My current International Relief & Development (IRD) internship has allowed me to travel to Colombia for the first time. This is also my first time working with a non-governmental organization (NGO). In preparation for my seven-week internship in the city of Florencia, the capital of the department of Caquetá, I needed to grasp the principles that run an international NGO such as IRD. So, along with the other Emory interns, I attended a weeklong orientation at IRD’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. We learned much concerning IRD’s mission, goals and initiatives.
All the interns then flew to their respective sites of work: Colombia, Laos, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
I have been in Colombia for nine days now (three days in Bogotá and six days in Florencia). My IRD partner, Lisandro, from the Rollins School of Public Health, and I met with IRD country directors for Colombia in Bogotá. IRD has two field offices, one in Tumaco, Nariño (Pacific Coast), and another in Florencia, Caqeutá (South). Tumaco and Florencia are cities containing large concentrations of internally displaced persons (IDP’s), largely composed of Afro-Colombians, Indigenous, and Mestizos (people from a mixed European and American Indian ancestry). Lisandro is stationed in Tumaco, which is largely Afro-Colombian, and I am in Florencia, which is largely Mestizo.
Florencia is a beautiful city. Florencia itself is on the Amazon River basin or the Piedemonte as the locals call it. Florencia is very colorful and very distinct from the nation’s capital of Bogotá. Caqeutá as a whole encompasses a large stretch of Colombian countryside. This is evidenced by the province’s large production of flaura and fauna, beef, pork,
coffee, cassava, plantains, and potatoes. I am staying in the neighborhood of Ricaurte, approximately 8 blocks from the city center. I am expecting to have a wonderful time with the dynamic group here: Reinaldo-Psychologist, Claudia-Regional Coordinator, Luis Mayer-Nutritionist, Gexy-Finances, Jennifer-Social Worker, William-Logistics, Janette-Meet & Greet, and Ricardo-IT. I have been told of marvelous events and activities that I will be involved with, both inside and outside of IRD.
My assignment in Colombia will, for the most part, entail visiting and aiding internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the department of Caquetá in the process of declaring IDP status or who have declared IDP status at one of the following institutions in Florencia: Personería (“Personery”, that is, the office in charge of supporting persons), Alcaldía (Mayor’s office), Defensoría (office defending persons’ human rights), Procuraduría (office for the restabilization of persons), and the Attention and Orientation Unit (UAO), but who are not receiving government aid. In order for one to receive IDP benefits from the government—from Acción Social (AS)—one must attain IDP status. Sometimes this status can be denied to persons despite suffering from doubtless strands of affliction. Socioeconomic means, educational resources, and healthcare are inaccessible without requisite documentation. By definition, an IDP is one forced out of his or her home due to armed conflict, mass violence, and/or any infraction to one’s human rights. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and drug violence, or both, are the two main contributors to the overwhelming IDP population in Colombia, approximately 6 million people. AS’s benefits are implemented following the thirty-day window required for the Government of Colombia (GoC) to respond to IDP declaration forms.
During my internship I will be helping IDPs during this 30-day window by conducting surveys, distributing foods (rice, beans, garbanzos, sugar, and oil) and household necessities, providing psychosocial support, and helping plan events so that pending AS beneficiaries might feel support from the global community. This program from IRD is called “Cerrando
Brechas” or “Bridging Gaps.” Also, in addition to IRD’s program in the municipality of Florencia, the field office is also responsible for displaced victims in the cities of San Vicente del Caguán, La Montañita, and Cartagena del Chairá. I will be able to visit San Vicente del Caguán and La Montañita to help promote community development initiatives.
IRD’s field office in Florencia is certainly impacts numerous people’s lives. IDPs seeking IRD’s help face displacement, but some beneficiaries are not IDPs, but are victims of gender-based violence (GBV). The office is outside the city center so it can be a pricey taxi ride (typically $1.90 or 3,500 pesos, one way) on distribution days, especially for IDPs living in the ‘Ciudadela’ (between $2.70 and $5.40 or between 5,000 and 10,000 pesos, one way)—the most highly concentrated zone of afflicted persons in the municipality.
I’ve met people who fled former militarized zones as a result of death threats, illnesses, and GBV. Surveys are a comprehensive way to measure the situation of IDPs and vulnerable persons affected by physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse. However, nothing reflects their respective situation more than a conversation and dialogue. Respectfulness yields trust. And the trust established by two persons allows one to begin to better understand the other’s perspective. To respect the other’s background and to seek justice for the other’s situation in the face of violence, discrimination, socio-economic and gender-based inequality necessitates trust and a sense of responsibility by the one who is summoned to help.