About the Author: Ambassador Gaddi H. Vasquez is the 8th U.S. Representative to the United Nations Organizations in Rome.
Across the board, all of the development professionals in Colombia have told me that internal displacement affects children most. They pointed out that individuals and families are generally not displaced once but multiple times. With each move, the displaced restart a vicious cycle of uncertainty, hunger, fear, and despair.
I wrapped up my three-day visit to Colombia yesterday evening by comparing notes with the seven reporters who accompanied me throughout this journey. We reflected as a group on the diversity of humanitarian projects we saw this week and marveled at the tireless work of the United Nations in coordination with USAID, the Colombian government, and local NGOs that are often staffed by female volunteers.
Foremost in our minds were the urban garden and school feeding programs we visited Thursday in Soacha, a large neighborhood built into a deforested mountain on the margins of the capital city of Bogotá. Upon arrival to Soacha -- at what seemed to be the highest reaches of the barrio -- as soon as we exited the cars, children surrounded us. They enthusiastically took us by the hands to met their 64-year-old “abuelita” (little grandmother) who spends the better part of each day mixing local ingredients with lentils and vegetable oil donated by the United States to make lunch for the school kids. They also introduced us to their “abuelito” (little grandfather) who teaches them about agriculture in the community gardens supported by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
At every step the kids were quick to tell us about their gratitude for our support and their goals. One young boy made a joke about my shirt, and when one of his classmates learned I work in Italy, he started repeating the only Italian word he knows – "bambino, bambino." The kids touched us in the hour we spent together, but the fact is, they touch people in their community everyday. That’s why the volunteers do not hesitate to pile up heavy sacks of donated rice, flour, and sugar in the school kitchen’s storeroom, why parents sacrifice to send them to school, why UN agencies are pooling their resources and talents with strong U.S. support to work more strategically in areas where the need is the greatest. We simply cannot let any of them down.
There are not always clear answers to the question posed in the title of this blog. An end to the cycle will not be possible without giving children an opportunity to learn and their parents the economic opportunities to support their growth. Food should always be a part of that solution.
Editor's Note: Read Ambassador Vasquez's previous entry about entrepreneurship programs in Colombia.