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Crepes and Waffles work to empower women

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.


Crepes and Waffles chain restaurant in Colombia Photo by Hannah Smithson


Women’s Link Worldwide help protect human rights

In the developed world we sometimes take our right to choice rather than chance for granted. In a country where sex education is minimal and the Catholic church have considerable control over educational establishments and traditional attitudes among society, the fight to bring awareness to controversial issues such as women’s reproductive rights and abortion in Colombia is a tough one.

Women’s Link Worldwide  is an international human rights non-profit organization working to ensure that gender equality is a reality around the world and at home in Colombia.

They strive to advance the acknowledgement of women’s rights as a human right through the implementation of international standards and strategic work with the law to close the gap between rights on paper and rights in reality.

Katherine Barnes is a representative of Women’s Link in Colombia and explains how they are working to promote women’s rights and family planning.

Music  by  Kevin MacLeod  is licensed under a  CC Attribution 3.0.

Conjugal visit

Girls at a local prison in Cartagena queue up for the conjugal visit Photo by Hannah Smithson


UN praises Colombia for tackling teenage pregnancy

For the majority of people in developing countries, basic resources and access to family planning services are inadequate. The most recent United Nations (UN) State of the World Population report 2012 estimates that 222 million women around the world still lack access to reliable services, information and supplies. This especially puts adolescents, the poor and ethnic minorities at risk of unintended pregnancy.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warns that much more financial support and political commitment is needed to meet their international Millennium Development Goals for improving maternal health and reducing infant mortality by 2015.


In September 2012, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director and Under-Secretary General of United Nations visited Colombia and highlighted the high figures of teenage pregnancy in the country: one in five women between 15 to 19 years old has been pregnant.

“Colombia has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Latin America. This is an obstacle for the development of the country”, he said. More alarmingly, 64% of those pregnancies are not intended.

Since 2006 UNFPA has been supporting the Colombian government in designing a model for ‘youth friendly health services’, including counselling, contraceptive methods, HIV testing, right up to prenatal care. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection has been implementing this model, with continued technical and financial support from the UN.

Dr. Osotimehin visited the capital Bogota, touring two hospitals with ‘youth friendly services’ to see how the country is progressing towards achieving some of the international development goals and said:

“I am pleasantly surprised by the government’s commitment to the prevention of teen pregnancy. This program of youth-friendly services is an example for many countries in Latin America.”

Speaking at the launch of the most recent state of the world population report, Dr. Osotimehin makes the case that access to family planning is a human right and points out that for just one dollar for every person on earth, everyone could realise this right. He highlights that UNFPA’s participation in the Youth Friendly Services Program helps train professionals from health teams and provides technical expertise in the delivery of mass communication strategies to make sure everyone is aware of their rights to services.

Unchallenged though, Dr. Osotimehin says the lack of family planning and increasing teenage pregnancy rates especially amongst adolescents perpetuates poverty, gender inequality and can lead to population pressures in developing countries that are already struggling to meet basic human needs.

Are the UN on track?

Sylvia Wong, Sexual and Reproductive Health Specialist at UNFPA in New York, explains why teenage pregnancy prevention and improving maternal health continue to be important goals for the UN:

“We know that complications for pregnancy and childbirth is the number one killer of girls who are between 15-19 years old in developing countries worldwide and if you’re able to prevent the pregnancy in the first place, that would reduce her risk of maternal death.”

The UN has been criticised for their slow progress for meeting their goals by 2015. Sylvia tells me that the UN is on track but that it could be better.

“There has been some progress, but I don’t think the progress is good enough because there are still too many women who are dying from a preventable death”, says Sylvia.

Colombia’s case study

Sylvia highlights Colombia as one of the countries where there is good practice in place when it comes to sexual education and sees it as very ‘progressive and innovative’.

“Colombia is doing quite a lot in recognising the issue of adolescent pregnancy and getting at the root causes of some of the issues; so they are buttressing work on education, especially comprehensive sexuality education and ensuring access to services for young people,” says Sylvia.

Girls at the Juan Felipe foundation regularly receive sex education and self-esteem lessons Photo by Hannah Smithson

Girls at the Juan Felipe foundation regularly receive sex education and self-esteem lessons Photo by Hannah Smithson

Profamilia assess adolescent pregnancy rates in new study

Profam copy

Psychologist Darly Naiyive at sexual health clinic Profamilia works to promote contraception and to provide family planning services Images by Hannah Smithson

An independent study from private sexual health clinic Profamilia, assessed the rates of Colombian teenage pregnancy in the first study of its kind in the capital. Results showed that adolescent birth rates had decreased by 1% in 2012.

Psychologist at Profamilia, Darly Naiyive, says that teenagers get pregnant in Colombia for many reasons, but boils it down to a lack of sex education, strong anti-abortion laws in a very Catholic country, and a traditionally macho culture embedded within society. She explains how Profamilia’s best practice in promoting contraception and providing family planning services can help women struggling with these obstacles:

“Profamilia has been highlighted because we protect women’s sexual and reproductive rights. We see family planning as a right for the women but also the patient needs to work together with the law.”

Human rights lawyers jump in to help fight for women’s rights

Katherine Romero is a Senior Attorney for Women´s Link Worldwide, a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) in Colombia working to enforce women’s sexual and reproductive rights, including the right to an abortion, and explains the work she does in Latin America and all over the world.

“Here at Women’s Link we understand that the legality of abortion has consequences among the vulnerable population and adolescent populations because they don’t have any information about how to get an abortion in a safe manner,” says Katherine.

She explains she was part of the legal team that part de-criminalised abortion law in Colombia in 2005. The Constitutional Court in Colombia then ruled in 2006 that abortion is legal in three cases; when a woman is raped, when there is a danger to the mother’s health or when there is a malformation of the foetus. Katherine and her team are now working hard to apply these rights among the women of Colombia, to spread awareness and access to treatment.

“The legality of abortion has a complete correlation with maternal mortality rates in adolescents because they don’t know how to do it in a safe manner.”

Consequently, it can be very dangerous for young women to get pregnant in these countries, Katherine explains. An underlying attitude in all these similar cases she tells me is that women´s bodies are seen as objects that in most cases don´t belong to them.


Photo by Hannah Smithson

“We have a specific exception for adolescents –all sexual relations with girls under 12 years old constitutes a rape. This is the interpretation of the penal code. So if a girl of 12 years or under gets pregnant she has the right to an abortion. But if a girl is over this age and isn’t in one of those three circumstances she doesn’t have the right to an abortion in the eyes of the law”, says Katherine.

Colombia therefore is in a transitional state as Katherine explains: “With our work to implement the constitutional courts decision we are one step forward in relation to Uganda, Tanzania, Peru, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Chile in recognising that all women’s rights are human rights and that the right to abortion in Colombia is for all women. We also make sure that the government and all their agencies have the obligation to give the service.” But she points out that there is still more to be done.

Sylvia from UNFPA praises the work of sexual health clinics such as Profamilia and NGOs like Women’s Link but concludes that improving maternal health and reducing teenage pregnancy are goals that need to stay on the development agenda after 2015.

“While we have seen the global mortality ratio decline over time which is good news, in my opinion it is still too high because even one death because of maternal causes is just one death too many.”

Colombia’s Big Daddy

Leon CBD

Women’s rights topped the agenda at the most recent  World Economic Forum of 2013.  Even former UK Prime Minister  Gordon Brown  acknowledged and blogged about women’s empowerment being  the  hot topic of day.
In light of  International Women’s Day  on the 8th March, Hannah Smithson investigates the global issue of maternal health and rising teenage pregnancy rates around the world. Speaking to the  United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA),  we  find out how providing access to family planning clinics and resources to improve maternal health is one of their top priorities of the  Millenium Development Goals  for 2015.

Hannah Smithson visits a teenage mothers programme at a unique foundation in Colombia to see how developing countries are dealing with the issue. Find out why Colombia in particular is being held up by   UNFPA   as an example of best practice for the rest of the world.

 Watch “Colombia’s Big Daddy” to see how one man, Leon, is single handedly working to empower women in a traditionally macho culture.

Gordon Brown blogs for young women at WEF

Gordon Brown blogs live from the WEF about young womens empowerment being the hot topic for 2013 Photo courtesy of WEF

Gordon Brown blogs live from the WEF about young womens empowerment being the hot topic for 2013 Photo courtesy of WEF

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’.”

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Heading home

After 30 days of Spanish, 10 days in Spain and 20 days in Colombia, I am reluctantly heading back to the those familiar British Isles I call home.

Leaving Bogota International airport for home

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.

The Colombian wheelchair basketball paralympic team are at Heathrow ready to board my flight to Colombia! They are on their way home as I now am on my journey home

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.

The heart of Colombia, given to me by Norma

How to party like a Colombian

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.

Matildelina- the coolest club in Bogota

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’ 😉

Tatiana and I having lots of fun on her birthday celebration night and my last evening in Colombia

Taking human rights to new heights

Last week I visited Women´s Link Worldwide and met a group of very intelligent women. Now I wouldn´t call myself a feminist particularly but on occasion I am reassured by the power of women where perhaps they are still seen as second class citizens. This is true of Colombia still. Women work and there seems to be an increasing emphasis for women to become more independent from men who traditionally would rule the roost. But I am witnessing a new wave of females pushing through the old attitudes and customs of this country and coming out on top. I have interviewed a few of these brave ladies but on Thursday I spoke to those that have fought for their rights and freedoms.

Katherine Romero is a senior attorney for Women´s Link Worldwide and agreed to meet me to speak about the work she does here in Colombia and all over Latin America. She graduated with a joint degree in law and political science from the University of the Andes, Bogota, Colombia and holds a Masters in Human Rights Protection from the University of Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain so she is certainly a women I want to talk to. I always imagined working in human rights myself and to meet such a successful lady doing such great work was a pleasure.

In 2005, Katherine began work in the field of sexual and reproductive rights as a legal intern with Women’s Link Worldwide on the LAICIA (High impact litigation, the unconstitutionality of abortion law in Colombia) project, forming part of the legal team which liberalized abortion law in Colombia in 2006 and told me she continues to work and direct the sexual and reproductive rights program. This in itself is just a massive achievement as before 2006 abortion in Colombia was completely illegal.

Katherine is a slender lady who wears a colourful, bright yellow top and her vibrant personality is complimented by her modest manner. She sees this as a massive achievement as I praise her successes but also points out that there is a lot more work to be done here in Colombia but more so in other Latin American countries such as Peru, where it is illegal to have sex before the age of 18. This therefore makes getting pregnant illegal too and unlike the private health care system in the US that may save you in this scenario, Katherine informs me that young teenage girls who get pregnant receive little if any medical attention from the state and are often shunned and outcast. Consequently, it can be very dangerous for young women to get pregnant in these countries, Katherine explains as she points out the charts on the walls that detail the laws on reproductive rights around the world.

Map showing the Laws for reproductive rights in 2005. South America is one of the pinkest along with Africa

An underlying attitude in all these similar cases she tells me is that women´s bodies are seen as objects that in most cases don´t belong to them. A look in her eye tells me she isn´t shocked by these values unlike myself who takes a minute to digest the information. Her fairly cool emotions could come across as cold but I sense she is a warm person just accustomed to working with so many girls where this is the case and it does not phase her anymore.

She tells me of one case where she worked with a 10 year old Colombian girl who was raped and under the age of 12 here any sexually activity is classed as rape. But this unfortunate little girl was failed by the state who did not declare her her right to an abortion in this instance and this is where Katherine came in. She helped part decriminalise abortion here which is one mean feight for a women in Colombia.

A few years on and she says the little girl, now only 13 is recovering but is still psychologically wounded by the whole traumatic experience, not surprisingly. I ask if there is enough medical and psychological help here in these cases in Colombia and she says there is some but not nearly enough. Her story shocks me and whilst I know rape happens around the world, to be denied an abortion after being violated in such a dehumanising way to me, seems quite criminal. Hence Katherine explains to me, thanks to her efforts there are now three scenarios where women can get an abortion in Colombia; if they have been raped, if the foetus is endangered or if the mother is in danger. However she recognises that illegal abortions are very frequent here and often very dangerous, where girls resort to going to illegal underground clinics with non-qualified doctors and risky methods of self-aborting.

The teenage mothers line up for morning prayers at Juan Felipe foundation

I remember back to reading an article in a real life magazine on illegal abortion when I was about 15 and it has stayed with me since. I remember thinking about it all day at work and I vowed that I would one day try and find out about this topic and here I am. That was the first time I decided I wanted to be a journalist and write about human rights and try and help by letting the world know what goes on in other parts of the world.

Katherine´s publications include: “Obstacles and challenges following the partial decriminalisation of abortion in Colombia” (in Reproductive Health Matters, 2010), “Strategic Litigation Cases Under the New Law of Abortion in Colombia: Challenges Implementation”

Resolution of Juan Felipe

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.

Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar foundation

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.

The prison that lies close to Juan Felipe foundation. Today was the conjugal visit of the women to visit their partners

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.

Filming the girl´s I.T. class

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.

Filming a sex education class

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.

Me and one of the little boys from the foundation

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.

Juan Carlos translates my questions to Danis

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.

Jennifer, 17 with her baby girl

Colombian time

“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.