Well last start with today and work backwards!
Today we went to see a project called CDA www.cdacolombia.org. CDA stands for God is Love - in spanish obviously!. A man from New Zealand came to Colombia and decided to stay to see what he could do about the vast amounts of poverty here. In 1992 he died and his daughter Missy Christie took over the running of the project. She took us on an all day tour of the projects CDA runs including a school in the Southern part of Bogota near the candelaria district, to the vocational centre they run for adults and then onto a school in the barrio high in the mountain called Alta and finally to a children´s home 1 hour from Bogota.
Now i go back to the beginning (dont worry this will all make sense). Arrived on Monday after 23 hours of travelling on small airplane seats. Shattered i was picked up by my 'parents' Beatriz and Enrique Camacho. They took me to their beautiful home in the Alhambra part of Bogota. They live in a street where there is a security guard on patrol 24 hours a day stopping people coming into the street unauthorised. They have a huge house and they have really welcomed me here. I have my own room, walk through closet and ensuite and one of the lounges next to my room is where i write to you today!
On Tuesday i awoke with a sore head - lack of sleep i think! The whole team met at the Rotary club organisers house, Raimundo, to meet with all the other parents. Nicola´s 'mum' - Martha,took us to the local shopping centre to get some money. Before we went into the shopping centre carpark the boot of the car has to be checked by a bomb sniffing dog. Since being here i´ve noticed a lot of private security guards at buildings, offices, shops, at houses etc and bomb dogs seem to be the norm. Martha told us that this was because of a series of bombs that went off a few years ago and now as a precaution they check everything.
Later that night we went to the home of Pedro Medina who started his foundation Yo Creo en Colombia ( I believe in Colombia) http://www.yocreoencolombia.com/en/. He gave us a talk on the how is foundation was trying to change the attitude that Colombia is full of drugs and is a dangerous place. He was very interesting and had thought a lot about how he could change the mindset of an nation.
From there we went to the Rotary Club Usequen in the Italian Centre in Bogota where we gave our first talk. I wasn't nervous - exhaustion put paid to that but i did manage to get through my 10 minute speech in full spanish! Woo hoo!
On Wednesday we went to Proexport for a talk about how the Colombian government and business are trying to encourage tourism and investment in the country with their heavily branded programme of activities called Colombia is Passion. It was all very interesting and forward thinking until we dared asked a question about poverty and fair trade! How dare we challenge the sales pitch we were getting! But despite that they did their best to make us feel welcome.
In the afternoon we were invited to the University of Rosario, the oldest univeristy in Colombia where we were shown around the univeristy, had lunch with some of the staff who we have arranged to meet up with later on as they have some interesting projects they are working on in the community.
We were then given a tour of the Centro Cultural Gabriel Garcia Marquez (google him - hes a famous author!). From there we went to the Plaza de Simon Bolivar where we seen some of Colombia´s displaced people holding a demonstration. Basically they had moved their temporary accomodation from where they had been and set up camp in the square as a protest at their needs being ignored by the government.
From there we went to a museum to see some Colombian art. From there we went to another Rotary club were we spoke again to a group of rotarians. Later Enrique and Beatriz took me to the house of their rotarian friends for dinner. They spoke entirely in Spanish and i did tell that although i dont speak much spanish i like to listen and try to learn. 3 hours later i had had enough of smiling in the right places although when i was leaving they commented that i probably know more spanish than i initially tell people!
Up to this point we had been getting mixed messages about how safe Colombia was and had not yet been 'allowed' to see the real Colombia as we were always in the safe keep of our 'parents' or other rotarians with a tight schedule to keep!
We had come to see and learn from similar projects to our own and so far, whilst everything we had seen was interesting it wasn't quite what we had been expecting.
Today was different. I was completly inspired by MIssy from CDA and how she spoke about her work. The need for education for the poorest children, leading onto family work, then vocational work with an emphasis on entreprenurial leadership, to health care and to children's homes. She spoke about the need to strengthen the 'inside of a person' before they can move on and better their lives. She made us feel welcome in each of the projects we visited. Both schools were expecting us and the first Santa Fe College for 2 -17yr olds put on a singing performance for us. The school is in a old building with about 30 young people per class although classroom sizes were small and had only basic equipment. Despite the higglydipigglydi look of the school you got the sense that the children enjoyed school and valued the opportunity to be there. Missy told us that they school had 700 pupils and that they tried to take in those most in need although this meant turning away many others. My only concern was the constant security guards making sure we were kept safe inside and outside the projects and it hit home to me that maybe my bravado about safety was niave and that being a blue eyed tourist made me an easy target for thieves.
From the school we travelled to Cuidad Bolivar high up in the mountains surrounding Bogota. The city of 7 million spreads out in a huge valley with barrios clinging onto hillsides all around. The city centre tall commercial buildings and bungalows were i live turned into houses stacked on top of each other with only main roads being tarmaced.
As we climbed higher Missy told us about the neighbourhoods we were passing through and how until recently they were no go areas for outsiders and that even the police refused to go there. She also explained that whilst trying to set up a programme of work for fathers her husband was threatened to the point where they had to flee Colombia. They returned 6 months later refusing to give in to the threats so that they could continue their work. The school high up in the barrio, was where her father first started his mission to help the children of the area and it has been expanded several times over the years as CDA gets money to buy land or build. Again the kids and staff were welcoming and chatted away to us. They made us lunch of chicken and good old fashioned chippie chips! Before we left Missy had one of CDA´s social workers (there is an under resourced Social work service in Colombia so CDA have employed their own) take us to the house of one of the local families. Imagine a brick frontage with one room behind, immaculately laid out with 4 beds. Stuck onto that is a makeshift kitchen, open sewer bathroom and backyard. The outside sink was filled with rainwater, In this home lived the mum and 9 children and a family of kittens. But despite this absolute poverty the children chatted away to us and the little boy entertained us by sitting on an adult roller blade shoe and riding it down the bumpy hill outside his house!
From there we drove out to the CDA childrens home where 60 girls live. Its a basic building with dormitories and a school with a large play area outside. It was in the middle of the country as far as you could get from the Barrios. Missy explained that many of the girls had come from abusive familes or prostitutuion and that they were kept here to avoid their families taking them back although CDA encourage the families to meet up fortnightly in Bogota to try and help solve some of the family issues.
My feelings on today were mixed. Having had two inspiring talks about the positive side of Colombia and feeling that we were being sheltered we were confronted today with reality. The reality of millions of people in Bogota. But there was also a sense of hope and of future.
It made me slightly ashamed to come to the house i am living in but i suppose that even rotarians as removed as they are from that life are trying to do their bit and have raised money previously for CDA's schools.
So inspired i am. i am also getting used to the Spanish, sampling the food (mucho, mucho chicken!) and tonight Enriques family came over and i chatted away with them. Its not hot here (about the same weather as May time back home), the roads are crazy (you can only drive your car on certain days according to your license plate - hence why Enrique has 3 cars!) and most people we have met have been friendly.
Tomorrow we go to visit a car factory (apparently they have a good social responsibilty programme!!!) and we have arranged to go to a talk about the Amazon and to meet up with the young rotarians although our families are not happy about us being out on our own and will no doubt be hanging about with us. talk about feeling like a teenager again!!
Its been good so far and today has been my highlight - i hope there is more to come!