On my first night in Cartagena I met my guide and translator Juan Carlos Narvarez who turned out to be wonderful. We didn´t recognise each other at first as I had only spoken to him on the phone and seen his photo on facebook and visa versa but optimistically shouted his name and a deep friendly voice answered.
He took me for dinner at Crepes and Waffles where I explained my documentary to him. I was very impressed with his English, despite him explaining that he had stopped studying years ago and at 37 he had lots of energy and enthusiasm to help me and would always find a word to express his meaning even if it wasn´t the first one he was looking for.
We agreed to meet the next morning at 8am sharp at my hostel where we would take the hour long bus ride to Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar, the foundation I have been in contact with in Cartagena. I had arranged a meeting with the Director of the teenage pregnancy programme Leon who had so far been very helpful and replied to my emails straight away.
The next morning we took the long bus journey out of the city to Ternera, which was in complete contrast to the beautiful old town I was staying in. Days later Juan admitted that he had “exposed me” slightly here and for the first time I was seeing Colombian poverty in it´s nakedness.
We arrived to the foundation exactly on time for our 9:30 meeting with Leon. This cuddly faced man met us and led us into his very refreshingly air conditioned office where he told us the story of how Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar foundation was set up. It was a very sad tale.
Juan Felipe was a four year old baby boy who tragically fell from a builing and his death motivated the Gomez Escobar family and his mother to set up a foundation to help save the lives of thousands of other children in need. The family witnessed the lack of resources in hospitals and clinics around the city and hoped to serve impoverished communities like the ones on its doorstep and to improve the quality and access of maternal health care.
Leon himself was responsible for the second objective of the foundation´s intervention model, to train adolescent mothers through the Teenage Mothers Program and the Teenage Mothers Extension Program. And I couldn´t have pictured anyone better for the job than this incredibly empathetic, generous and helpful man.
He explained to us the statistics that helped support the foundations research and told us that in order for the foundation to design a socially committed organization, it needed to study extensively statistics on infant mortality and teenage pregnancy, and to correlate these statistics with global policies such as the Millennium Development Goals. This is when I knew that Leon and I were a perfect match. Previous research I had conducted for my documentary, linked inextricably to what Leon was talking about. The UN Millenium Declaration resolution had eight goals; number three was gender equality along with number five- decreasing infant mortality and number six- increasing maternal health. Leon was my match made in heaven.
After a very long and intriguing interview with Leon, he kindly gave us a tour of the foundation and it was now that I was incredibly impressed with the work they were doing there. There were teenage mothers and pregnant women wondering around all over the place with their baby blue Juan Felipe shirts on and there was a sense of hope and positivity amongst the impecibly clean grounds.
The sun shone through the windows into a room where Leon explained the young women took sex education classes, self esteem classes, sewing lessons, cooking lessons, beauty courses and IT courses. I was so impressed I had to ask how all of this was funded. Leon immediately led us to the entrance of the grounds where there were plaques with lists and lists of companies that sponsored Juan Felipe foundation including well known Colombian banks such as Davivenda, and oil companies such as Repsol and hundreds of others. I was astounded by the amount of support they were getting and suddenly Juan Felipe foundation stood out to me like a sparkling diamond in the rough that was proactively helping the women around it back into education and to a prosperous and hopeful future. I had a moment of clarity. This was what I had come to Colombia for.
A very sad tale that led to some incredibly rewarding and successful work on the part of Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar´s foundation and the work of it´s very friendly and committed staff.
Leon and his colleague then arranged for me to talk to one teenage girl Danis who was 8 months pregnant and another teenage mother Jennifer who had a baby girl.
Both of who had come from completely different backgrounds. Danis was sad that her partner had not stayed by her when he´d found out that she had got pregnant but instead left and decided to have no responsibility for the coming child, leaving Danis nervous about her future and the birth of her baby girl, until the foundation came along.
Jennifer´s story is somewhat different. This strong young woman has a boyfriend and family who is supporting her but explained she came to the foundation when she was depressed about her situation. She is only 17 years old and was shocked when she became pregnant despite being very casual about using protection of which she admits she rarely used with her boyfriend when they had sex. She revealed to us that her father was absent when she was growing up and took the path of drugs. I asked if she regretted getting pregnant at such a young age and she said she did at the time but now she has her little baby girl she doesn´t regret it and interestingly said that her little baby girl now fills a void that her father couldn´t.