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Migrants in Colombia Find Kindness and Support in ‘Alliances of Solidarity’

Dayana Reyes, a young woman living in the city of Cali, Colombia was moved by the vulnerability of the internally displaced, migrant, and low-income families she saw in her hometown. In particular, she noticed that many women who had migrated from Venezuela were unaware of their rights as they navigated Colombian government agencies.

“The Venezuelan health care system works in a very different way,” Dayana said. “Imagine being confused in navigating access to health care, especially when you are in an advanced stage of pregnancy.”

To help them, Dayana began sharing resources on how to access health care and other services. Her efforts eventually led her to establish the Fundación Alianzas Solidarias, or Solidarity Alliances Foundation, a community-based organization that provides support and resources to marginalized communities.

But like many grassroots leaders, Dayana faced challenges running the organization. She realized she needed to learn more about how to fundraise, how to organize volunteers, and how to contact local authorities with her questions. She also needed to know how to build partnerships with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

When Dayana learned that USAID’s Abt-led Local Health System Sustainability (LHSS) project was offering capacity strengthening grants to Colombian organizations that work with migrants, she jumped at the opportunity. In July 2022, Alianzas Solidarias won a $12,400 grant from LHSS.

The grants do two things. They provide funds for a local organization to accomplish an LHSS objective. And Abt offers capacity strengthening assistance for the grantee to equip the grantee to receive funding from other sources in the future. Grants are an important part of the strategy for ensuring that health system activities and improvements can be sustained locally after LHSS ends and Abt leaves.

For Alianzas Solidarias, the grant meant Dayana and her colleagues would support LHSS’s work to enroll Venezuelan migrants in Colombia’s national health insurance system. At the same time, the NGO’s staff learned from Abt about governance, fundraising, stakeholder coordination, planning, leadership and management, and relevant laws.

Abt’s capacity-strengthening support enabled Alianzas Solidarias to strengthen its relationship with the Cali Health Secretariat. It also helped Dayana and her staff improve their organizational processes and strengthen their links with other community-based organizations, local and regional government units, other NGOs, and donors.

Alianzas Solidarias supported LHSS objectives by developing a communications strategy and campaign using the voices of migrant leaders and the language of migrant communities. At fairs where Venezuelan migrants could learn about government services available to them, Alianzas Solidarias volunteers helped explain the services and connect people to the right contacts. The organization also created instant messaging groups to inform the broader community about health services and events.

An Alianzas Solidarias volunteer described the difference Abt’s capacity strengthening workshops made. “Before, we were learning as we went along,” the volunteer said. “The LHSS workshops on how to create communication plans helped us create a strategy to spread information about the health system and engage more of the population. A lot of people have identified us as a community resource.”

Between July and November 2022, Dayana and her volunteers provided in-person and telephone guidance on Colombia’s health system to 870 people, 852 of whom enrolled in the national health insurance system. Messages sent out over the organization’s social media platforms received over 13,000 views.

Through its strengthened connections and collaboration with other organizations, Alianzas Solidarias’s communication campaigns and enrollment fairs provided over 5,000 migrants with information on the national health insurance system.

With support from the LHSS grant, Alianzas Solidarias has built trust with local migrant and host communities, as well as with local and regional government health officials. In addition to connecting migrants to the national health insurance system, Alianzas Solidarias is now positioned to connect migrant communities with health policy decision makers. That can help ensure that policies reflect migrant voices and migrants’ need for access to quality health services.

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