In the Colombian town of Apartadó, women are shaping a new beginning after years of violence
Bullets, poverty, and unemployment have taken a big toll on many locations in Colombia.
Take Apartadó, for example—a 167,000 people municipality in northwestern Colombia ravaged by a fierce, decades-old guerrilla war that has forced a large portion of its population to leave. Fully 60 percent of those who have chosen to stay barely scrape a living below the poverty line.
And yet, amid the debris there is a gem—and this gem has the face of a woman. Or, more accurately, there are many gems, each with a female face. Sara Moreno is one of them. As the first woman to become head of Apartadó’s largest quarter, she has resorted to a unique combination of stamina, expertise, dogged determination, hope, and brave heart to help thousands of families improve their living conditions. “We the Apartadó women are stubborn and diligent,” she says with pride. “We are playing a key role in these development projects currently under way in our municipality.”
The development programs Sara refers to have so far disbursed $3 million to help improve the lot of 2,000 people through the construction of drinking water and sewers systems and a community dining-hall. Additionally, the programs have helped local residents get the property deeds to their homes.
While 30 percent of Colombia’s urban households are led by women, in Apartadó this rate is nearly twice as much—55 percent. This phenomenon has added momentum to the growing need seen throughout Latin America to adopt a gender perspective to every development program focusing poor areas.
Diego Arcia, a consultant to the Inter-American Development Bank, whose funds have financed Apartadó’s development program, sees great prospects for the project. “We hope that this kind of initiative will be implemented throughout the country, basically because this strategy will let us tackle the housing problems of the communities with the lowest incomes in Colombia”, he says.
For Sara Moreno, the outlook was simpler. She settled several years ago in Apartadó because the chances to make a living there were comparatively better than in other sites. “There was a lot of violence,” she recalls. “But people kept coming here because of the job situation. You could get employment at the banana plantations.” The local banana and plantain industry employs 30 percent of the population. “I finished high school and went to work in a plantation,” Sara says. With no working skills, she figured that the job at the plantation would help her save money so she could continue her studies. The effort paid off—she eventually took a degree in Social-Community Psychology, which paved her way to becoming a community leader. Those skills added to her determination to help her community.
“Despite the poverty, we need resolve—resolve to have dreams, to achieve our goals,” she explains. “When you have spirit, when you have resolve, you can reach those goals. You achieve them because you are determined. And that which looks impossible can come true.”