This article of Missy Christie, CEO of partner organization Conviventia in Colombia, is published earlier in Nederlands Dagblad, 31th October, 2020
For us in Colombia, the first week of September marked the completion of one of the longest quarantines in the world. Since March of this year, as in other parts of the world, the entire country went into a strict lock down due to COVID-19. It was only a few days later that families living in impoverished areas began facing struggles to put food on the table. Red pieces of cloth tied to doors and windows became a national sign that hunger had hit the homes of thousands. In only six months, Colombia lost 10 years of progress. Poverty rates are now similar to those of 2010. Erasing hunger from the homes of millions of Colombians, experts say, could take a decade.
Bogota is one of the cities in which employment has suffered the most. As of July, the city registered an unemployment rate of 25.1%, meaning 1.2 million formal jobs were lost (DANE). This is a quarter of the jobs lost in the nation. Vulnerable youth and women have been hit the hardest.
Every day we hear of stories such as that of Lady Parra, who is a single mother and worked distributing publicity on the street, but now has no source of income and does not know how her and her children will survive; or the story of microentrepreneurs such as Carlos Zabala, who had finally been able to establish his own fast food business in 2017, after 22 years of working in the informal sector. He not only had to close because of the lock down, but robbers stole the tables, chairs, and equipment. In just a few months, he lost what had taken him years to build.
In the colonial city of Cartagena, tourism is a mainstay of the economy. There, rates of misery are on the rise. The city went from a 7.3% unemployment rate in May-July 2019, to 20.5% in the same period in 2020. 85-thousand formal jobs were lost, and that doesn’t even include the 60% of Colombian people who worked in the informal sector. In Soacha, an impoverished municipality that’s home to victims of Colombia’s conflict (and now to thousands of Venezuela’s migrants), the impact of COVID-19 is aggravated by escalating violence. Two massacres, violent protests, and forced recruitment of children, among other events that have taken place in the last three months, make it evident that this centric area of Colombia continues to suffer. According to police reports, kidnapping, extorsion, and drug-dealing have increased during the months of the pandemic. This year alone, 23 gangs that are dedicated to drug-trafficking have been identified as being active in this municipality. Limited access to a relevant and quality education, lack of resources to access and participate in virtual education, and increased levels of poverty and hunger, mixed with the presence of criminal gangs, significantly increase the risks for youth. They see in these groups a possibility to escape the poverty and vulnerability currently faced.
In the midst of this scenario, Conviventia’s work has proven fundamental. During this time, as fear, uncertainty, need, and disease exacerbate the effects of poverty, sharing the message of truth and hope found in the Word of God has been crucial. With school installations closed, came the challenge of ensuring continuity of our educational processes. A difficult task in a context where access to internet and computers is limited, and children’s safety and wellbeing is at risk. Therefore, alleviating hunger, providing access to internet, computers and tablets; monitoring children’s safety, providing family counselling, giving advice on disease prevention and assessment with regards to employment and income generation opportunities, has been Conviventia’s priority. This type of support, along with increased cooperation and collaboration with the variety of actors present in each territory, is and will continue to be necessary if we are to overcome the devastating effects of COVID-19 upon the increased number of people that are suffering poverty and need.
The current panorama represents significant challenges in our fight against poverty and injustice; yet, every day we are reminded that God is sovereign and all-wise. The coronavirus pandemic is not outside of His rule or reign. He is our refuge and our hiding place, and we are grateful that He has allowed us to be instruments of blessing at such a time as this. Because of His provision through our network of supporters, we are able to advance, confident in God’s goodness, proclaiming His truth, His goodness, His power, and never-ending love.