Women in pink gown holding packet of paper and smiling at camera
Rosalia Florez Palmer at the USAID graduation ceremony on May 10, 2024. | Photo Credit: Walter Consuegra for Tetra Tech

USAID Trains Indigenous Youth for Colombia’s Clean Energy Economy: An Interview with Rosalía Florez Palmar

By Janice M. Laurente

USAID is committed to supporting Colombia’s inclusive transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy in which Indigenous Peoples and local communities, women, and youth can participate in, benefit from, and lead the country’s clean energy future.

Through the Scaling Up Renewable Energy (SURE) program, USAID partnered with the Government of Colombia and the national vocational training agency Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (SENA) to create a workforce training program tailored to meet the needs of Indigenous communities and renewable energy companies in northeast Colombia’s La Guajira region, which will be the site of new wind farms. The two-year solar photovoltaic (PV) installation and maintenance certification program consists of an academic portion and practical training through an internship at a solar system installation company. In June 2024, trainees will complete the program and enter the job market as certified technicians or become entrepreneurs.

SURE interviewed trainees on November 11, 2022, and recently caught up with Rosalía Florez Palmar as she prepares to graduate from the program. Rosalía, age 25, is from Clan Pushaina, an Indigenous Wayuu family, in the Guajira region’s Nuevo Amanecer community.

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Profile photos of Rosalia Florez Palmer in pink gown and head wrap
Rosalia Florez Palmer at the USAID graduation ceremony on May 10, 2024.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

What can you tell us about your community?

The Indigenous Wayuu families have been characterized since our origins for being nomadic until we found a territory with all the conditions for our existence and survival. Hence, they settled in the peninsula of the Colombian and Venezuelan Guajira. This was the case of the family belonging to the Clan Pushaina, which in 1984 settled in a geographical space located in the center of the region. This family exodus came mostly from the high Guajira, in search of safeguarding their animals, such as sheep, goats, horses, and donkeys.

This ethnic group lived in the desert and lacked vegetation to obtain the grass necessary to feed their animals. The ancestral name of the territory is Apana pui because there is a stream in this community that bears this name. This territory was wide at that time. It was like paradise, there was a great diversity of fauna and flora of native species; there was a great diversity of timber trees, medicinal plants, and wild fruits. Today the sun and the wind can be one of our allies to revive the paradise that disappears every day.
 

How do you envision applying the skills and expertise you've acquired through the USAID training program to contribute to renewable energy projects in La Guajira and beyond?

I imagine myself being an empowered woman in renewable energies and being able to share all my knowledge so that it can be multiplied, applying projects for the benefit of our communities and focused on their sustainability. On the other hand, I also imagine having a company that is focused on energy solutions throughout Colombia and that provides more employment opportunities for all Indigenous women.
 

What was your experience with the USAID training program?

This was one of the most important experiences of my life because it was a great opportunity that came to my community. I was able to interact and share with 37 young people of my Wayuu culture from 12 communities, young people with different purposes but with the same goal.

What motivated me to enroll was that my community is a direct area of influence of the transmission lines of a wind farm, where I was totally unaware of this, but which was related to renewable energy.
 

How has this program prepared you for the challenges and opportunities in Colombia's clean energy economy, especially in the context of La Guajira?

This program has prepared me completely because it orients us to the participation and intervention of projects focused on renewable energies, and their transition within our territories [and] being participants of these processes.
 

What were some of the most valuable skills and knowledge you gained during the academic portion of the program?

Within this program, I managed to develop different skills, taking into account the knowledge that has allowed me to advance and face my fears. Today I have critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration, in front of situations or problems. On the other hand, the most valuable knowledge that I acquired was all that was transmitted during the first phase which was focused on territorial relations and practices in renewable energy. I focus on this phase because it was the one that allowed me to have a broader perception of my territory and its energy wealth, which was totally unknown to me and was what motivated me even more to fall in love with renewable energy.
 

Could you tell us about your internship experience at the solar systems installation company? What were your responsibilities and achievements during this practical training?

When I started my internship, I had clear expectations and I wanted to continue learning. At times I was afraid because I had never been to a city as big as Barranquilla, taking with me my essence as a Wayuu woman, but today I thank God and the people from human resources from Esco Energy for giving me their support at all times.

On the other hand, when we were assigned the responsibilities, which was to make wiring boards: I can say this assignment was easy, because I related it to my work as a Wayuu woman. It was like weaving the Wayuu bags, everything had its sequence and logic to reach the culminating goal. I was very happy because I knew it was a great benefit for my Wayuu brothers and sisters.

Afterwards, we supported professionals of the electrical services company Aire by installing internal networks in different houses. I felt very happy to see the happiness and gratitude of all those people where we implemented this project.

The greatest achievement is to be able to have successfully completed and knowing that I gave the best of me. Today there are many people happy to have light in their homes for the first time and that these wiring and installations have been made by a group of Wayuu women.
 

As an Indigenous youth, how do you see yourself playing a role in addressing the climate crisis and promoting sustainable development in your community?

As a young Indigenous person, I see myself with the responsibility to guide all members of my community in the proper use of waste through lectures, training, and preparation from childhood to grow up with a sense of belonging to our environment. [Also, looking] for ways to implement mini projects for the use of waste generated by the community, and that is a benefit to the whole community.

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What are some of the key challenges you've encountered during your training, and how did you overcome them?

It was a challenge to make electrical wiring blueprints. I managed to overcome them with perseverance and help from the instructor and some colleagues.
 

In what ways do you think the partnership between USAID, the Government of Colombia, and SENA has helped to empower Indigenous communities and promote inclusivity in the energy transition?

In a positive way, because within our communities, we do not see these types of associations that are focused on the empowerment of Indigenous communities in the energy transition. A clear example are all those projects that have not been able to be developed in our department because the general perception is that they are only coming to fill their pockets. Today I can say that many authorities and leaders have that mentality because of lack of these opportunities, like lack of knowledge.
 

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals as a certified technician or potential entrepreneur in the renewable energy sector?

My aspirations and goals are to continue preparing myself professionally in renewable energy. To be able to complete the program in order to formulate projects, to become an entrepreneur, to set up businesses and that my fellow students become my partners.
 

Lastly, how do you see your participation in this program contributing to the broader goals of Colombia’s clean energy transition, economic empowerment for Indigenous youth, and promoting the well-being of Wayuu communities? 

The participation we have had in this energy promotion program is for our country. It offers endless opportunities. It contributes to the young world of today that fundamentally has the function of being the pillars to talk about energy transition in our communities and our country.

This also includes the activation of an economy that has been improving. Perhaps the economic production of the country, and of course also that of the Indigenous communities, through each of the students who today have the knowledge and competence in the areas where we can contribute what we have acquired in our training as technicians.

For more information on USAID’s clean energy work in Colombia, visit Colombia’s Clean Energy Future. To watch a video about the USAID training program, visit Jóvenes líderes Wayuu participantes programa de capacitación laboral en energías renovables. 

 

Country
Colombia
Sectors
Energy
Strategic Objective
Integration, Mitigation
Topics
Inclusive Development, Education, Energy, Clean or Renewable Energy, Gender and Social Inclusion, Green Jobs, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, Locally-Led Development, Partnership, Youth
Region
Latin America & Caribbean

Janice M. Laurente

Janice Laurente is a senior advisor at Tetra Tech. She leads communications and knowledge management for the Scaling Up Renewable Energy (SURE) program, which helps USAID partner countries meet bold international climate commitments by accelerating their transition to more widely accessible, affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy that spurs economic growth, powers health systems, and reduces emissions. For more information, visit Scaling Up Renewable Energy Worldwide - Tetra Tech.

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