Each year the School of Politics and International Relations allocates funds to help undergraduate and MA students engage in activities beneficial for their intellectual and personal development. Such activities may vary considerably but they must have some direct bearing on their studies. Students have, for example, received financial support to conduct fieldwork for their dissertations, undertake internships and voluntary work, study foreign languages, and take part in international aid projects. This summer Emma Pearce used the Student Fund to volunteer with a foundation for disabled children in Colombia.
I spent two months of my summer in Colombia working, travelling and getting to know a country that I had never been to before.
Whilst in Colombia I was working at a foundation called Angeles De Amor (Angles of Love) which was set up by a woman called Martha. The foundation is for children with disabilities and their families – it is a place to meet like minded people, just smile and be happy, in a country where having a child with a disability can be incredibly difficult due to the lack of support families receive. Martha is interested in the plight of disabled children and is very proactive in government developments. We accompanied her to a Council meeting where it was agreed that rights for disabled people are supported in theory but, in Colombia, have failed in practice. Our work with Martha consisted of working mostly with the mothers to give them computer skills and teach them about how the treatment of disabled people can be better – such as the new Routemaster buses in London designed for better disabled access, a world away from the Colombian buses. It was fantastic to work with such inspiring people who, despite difficulties, never fail to look forward and campaign for better facilities.
When I told people I was going to Colombia they were shocked that I wanted to go to a country that is so renowned for violence. Colombia however has made huge steps to rid itself of this stigma particularly under the leadership of President Álvaro Uribe (2002 – 2010). This is due to his policy of prioritising peace and shows why social welfare has taken a back seat. This can be seen by a quote from an interview between the Colombian President and BBC’s “Talking Points”:
“Of course we need to eliminate social injustice in Colombia but what is first? Peace. Without peace, there is no investment. Without investment, there are no fiscal resources for the government to invest in the welfare of the people.”
During his terms in office armed attacks decreased by 91% and terrorist attacks by 79%. I felt extremely safe in Colombia, this was partly because I spent most of my time with locals and so stayed away from dangerous areas, but even Medellin, the infamous ex-drug capital of the world thanks to Pablo Escobar, is a changed city and a great place to visit and explore.
I learnt so much from my trip, from an increased understanding of Colombian culture and politics, I improved my Spanish and even learnt how to salsa! I will undoubtedly take these lessons on with both my personal and academic life and am very grateful to the University of Nottingham’s Student Fund for part-funding my trip. My time in Colombia has undoubtedly inspired me to study the politics of Latin America and as I am interested in working for an IGO after graduating my time working at the foundation has encouraged me to strive to improve the implementation of human rights around the world. Colombia is a fascinating place to visit and my time there was an adventure I will never forget.
Emma Pearce is a Politics student in her second year at the University of Nottingham. You can follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaPearcee.