A half-century of armed conflict left many Colombians without basic services. This CNN Hero is delivering water, power and sanitation to those who need it most

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

“Something inside me (was) saying, ‘You need to do something about it,'” Colpas said, 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 that people were living without the most basic things,” she said. “People don’t have clean drinking water, indoor plumbing, electricity.”

She wanted to do more to help bring these essentials to communities most in need.

In 2015, with the help of friends, Colpas co-founded Tierra Grata. Today, the non-profit provides access to clean water, solar-powered lights and electricity along with eco-toilets and showers for remote rural communities throughout Colombia.
CNN Hero Jenifer Colpas

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

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 are working, they are very diverse. You can find indigenous people, farmers, and most of the places where we are working now, they are a displaced population.

Over 50 years of war have made Colombia the country with the highest internal-displaced population in the world. These rural communities were taken over by the FARC and other paramilitary groups. Because of all the years that those communities were in a conflict zone, they were totally forgotten. They have been invisible to the government and for a lot of Colombians.

They are the hardest to reach and less likely to have access to any basic service. These areas are so remote that there are no roads to get there. Nobody goes there. But we are going 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 assist with the projects?

Colpas: We are working with women because, for us, it’s very important to empower them and to re-signify their role inside the community. So they will be not just social leaders, but also problem-solvers.

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

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

CNN: What are you providing these communities on a deeper level?

Colpas: We’re covering their basic needs so they can start dreaming. My biggest dream for them is that they can wake up not just to survive, but they can make a step further and start fulfilling their dreams.

Their stories, their inner power to go ahead even in a really bad situation, through all they are suffering, is what inspires me. They are very resilient. Every time I talk 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? Check out the Tierra Grata website and see how to help.
To donate to Tierra Grate via GoFundMe, click here

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