In the morning, about ten of us bundled into a Save the Children minibus and headed off towards the neighbourhood of Comuna 18 on the outskirts of Cali — a city in western Colombia.
The houses at the bottom of the hill are made of brick and fairly sturdy. As we drove up the steep hill the houses got more and more basic.
Apparently it wasn’t safe to go to the top of the hill and we had to leave by 3pm in the afternoon.
A dangerous place to be a child
I later found out that Comuna 18 had lost 12 children last year.
A two-year-old and a four-year-old were shot in gang warfare.
Ten children died from preventable diseases.
The reality of the situation that children and families face every day was becoming apparent.
I could see the Save the Children banners as we arrived. Children and families were registering to see the Save the Children doctor for health check-ups.
These families have been displaced from farms and rural areas due to the conflict and threat of violence and now live in temporary shelter such as Comuna 18.
The government don’t have to provide healthcare to displaced families so these children are just forgotten.
Healthcare in action
Space is at a premium in this community. The doctor is treating children in someone’s home.
Voluntary nurses are measuring the height and weight of the children as they get treated.
Most commonly the doctor provides anti-parasitic medicines, vitamins, vaccinations, and treats respiratory illnesses.
Workshops for mums and babies
Early stimualation workshops for mothers and babies were taking place in another home.
These workshops teach mothers how they can stimulate their babies to ensure their motor neurones develop.
Older children were colouring in the corner of the room and clearly having lots of fun!
Next we visited a handwashing workshop. Posters were used to teach mothers and children proper handwashing techniques and of course, lots of soap!
The feeding centre
Next stop, the feeding centre run by a local foundation. 330 children are enrolled and receive lunch on a daily basis.
For many this is their only meal of the day.
Reckitt Benckiser Colombia employees support the centre through salary donations. This was incredible to see.
Children coming to the centre are no longer malnourished.
We sampled the potato soap, mixed rice with chopped up frankfurters, and guava juice. It was delicious and certainly filling!
A positive impact
In the afternoon we spoke to local community members and learnt about what a positive impact the project has had on their lives.
A visit to a child-friendly space was our last stop. These are set up by Save the Children all over the world to ensure that children have a place to play and feel protected from whatever else may have been happening, such as conflict, war, or natural disaster.
It was fantastic to see that these children had somewhere to go after school where they could feel safe.