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.

Even for minor disputes between neighbors, residents like María Nelly Criollo of the rural municipality of Chaparral in Southern Tolima had to travel long distances to seek redress from the legal system. For years, the political unrest, tough terrain, presence of illegal armed groups prevented the Colombian justice sector from serving the region on a regular basis. However, the situation recently changed with the help of USAID.

For nearly ten years USAID has worked with the Pan American Development Foundation on a program dedicated to the economic reintegration of families displaced by violence. Over the years, USAID has supported numerous projects for the most vulnerable sectors of the population in Bogotá. Among the projects is a community center which hosts a cafeteria called Rebuilding Dreams (Reconstruyendo Sueños in Spanish).

Over the past two decades, Colombia granted greater autonomy to local governments, including more control over public resources. With greater authority came increased responsibility, but few municipalities had the capacity to effectively carry them out. USAID’s efforts to address these needs through its Democratic Local Governance Program have achieved widespread success -- and several awards.

Manuel has to concentrate when he tries to remember his age. “I stopped counting the years long ago,” he says with a rueful smile. The last birthday he remembers was when he turned 60, and that was “a while back.” Manuel has lost his family and his friends. Now, he is trying to start his life again.

Manuel arrived in San Vicente del Caguán, in Colombia’s Caquetá region, after being forced off his farm at gunpoint by guerillas. His farm was in the Tolima region, a long way from San Vicente del Caguán, even by bus.

“I never imagined that a cookie recipe could become my future,” said Dwilliam Norberto Toloza, describing his success as a commercial baker.

Rubiel Zapata always dreamed of growing rubber. A certified teacher who lived in his hometown of Uré, he taught in rural schools in the northern Colombian department of Córdoba for five years before “the violence in the region forced me to leave,” he said.

“René” (a pseudonym) was one of 14 children born into a poor family in southern Colombia. He started working early to support his family, and by age 12 had joined an illegal armed group. When René turned 18, he began receiving training from the USAID-supported Don Bosco center in Cali to rebuild his life and self-esteem.

Life was bleak until Julio Contreras heard about Actuar por Bolivar, a USAID-supported non-governmental organization that provides social and economic assistance to people displaced by the drug-fueled violence in Colombia. He enrolled in its program and received psychological counseling to come to terms with the many changes taking place in his life.

For ten years, former cook “Maria” worked in a coca plantation in the Department of Arauca, in northern Colombia on the border with Venezuela. Despite the danger and violence associated with cultivating coca, she processed and sometimes harvested the leaves, hoping to raise enough money to buy a house.


Last updated: August 12, 2013