On the side of a mountain in southeastern Bogota, Colombia’s capital, the neighborhood of Santa Rosa rises out of the city. For many years, it has been home to three distinct population groups; ex-fighters now demobilized from armed groups such as FARC, victims of violence, and those that are removed from the country’s conflict.
In the midst of this environment, Centro COMParte exists as a facilitator for integration. It is a program of Proyectar Sin Fronteras (Projects Without Borders), which provides a space for locals to develop various life skills and projects.
The foundation, created by two Colombians who completed their postgraduate studies in France, was established in Santa Rosa in 2007, on the recommendation of the Mayor of Bogotá.
'We knew about the different population groups in this neighborhood and the difficulties were evident, especially in improving social businesses,' said Diego Cárdenas, coordinator of the foundation.
In 2011, after an evaluation in which the community also participated, COMParte was born in order to respond to the lack of community integration and deal with entrepreneurial, educational and cultural issues.
For the business section, a textile garment room was created, as several of the neighborhood’s micro-enterprises are related to clothing. This was made possible by the support of SENA (The National Learning Service Association) and several French organizations, such as La Guilde Européenne Du Raid and Fondation Raja Danièle Marcovici, which donate resources and materials.
'It is a space to promote the businesses that already exist and to train new people who want to work in textiles,' said Cárdenas.
Leila Vidal is one of the people who help out at the center's headquarters, which is located next to the Mother of Divine Love parish church and serves the neighborhood.
She was displaced by FARC rebels 11 years ago from Puerto Rico (a municipality of the Caquetá region, in the country’s south) and moved to the Colombian capital.
'In December of 2005, I received the last of several threats that they (FARC) made to me. They told me that I had to leave because of the social work I did, so I had to leave everything. I came to Bogota to start from scratch,' she said, while acknowledging that the threats against her life came from the FARC, the guerrilla group that only a few months ago signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government.
In the capital, she had several jobs before getting into the textile industry. She took courses, studied design and has now purchased four sewing machines.
At age 47, working as a seamstress has allowed her to support her four children and granddaughter. She has now opened her doors to COMParte, where she teaches 20 eager women to sew.
'I like to collaborate with others, I know what it is like to need help. I bring my knowledge to the students and I hope they are able to take advantage of it,' she said.
The center also conducts training for people to create their own businesses. Leila has taken advantage of this opportunity and dreams of having her own brand.' COMParte helps us integrate as a community, to work for the good of everyone,' she said.
One of her apprentices is 52 years old María Hilda Ortiz. She attends the sewing class every Tuesday, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m, and on Fridays, free practice is available. 'We value what the center does for all of us. They give us opportunities to get ahead,' she said.
Under the brand 'Olingo', the center creates jackets, pajamas, bags and backpacks, which are sold by catalog. The profits obtained are reinvested into the project to generate greater financial stability.
105 people have participated in the entrepreneurship program. 35 small businesses have been started, 50 women have been trained and another 20 are currently receiving classes.
In their educational section, COMParte works with children between the ages of 6 and 14 who are given tutoring, but not in the traditional way. The foundation of these workshops, whatever the subject, is promoting peace. Currently, there are 60 children enrolled and they assist an average of 30 students with home sessions. Some of the students have been named 'peace managers'. The idea is to help their other colleagues and train them so that in the future they will be in charge.
The government of France is closely connected to COMParte. This is largely because the organization Projects Without Borders was started in France and the initial funding was obtained from a university gala.
'Much of the human and economic resources are from France. In the French community there is a very strong awareness around the subject of development and peace in Colombia,” emphasized Cárdenas.
At present, ten people support the center and five of them are French. They either work for the French Civil Service (one form of subsidy from the French Government), or are interns or volunteers.
'We are creating a space of meeting and trust in Santa Rosa. The inhabitants feel safe and can share, which has helped the economic and social integration of the neighborhood,' said Mathilde Bôl, 26, who has been working at the center for nine months.