Covid-19: Stories from Colombia
Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the lives of many of the families and children we support. All of the children and young people our partners work with come from economically precarious families who rely on informal employment to survive, with little to no savings and living each day hand to mouth. The lockdown has meant they cannot go to work and receive their daily income, which has made covering the rent and basic necessities such as food and toiletries extremely difficult. Families are struggling to put food on the table and some are even facing evictions. Our partners are working to provide these families with emergency food and toiletries and financial aid to cover the rent and ensure a roof over their heads.
*Please note all names of the people in these stories have been changed for their safety.
Coronavirus has put many Colombians in precarious financial situations. One such individual is 20-year-old Valentina. She lives in a rented room with her six-year-old daughter, who she gave birth to at only 14 years old. After moving to Santa Fe at 16, she began working as a sex-worker in order to cover her rising living expenses. Two years ago, she left sex-work and found a new job in a commercial centre in San Victorino, in the centre of Bogota.
However, the covid-19 pandemic forced her place of work to close its doors, and Valentina was left without any income, unable to pay her rent or buy food. She found herself in a state of constant worry about not being able to provide for her daughter.
After assessing her situation, ACJ, a partner of Children Change Colombia, stepped in to help. They have supported her by delivering food packages and basic necessities, and have provided financial aid so that she can continue to pay her rent. ACJ’s involvement meant that Valentina and her daughter could remain in their home without the threat of eviction. Moreover, their efforts to supply her with non-perishable food items have meant that her and her daughter have not gone hungry, and Valentina has not had to choose between paying rent and feeding her daughter.
Gabriela, aged 26, was forced to leave her country (Venezuela) due to the social and economic situation there at present. She decided to travel to Colombia in search of new work and economic opportunities with her mother and three young daughters.
When they arrived in Bogotá, they settled down in the neighborhood of Santa Fe, an area where families survive in extreme poverty and which is known as a magnet for drug gangs and people traffickers and is the designated ‘tolerance zone’ for sex work.
Once there, Gabriela tried to find a job, however, her status as an undocumented migrant meant that she couldn’t get any formal employment. Faced with this situation, and with no law to defend her rights as a migrant, she decided to make a living through in sex work.
Some time later, with the support of her mother, she decided to try to find other means to make a living. She joined our partner ACJ’s project and was given both psycho-social support and educational training that allowed her to recognize her rights and the ways in which she can enforce them.
Currently, Gabriela is a leader within her community and uses her skills and abilities for the prevention of violence and sexual exploitation. ACJ supported her to start a business, through advice, training and economic resources, from which she has managed to acquire equipment and raw materials to sell fast food in the neighborhood. However, as a result of the lockdown caused by COVID-19, it has not been possible for her to continue her business. Our partner has been supporting her and her family with basic necessities such as food and toiletries and also with financial aid to ensure she can pay the rent.
Lucia is 50 years old, she’s lived in the Santa Fe neighborhood of Bogotá for 14 years and is part of our partner ACJs project. Lucia grew up with an abusive mother who blamed her for the family’s situation and made her take responsibility for looking after her siblings and doing household chores, denying her the possibility of studying and having a normal childhood. This had a big impact on her physical and mental health and weakened her relationship with her family.
Lucia ran away from home on several occasions with her pets and the few clothes she had. With nowhere to go, she was forced to live on the streets and started using drugs to help her cope. Lucia sought help in different institutions, including boarding schools that gave her the option to continue studying and to share experiences with other girls and young women who, like her, had gone through difficult times during their childhood.
Later in life, faced with a lack of work and economic opportunities, Lucia became involved in sex work. She had two children with a man who ended up, like her mother, abusing her physically and psychologically. Wanting a better life for her and her children, she divorced him and began to build a stable life for her family.
She started street vending, training and positioning herself as a community leader in the Santa Fe neighborhood, passing on her knowledge and experiences to other women and families who, like her, had suffered some kind of violence. She currently lives with José, a man who managed to win her heart and whom she says is a big emotional support, and her five pets whom she adopted from the street and considers part of her family.
The lockdown has meant that Lucia is unable to earn money as a street vendor, so she's gotten creative and put her artistic skills to practice, designing and making face masks that she is currently selling within her community. However, her income from this is not enough to pay her rent or put food on the table. Our partner, ACJ, has provided her with weekly food packages and financial aid to keep a roof over her head.
It’s important to highlight Lucia’s story, as she is a clear example of a woman with countless skills and abilities that could not be fully developed due to the circumstances of her family life and the economic and cultural conditions of the country.