Quibdó is the capital of Chocó, Colombia’s largest Pacific-Coast department that is too often neglected by Colombia’s central government when it comes to investment, security and development. Though poverty-stricken and lacking development, Chocó is known for its natural beauty, diverse population of indigenous Amerindians and Afro-Colombians, and mineral deposits of copper and gold.
Few blacks have positions of influence. How many blacks are there in the best universities? And in the best positions of the largest companies, how many are there? The lawyers, the doctors, the black engineers, how many are there?
Choco is not known for oil or gas but that did not stop US petroleum supergiant Chevron Texaco (NYSE: CVX) from pitching in to support women and students by backing the “Casa de Mujeres Empoderadas” (House of Empowered Women) and donating 100 bicycles to be used by students with long commutes to school.
In the government operated House of Empowered Women, training, guidance and counseling will be provided to women on issues of entrepreneurship, employability, science and technology, sources of funding, legal advice, psychosocial support, and other attention tailored to the main needs of the population.
“In Colombia there is progress when it comes to opportunities for minorities, but more work can be done. Few blacks have positions of influence. How many blacks are there in the best universities? And in the best positions of the largest companies, how many are there? The lawyers, the doctors, the black engineers, how many are there?” challenged Marc Payne, Chevron’s President and Country Manager for Colombia.
“Soccer and music cannot be the only dreams that black children have—I don’t say this to criticize—it’s a very sensitive time here in Colombia. But, we have a great opportunity to take advantage of the underutilized human resources here in Afro-Colombians and indigenous people to improve Colombia,” added Payne.
Colombia’s Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez was present and added statements emphasizing the importance of supporting the country’s women and ensuring their access to equal opportunity. “We are at the service of all Chocoanos and Chocoanas, to ensure that women help us quickly seize the opportunities of this department. It is an effort we are making for the girls of Chocó,”she said.
“It is important that we do not have discriminatory attitudes against girls and in favor of boys. We as mothers also have a responsibility to end this machismo (misogyny) that has done us so much harm,” added the vice president.
“In Chevron, during more than 40 years of operations in La Guajira, we have worked with the Wayuu indigenous communities and other local communities producing energy, improving the health and education infrastructure, strengthening the capacities of the communities, and working to address the community needs, especially with women and their families,” said Payne. “But during these 40 years, my company has never invested in social projects in Choco. Not because the company wasn’t interested but because we had no awareness. I am black, I am a president of a large multinational company here in Colombia…I am here to support these efforts.”
“My current position is the result of study and dedication and work towards a goal, but it is also the result of the work of many men and women who have struggled to create spaces of inclusion and diversity as we do in Chevron. But we need to do much more. We need to recognize that here in Choco, we have a huge human resource: young people with a lot of talent, with a lot of ambition, with a lot of intellect, but without the opportunity that young people have in other places.”
Also on hand for the inauguration was the governor of Chocó, Johany Carlos Palacios, and the elected governor, Ariel Palacios Calderón. From the mayors office, mayor elect Mary del Carmen Urrutia, and the outgoing mayor of Quibdó, Martín Sánchez Valencia were all in attendance.
Chevron’s Payne had an additional surprise in store for students in Quibdó: “At this time, in Chevron, more than supporting the women’s house, we are going to do one more small thing. To help young people in Quibdó achieve their academic goals, we have partnered with Colombian soft drink company Postobón and World Bicycle Relief to donate 100 bicycles, as you can see in these pictures. These bicycles will help reduce dropout rates and improve academic performance for beneficiary children. I am very excited to return here again in January to deliver these 100 bicycles for children who need them. Change begins with health that this women’s home can support, and with the education of our youth.”
Colombia’s Vice President Ramirez thanked the outgoing authorities for their commitment and work for the women of the department and called on the new dignitaries to form joint cabinets and take concrete steps to prioritize gender equity issues in their development plans.
With this newest women’s center in Quibdó, there are three Houses inaugurated by the government of President Iván Duque. Pasto (Nariño Department) and Cúcuta (Norte de Santander) are already in operation. Before the end of 2019, two more houses will be inaugurated in Riohacha (La Guajira) and Buga (Valle de Cauca).