By Brent Harlow
After more than fifty years of civil war, the left-wing guerilla group FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), after signing a treaty with the Colombian government last year, has laid down arms and begun the process of reintegration into civil society. The government has demonstrated its commitment to the full integration of former combatants by empowering the Colombian Reintegration Agency to provide substantial and continuous support in the areas of social and economic assistance, healthcare, psychosocial care, and education and vocational training ([url=https://sustainablesecurity.org/2017/02/13/the-reintegration-of-former-combatants-in-colombia/]link to source[/url]).
And yet, these recent developments—which many, if not all Colombians, consider to be positive—cannot erase the decades of damage done to the most impoverished and marginalized rural communities that have suffered most from the armed conflict. These communities, targeted both by the FARC (for recruitment) and by government forces seeking out guerillas, have suffered violence and persecution from both sides, resulting in large-scale migration from the countryside, giving Colombia the second largest “internally displaced population” in the world [url=http://www.monitor.upeace.org/innerpg.cfm?id_article=1011](link to source). [/url]
This is, in part, responsible for the rapid growth of settlements surrounding major urban centers where residents often have extremely limited access to basic goods and services, and where many problems are merely carried from the countryside into the new, semi-urban context. One such settlement is the Ciudadela Sucre, with a rapidly growing population of over 63,000, located in the hillside region at the southern limits of Bogotá, in the borough of Soacha. According to an [url=http://www.elespectador.com/impreso/bogota/articuloimpreso186220-rostros-de-guerra-soacha]article published in [i]El Espectador[/i][/url] in 2010, an average of forty-eight families arrive every day, fleeing desperate circumstances in the countryside, only to find themselves in an area that many have likened to a “pressure cooker,” where poverty, unemployment, crime, drug trafficking, and child recruitment into gangs and paramilitary groups are rampant, and constantly threaten to give rise to new violence.
Without access to the most basic goods—clean water, adequate housing, healthcare, employment, police protection, and free, quality education—families in Ciudadela Sucre can find themselves caught in intergenerational cycles of poverty, crime and violence. When it comes to education, the situation is especially dire. In a country where education overall is well-funded, of high quality, and working to improve educational attainment and outcomes across all socioeconomic levels, there are places such as Soacha where little, if any, progress has been made since the major education reform known as the [i]Revolución Educativa [/i]was implemented in 2002. [url=http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-132360]An article published in [i]El Tiempo[/i] in 1992[/url] quotes a former Secretary of Education decrying the inadequacy of public resources allotted for education in Soacha. In the article, written over twenty years ago, Darío Ahumada pointed out the failure of public education in Soacha, where teachers were forced to teach in “groves, fields, and escuelas de carton (cardboard schools).” The former Education Secretary’s comment came three years after it was already declared that there was an “education emergency” in Soacha.
Over twenty years later, in 2012, a resolution was passed declaring that Soacha was still in a state of “educational emergency” ([url=http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-11196061]link to source[/url]). The resolution acknowledges a drastic shortage of places for children in public school classrooms—an implicit recognition of the government’s failure to supply children in Soacha with the free, quality education to which they are entitled.
In this context, in which the government’s capacity to provide adequate educational opportunities to children in Soacha has been lacking for over twenty years, the crucial role of private schools cannot be overstated. One such school, the Instituto Buenos Aires, works with the Emmaus Road Foundation, a Givology partner, to provide scholarships to primary school children who may otherwise be unable to attend school at all.
The cycles of poverty, limited educational attainment, and violence—decades in the making in places like Ciudadela Sucre— cannot be undone with any single treaty or act of the Colombian government, no matter how significant. In order to address the problems that have arisen in places like Ciudadela Sucre over the last fifty years of civil war, it is necessary for residents, local community leaders, nonprofit organizations, the Colombian government, NGOs, and international donors to continue to work together to break these cycles of poverty and violence. If you are able, please consider giving your support to one school that is striving to make a difference in this community. To learn more about how to help the Emmaus Road Foundation in its support for the Instituto Buenos Aires in Bogota, Colombia, please follow [url=https://www.givology.org/~ibasupport/]this link.[/url]
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