"I became interested in the work of SOS Children in Colombia whilst studying Latin American history and politics for my Modern Languages degree.
This summer I was able to make a one-month visit to the country, and I wanted to find out how some of the bigger international NGOs are working to alleviate poverty and encourage social development. SOS Children is one of the major NGOs and has been present in the country for 40 years so I was very keen to see their work first-hand. I had the opportunity to visit some of SOS Social Centres in two locations in the seven regions where SOS Children work: Cartagena, on the Caribbean Coast and Bucaramanga, in the eastern Santander region.
I was shown around the two branches of the SOS Cartagena programme by Yocabet, the area’s director since the project began three years ago. The day began with an enthusiastic musical introduction at the SOS Social Centre in the marginal Pasacaballos district, where the children aged one to five years old started the day with songs and dancing. I think some of the kids put even more energy into their performance when they saw me watching!
The Social Centre in Cartagena (and indeed in all the SOS locations) had a great atmosphere, both in terms of the energy levels of the children and staff, and in terms of the bright, constructive wall displays, which was a real contrast from the rundown neighbourhood outside.
The Social Centres provide much more than just daycare. Not only does the daycare mean that the parents (including lots of single mothers) can work with their young children well looked-after, but the charity also works with the parents directly in a Family Strengthening Programme. The programme aims to address the often very severe problems of the families, such as domestic violence, alcoholism, unemployment, and poor living conditions.
Bucaramanga is a region that has been very badly affected by the conflict in the country and has an extremely large displaced population. The SOS director of this area, Marta, showed me around one of the Social Centres, in the neighbourhood of ‘El Reposo’. I particularly enjoyed chatting to the kitchen staff who accomplish the impressive feat of making breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack for over 100 children who attend the daycare and also for around 200 students from the district who are provided with lunch from the centre every day at almost no cost. In a deprived area where children may be encouraged to leave school to try to earn money instead, this is an important scheme that increases the possibilities for them to obtain a proper education.
From what I saw, SOS Children is a charity that invests effectively in building platforms that improve individual lives on a daily basis and create sustainable social development on a much wider scale.
Thank you to everyone working with the organisation who made my visits to Colombia possible - it was a wonderful experience!"
Read more about SOS Children's work in Colombia.