De Viaje – Impressions from a Monitoring Visit to Peru and Colombia

After almost three years of global pandemic travel restrictions, I was lucky to be the first Misean Cara staff member to visit project teams again. In July, I left my desk behind to fully immerse myself in the fascinating projects some of our members are implementing in Peru and Colombia. Across both countries, it was inspiring to see how the project teams adapted to the additional challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Peru, schools remained closed for two years, preventing students from having access to quality education. Misean Cara-funded projects found creative solutions to tackling both the immediate educational needs and the secondary consequences of the lockdown, such as emotional well-being and family support.

The NGO Tarpusunchis of the De La Salle Brothers works with parents, teachers and students on human rights topics. Here, students explored the topic of domestic violence, especially emotional, physical, sexual and financial violence against women and children.
In San Juan de Lurigancho, a very disadvantaged suburb of Lima, many families were hit hard by the pandemic. The Christian Brothers conducted a campaign to gather unwanted mobile phones and laptops for redistribution to their students, to ensure all pupils could participate in online classes through Zoom or WhatsApp. Social workers also accompanied families at risk through the difficult time, providing emotional and psychological support throughout the pandemic. As a result, all students returned to class once schools reopened in early 2022 and settled well back into the classroom.
In Nuevo Chimbote in northern Peru, the Christian Brothers established a primary school in an informal settlement lacking basic services such as electricity and water supply. The school is the only opportunity for quality education for most students, who learn traditional dances, songs and poems in addition to maths, language and science. The project team also supports students and their families outside the classroom through outreach activities and after-school activities to prepare students for their transition into secondary school.

In many disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Colombia, children face additional challenges: gang violence, drug trafficking and organised crime. To support students in their education, while also ensuring they have a safe space after school, different projects provide after-school and weekend activities that allow children to be just that – happy children.

In Cali, the organisation CORFAGE provides after-school tutoring to students aged 6 to 10 who are at risk of falling behind in school. Through the project, students receive educational and emotional support that allows them to succeed in their studies. Additionally, psychologists and social workers support the children and their guardians in topics such as child development, violence-free education, and child-appropriate methodologies.

But it was not only children that faced increased challenges during the pandemic. With many people in Peru and Colombia engaging in informal labour, families often lost most or all of their income during lockdowns and curfews. Women and young adults are the most vulnerable to these economic shocks. On my visit, I learned about some of the creative ways project teams found to support women and youth in income-generating activities.

In Cali, Colombia, Fundación Educar para el Futuro, supported by the Little Sisters of the Assumption, provide professional training in hairdressing/cosmetics, cooking, catering and IT systems to underprivileged adolescents. During the classes and subsequent work placement, students not only learn tangible skills in their chosen professions, but also transferrable skills such as workplace ethics, business management, communication skills and problem solving. Upon graduation from the project, the young people are empowered to open their own businesses or engage in gainful employment in reputable local companies.

My visit to these projects was hugely inspiring and I returned to Dublin with a suitcase full of new ideas and touching personal stories from project participants. At the end of my trip, I also had the privilege to meet representatives of all Misean Cara-funded projects in Colombia during a Members’ Meeting in Cali. The highlight of the meeting was the participation of the Irish Ambassador to Colombia, Her Excellency Fiona Nic Dhonnacha.

During the Members’ Meeting, project teams had the opportunity to present their projects to Ambassador Nic Dhonnacha and all other participants. The meeting allowed teams to exchange best practices and discuss common challenges facing all projects in Colombia.

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