Felipe is a trustee of Children of the Andes since 2010
Works to keep children safe, defend their
rights and strengthen
children’s organisations in Colombia.
Children of the Andes (COTA) was initially established to raise funds in the UK for local children's organisations in Colombia. Whilst we were able to do this very effectively, providing millions of pounds in grants to projects all over the country, we soon realised that money alone was not the answer. Although our partner projects had great expertise in working with children, many of them were being held back by lack of skills and experience in other crucial areas including fundraising, financial management and planning.
In 2005 COTA opened a Field Office in Colombia, which enables us to work more closely with our partners and help meet some of these additional needs. We now have two permanent Field Officers who work along-side our partners, providing a helping hand when ever it's needed as well as technical support and training. By having a permanent presence in the country we are now even more in touch with the changing issues and policy environment that affect vulnerable children - and better placed to make a difference.
Through our journey we have grown to become the largest UK charity working exclusively in Colombia. To date, we have sent almost £5 million in grants, enabling ten of thousands of the country's most marginalised children to get the care and support they so desperately need and, crucially, be children again.
COTA has supported the Albergue since 2008, developing a pioneering support programme for children returning to their families after residential care. Albergue has over 50 years’ experience working with street and working children and their families. Over this time the staff have observed the many challenges experienced when a child returns to their family and have learnt why so many children too often end up back on the streets. For many children, returning to their families was traumatic because the family context had not changed since the child entered care and often the family was not prepared for receiving the child. A child’s subsequent return to the street was often inevitable.
In response, and with support from COTA, Albergue designed its “Post Institutional Care Programme”, supporting both families and children as the child returns home. The programme contains elements of counselling, practical support for parents in finding employment and accessing services, and accompaniment for children in planning their future. Their most recent evalusation for a minimum of one year and were managing to develop positive family relationships.
In 2005, COTA and our partner ACJ (the YMCA in Colombia) secured a 5 year grant from the Big Lottery Fund to develop an educational model for working children, who represent the largest group of children excluded from education in Colombia. The project has helped hundreds of children move away from child labour and into formal education; and the model, gaining formal recognition from education authorities, now has the potential to help 1000s more across the country. You can read more about our this partnership on our blog - Education for working children - COTA's The Big Lottery Project cames to a triumphant end. COTA continues to support ACJ.
In 2002 COTA helped establish Colombia's first leaving care programme - the Fundación Formación de Futuros (FFF) - a then unaddressed issue affecting some of Colombia's most marginalised children and young people. In 2009 the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare estimated that around 67,000 children and young people were living in government-supported care homes. Most are there as a result of economic difficulties, violence, abuse, displacement, abandonment or threats of recruitment into illegal armed forces. FFF works with these young people, helping them to prepare for their independent living once they have left care. FFF is now the leading authority on leaving care, providing information, support and training to institutions and care leavers nationwide and influencing national policy.
COTA developed Colombia's first child-led educational strategy aimed at protecting children from the threat of landmines. The project, led by Fundación Restrepo Barco has reached children in heavily mined regions, empowering them to recognise landmine threats, adopt safe behaviour, and train other children to do the same. An educational kit was also produced to transmit this methodology. This project has now been taken up by organisations including UNICEF and the EU to benefit thousands more Colombian children.
Between 1995 and 2002, COTA has sponsored over 80 medical visits by the PAC flying doctors to remote and war-torn rainforest regions, reaching over 2,000 sick children.
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