Poverty reduction has yet to reach the lowest ranks of society in Santander

Youths playing sport (photo: SOS archives)

Bucaramanga, in the Santander department near the Venezuelan border, has a population of over 500,000. The economy of the region is based mainly on industry such as the manufacture of shoes and similar goods.

Overall, the Santander department has one of the lowest rates of poverty in the country, but these improvements have yet to reach the poorest sectors of society. Forced displacement due to armed conflict in Colombia was a serious problem in the past, particularly in the north-east. In Bucaramanga alone, an estimated 37,000 people were affected, around half of them children. Besides the obvious socioeconomic impacts displacement has had on families, the violence experienced also causes severe psycho-social problems, and a loss of identity, social cohesion and self-confidence.

Children from displaced families need a sense of security and a nurturing home

When displaced families arrive, infrastructure is often not sufficiently available for them. They have left their homes, jobs, possessions and support networks behind, are often deeply traumatised, and starting over in a new town is hardly an easy feat. Levels of unemployment in this social group are much higher than national averages, particularly for women. Although there are charities and government programmes endeavouring to aid the integration of these people, many find themselves fending for themselves and unable to look after their children.

These parents, especially when they are single mothers, or suffering from depression, anxiety or other trauma-related issues, urgently need support. If they are empowered to secure their own livelihoods, their children will be less likely to be taken into care and they can stay in education and look forward to a better future.

What we do in Bucaramanga

An SOS family at home (photo: SOS archives)

The SOS Children’s Village Bucaramanga has been active since 1999.

Strengthen families: Today, the social centres here provide a family strengthening programme that aims to alleviate hardship in the community in a holistic and sustainable manner. Its services include childminding and day-care programmes, which enable working parents or single mothers to leave their children in safe hands while they are out making a living.

The centres offer educational courses to adults to improve their professional skills and thus their income and societal status. Support and training is also offered to parents in order to raise awareness of children’s rights and provide information on the parenting skills.

Care in families: For children in Bucaramanga who are no longer able to live with their parents, SOS families can provide a loving home. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS parent.

Support for young people: When young people are ready to leave their family in order to pursue further education or vocational training, SOS Children’s Villages makes shared accommodation available to them. In a safe environment and with the support of qualified counsellors, the young people can plan their future here, increasingly take on responsibility and prepare for independent adult life.