Our Visits to CRAN and Misión Gaia

By Alastair and Patricia Sturgis

During our holiday in Colombia in the summer of 2022, as members of the outreach team of volunteers, we had the opportunity to visit two projects that CCC support, one located in Bogotá and the other in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Visiting CRAN

Our first visit was to CRAN, located in Suba, north-west of Bogota. CRAN is an organization that protects children and young people who have been victims of the conflict, being forcibly recruited, helping them to reintegrate back into society.  

CRAN works in partnership with their parents making sure that the children will be in a safe environment on their return. Their slogan is ‘Cuidar al Cuidador’ (take care of the care giver). The children from the CCC’s project live in foster homes, and the access to them is restricted due to security issues but we were able to see the children from the restitution of rights project that live in their facilities.

At present CRAN looks after 62 young children who live at their centre, as well as 12 teenage children who live with foster families. Of the children that CRAN has supported, three have gone on to take university degrees and many others have progressed to further education.

Carol Bentacourt, from the CCC office in Bogota, kindly organized the visit and was with us during our time at CRAN.  When we arrived at the centre, Felipe Peñacoba, who is another supporter of CCC, joined us.

We were greeted by Libia Garzón, who is one of the key members of the CRAN team and works closely with Carol and Liliana (CCC’s MEAL Officer), who showed us the facilities.  We were very pleased to see that the centre is very spacious and surrounded by gardens where the children  are able to play in a secure environment.

It was very pleasing to see the children very content in their school uniforms as they continue their education at local schools.  They were coming and going and looking happy and very relaxed with all the staff, greeting us and inquisitive as to who we were.

Having had a tour, we then met Fabiana, director of the centre, who explained the main objectives of the organization.  One of the new programs that they were going to start, in conjunction with Tiempo de Juego, another organization that CCC supports, is to help children who are vulnerable to being recruited by armed groups, and are at risk of joining gangs or criminal activities, or who had been victims of recruitment into armed groups. They come to the centre  for psychological support  so they will be able to deal with the challenges and stigma that they may face in the process of  integration into everyday society due to their past lives

Visiting Mision Gaia

Our second visit was to a school in Vista Nieves which is a small village in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

We had the opportunity to visit this pilot project that CCC has with Mision Gaia in the region and to help the children practice their English.  One of the main objectives of this  project is to help the children gain an understanding of the value of the natural resources of flora and fauna that this beautiful area has, and how to develop through Eco-Tourism  in a sustainable way .  

The evening before our visit to the school we met with Diana Benincore Reyes, Executive Director of Mision Gaia and Wilson Herazo, Education Coordinator as well as Adam Buzga, the English teacher.

Mision Gaia

The following morning, we had an early start as the school day starts at 7am and it is at least a 35 minute drive up the mountain from Minca, where we were staying!! When we arrived we were greeted at the school gate by Adam.  We were given a tour of the school which is located in the middle of the mountains of la Sierra Nevada with views to La Cienega on the Caribbean coast on a clear day.   The weather was a bit cold and misty as we were nearly 1,500 metres up in the mountains, but we were very happy to be there.  The infrastructure of the school is very basic.  It has a number of round buildings which are used as classrooms  Also they have a dormitory section where around 20 students board from Monday to Friday as their family homes are more than two hours away on foot. 

We started the morning with the students from years 9, 10 and 11.  After introductions by Angela, their class teacher, we helped the students practice their English and to gain confidence in communicating.  It was very rewarding to see their enthusiasm to learn new words and phrases. The two hour lesson seemed to go by in a flash, after which we had a short break for coffee and pandebonos! We then went to visit other classes starting with the pre-school one where the children were as receptive and kind to us as the rest of the students.

After short sessions with the other year groups, we were very pleased to see the children’s interest in getting to speak to us and to practice their English.

As well as English, Mision Gaia also helps the older students learn communication skills. Tablets are provided for the students to practice producing videos of the area and stunning surroundings, as well as blogs and interviews to promote the area. The students were keen to show us what they had created.

The teachers welcomed us to every class that we had time to visit and were very pleased to see us helping the students with their English even if it was for a very short period of time.  What struck us was the teachers were doing their best with the facilities they had at their disposal even though in most classes they were teaching children from different year groups. On the other hand the students were happy, inquisitive and enthusiastic to learn.

We also had the opportunity to have lunch with the students and teachers and to talk to them about life in La Sierra Nevada and the difficulties that they have at the school such as the lack of resources and teachers.  

It was a great experience and we were very pleased to witness the eagerness of the students to learn new skills and the desire of some to go on to further education and university.  

We believe projects like this, both over a short and long period of time, are as worthy as any effort to help the children in their education as to open up opportunities for their future.

It was also a privilege to see first-hand the work that CCC supports and the positive effect it has with the children.

Finally, we want to give a big thank you to all those at CRAN, Mision Gaia, and CCC both in London and Bogota for making these visits possible and making us feel so welcome.

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