The realization that many young girls residing in the city of Cartagena, Colombia have already had a child before even reaching high school is mindblowing.
Although it is a popular tourist destination and the second largest port in the country of Colombia, Cartagena suffers disturbing social disparities. Two thirds of the city’s population is living below the poverty line, one fifth is in extreme misery, and 52% of the people residing in Cartagena are women. By 2003, the child mortality rate surpassed the average in Colombia and in Latin America by more than 15 points.
After a twist of events, and a very brave mother, this was all changed because of a baby boy named Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar.
When new mother, and native Colombian, Catalina Escobar tragically lost her baby, Juan Felipe, in a horrible accident, it instilled her with the motivation and graciousness through which she was driven to save the lives of other babies and improve the lives of adolescent mothers throughout Cartagena.
Catalina founded Fundacion Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar, a non-profit organization that works in Cartagena to improve the quality of lives of children and adolescents living in poverty.
When I heard about the tremendous effort this organization was making, I knew I had to visit. The people in poverty in Cartagena lack water, electricity, flooring, and even sewage. However, when I arrived at the foundation, I could instantly see that this was a sort of “safe place” for the girls. The young girls arrive in the early morning and leave in the late afternoon. There are several facilities including a baby daycare center, where the girls can drop their babies off and then go attend classes. A wide range of occupational and life skills courses—including cooking, sewing, cosmetics, and English—are offered to insure the girls’ success after their time at Fundacion Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar. When I stopped by the cooking class and wondered what they were making, one girl proudly stood up. She then said, in Spanish, “We are making chicken breast with a passion fruit sauce and a green salad with kiwi and vinaigrette.”
These girls are bright, capable, and strong, and with the push from the foundation, they can fulfill their dreams, goals, and become leaders in their communities. As Girl Up believes, “You see a girl, we see the future,” and I definitely see the future when I look into the eyes of the girls at Fundacion Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar.