Informality and Unpredictability

“There are 12 million informal workers in Colombia” states the title of a recent Portafolio article. Strangely, the main body of the article is a lengthy discussion of improvements in employment-related statistics in 2011. It then finishes with a brief overview of the efforts currently being made by the Colombian government to tackle issues confronted by informal workers, whom it defines as “those who do not qualify for health or pension programs”.

Yet there are many more characteristics of informal work that should be taken into account when considering possible labour-related reforms. Having just read ‘Portfolios of the Poor’, one particular characteristic is fresh in my mind: the unpredictable nature of informal work and the income it renders (or not). Continue reading

The Education Gap

Colombia demonstrated many positive trends in 2011. Levels of unemployment decreased, exports increased, and other socioeconomic indicators improved. Though this could be interpreted as a signal that inequality has diminished and that social stratification has lessened, other indicators show that the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged has, in fact, widened.

One important factor in this gap is education. In 2011, levels of education were more directly related to salary and labour benefits than ever before in Colombia. Continue reading

Please support ALMA!

Though it is slightly outside of the usual scope of this blog, I want to take advantage of this opportunity to encourage you to support the non-profit I founded and now direct, Fundación ALMA. We support music and arts education programs for disadvantaged children in Latin America and the Caribbean, and our first music program in Colombia started last week!

This program incorporates informal percussion instruments (think ‘Stomp’), folkloric percussion, and choral practice and will take place over the course of five weeks, with a final concert presented by the children in January. The motivation behind it is that the children (between 9 and 12 years old) experience the benefits of music education – creative thinking, team-building and leadership activities, higher levels of self esteem and others – and are prevented from passing their vacation time in activities that may be detrimental to their development. Continue reading

From Taganga to Thailand

As I’ve mentioned previously, earlier this year I spent time conducting research in the area around Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. On a day off from research, I visited the fishing village of Taganga. Nestled between the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, it provided a great day of beach relaxation and a brief insight into the lives of local fisherman, who were coming and going in their wooden motorboats all day. I did not, however, get to experience what Taganga is becoming better known for with international tourists: its nightlife. This article from El Tiempo therefore caught my eye, and I was saddened to learn that with increased tourism has come an increase in the sexual exploitation of children in the village. Continue reading

Music & Politics in Cuba..

It just so happened that this morning, my first publication was released. Although it’s about music and politics in Cuba during the ‘Machadato’ of the 1920s- 1930s, and so falls outside the scope of this blog, I thought I’d share it here for those interested. The new online magazine is also very much worth knowing about – it’s called ‘Shorts. Sounds. Social.’ and explores the role of music and the arts in social change – a topic very close to my heart! Here’s part of the first paragraph of my article, and a link to the site to read more:

Popular culture and politics are sometimes seen to operate in very similar spheres of influence, in some countries more often than in others. Current art forms can play an important role in government strategy as a vehicle for the dissemination of information, and politics and popular artistic practices often interact with each other and reflect or criticise each other’s ideas. Music as an art form within popular culture often represents a national or ethnic identity or addresses issues that appear in the contemporary national consciousness. As such, it can be used by governing groups as a vehicle to spread propaganda, or in other instances may come under the blanket of media censorship and banning of popular art forms.