Where do you turn as a struggling single mum in country that has no welfare state? Crepes and Waffles, is a unique restaurant chain that was opened in 1980 and only employs women and often single mothers. The unique company was set up by a couple who had the idea straight out of University to help empower women by providing them with reliable employment and a substantial pay cheque at the end of the month whilst they can still find time to study and look after their families. With a Crepes and Waffles on every corner, it is clear to anyone who visits Colombia, that this chain is successful with it’s ethics, employees and it’s ice cream. Listen to this podcast where I find out from Norma, manager at Crepes and Waffles, how she sees herself as a role model for the women here striving to be independent.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is blogging about the hot topic of 2013- looking at the growing global empowerment of young women from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos:
See link for his post from the Huffington Post
He said: “The rights of girls is becoming the hot topic of the 2013, as a new movement of empowered young women discovers that it has the momentum to force big issues — girls’ health, girls’ education and the protection of girls against violence — to the centre of the global agenda.”
The pressure that has come from anti-rape marches, which have dominated the early days of the year in India and have spread to other countries, will not dissipate in the next few weeks. Indeed it will be stepped up, with Valentine’s Day demonstrations around the world on February 14, when the online campaign group One Billion Rising plans what it calls a mixture of ‘a global strike, an invitation to dance, an act of solidarity with women and a refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given’.
Girls’ rights will be the focus of the 10×10 Initiative when, on International Women’s Day (March 8), award-winning journalists and film-makers will expose in the new documentary ‘Girl Rising’ just how unfair the distribution of educational opportunities is for so many millions of girls around the world. The new film will give added impetus to long-running campaigns such as Plan International’s Because I Am A Girl, whose aim is to give four million girls around the world the chance to gain the education that can help them to break out of the cycle of poverty.
In the wake of the shooting last year of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, discrimination against girls — 32 million of whom are denied the chance to go to school — will be the theme of a special event during the United Nations General Assembly in September. Ahead of that, getting girls to school in targeted countries will be a top agenda item in a summit on April 18-19 in Washington, to be attended by the UN Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank, in advance of the IMF/World Bank spring meetings. During that week, we will also focus on ways to ban child marriage and child labour, and outlaw the prejudice that prevents girls going to school.
The rights of girls is moving to the top of the global issues agenda because young women are saying with rising resolve that they will no longer accept the rules and conventions imposed upon them by a male-dominated adult population.
Indeed, I see in recent protests a real shift. Demonstrations that started as cautious, often gentle, admonitions to the powers that be, with respectful requests for change, have now come to encompass a set of defiant, non-negotiable demands in the form of ultimatums — and rightly so. Protests that once were pleas to ‘please stop this’ have become protests that insist ‘no more and never again’.”
Stay up to date by signing up at www.educationenvoy.org.
Follow Gordon Brown on Twitter: www.twitter.com/officegsbrown
I have had one of the most amazing adventures in Colombia and I have certainly had to improve my Spanish along the way which has been an experience in itself.
Quite honestly, I am not sure where to start chronicling my journey to South America. One which I have wanted to embark on for a long time now, since I was 18 years old and went travelling for the first time.
I guess the excitement really began when I met the Colombian basketball wheelchair Paralympic team at Heathrow, departing the 2012 London games for home. I suppose they were making the same journey I am now.
That feeling of reflection and wishing I had one more day here in this intriguing and colourful country, washes over me as I board my airbus back to little ol England.
My highlights begin with meeting up with my Colombian friends who I met in England and seeing their transformation from working as waitresses and bussers to hospital adminitrators, journalists and bankers. It was fascinating to see the change in their quality of life now they were back on home turf. However, my good friend Juan revealed to me that it is all relative and that whilst they may be using more professional skills here in Colombia, they are recieving lower wages for those jobs.
The interesting lifestyle choice in Colombia is to stay living with your family for as long as you can as families are massively close, important and often religious. It is not unusual for people like my lovely friend Tati who is 30 this year to still be living with her mother. For them it makes financial sense and they hold family extremely dearly that everyone just mucks in and gets on with living a warm and more properous life.
Slowly I see this patterm emerging in Europe, in Spain especially but perhaps it might spread to the UK as well as the economy slides and families decide it’s more efficient and practicle to stay living as big families under one roof. I personally think there is nothing wrong with this and would debate with sceptics who favour independence and yuppie culture to the heart of the home.
Home is where the heart is but I have played with the idea of one day possibly moving to Spain or South America. As previously mentioned, I have fallen for hispanic culture big time and a life long goal of mine has always been to learn another language fluently and as a young journalist, perhaps now is the time.
I could one day see myself living here but for now I reminicse on my incredible journey, exploring teenage pregnancy, female inequality and abortion as I documented my findings on camera.
Some of the most touching moments came out of nowhere, were not planned interviews and required a little bit of spontaneous, on the spot journalism but they were by far the best.
I remember back to meeting Julia and Vanessa on a clifftop in La Calera, overlooking the city at night.
I recall trekking up to Monserrate, a church on top of a mountain and expriencing a traditional Colombian Catholic mass.
I can’t forget my most memorable experience at one of the world’s best restaurants, Andres, that excited my senses and satisfied my pallet.
Or the beautiful baby Thomas, Tatiana’s nephew who I couldn’t stop smiling at.
What about my guide, translator and new found friend Juan Carlos, who showed me the way to Juan Felipe – the essence and heart of my story.
The rogue teacher who agreed to an interview about sex education in schools.
The human rights lawyers and stong women who were fighting for justice and womens rights in a very contraversial country.
The young mothers of my tale that were staring at uncertain but hopeful futures.
Leon, the big cuddly man who cared about women and their lives.
Dennis, the young teenage father who had only just found out at 18 he would be a dad.
Anna, the sociologist and journalist who was researching teenage pregnancy for her thesis and told of corrupt governments.
Jimena, the ex-girlfriend of my English mate and a survivor after heartbreak.
The kind and generous nature of Tatiana and her family. Her loving and funny mother who contined to talk to me in Spanish despite my mis-understanding.
And Norma, the incredibly inspirational waitress from Crepes and Waffles who be-friended us and gave me her heart neckless- the heart I brought back from Colombia.
It was my last night in Bogota, Colombia and it certainly didn’t dissapoint! I was promised a good time and what I got was a lesson in Champeta, Reggaton and Salsa dance and the most amazing night with some incredible friends, old, best and new.
Maltidelina was the club, our friend Luis Carlos kindly got us free entry to and it is rumoured to be one of the busiest and best clubs in Bogota. It was certainly very busy when we arrived and later I realised why.
They had a live 10 piece band on playing who were incredibly energetic and got everyone up dancing and singing. You couldn’t escape it and I soon found Colombian music infectious. It got underneath your skin and I found myself helplessly moving to the beats of Champeta (a local music) and Reggaton (a kind of Spanish rap that is rather erotic and apparantly has very suggested lyrics), both of which were encouraging some rather sexual dancing from the locals.
My friend Juan then proceeded to try and teach me Salsa. My Brazilian friend Weverson, had tried to teach me this previously so I had sort of the idea of the movement but Juan said I needed to relax more and move from the hips and the lower back. Goodness me, this was certainly a very seductive dance.
Interestingly, I thought back to the many teenagers I had interviewed and recalled what a couple of them had mentioned about some kinds of Colombian music influencing their sexual health choices. The music I was now listening to seemed to echo their words. I could see how some of these couples would go home tonight and feel the heat of the music between the sheets!
Next on was a Shakira-like lady who got the whole crowd singing to her Colombian ballad and a sense of patriotism came over me. Despite not being native, my friends here had made me feel so welcome, I felt I could join in. While not knowing the Spanish words, I started to sing to the tune and became wrapped up in a little bubble of lovely hispanic energy.
So it is safe to say I will really miss the incredible friends I have made here and this amazing culture. There is certainly something about the hispanic way of living that I can’t shake. It is like a love affair I cannot help and it will be long before I can get over it. And as my Colombian friends would say, ‘if you can’t get over it, get under it’ 😉
On my first night in Cartagena I met my guide and translator Juan Carlos Narvarez who turned out to be wonderful. We didn´t recognise each other at first as I had only spoken to him on the phone and seen his photo on facebook and visa versa but optimistically shouted his name and a deep friendly voice answered.
He took me for dinner at Crepes and Waffles where I explained my documentary to him. I was very impressed with his English, despite him explaining that he had stopped studying years ago and at 37 he had lots of energy and enthusiasm to help me and would always find a word to express his meaning even if it wasn´t the first one he was looking for.
We agreed to meet the next morning at 8am sharp at my hostel where we would take the hour long bus ride to Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar, the foundation I have been in contact with in Cartagena. I had arranged a meeting with the Director of the teenage pregnancy programme Leon who had so far been very helpful and replied to my emails straight away.
The next morning we took the long bus journey out of the city to Ternera, which was in complete contrast to the beautiful old town I was staying in. Days later Juan admitted that he had “exposed me” slightly here and for the first time I was seeing Colombian poverty in it´s nakedness.
We arrived to the foundation exactly on time for our 9:30 meeting with Leon. This cuddly faced man met us and led us into his very refreshingly air conditioned office where he told us the story of how Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar foundation was set up. It was a very sad tale.
Juan Felipe was a four year old baby boy who tragically fell from a builing and his death motivated the Gomez Escobar family and his mother to set up a foundation to help save the lives of thousands of other children in need. The family witnessed the lack of resources in hospitals and clinics around the city and hoped to serve impoverished communities like the ones on its doorstep and to improve the quality and access of maternal health care.
Leon himself was responsible for the second objective of the foundation´s intervention model, to train adolescent mothers through the Teenage Mothers Program and the Teenage Mothers Extension Program. And I couldn´t have pictured anyone better for the job than this incredibly empathetic, generous and helpful man.
He explained to us the statistics that helped support the foundations research and told us that in order for the foundation to design a socially committed organization, it needed to study extensively statistics on infant mortality and teenage pregnancy, and to correlate these statistics with global policies such as the Millennium Development Goals. This is when I knew that Leon and I were a perfect match. Previous research I had conducted for my documentary, linked inextricably to what Leon was talking about. The UN Millenium Declaration resolution had eight goals; number three was gender equality along with number five- decreasing infant mortality and number six- increasing maternal health. Leon was my match made in heaven.
After a very long and intriguing interview with Leon, he kindly gave us a tour of the foundation and it was now that I was incredibly impressed with the work they were doing there. There were teenage mothers and pregnant women wondering around all over the place with their baby blue Juan Felipe shirts on and there was a sense of hope and positivity amongst the impecibly clean grounds.
The sun shone through the windows into a room where Leon explained the young women took sex education classes, self esteem classes, sewing lessons, cooking lessons, beauty courses and IT courses. I was so impressed I had to ask how all of this was funded. Leon immediately led us to the entrance of the grounds where there were plaques with lists and lists of companies that sponsored Juan Felipe foundation including well known Colombian banks such as Davivenda, and oil companies such as Repsol and hundreds of others. I was astounded by the amount of support they were getting and suddenly Juan Felipe foundation stood out to me like a sparkling diamond in the rough that was proactively helping the women around it back into education and to a prosperous and hopeful future. I had a moment of clarity. This was what I had come to Colombia for.
A very sad tale that led to some incredibly rewarding and successful work on the part of Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar´s foundation and the work of it´s very friendly and committed staff.
Leon and his colleague then arranged for me to talk to one teenage girl Danis who was 8 months pregnant and another teenage mother Jennifer who had a baby girl.
Both of who had come from completely different backgrounds. Danis was sad that her partner had not stayed by her when he´d found out that she had got pregnant but instead left and decided to have no responsibility for the coming child, leaving Danis nervous about her future and the birth of her baby girl, until the foundation came along.
Jennifer´s story is somewhat different. This strong young woman has a boyfriend and family who is supporting her but explained she came to the foundation when she was depressed about her situation. She is only 17 years old and was shocked when she became pregnant despite being very casual about using protection of which she admits she rarely used with her boyfriend when they had sex. She revealed to us that her father was absent when she was growing up and took the path of drugs. I asked if she regretted getting pregnant at such a young age and she said she did at the time but now she has her little baby girl she doesn´t regret it and interestingly said that her little baby girl now fills a void that her father couldn´t.
“Manana, manana,” seems to be the answer I am hearing a lot here.
I am not knocking Colombian work ethic as I am mightily impressed how hard these people work and the hours they endure. It is not like slave labour or anything. Most Colombiano`s work 9-5 but their attitude seems to be work hard play hard and yet when it comes to their sense of urgency or track of time, there seems to be very little.
I have been trying to shoot a documentary here now for two weeks, conducting interviews and arranging access to institutions and organisations and I have one word for you: PATIENCE.
You will need a lot of this along with a nice little recipe of compromise, co-operation and resilience if you are a journalist in this increasingly difficult country.
Don´t get me wrong the people are incredibly friendly and mostly helpful but there seems to be a lot of bureaucracy and red tape that you have to cut through to speak to the right people who are going to give their honest opinions and not just an institutionalised response to your questions.
And quite honestly my best interviews so far have been me resorting to on the spot journalism in the street or finding ways round the conventional “must do” ways to gain access to speak to people. On two occassions now I have relied on friendly contacts helping me after hearing very little if anything in the way of progress and authorisation from the organisations I have been attempting to reach, including a secondary school, a restaurant and a government institution. The latter of which I knew would be difficult and I asked my sociologist and journalist friend Ana if this was anything to do with press censorship in the country and she reassured me that it wasn´t but more to do with the incredible levels of security this country has and she is right. At every corner I see armed guards and I have become increasingly accustomed to it now.
So one piece of advice when coming to Colombia, if you plan a weeks stay here take two, and if you want to make a documentary in a month, plan, plan, plan well beforehand or rely on incredible friends and helpful strangers. The latter option is not guaranteed but you certainly have an adventure in the process.