By Krysta Summerfield
Despite Colombia being categorized as the fifth most dangerous city in the world, its situation is
not as precarious as media and other social entities portray it to be. In fact, Colombia is recognized for its
friendly culture and its commitment to its community. It is exceedingly common in the Colombian culture
for neighbors to offer a helping hand when others are experiencing difficulties or hardship. For example,
when a neighbor requests to borrow an egg, it is not uncommon for another neighbor to lend it to them; or
when a neighbor requests assistance fixing their plumbing, another neighbor would willingly lend a
helping hand free of cost. This paper will focus on the cultural practice surrounding the Colombian
Throughout the many conversations I have engaged in with my Colombian relatives, I have found
the act of La Rifa most philanthropic. La Rifa typically occurs in times of crisis, when a member of your
community is encountering adversity. The three most prevalent episodes of La Rifa that I have witnessed
occurred because the father and primary breadwinner of the family was incarcerated, or the father and
primary breadwinner of the family lost employment or a member of a family from the community had
passed away and the family was unable to afford adequate burial services.
When unfortunate occasions similar to the ones mentioned above occur, the community leader,
usually a self-elected male elder, will gather donations. In the Colombian culture large donations are
luxury items such as electric blenders, electric radios, etc. He then raffles these items off to community
members. Everyone in the community is eager to participate in La Rifa because not only does it mean
they have a chance to win a luxury item, but they are also consciously aware that by participating the
proceeds from their raffle ticket will grant aid to another community member in need.
In addition to the proceeds of La Rifa, the leader of the community will also go door-to-door and
collect donations for the family/individual in crisis. With the average monthly wages of a Colombian
estimated to be $692, it is difficult and impractical for individuals to make large monetary donations.
Instead, community members donate as much food as they can spare. Typical donations consist of rice
In the Colombian society there is a heavy reliance on the community and less on government
officials. Instead of allocating funding towards the creation of a social safety net, the Colombian
government allots the majority of their funding towards military strategies and movements favoring the
eradication of Colombia’s largest rebel group, The Farc. This therefore, places the responsibility of social
welfare on community members and increasing the continuation of La Rifa.
It is evident that Colombians do not take an individualist approach within their community. In the
Colombian culture there is a strong emphasis placed on communal generosity and the donation of one’s
time and inclusiveness and less on the donation of monetary funds. These acts of generosity are only
expected to act as a temporary solution. Instead, the idea of reciprocity is highlighted. This in turn
encourages the suffering family/community member to resume their position within their community and
one day give back to those that have given to them in their time of need.
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C. Lopez (personal communication, September 26, 2013)
Global Burden of Armed Violence. (2011). Trends and Patterns of Lethal Violence. Retrieved
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Peters, T. (N.d.). Colombia’s average wages less than half global average. Colombia Reports.
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