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Youth Voices for Peace in Colombia

Eliana Roqueme, young Senu Indigenous leader speaking at the event with the Truth Commission
Eliana Roqueme, young Senu Indigenous leader speaking at the event with the Truth Commission. © Taller de Vida.

For decades, Colombia’s armed conflict pitted government and right-wing paramilitary groups against anti-government guerrillas. Many became targets of violence as a result: children were recruited as soldiers of war, people were disappeared, and the bodies of young women and girls became battlefields as militants used rape as weapons of war to terrorize women and their communities.

Since 2001, MADRE and Taller de Vida, our local grassroots partner organization, have worked together to seek an end to years of war, to promote justice, and to sustain communities.

For example, MADRE has supported Taller de Vida to bring art therapy and healing to Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities. We have worked to support younger generations as they step up to realize a vision of peace, including by providing mental health support and reintegration programs to former child soldiers.

Today, Colombia is at a crossroads for peace and justice. Will they successfully move the peace accord from paper to practice? Taller de Vida is ensuring that young people, especially young girls, from Indigenous and Afro communities across Colombia can play an active role in that process.

Thanks to their advocacy, Taller de Vida brought the voices of young people to the Truth Commission in Colombia, a body responsible for documenting and acknowledging human rights violations committed during the conflict. This is an important step toward justice and the recognition of the right of survivors to spotlight the truth about the realities of armed conflict in their communities.

Working with the Truth Commission

Group of Black and Indigenous women pose for a photo as they stand around a table.
Taller de Vida bringing the voices of the most affected: Indigenous and Afro communities to the Truth Commission © Taller de Vida

Taller De Vida has the opportunity to play a critical role in the Truth Commission, ensuring that the voices of young people, Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Colombians are included in the history of over 50 years of war in the country. MADRE is proud to support them in this effort.

This is a historic achievement for our partner, whose years of peacebuilding contributions have been recognized by this collaboration with the Truth Commission. Taller de Vida will contribute their expertise in art therapy, as well as mental health and trauma support, to assist the Truth Commission to document cases of human rights violations of children and youth during the armed conflict. This work will promote truth, reconciliation and restorative justice, and Taller de Vida’s involvement is fundamental to recognizing survivors’ experiences and building a stable and lasting peace in Colombia.

Young Indigenous women leaders pose for a photo.
Indigenous Leaders bringing their stories of resilience and survival to the Truth Commission © Taller de VIda

Girls Voices for Peace: The stories of Monica and Laura

The #fightforpeace is being led by Black and Indigenous girl leaders in Colombia from communities most affected by the war. Mónica (16 years old) and Laura (15 years old) are two young leaders from Taller de Vida who traveled to Bogotá to participate at a Dialogue of Children and Adolescent Girls organized by the Truth Commission last year.

Monica and Laura arrived in Bogotá representing their communities, bringing the voices of their peoples: Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities hit by many years of war, violence and displacement. It is uncommon for members of these communities to be recognized or even asked to speak. There is little recognition of the impact, nor inclusion of girls’ voices, in the re-tellings of the war.

But thanks to Taller de Vida, Monica and Laura have a chance to make a change, to be heard and to bring the voices of peace with them. Both Laura and Monica are working with Taller de Vida to achieve a stable peace in Colombia’s most affected communities and move beyond despair, disruption and sorrow that war brought to their lives.

Monica is adjusting her traditional dress, which is a bright blue with red trimmings and a multi-color neckpiece.MONICA ~ I am Mónica. I am 16 years old. I live in Risaralda. I belong to the Gito Dokabú Indigenous community. I am in 11th grade and I am also studying to become a systems technician. I am a young Indigenous Embera Katio girl who likes to dance, share stories and sing.

I am a social researcher, I am part of Taller de Vida, and I want to participate in the Truth Commission for the difficult situations that we live in my community. I want my voice to be heard so I can help organize, provide information to my community to help improve the living conditions and overcome the conflict and the displacement that we always experienced.

What have you experienced and learned from your community organizing?

My experience in organizing has been in school, sharing with my classmates, and in my community. I am part of an Indigenous council, and in Taller de Vida as a social researcher, I live new experiences with other ethnic groups such as mestizo and Afro-Colombian. I have learned and strengthened my culture more, and I have empowered myself within my community. It has helped me to become a leader, to realize my life story when developing the workshop of digital narratives.

Laura poses for a photoLAURA ~ I am Laura and I currently live in Risaralda. I am 15 years old, proud to be an Afro-Colombian, and I am in the 10th grade. I am a young social researcher who likes traditional dance, singing and music.

I am a young woman who wants the truth about the conflict that my community lived for many years, and to stop the damage and disruption of life. The consequences still mark my community and feel ongoing. I want to participate in the Truth Commission so that they listen to me and know the difficult situation we experienced as a community. But also to tell them what we want for our community, and not only in my community but in other parts of the country.

What have you experienced and learned from your community organizing? 

My experience in organizing has been going on since I was a child. I liked to participate in my school and in my town, leading activities that are organized in my community. I also participate with the organization Taller de Vida as a young social researcher, which has helped me to have new experiences and learn about multicultural spaces. Relating to and learning from other cultures and their worldview has allowed me to travel, share, learn and have new experiences meeting people, my age and older. This has given me many lessons and the desire to continue fighting every day.

Monica and Laura sit on a purple couch, smiling into the camera and posing for a photo.

All photos are © Taller de Vida
January 29, 2020