The conflict in Colombia ran for 50 years. It took place between the military, para military, rebels, guerrillas, narco-traffickers and crime syndicates.
People in the rural areas were often caught in the middle. They lost their livestock or goods to the belligerents. If suspected by one group of aiding another, their lives were in peril. Thousands fled the rural areas and moved to the urban areas where they swelled the slums surrounding each of the provincial cities. They were the “desplazados”, the displaced ones.
Credit unions had grown in these cities, at one time formed by early residents trying to save together for a better life. Now their members, their neighborhoods and their credit unions were more prosperous. They returned to their mandate, to serve their community. The credit unions sent staff circulating into the slum areas to contact the recent arrivals. They would help the displaced ones begin by erecting a corrugated tin shelter, replace it with a loan for cement walls, finance purchase of a machine to make goods to sell such as shoes or sandals, or add another room so that the family does not sleep in the same room with cooking smoke or production glue fumes.
In the rural areas, credit unions continued to serve the rural areas where other non–community
based financial institutions feared to go. Staff circulated to the working people in their homes and workplaces providing services, first with pen and paper, then with PDAs and today with tablets. Communities watched over the credit union staff and took responsibility for safely transiting them from one point to another.
With peace finally established, local economies began to flourish again, commerce opened up, farmers increased their production and cottage industries reappeared. As members remembered the credit unions’ support to them during the period of conflict, they turned to their credit unions to ask them to finance their fledgling but growing businesses.
Now the credit unions are asked to take on another challenge. With the turmoil and conflict in neighboring Venezuela, Colombia closed the border with Venezuela. Border town commercial and trade activities were disrupted. Tens of thousands of Colombians were deported from Venezuala and settled in the border communities. With your support we were able to work with Banca de las Oportunidades to expand credit union services to areas on the border areas to stabilize those local communities and provide new livelihood financing and financial education services to the affected populations.
Bad things happen. When they do, credit unions step in.
Thank you for your support in making this possible.
President & Chief Executive Officer
World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU)