Most people want the American Dream to be true. The belief that you can accomplish anything if you just work hard enough seems like something worth believing, and worth attempting. If all it takes is a little sweat and determination, why should you settle for a life that doesn’t make you happy?
Indeed, many people, including myself, have staked their livelihoods on that very premise. I’ve resolved to realize my dreams, or die trying, and I can say with confidence that I haven’t died – at least not yet. However, I wonder if dreams are just as achievable in the other America, in the global south, where families may find themselves in economically destitute situations, and where the safety nets of Europe and the United States don’t exist.
I work for a non-profit called Pintando Caminos in Bogota, Colombia, and one of our main goals is to provide youth with the resources and opportunities that make it possible for them to achieve their dreams – but this isn’t an easy task. In neighborhoods like Potosi, the obstacles and lack of opportunity faced by the kids every day are extreme compared to what I had to overcome as a working-class kid from the United States. I didn’t have it easy – I’ve been working for a paycheck since the age of fourteen in order to support myself, I didn’t receive any financial help from my parents for college, etc – but at least I had a supportive family, enough to eat, and a decent public high school. For all of this I am grateful.
In 2009, 46% of Colombians were living in poverty, and 17% were living in “extreme poverty,” with an increasing percentage of that population living in urban slums. The neighborhood is located in the outskirts of Bogota, in the mountains, where families have been fleeing for generations in order to escape the rural violence stemming from decades of guerrilla warfare or, more recently, widespread flooding. As of right now, Colombia has one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world. And although most of the youth we serve in Pintando Caminos were born here in the city, the generational effects of systematic neglect and lack of resources have been passed down to them. The children of Potosi are growing up without access to adequate nutrition, a good education, or eventual work, and must at the same time cope with difficult family lives, the presence of drugs and gangs right outside their homes, and complicated health problems.
So we do what we can counter such a daunting lack of opportunity. First, love is the motor that drives our work – we’re like one big family. In Pintando Caminos, children are treated with respect, provided with a nutritional lunch, and are offered programs such as homework help, soccer school, English class, recreational activities, educational workshops, and field trips. Our goal is that the children we serve grow in a holistic way, develop intellectually, access work, and become active participants in their communities. The idea is that the children who benefit from our work be capable of breaking their cycle of poverty, overcoming the difficulties present in their environment, and succeed at becoming valued and supportive human beings who are capable of earning a living decently – with the goal that they multiply in their communities, in their productive lives, and in the country more generally.
Working in a neighborhood like Potosi requires one to be decidedly hopeful – and Pintando Caminos helps with that. As the kids return day after day to our programming and continue growing, we can see them developing into loving and healthy individuals with big dreams. They want to be doctors and veterinarians and firefighters because they genuinely want to help other people. It’s a humbling experience when a little girl who sleeps in a shack with a tin roof explains that she wants to be a doctor because that way people don’t sick so often. For kids it’s always that simple – people are suffering, so why not help?
My dream is that all the kids of Pintando Caminos have the opportunity to become what they hope to be. Let’s help give them the chance for success. Donate between now and December 31st and you can help write the happy conclusion to this story. Or, if you’ve been inspired by this story, spread the word and tell others about the work that we do.