I traveled to Linares – a small village located approximately 95 kilometers from the capital of the Department of Nariño, where roughly 21,000 people reside. The majority of the area is made up of mountains, at an altitude of around 8,000 feet – taking nearly three hours to access the village via one-lane unpaved roads from Pasto. A U.S. team identified an agricultural school called “San Francisco of ASIS” that was in critical need of a computer upgrade. I found that approximately 250 students and 20 teachers were learning on 14 outdated, broken-down tower computers. They learn about alternate crop cultivation, such as coffee, and best practices, such as greenhouses. The students connect online with a university in Bogota learning how to produce these new methods. I saw this as a sustainable resource for locals to earn an education and expand their learning by providing a viable income. The program is called Live Digital and was implemented for the students to overcome various barriers to gain agricultural education through the internet. It links the students to a reputable university where they digitally learn more about the importance of ecosystems, livestock, and thus have improved future career options.
Because Linares is located in such a remote part of the country, creating a sustainable source of agriculture is needed for these locals to survive. The U.S. team is doing an excellent job working with their Colombian partners to help provide this avenue for education and employment. Ultimately this will help prevent drug and human trafficking in the ungoverned region – inevitably protecting the vulnerable school from gang violence and youth recruitment.
The Linares Mayor’s office created the program to provide continued education to recently graduated teenagers. The overall goal of the program is for the students to become successful entrepreneurs, counter the recruitment efforts of illegal armed groups, and reduce reliance on illicit crop cultivation. It brings security to the local community by providing potential gang recruits valuable education and career options. According to the Department of Nariño police (DENAR) youth crime activity dropped 15% after the program was started. Internet service is funded through DENAR, and it allows students to participate in forums where they gain access to specialized portals related to agricultural and livestock process.
The U.S. team leader gave me a sense of how important our support to this program was, by saying that,
“It helps them (the Narino Police) develop relationships and strengthen community-institutions that counter the illicit criminal organizations that threaten the region – we were able to accomplish this because of your generous donation.”
With the help of your funds, we were able to provide 14 laptops to the school. Because of your generosity, we were able to help 250 students find a valuable educational outlet and provide a resource to these ambitious students. Your donation also helped to promote the legitimacy of the local government by demonstrating their desire and willingness to provide education and career options for the at-risk youth in the area. U.S. Forces and Colombian partners are working hard to provide a better way of life for these youth and because of your donation they are one step closer to achieving that. Thank you very much from the Spirit of America team!
Field Operations Project Manager – Latin America