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Adult Literacy Update from Colombia

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Adult Literacy Update from Colombia

ProLiteracy President and CEO David C. Harvey reports on his recent trip to Colombia:

Greetings from Colombia, a country that in important ways has transformed itself after a politically violent era dominated by guerilla warfare, assassinations, and drug cartel violence. I've traveled through what Colombians describe as the "jewel" and "heart" of Colombia—Cartegena—to the old coastal city of Santa Marta and to Medellin, a sophisticated, modern city in a huge valley. I am awed by the openness, overwhelming hospitality, passion, history, and love of country that is shown by Colombians everywhere.

Nowhere have I seen such fierce pride in their city as in the Colombians I got to know in Medellin. Perhaps this is because of how the city roared back after an era of terrible violence. Or, more likely, it's the unique history of the people from Medellin who pride themselves on innovation, passion for art (this is the home of Botero, after all!), architecture, food, and love of family.

And what about literacy in Colombia, you might ask? After all, ProLiteracy has a history of almost half a century of supporting native-language literacy programs that reach some of the most disenfranchised populations in Colombia: those displaced by violence and warfare; indigenous tribes, particularly women; coffee growers; and former FARC guerillas who participate in literacy programs as part of an effort to integrate into mainstream society.

The grassroots and indigenous programs we have historically supported—Alfabetización Pueblorrico, Centro Laubach de la Educatión Popular Básica de Adultos (CLEBA), Fundación Bienestar Humano, and Fundación Juan Tama—do tremendous work every day to reach those most in need and to provide economic opportunities in what is now a booming economy. Last year, for example, Colombia's economy grew by 7 percent.

Why have I become so passionate about literacy in Colombia and, specifically, in Medellin? Medellin, through a unique partnership between the public and private sectors (each pays 50 percent of the bill), built seven "park libraries" in the lowest income neighborhoods in the city's steep hills. Through a combined planning process that included education, transportation, cultural activities, and libraries, residents of the neighborhoods were engaged in designing for themselves the library parks and the programs they wanted to see put in place. Then, the city built a cable car system with suspended gondolas that links the libraries and steep hill neighborhoods with the city's metro system. Evaluations are ongoing, but literacy rates are up! Parent engagement and adult programs are flourishing! And the neighborhoods are being transformed as economic opportunities follow the paths of the cable cars! Venezuela, Brazil, and other countries are close examining these initiatives.

For more about ProLiteracy's work in Colombia and in other countries, visit our international partner programs webpage.

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