Half a century of armed conflict has left many Colombians without basic services. This CNN hero provides water, electricity and sanitation to those who need it most

By Laura Klairmont, CNN

Growing up in Barranquilla, Colombia, Jenifer Colpas was largely free from poverty outside her doorstep.

It wasn’t until after college, when she moved to India for a job in information technology, that she appreciated the huge social inequalities people face.

“Something inside of me was like, ‘You have to do something about it,’” said Colpas, which is why she changed her career path.

She returned to Colombia, settled in Cartagena and volunteered with community organizations that helped people living in poverty.

“I felt very saddened to see people living without the most basic things,” she said. “People don’t have clean water, indoor plumbing, electricity.”

She wanted to do more to help bring these essentials to the communities that need them most.

In 2015, with the help of friends, Colpas co-founded Tierra Grata. Today, the association provides access to clean water, solar lights and electricity as well as ecological toilets and showers to remote rural communities across Colombia.

“We didn’t know anything at first, but we had all the determination,” said Colpas.

Colpas, now 31, and her team of other young, like-minded counterparts currently serve 35 communities and their services have helped improve the quality of life for more than 10,000 people.

CNN’s Laura Klairmont spoke with Colpas about her efforts. Below is an edited version of their conversation.

CNN: Who does your organization help?

Jenifer Colpas: The communities where we work are very diverse. You can find indigenous people, farmers, and most of the places where we work now, they are displaced people.

More than 50 years of war have made Colombia the country with the largest number of internally displaced persons in the world. These rural communities were taken over by the FARC and other paramilitary groups. Because of all the years these communities were in a conflict zone, they have been totally forgotten. They have been invisible to the government and to many Colombians.

They are the most difficult to reach and the least likely to have access to basic service. These areas are so remote that there are no roads to get there. Nobody goes there. But we go there to provide access to basic services.

CNN: Why was it especially important for you and your team to put local women in leadership positions to help with projects?

Colpas: We work with women because, for us, it is very important to empower them and to re-signify their role within the community. They will therefore not only be social leaders, but also problem solvers.

Leaders have different roles. The first is that they are our main partners in the community. They are the first contact in case there is something we need to fix. If anything happens with one of the families, they are our main contact. They are the ones who are working on the long term solutions.

They help us organize the logistics before any installation. They help us figure out how to reach out to the community, which is the best way to organize the team to go there and do the setup process. So we train them and share our knowledge.

CNN: What do you bring to these communities on a deeper level?

Colpas: We cover their basic needs so that they can start dreaming. My biggest dream for them is that they can wake up not only to survive, but that they can take one more step and start making their dreams come true.

Their stories, their inner power to move forward even in a very bad situation, through all that they are suffering, is what inspires me. They are very resistant. Every time I speak with them, they really motivate me, inspire me to go further. Because despite all the problems they face, they never give up.

Want to get involved? To verify the Tierra Grata website and see how to help.

To donate to Tierra Grate through GoFundMe, Click here

The-CNN-Wire
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