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The issue: Violence and exclusion from education in Buenaventura

In Buenaventura, situated on Colombia's pacific coast, 81% of the population lives in poverty, and 44% in extreme poverty. As Colombia's main port city, Buenaventura has become a battleground for two of Colombia's biggest illegal armed groups as they fight for territorial control. In 2013 alone, 13,000 people were forced to flee their homes in Buenaventura to escape the violence, extortion and forced recruitment.

Education levels here are lower than anywhere else in Colombia – less than 40% of the population have completed primary school. Of children who attend primary school, 80% repeatedly fail their year. Pupils in Buenaventura score 10-13% less than the national average in language and science, with over half of children not even meeting the minimum standards in maths.

With low levels of education themselves, parents are often unable to support their children with their school work. This, coupled with living in poverty, also means that parents are more likely to encourage their children to contribute to the family income, rather than prioritise their school work. This lack of education severely limits children. It means that they see no options for themselves outside their neighbourhood and the violence that surrounds them, and often begin to see the gang leaders who control the neighbourhoods as role models. In turn this increases their risk of being recruited by armed groups and dropping out of school altogether.

This danger is particularly high because in Colombia the majority of children only attend school for half a day, leaving them at home alone or on the streets for the other half. The armed groups often encourage or even force recruitment of children, whether this is to act as informants, to carry drugs for them, or to carry out assassinations. In 2013, 17 times more children were recruited in Buenaventura than in 2009.

How Carvajal is addressing this issue

Image of children at Fundacion Carvajal

In this context social exclusion is perpetuated generation after generation. High quality, accessible education is necessary to help break this cycle, and to offer an alternative for children to being on the streets or locked in their home for fear of going outside.

Carvajal is one of the leading education NGOs in Colombia. The programme that they have developed is focused on improving the quality of education and educational permanence, offering an alternative for the half day and helping children to regain ownership of community spaces.

What does the project do?

This project helps children to develop the skills to protect themselves against violence and, by improving their educational performance, help them to lift themselves out of poverty. It addresses low attainment levels in 3 schools in Buenaventura by engaging 150 children aged 6 – 11 in educational reinforcement activities during their half day outside of school. This also keeps these children off the streets and safe by making productive use of their free time. The sessions will be aligned with regular school lessons so that they reinforce, in a fun way, what the children are studying at school. Activities include creative writing, maths, music, dance and photography, with all activities promoting local culture.

Sessions promote the development of principles such as respect, team work, and critical thinking, to help the children to make responsible decisions in their life outside of school. Activities are run by young people living in the area, who receive training in their chosen subjects. These youth leaders will also become positive role models for the children on the project.

Children receive a nutritious snack while they are at the project. This is crucial as a hungry child will be tired and less able to concentrate in class. Carvajal works with parents to help them understand the benefits of the programme over being at work, at home looking after younger siblings, or on the streets.

There are also community open days, which are an opportunity for the children and the youth leaders to engage the rest of the community in a dialogue about the importance of education.

Case Study:

By the age of 10, Daniela already had all of the responsibilities, and worries, of an adult. Every day she would go to school for half a day, then rush home to cook, clean, and care for her disabled brother. At the same time she was running a soft drinks stall from their house to supplement the meagre income that her mum brought home, despite working all day, every day. Before joining the project, it seemed like Daniela was destined to spend her life in this cycle of grinding poverty.

Then Daniela joined Carvajal's after school programme. As she says, it changed her life. "I feel like I can be a child again." They give her and her brother lunch so she doesn't need to cook or worry about going hungry, and they help to care for him. The activities are so much fun that she loves learning, and for the first time she can play with other children her age. She has already started to plan a future for herself away from her old routine: "Maths is now my favourite subject and when I grow up I want to study maths so that I can teach it the same way that I've learnt here, through playing!"


Image of little girl at Fundacion Carvajal

Thank you for your interest in this project.

To help Carvajal’s work continue, you can donate here.