My classrooms are filled with women

By Paul LaMancusa Jr.
July 14, 2017

Pass through any coastal pueblo in Colombia at the brink of dawn and you will see woman sweeping porches, raking rubbish and generally straightening up the house before another scorching day.

Not long after seeing the kids off to school, lunch preparation gets underway mixed in with the occasional batch of laundry or general chores. After school, much of the rest of the day is catering to their children’s, grandchildren’s, or other kids' immediate needs. It took me little time to realize women are the cornerstones of family life.

It is not by chance that our classrooms/”charlas” are filled with women and especially single mothers. Our Community Economic Development program focuses on the women of coastal Colombia because there is a correlation of increased women’s income and investment of child well-being (FHI 360, 2015). A woman’s attention to maintaining a good home and decent family is a paramount consideration when developing a strategy to combat poverty in our Colombian context. Our approach is three-pronged with separate but relating objectives carried out with our in-country partner SENA. They revolve around 1) financial literacy; 2) entrepreneurship; and 3) establishment of savings and loans groups.

While the above are the “how”, the “what” involves capital and asset accumulation by families, which are the initial steps to effectively combat poverty (Karlan, 2009). That is to say that if successful, our labor will result in increased investment in the home and family life of those whom we work with. This may take the form of saving enough pesos to invest in a water tank that provides consistent running water for a home, or may be applying for a microloan to start a small business serving arepas and empanadas. Such are hopeful and realistic outcomes our initiatives. Now, finer details and best practices of CED Colombia are evolving with each episode of our initial cohort but the program strategy remains clear and feasible.

Women’s observed authority of what is considered “home life” is cultural and not at all unique to Colombia. This is no secret. I speak to other Peace Corps Volunteers who report the same in their developing countries, though; its stark and sudden impact on my personal and professional development was eye opening and will surely be long lasting.

While our pilot CED program continues to take root and form, there is no doubt that our focus on youth and women will remain a staple of our program strategy and continue to make up what has become my personal Peace Corps experience. My students’ commitment to learn is drawn from a desire to provide more to their family, a theme that runs throughout Colombia and Latin America in general. As grassroots volunteers, we will keep this in mind in our day-to-day and hope that high-level objectives and strategy fall in line. Throughout the remainder of my two-year service, I am confident that my classrooms will continue to be filled with motivated women. 

- FHI 360 (2015) "Savings Groups and their Role in Child Wellbeing: A Primer for Donors"

- Karlan, D. and Morduch, J. (2009) “Access to Finance” Handbook of Development Economics Vol. 5, Chapter 2.

Paul LaMancusa