1990
Creation of the Presidential Office for Medellín

The office aimed to reconstruct the social fabric affected by terrorism and violence. Photograph: El Mundo.

The Arriba mi Barrio program gave value to the daily life of Medellín’s residents. Photograph: El Mundo.

María Emma Mejía walked through the most vulnerable neighborhoods to develop plans that would improve their quality of life. Photograph: El Colombiano.

The Presidential Office for Medellín was created to give young people from Medellín opportunities to progress; a forgotten population group that grew up in the midst of violence and drug trafficking.

In 1990, the government of President César Gaviria Trujillo created the Presidential Office for Medellín and the Metropolitan Area. The aim was to give opportunities to its residents, especially young people, who lived in socially vulnerable areas in the northeastern and northwestern districts, where being hired killers and working for the drug cartels were easier and more feasible ways of earning a living.

The Presidential Council focused on creating parks, sports fields, community centers and social programs that reestablished citizenship and unity in areas where people only used to talk about Pablo Escobar, violence, easy money and car bombs.

Empowerment

María Emma Mejía, secretary of César Gaviria’s campaign, was in charge of leading this program. When they entrusted her with this mission, there was skepticism, because for many, the fact that she was from an upper class family cast serious doubts on her ability to work in this troubled area.

However, she was driven by her talent and in the three years she was leading it, she walked through the neighborhoods, obtained funding from the government and private companies, and coordinated foreign donations. She raised more than USD 30 million and started education, employment, health and urban development programs, giving a new horizon to more than 1,700 young people.

One of the most famous projects was the Arriba mi Barrio television program of Corporación Región, which highlighted the community leaders, youth groups, cultural collectives and other people who worked relentlessly in hostile environments.

The creation of music projects was an investment to make visible and promote hidden talents in the neighborhoods and to get children and young people to focus on building a new life.

When we went to film in many of these neighborhoods, they asked us: ‘Who was killed?’ Cameras only used to go up there because of killings. Arriba mi Barrio went to find people’s real life stories.” Jorge Melguizo, creator of Arriba mi Barrio.

The Presidential Office for Medellín wanted to show young people that there was more to life than being hired killers and criminals, to wipe out the stigma that fell on them simply for living in a city where bullets, killings and bombs were commonplace.

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