Clared Patricia Jaramillo did not expect to be doing what she is doing today. Educated as an industrial engineer, she now spends her days advocating for social change and working with inner-city and internally-displaced children – not exactly what she was trained for.
But that is what she does, every day, and what she has been doing for the last 15 years through her humanitarian organization “Poder Joven,” based in Medellin.
“It all began while I was still at the University of Antioquia. A group of 20 of us, mainly engineers, decided one Christmas to go down to the city- centre to volunteer our time handing out food and gifts to the street kids,” Jaramillo told Colombia Reports.
“We quickly realized that a one-time thing was not enough. We knew we could do more.”
When classes began again in January, the students returned to the same neighbourhood to distribute food, and returned again every Saturday for the next four years.
“At that time we were quite naive. We were not seeing the full picture. We saw children in the street that were hungry, and so we brought food. We did not see the bigger, broader reasons for why they were in the street, for why there was the poverty, the drugs, and the violence. We only saw children in the street,” Jaramillo said.
“With time we came to understand the larger, structural issues, of systematic economic inequality and of corruption. We came to understand that the children in the street, the drugs, and the violence were only symptoms. The causes were much, much greater, and as old as Colombia itself.”
While Jaramillo realized that she would never be able to solve these problems herself, she still felt compelled to do something.
“The best thing we felt we could do was provide education. To give children the tools to help themselves. But education is much more than just books and classes. It is also an environment where children are well fed, where they feel safe, and where they feel loved.”
That is exactly what Poder Joven has set out to provide. In 2000 they opened their first “casa,” which served just 15 children. Today the organization has grown to have two different education centres, one in the city centre and one in the barrio of Manrique, on the eastern slopes of the city. Collectively they serve 130 children a day.
The two casas provide a safe place for children to come to when they are not in school — in Colombia it is common for schools to run split shifts, in which children attend either in the morning or in the afternoon.
More than just keeping the children off the street, Poder Joven provides them “with education, food, medical and psychological assistance, and most importantly affection,” Jaramillo said.
For more information about Poder Joven and volunteer opportunities with the organization please visit their website: