Today, more than fourteen thousand people, mostly from Venezuela and native Wayuu, live in La Pista, the largest human settlement in Latin America located in a former airport in Maicao, Colombia. Moreover, over the years, people from Lebanon, Syria and Palestine have also arrived, as witnessed by one of the largest mosques in Latin America, which is in Maicao. Unlike other settlements on private lands, La Pista was an abandoned municipal plot.
Little by little, people have invaded the streets of Maicao: they have built huts made of plastic, wood and debris under a sky covered by a tangle of power cables with a boiling sun that can exceed 40 degrees and a wind that carries dust everywhere.
There are many inhabitants of La Pista who live in extreme conditions: large families, even with more than 10 people, who have only one meal a day and live in tiny shacks, amid incessant heat and frequent heavy rains. Furthermore, there is no drinking water, no access to services and the electrical installations are illegal. There are many cases of trafficking victims, including children.
Besides la Pista, there are more than fifty settlements in and around Maicao. Families survive in extremely vulnerable conditions who have chosen La Pista to save themselves and have built their homes on it, but who, if not regularised, could face sudden eviction.
“Some days we eat, some days we don’t,” says Balera, sitting outside his small plastic-covered hut while his grandchildren play around him. “There is no work here, you can’t do anything. Life is hard here.” (The Maicao Colombia Shantytown Runway – The Guardian, 2023).
In 2019, the Corazon sin Fronteras project was born, based directly on the Maicao runway. For the past four years, Kenia Navas, originally from Venezuela, has been running the project with the same name to help children and young people in their studies and by organising several fun activities. The Corazón sin Fronteras project offers a safe environment for boys and girls from 5 to 14 years old. Through the many play, recreational activities and workshops, children are allowed free expression, recognition of self and other, shared play, listening to and respecting others, and intercultural interaction.
In 2022, the inter-congregational project Brothers Maicao was born, where the Marist and Lasallian Brothers, as already started in Lebanon, work together in Maicao to guarantee access to fundamental Human Rights for the migrant population, first and foremost, equal access to quality education for the boys and girls of Maicao.