CRS in Colombia
Colombia has been torn apart by conflict for over 50 years. After four years of intense negotiations, a final peace agreement was signed at the close of 2016. With nearly 7.2 million citizens internally displaced and hundreds seeking refuge in neighboring countries, Colombia has the second highest rate of displacement in the world (after Syria). The majority of refugees have found sanctuary in Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panama and the numbers continue to grow due to porous borders. The most vulnerable groups affected by the conflict and permanent violations of human rights within the country are children, women, indigenous and Afro groups, the poor and people with disabilities.
CRS is currently working with refugees along the Colombia-Ecuador border to create greater economic opportunities for families who have been displaced by the conflict. Through the Borderlands Coffee Project which closed in 2016, 7,700 families benefited from training in the production, quality, organization and marketing of quality coffee with both public and private sector partnerships. CRS also partnered with local churches to develop SILC (Savings and Internal Lending Committees) microfinance groups that provide access to capital for people who cannot afford loans. The combination of these efforts culminated in the creation of Community Benefit Centers that function as coffee production and export hubs for the area and are entirely managed by trained youth from the community. Small-scale coffee producers in the area can now count on fixed prices for their product and increased opportunities for export.
In addition to facilitating the livelihood development of vulnerable communities along the border, CRS accompanies the National Secretariat of Pastoral Social-Cáritas Colombia in the protection and preservation of the Colombian Amazon. Through a network of 16 dioceses in three regions, an action plan is being implemented for communities to assist in the effort to preserve their natural resources.
Our work also supports the research and development of the Catholic Church’s role in the Colombian peace process through a partnership with the National Reality Observatory of the Colombian Episcopate. The resulting collaboration has led to the formation of community leaders in conflict management and the promotion of a culture of peace.
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CRS' History in Colombia
CRS has been working closely with the Colombian Catholic Church and local institutions since 1953 to encourage a culture of peace and an organized response to the internal conflict. Since that time, CRS has supported the participation of the church in processes of dialogue, disarmament and reintegration, and analysis of the political context of the country. Our work with the National Reality Observatory of the Colombian Episcopate has bolstered the development of strong community leaders and peacemakers.
In the 80s, CRS responded to the aftermath of an earthquake that destroyed much of the Colombian coffee zone. Due to the destruction of the city of Armenia and several surrounding municipalities, CRS focused attention on the reconstruction of rural and urban housing for displaced communities.
Since 2012, CRS has played an active role in Southern Colombia through projects related to sustainable agriculture and livelihoods. A highlight was the Borderlands Coffee Project, a 5-year initiative that trained coffee-growing families in high quality coffee production, marketing, and direct trade business models. The results achieved from this project have allowed us to influence the formulation of a public agriculture policy and expand the reputation of Borderlands coffee globally.