Transforming Lives

Every day, all over the world, USAID brings peace to those who endure violence, health to those who struggle with sickness, and prosperity to those who live in poverty. It is these individuals — these uncounted thousands of lives — that are the true measure of USAID’s successes and the true face of USAID's programs.

The number of people displaced by decades of violence in Colombia is estimated at over three million — this is one of the world’s largest populations of people displaced within their own country. Since 2000, USAID has funded a number of economic and social assistance programs for displaced people. Through one of these programs, they are building skills and careers in a blossoming industry in Colombia: flower cultivation.

A group of Afro-Colombian women have made a little imagination go a long way. By turning an everyday object into a thing of beauty, they found a market that no one knew existed. With support from USAID, these women are transforming a simple vegetable — the gourd — into two product lines: food packages (for sweets) and decorative objects for the home.

In Colombia’s Caquetá region, more than 73,000 people have been driven from their homes by criminals and guerillas, usually at gun-point and with threats of violence. Blanca and Alberto were among those people. When forced to flee from their home with their children, they were violently uprooted from their community, family, and business.

“Illegal armed groups came to our house and gave us 24 hours to leave. They threatened to kill us if we went to the police, or if we didn’t leave,” Alberto said.

Héctor Manuel Lozano is 35 years old and was born and raised in Aguachica in south César, a region in northeastern Colombia. He works full time at the Citizen Coexistence Center, an organization funded partly by USAID, which helps promote peace and conflict resolution in a community torn apart by fighting. In areas where the central government is weak and often unable to provide services, coexistence centers play a crucial role.

By helping families like the Bacas integrate into new communities, USAID is helping displaced Colombians recover from the past and improve their future.

Flor and José Baca pose in front of their new home in Los Andes de Sotomayor, Nariño, which USAID helped them build with their own hands.

Orlanda was born and raised on a family farm in the municipality of Lebrija, in Santander, central Colombia. In Lebrija she worked in the field side by side with her four children and husband, who held a second job as a construction worker to make ends meet. Their life was peaceful until the day guerilla violence engulfed Lebrija. Orlanda and her family were forced to flee. Since then, the family has lived in Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander, separated from Lebrija by 18 long kilometers of rough and dangerous roads.

At 13, Tania fled home and an abusive stepfather to join an illegal armed group. Hoping to find a better life, Tania soon became disillusioned. Forced to work as a “bearer,” Tania carried heavy loads of equipment, often for several days and nights on end. With no permanent place to live or income, she ate only what she could scrounge up. Tania considered running away, but lost hope and resigned herself to spending the rest of her life as a slave. At the age of sixteen, she was shot during a battle and hospitalized.

Scientists consider the Bajo Mira area, located on Colombia’s Pacific coast, as one of the world’s richest biological “hot zone” habitats. Home to a variety of plant and animal species, illegal logging practices seriously threatened the ecosystem. Recognizing that it was important to protect this rare ecological area, the nearby communities — Bajo Mira and Frontera — united to find a solution. On August 23, 2005, they formally established their own Community Forestry Enterprise.

Colombia’s Urabá region has long suffered from serious security problems. In this tense climate, illegal armed groups often battled each other for control of land to grow illegal drug crops, such as coca. Today, the situation is changing, thanks to the efforts of strong eradication and alternative development programs. USAID’s alternative development projects have helped poor farmers and other vulnerable groups transition from the illegal drug economy to a legitimate business economy by sharing technical expertise on agriculture and small business development.

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Last updated: November 22, 2013