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Colombia: putting care in a class of its own

14-10-2003 Feature

Children in Colombia displaced by the fighting lose more than a home – their schooling is seriously threatened. The ICRC has been finding ways to help them continue their studies.


Sincelejo. In front of a school built by the ICRC. Ref. CO-E-00094 


One of the major problems facing children who have been displaced in Colombia is that their schooling is interrupted. Overnight, children who have to flee with their families to safer areas also leave behind their schooling, putting their future at risk. This is a situation recurring all over the country, affecting hundreds of children.

Often, displaced children arrive in areas where schools are already over-crowded, and their arrival causes added problems for local residents. Amanda Martínez* teaches at El Redentor, a school in the ‘Nelson Mandela’ neighbourhood of Cartagena in northern Colombia. “Displaced children in need of school places are arriving all the time, " she says.

" As a result, our school has more children than it should. We have about 1,000 pupils, spilt into three ‘shifts’ per day, with as many as 50 pupils in some classes. But we never turn a child away. If they want to learn, we must teach them.”

 Adding new classrooms  

The ICRC, as part of its work for victims of the conflict in Colombia, provides financial support for building work at schools and kindergartens in areas where displaced persons are staying. These so-called Quick Impact Projects aim to improve access to schooling for displaced children by adding a new classroom or renovating an old one.


Sincelejo. School canteen built by the ICRC for displaced children. Ref. CO-E-00093 


Since 1999 the ICRC has carried out work at 56 schools in various parts of Colombia, giving large numbers of children the chance to continue their education.

Other projects include building and improving health and community centres, water and sanitation facilities and improving and stocking public libraries. These schemes are community-driven, and involve the active participation of the people who benefit from them.

They aim to improve the quality of life in communities affected by the armed conflict and give them better access to basic public and community services, especially in the case of vulnerable groups such as women and children.

Between January and September 2003 the ICRC completed 15 projects – covering schools, libraries, community centres, hostels, and a sports centre. A further 16 schemes are heading for completion.

 *name changed  

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