In recent years, Colombia has been on a slow but steady course towards reducing poverty, and much has been achieved. However, huge sectors of the population have still not benefited from this progress. Children from such families are the most vulnerable members of society.
What we do in Ipiales
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Ipiales in 2003. Today, our social centres here offer a family strengthening programme, which aims to alleviate hardship in the community in a holistic and sustainable manner. Its services include childminding and day-care programmes, which enable working parents or single mothers to leave their children in safe hands while they are out making a living. A paediatric dentist and doctor are also available to the community here.
In addition, the social centres host information events on topics such as nutrition and other health issues. Supporting women in the community is also a central concern. Further vocational training in a range of subjects is made available to them, allowing them to gain qualifications and thus increase their income and improve their societal status.
For children in Ipiales who are no longer able to live with their parents, 13 SOS families provide a loving home for up to 117 children. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.
When young people from the children’s village are ready to leave their family in order to pursue higher education or vocational training, our SOS Youth Programme provides shared accommodation for them. With the support of qualified counsellors, they learn to take on responsibility, plan their lives and prepare for independent adult life.
Subsistence farming or informal work – for many, these are the choices in life
Ipiales in the Nariño department has a population of roughly 100,000. It is located at 2,900 metres above sea level, 3 km from Colombia’s border with Ecuador. The main economic activity in the city is commerce, and a significant proportion of it is informal in nature.
Living conditions in the surrounding rural areas, where most people are indigenous subsistence farmers, can also be extremely tough, and people here still feel excluded from economic and political processes in the country. When the new Free Trade Agreement between the USA and Colombia was signed in 2011, around 7,000 people flooded the streets of Ipiales, protesting what they perceived as a threat to their livelihoods.
A steady stream of migrants in a city that never stands still
Due to its border location, the population of the city is always fluctuating. Many people from the countryside, especially young people traveling on their own, come to Ipiales in the hope of finding work here. In many cases, however, they cannot find any, leaving them no option but to eke out a living by informal means, e.g. as street vendors. At least 40 per cent of the commercial establishments in Ipiales are not officially registered.
Many people in this area have been forcibly displaced due to the violent conflict in Colombia. In 2002 alone, over 100 families from Ipiales were affected. The trafficking of persons, including children, is also a problem. Young mothers are offered money to give away their babies, or young children are sold to traffickers and are taken to other countries to work, e.g. as domestic employees.
All in all, this border region, where life never stands still and people are incessantly coming and going, can be a very unsafe environment for children and young people as often, the parents themselves are in very vulnerable circumstances where they lack security, steady incomes, health care and education. It is these families and their children that SOS Children’s Villages aims to support.