GALAPA - The poverty in Galapa and the nearby village of Paluato was a terrible thing to see for Inten Hoek from The Hague and her Colombian husband Jeovanny when they moved here in 2002. Together they founded 'Mi Casa en Ipauratu' in 2009, a foundation that is emphatically committed to the children in this area.
Volunteers work in Paluato
,,Volunteers come to Colombia to work. To do something with the children, to teach them something, to add something. The fun thing is that the Colombian culture and its warm temperature don't allow that hard work. And that the same culture adds something to the volunteers themselves,” smiles Inten Hoek. “All volunteers end up here with a rich experience. They get to know that culture up close, a culture that is always unpredictable. And the children here find the volunteers exciting. There is guaranteed to be interaction.”
Many volunteers continue to support the foundation through donations.
The fact that volunteers are not given any real responsibilities here is a conscious choice. “In Colombia, you can work voluntarily on coffee plantations. Then you take work from the Colombians, I think that's a horrible thing to do.” Moreover: ,,Our activities must always continue, even without volunteers. Our foundation is for the children.”
Mi Casa en Ipauratu
Galapa is located a few kilometers from the metropolis of Barranquilla. The town has about 40,000 inhabitants and from here it is about eight kilometers to Paluato. This is traditionally an indigenous area, here was the settlement of Ipauratu; the museum in Galapa tells you all about it.
The foundation has already set up its own kindergarten in Galapa and appointed Miss Rosita as a permanent teacher. The new school year starts in January. “We are working on it. For now, it is important that we get very simple things together, such as notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, pencil cases, and backpacks. This is not about large sums of money, but it is important,” explains Inten Hoek.
The school has room for fifteen students. Half of them have difficulty learning or are somewhat slow. That's why these children were expelled from their regular school: because they hold up the rest. The foundation of Inten Hoek believes that these children deserve a better future.
“Seven of our fifteen children are with us now for four years. One of them, Danielle, is now about to be admitted to a regular school. She is 16 and could not read or write. So this is really a big win.” About fifteen children are the maximum. If a child drops out for whatever reason, their place is almost immediately filled again.
The Christmas celebration is prepared at the foundation in mid-December. Gifts for the children are bought from donations from the Netherlands. This year they raised about 1100 euros, enough for more than 200 packages of gifts. These are distributed in the community center, but also the prison of Barranquilla. “We were approached by Zaida. Her husband has been there for three years and therefore cannot give his children any gifts. She wanted to do something with it and asked for our help. That is very important for their children.”
A week before Christmas, the gifts were distributed in prison. The men here are delighted by the gifts. This day is also a visiting day for their wives and their children and that is the reason for their best clothing, also for the prisoners. Being imprisoned in Colombia is not a disgrace, but rather a hero status.
Rosita is the only employee of the foundation. She also offers Spanish lessons for the mostly European volunteers who decide to stay at Ipauratu for a few weeks. Since this year she has also been a foster parent - also with support from the foundation - and has been assigned five children by the government. 'State children', children who were taken from their parents by the state because they lived in dire circumstances. Think of drugs, abuse, and sexual abuse.
The Colombian government screens foster parents extensively; not everyone is capable of having them. For example, they must already have a fixed income, and the subsidy they receive must really go to the children. There is strict control over that. Rosita has to communicate in advance about every outing she wants to take with the children. The state's children are being watched by the state. Protected.
Children therefore do not stay long with one and the same foster parent and the chance of adoption is always present. “People here are very different from the Netherlands. Children here are considered mature and independent much earlier, children are not actually allowed to be children. We do have toys in the house, we think play is important. We are exceptional in this,” explains Inten Hoek.
Rosita's five children are remarkably sweet. There is no discord when the bus is stuck in a traffic jam for an hour and a half, there is no disappointment when a water park suddenly turns out to be closed and they are delighted when they see the sea at Porto Colombia. They seem to embrace every day, without genuinely looking forward to anything: after all, disappointment is never far away. Everything is good for the kids; they behave in an exemplary manner.
4-year-old Escarleth is one of five. She emphatically seeks Miss Rosita's attention. Shy and insecure, she clings to her arm. From this protective position, she secretly looks for new impressions. Rosita consciously does not allow too much bonding: any moment the girl will move again. To another foster home. Or through adoption, perhaps the best option. Attachment would therefore be an obstacle. Traumatic perhaps.
Escarleth's mother recently got a new boyfriend, who assaulted the little girl several times. That is why she is now a child of the state. It may explain her quest for attention. It also explains her insecurity. Hopefully, she will regain that parental love before Christmas. On Friday, Rosita learns that Escarleth was adopted by an American couple; she will continue her life in Oklahoma. She will leave on Monday. From this day on, bonding and love are important again.
But then Colombia comes into play again. Where there is a green light for the Americans in Barranquilla, it turns red again in Bogota. The wife of the American couple is too young at 26 years old, the adoption is canceled. Escarleth flies back to Rosita. Maybe it will be Italy. Nothing is sure.