independently, I knew that should I have any queries with what I was doing, or its impact on a wider scale, they would always be ready to give me a hand and point me in the right direction. At every opportunity I have been encouraged to express my opinions and share my ideas and have always felt motivated by everyone in the office.

From day one, I was made to feel like a member of the team and that my contributions were valid and valued. This is down to the extremely friendly attitude of all the staff and their positive approach to their work and the people that are involved with the organisation. I really genuinely cannot give the staff and volunteers enough praise for how welcome they have made me feel throughout my time here. Being a part of such a fantastic team has been one of many reasons why I have so enjoyed coming to the office every week.

I would have no hesitation encouraging anybody who wants to gain a real understanding of the charity sector to volunteer with Children Change Colombia. Having witnessed how the organisation works, seen the progressive and open nature of their work and been given the opportunity to contribute to such a fantastic organisation, I really believe their work to be hugely credible and that they are making a real difference to the lives of so many children.

Sadly, my time as Programmes Research Assistant has come to an end. Fortunately for me, and with huge thanks to Children Change Colombia and the skills that I have gained along the way, I am leaving to start a paid position in the charity sector – a big first step for me in my career and one of the reasons I initially began this internship.

I have no doubt that I will remain a part of Children Change Colombia and its community of wonderful fundraisers and volunteers through voluntary roles in a different context.  In fact, I have already committed to volunteering at an upcoming event, and look forward to watching the organisation grow and to continue supporting and endorsing the truly amazing work they do.”

 

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My experience interning at Children Change Colombia

Laura Volunteeer

“I started my fundraising internship at Children Change Colombia in August 2016. During the year the internship lasted, I learned valuable skills and had amazing experiences. My main duties were related to fundraising, helping to organise events like the Children Change Colombia Fiesta and the annual Thames Walk in Richmond Park.

What I most loved about my time at CCC was seeing how all the team in the UK and Colombia work together to achieve the same goals, it was amazing to see their passion and commitment. I felt very grateful for the love they put in every single thing they do to make changes in thousands of children’s lives in my country.

Thank you CCC for bringing hope back to our children and young people, and to support them to be a powerful engine for the change!”

We currently have a vacancy for a new Fundraising and Finance Assistant. The deadline is Sunday the 28th of January. To find out more about how to apply check out our website here. 

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Diario Colombiano de nuestro Director de Proyectos en Colombia

Nuestro Director de Proyectos, Camilo, nos cuenta como algunos jóvenes de nuestros proyectos participaban en manifestaciones históricas en dos regiones donde nosotros trabajamos.

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La región pacifica colombiana ha sido históricamente excluida y segregada. Desde la época de la colonia se establecieron las estructuras sociales que discriminaban a las etnias afros e indígenas como inferiores y sujetos de explotación económica, su cultura se veía como inferior y sus prácticas religiosa y rituales condenadas. Con la llegada de la modernidad estas comunidades siguieron excluidas, sin el reconocimiento de sus particularidades y explotadas, aisladas, sin vías de acceso apropiadas, acceso a agua potable, servicio de salud de calidad y una buena educación. En 1991 la nueva constitución reconoció que Colombia es una nación diversa, pluriétnica y multicultural. Además, movimientos sociales continuaron con su lucha que en este marco jurídico les permitiera el reconocimiento de sus territorios ancestrales y de sus derechos. Aunque se aumentó la inversión en la región, el conflicto armado y la disputa territorial por la minería ilegal, cultivos ilícitos y rutas del narcotráfico generaron desplazamientos, homicidios y el deterioro del tejido social en la región.

El pasado mes de mayo las ciudades de Buenaventura y Quibdó, las mayores ciudades de la región pacifica colombiana realizaron un paro, en donde cerca de 100 mil personas salieron a las calles en Chocó y cerca de 100 mil en el Puerto. Cesaron sus actividades económicas, educativas y cotidianas para exigirle con marchas y actividades culturales, su inconformidad frente al gobierno nacional que no ha cumplido con los compromisos con los que innumerables veces se ha comprometido para solucionar los graves problemas que aquejan a estos territorios.

Durante los 22 días de paro en Buenaventura, se logró que más de 60 organizaciones sociales se unieran para construir una agenda, en donde se le exija al estado colombiano construir junto con ellos un modelo de desarrollo inclusivo, con respeto por las tradiciones, por el medio ambiente, que promueva la autonomía regional, así como un modelo económico construido desde la solidaridad, que permita el ejercicio efectivo de los derechos de la población del puerto. Esto resulta significativo puesto que la violencia ha deteriorado la capacidad organizativa de la gente, su capacidad para generar acuerdos y confiar en sus líderes. Este paro logro unidad, generar acuerdos sobre las necesidades comunes, y coordinar acciones para que la gente fuese escuchada. Los acuerdos establecidos con el gobierno colombiano incluyen terminar con prontitud el acueducto y garantizar el acceso al agua potable a toda la población, mejorar la atención en salud, ampliar el hospital, aumentar el número de camas, construir un centro deportivo, mejorar parques, mejorar la calidad de la educación.

Nuestro Aliado Fundescodes es una de las 60 organizaciones que lideraron el paro, participó con entusiasmo y responsabilidad, realizando reuniones con líderes comunales, involucrando a niños y jóvenes para que opinaran y dieran a conocer sus necesidades y propuestas de cambio. Niños y jóvenes fueron escuchados por funcionarios públicos y demostraron su compromiso con su comunidad. Fundescodes también promovió la manifestación pacífica, invitando a la gente a no responder a las incitaciones de la fuerza pública y de actores que buscaron desestabilizar el paro por medio de saqueos y el uso de la fuerza durante la protesta. Al final del paro, la organización se siente fortalecida y con esperanzas para que este proceso siga transformando la realidad del puerto.

En relación con el paro en el departamento del Chocó se dio como respuesta a los incumplimientos de los acuerdos realizados por el gobierno nacional producto del paro realizado en el año 2016, a esto se suman los incumplimientos de los acuerdos de los paros de 1994, 2000 y 2009. Durante los 18 días de paro el comité promotor logro generar un nuevo acuerdo con el gobierno nacional en donde se comprometieron a terminar las carreteras que comunican a Quibdó con la ciudad de Medellín y la ciudad de Pereira, entregar un nuevo hospital en la capital del departamento y 4 nuevos hospitales para la región. Los promotores del paro aseguran que si los incumplimientos continúan reanudaran el paro de manera indefinida, están siendo escuchados, se han organizado y esperan de manera pacífica lograr que se garanticen sus derechos.

Nuestro aliado Circulo de Estudios se unió al paro, mujeres, niños, niñas y jóvenes realizaron muestras culturales de danza y música, apoyaron las marchas y participaron de discusiones comunitarias con el fin de apoyar la movilización social.
En este contexto la niñez y la juventud de nuestros proyectos se unen a las voces de sus comunidades que están luchando por que sus derechos sean garantizados y puedan romper los ciclos de la pobreza y la exclusión que los han afectado históricamente, es muy posible que el gobierno colombiano siga incumpliendo con los compromisos establecidos, pero la gente está organizada y dispuesta a transformar sus realidades.

Nosotros seguimos apoyando a nuestros aliados que acompañan con dedicación y compromisos a los jóvenes para que su voz sea escuchada y sus iniciativas para mejorar sus comunidades sean tenidas en cuenta. ¡Si no te gusta tu realidad, porque no cambiarla!

 

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Colombia diary

Our Project Officer, Camilo, writes about young people’s participation in historic demonstrations in two of the cities we work in.

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Throughout history, Colombia’s Pacific region has been excluded and segregated. Spanish colonial rule established social structures that discriminated against the region’s afro-descendent and indigenous inhabitants, classing them as inferior and subjecting them to economic exploitation. Their culture was regarded with disapproval and their religious practices were forbidden. Despite the passing of time, these communities continued to be marginalised and exploited and their unique culture disregarded. They continued to be cut off from the rest of the country as a result of poor quality transport routes, and their population lacked access to clean water, appropriate healthcare and quality education.
Laws have been passed to address this neglect. In 1991, a new Colombian constitution formally recognised the nation’s diversity, celebrating its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nature. In addition, after much struggle, social movements succeeded in ensuring the ancestral territorial rights of indigenous and afro-descendent populations were legally recognised. Although these laws have led to greater investment in the region, the population remain severely neglected. The Pacific has been an epicentre of Colombia’s armed conflict. Decades of civil conflict and territorial disputes by armed groups running illegal mines and cultivating and trafficking drugs have hit the region hard, leading to high levels of forced displacement and homicides. This has fractured traditional social structures and threated the life and livelihoods of millions of Colombians who live in the region.
In May this year, the populations of the two largest cities in the Pacific region, Buenaventura and Quibdó, went on strike to demand change. Everyday life was put on hold – economic activity stopped and schools closed – and over 100,000 people took to the streets in each city to march and hold symbolic cultural celebrations. Their protests were directed at the national government’s failure to fulfil a series of promises made over the years to solve the serious problems affecting the region.
The strike in Buenaventura lasted 22 days, during which 60 social organisations united to coordinate their demands to the state. This process culminated with the organisations requesting support from the state to begin a process of inclusive social and economic development in the city. Central to their demands was a need for the development to be respectful of cultural traditions and the environment, to promote autonomy of the Pacific region and protect the rights of all members of the population. Developing this plan was an achievement in itself – decades of violence and fear in Buenaventura have weakened the population’s ability and confidence to mobilise. The strike brought people together, it created opportunities for discussion and agreements about needs people had in common, and created spaces for people to speak out and be listened to. Government support was secured on a number of topics – speeding up the process of providing clean drinking water to all parts of the city; improving healthcare provision including expanding the size of the main hospital; building a public sports centre; improving parks; improving the quality of education.
Our partner Fundescodes was one of the 60 organisations that led the strike. They participated enthusiastically and responsibly, setting up meetings with community leaders and public officials where they gave children and young people the chance to share their opinions, needs and ideas for change. These children were able to prove their commitment to making their communities safer and stronger. Fundescodes also worked hard to promote the peaceful nature of the strikes – they called for participants to resist responding violently to the police presence at protests or to get involved with those aiming to destabilise the strikes with violence and looting. Now that the strike is over, Fundescodes team and young people feel strengthened by the experience and are hopeful that through peaceful, democratic actions they will be able to continue transforming their city.
In Quibdó, the strike focussed on holding the government to account for failing to act on agreements made in response to 4 strikes in the past 25 years. During 18 days of strike action, the organising committee succeeded in reaching a new agreement in which the government committed to completing work to build roads linking Quibdó to two major cities, Medellín and Pereria, in Colombia’s interior; and building a new hospital in Quibdó and 4 more in the surrounding region. The strike organisers pledged that if the government again failed to fulfil their promises, they would call another, indefinite strike to continue their peaceful campaign to demand guaranteed protection of their rights.
Our partner Circulo de Estudios joined the strike in Quibdó – children, young people and women organised traditional dance and music presentations to celebrate their Afro-Colombian culture, as well as joining marches and participating in community forums.
In this context, children and young people from our partners’ projects are adding their opinions and experiences to crucial debates, helping their communities to fight for the protection of their rights and to break the cycle of poverty and exclusion that has affected them for generations. It’s still possible that the national government’s latest promises do not come to fruition, but the strikes have served to mobilise the population of this marginalised region and shown them that they have the capacity to transform their reality. We at Children Change Colombia will continue supporting our partners in this region, and across Colombia, to help children and young people have their voices heard and their initiatives for improving their communities taken into account. Because – if you don’t like your environment, why not change it?!

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