Inner City Neighborhoods USA, Colombia

Prologue:

This is why I decided to set up my own blog page.

A very long article, but it is written from the very depths of my heart.  I hope and pray you will find time to read it.

(I am the world’s worst editor.  Please forgive any errors I have not corrected)

A heartfelt concern from over 50 years ago to now.

I feel very passionate about the many problems in our inner-city neighborhoods.  I truly think there are solutions.  These  are  difficult, complicated, time and labor consuming, expensive, but absolutely necessary .    It is tragic the brain power lost to our nation due to these inner-city problems.  Too many young people never have a chance.

The mother of Dr. Ben Carson  is admirable and exceptional.  Without her and her perseverance, this nation would have lost an exceptional neurosurgeon and a high-quality engineer.  How many exceptional people have been lost because too  many parents simply do not know how to help their children.  “They would if they could.!”

In Cali ,Colombia, I first became very aware of the loss of brain power from lack of opportunity.  We had a servant of many years who had very little schooling.  Yet, she was innately intelligent.  I taught her to cook and she became a better cook than I.  Because she concentrated and  listened, she learned enough English to be able,  when we were chatting in English,  to  interrupt and tell us in Spanish how and why we were wrong.

I am certainly aware that my suggestions are based on my 20-year involvement in a small neighborhood in the foot hills of the Andes in Cali, Colombia, South America. 

The multi-pronged problems in the US are overwhelming in comparison.   I learned this when I returned to the U.S. and volunteered in an inner-city neighborhood.

 I have written letter after letter over the years to government officials in the US on this subject with no meaningful answers.

Since returning to the States I have watched with dismay as during each election campaign the politicians on both sides of the aisle make promises.  Sadly when the election is over little is done.    

Poverty, no matter where, has certain destructive elements in common:     hunger…health …housing…education…job opportunities,…crime…drug abuse…broken families.

Why do not more people, especially our elected officials, try to get to the core of these huge problems??  To understand what is involved and look for solutions; not just more Hand Outs.     Hand-Outs destroy in time a person’s dignity, self-confidence, .  A Hand Up will in time restore dignity,  self-confidence,  self-esteem and pride. I saw this to be true in the small neighborhood in Cali, Colombia, in which I was  involved for 20 years. 

I humbly offer the following suggestions.  These are not only my thoughts but those of many with whom I have spoken on this subject since coming back to the USA.

  1. Good schools with dedicated teachers are basic, indispensable.  departments  This should include care before school and after school for working mothers.  Qualified teachers would be in charge to help children do their homework while  still at school 
  2. Give the teachers the tools they need such as number of students to a class limited , at the very most to 25 students.  Allocate money for good salaries for teachers before all else.  Then insist they do the job correctly, lovingly and with care.   
  3. Serving a breakfast, such as a high-protein drink or sandwich would help the hungry children to concentrate better.  
  4. Schools in these area have to be aware of illness, learning disabilities, abuse, and other similar problems, and have staff to work with these special children.     When I volunteered in the US to help teach children to read, too many children were unable to sit still long enough to listen for more than a few pages. Volunteers were given no instructions how to best handle this situation.
  5.  Health is a big part in redoing the inner city area.  Walk-in clinics are needed, staffed with competent people to diagnose and treat minor illnesses and send the seriously ill or seriously injured to a hospital, via 911.    Ideally this clinic would include not only an MD and office secretary, but a dentist.  Perhaps a nurse practitioner every day and then a doctor and a dentist on specific days.  Offer drug abuse education – not only how to get off and how to never start.
  6. Educate the parents:                                                                                                               A. Teach parents how they can help their children at home with homework. B. Give parents lessons on nutrition, preparing inexpensive foods 

    C. Give parents lessons on birth control, family responsibility.  Perhaps the            neighborhood Church can help with this.

      D. Teach parents how to keep a clean house, family hygiene.

        E. Program for teachers and parents to work together for good of children.

        F. Find a trade that single mothers can do at home to add to family income.

  7. Open a trade school in the area to teach skills:  plumbing, welding, electrician, painting, construction.  Be sure they are taught a trade which is hiring in the area. Help students find jobs after finishing school
  8.  Convince small or large businesses to move their business to this area to provide employment.   
  9. . Encourage family and community gardens.10.
  10.  Set up small grocery stores in each neighborhood, with prices controlled. Allow residents to purchase food, both perishable and non-perishable, at super market prices.
  11.   Make landlords provide adequate, safe, and healthy housing, with needed appliances and bug-free.  From the stories told by children at US school where I volunteered, housing is a huge problem.  12.
  12.   Each neighborhood needs a community center  where children and  families can participate in sports programs, lessons for parents such as cooking or sewing, games such as chess. A YMCA, YWCA or something similar.  Many years ago my husband along with Colgate Palmolive built the first public sports park in Cali.  This was a great success in changing the habits of the neighborhood for the better;  thus Colgate built two more sports parks in other inner-city neighborhoods and then a Colombian agency took over and built similar parks in others parts of Colombia.
  13. Police security obviously would be difficult, especially at first, but is always essential 

     

    My experience working in an inner-city neighborhood in Cali, Colombia  — Trinity School

     

          In 1966, when I was living in Cali, Colombia, South America, another mother and I would watch each day as our well-fed, well-dressed children got on their school bus.    At the same time children from an extremely poor neighborhood, called Bella Vista,  which abutted our neighborhood , Arboleda,  would start their daily trek down the mountain.   They would stop to go through garbage pails for  whatever food they could find.  When they reached our house, they would watch with sad eyes our children got on the school bus.  These children, some as young as four, were on their way to the center of town to spend their day begging.  It was heartbreaking.  We  decided we had to do something .

         There was no school in the area, nor medical facilities,  not even a church.  On the Cali city map, it was designated as a black zone, a neighborhood of squatters.

        Trinity Episcopal Church was a few blocks away from the beginning of Bella Vista.  We went there to seek other church members to join us and make a plan of how best we could truly make a difference in this very poor area, .

       We realized that initially the main group we wanted to help was the children.   We met with the board of Trinity Church for  permission to use the building during the week for a school.  A decision was made to start with first grade only.  The husband of a member, Carlos Salgado, volunteered to pay the teachers’ salaries and continued to do so as we added more grades.     

         But before starting the school, we realized we had to know BellaVista and its inhabitants, to understand their wants and needs.  We enlisted volunteers, who were fluent in Spanish, from the American school in Cali to  help us visit each home.  Security precautions were taken.  Students went in groups of two or three with a standard questionnaire.  We were delighted with the positive response from the parents. We had been concerned that perhaps they would prefer their children spend their days begging to help the family.

         We then invited the parents to come to the church for an orientation meeting in order to carefully explain what we were planning and what we hopped to accomplish.  This was such a success that from then on we held various parents’ meetings to discuss matters as they come up.

     At one meeting we discussed health problems and hygiene.  On our visits to Bella Vista we found housing to be deficient.  One family lived-in a lean-to and one in an abandoned house.  Most had dirt floors and water had to be carried from a well.  We installed showers at the school for the children. They had to bathe and wash hair once a week.  Colgate supplied us with toothpaste  and toothbrushes for daily dental hygiene.

          Another meeting had to do with family gardens during which we encouraged parents to take  part.  An agriculture expert from the US AID  brought seeds and taught elements of gardening.  This later involved giving them seeds for sweet corn, which, once grown,  the parents would bring to the church on Sundays to sell.  

          A cooking meeting taught the ladies how to prepare inexpensive but nutritious food.

          Family responsibility both male and female was discussed.  We always brought in experts when necessary.  In the case of birth control,  we invited our Colombian female friends to handle the meeting, and to encourage the men to support their wives.

         Children had dental problems and we arranged for them to be taken to a dentist.  Later on, a wonderful woman dentist, Dr. Maria Helena Feldsberg,  volunteered to come to the school one day a week to take care of these dental problem.

         We discovered two other basic health problems which we treated, with medical advice, at the  school. One was worms, and the other was lice.  Our teachers were outstanding in many ways, especially in the handling of the worm medicine and the lice.  On weekends, the Episcopal priest, his wife, or one of the board members would administer the annual deworming medicine.  Two particularly active priests were Fathers George Estes, and Canon Richard Hardman and their families. 

       I do not know how the Macrame purse project began.  I remember the leader was a marvelous woman who lived across from the school.  This became a good income for the women.  They became expert and wonderfully creative.  Through a  contact in the US we exported all the bags they could make, with all the profits going to the women who made the purses.  

     

         September, 1966, Trinity School was open for  business.  We used sheets of thick plywood with wooden horses for support as  desks for each grade.  Dottie Uribe was our in-house, college-graduate dietician.   Eggs and oranges were donated for breakfast.   Wish I could remember the generous people who gave these.   We also had guava bars which were a favorite of everyone, sweet and highly nutritious.!  We had a kitchen at the church and the caretakers prepared the eggs each morning.  

         Each year as planned, we added a grade.  At the end of the first year, we had a surplus from donations given.  My husband became our bank for the next two years, paying us the going interest rate.  We received generous donations from many sources:  Colombian individuals, Colombian and US  businesses, individuals from the international community.  Thus, we were able at the end of our third year of operation to form a Foundation to insure the school’s future.  We were very careful to document every “centavo” we spent.  This was important to donors; also to the Colombian government when we applied for certification, which allowed our top students to go on to secondary school.    

          Trinity School is still functioning better than ever today.  From the beginning, we hired only highly recommended teachers and paid above the going rate. From our original dedicated teachers of 5 in 1966, the last two resigned in 2015.  

          Children of the original volunteer group  grew up.  They took over where their parents left off  and did more than we had ever visioned . Today, Carla Uribe and her husband Manuel Ravassa keep the school going with a board of directors.  Manuel’s family donated land for a Trinity School building in Bella Vista.  My son, Scott Jeffery Jr., had returned to Colombia at that time and was involved along with the Uribe Ravassa family and many others in the building of a beautiful new school.  “As the twig is bent, the tree will grow.”  Trinity School has come a long way from the basement of Trinity Church.  The school today even has a computer room, and small symphony.   

           We started with the children, but we really did change the neighborhood 

       We have a nice list of success stories  about our graduates.    Trinity School is still supported by the same groups who supported the school from the beginning, with many additional donors.   Individuals who once lived in Cali still send donations.

         With many dedicated people, paid staff and volunteers, IT CAN BE DONE

    TOM COUSINS – IT CAN BE AND HAS BEEN DONE IN THE USA!  READ HIS STORY.

    Thomas Grady Cousins (born December 1931) is a real estate developer, sports supporter and philanthropist, primarily based in Atlanta, Georgia.  Cousins was a leader in shaping the skyline in Atlanta, and he purchased and brought the Atlanta Hawks to the city.

Cousins is also known for his community redevelopment and his desire to help to           help local neighborhoods.  In 1995 he purchased the historic East Lake Golf Club with the intent that its profits would go back to help the local East Lake community.  Cousin’s model of community redeveloment is now being implemented in other cities in the US through a program he founded to replicate the East Lake model called Purpose Built Communities.  

Cousins graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1952 from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia.  During the 1960s Tom Cousins moved from real-estate to property development and sports franchising

He developed buildings such as the CNN Center, the Omni Coliseum, 191 Peachtree Tower, the Pinnacle Building in Buckhead and the first phase of the Georgia World Congress Center.  He and competitor John Portman completely remade downtown Atlanta in the 1960 and 1980s

He also helped revive and redesign the  home course of golfing great Bobby Jones, East Lake Golf Club, which had fallen into disrepair.  He hired Rees Jones (no relation to Bobby) to redesign the golf course, which has since hosted the PGA Tour’s  Tour Championship several times and become one of the leading golf courses in Atlanta. Cousins and his family financed the project to the tune of about $25 million.  This was part of a greater revitalization of the East Lake Meadows housing project in the East Lake neighborhood around the golf course.

In 1995 Cousins  founded the East Lake Foundation in Atlanta.  The Foundation partnered with the Atlanta Housing Authority to build a mixed-income apartment block in a local low-income area with a high crime rate and put additional resources into education options and job provisions for the tenants.  Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. noted that these changes saw “violent crime down 96 percent” and “78 percent of kids passing the state math test when only 5 percent could do it before.”

Based on the results of the East Lake Foundation project, Cousins, with partner Warren Buffet, created Purpose Built Communities, an organization focused on supporting other communities working to replicate the successful community development seen in Atlanta.  Purpose Build Communities currently partners with 13 other communities in the United States.

Epilogue:

I continue to ask myself why do very successful families, among the white, the black, and the Latino people not step up as Tom Cousins did and attack this problem in their own inner-city areas??  I particularly mention the black community, since a high percentage of black people are trapped in these inner-city neighborhoods.

Why do not our politicians stop with the Hand Outs,  and truly  work to improve these crime ridden areas.  The statistics about murders in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, just to mention a few cities are heartbreaking!!

I hope, dear reader, you are still with me.  I hope you will share this with others who might carry this message along to our politicians and perhaps, just perhaps, more will be done to help the impoverished utilize their God-given talents to better themselves and those around them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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