Tania isn't her real name. I can't use it or show her picture without putting her life in danger from the Colombian armed forces who tried to recruit her as a child soldier.
But I want to share Tania's story with you because it shows the life-altering good you can do through MADRE, helping one child at a time.
Tania was like so many other children in her village: poverty and violence drove her to the streets to look for food, money and friends. Eventually, Tania was approached by hooded men who saw the frightened 10-year-old as an easy target. They gave her a choice: join their armed group or be killed.
Although it's not headline news, the plight of Colombian child soldiers has grown steadily worse--and the need for our continued support is dire. Together, we can reach more of these girls and boys, and actually transform their lives.
Thousands of children in and around Bogota, some as young as eight years old, are being recruited for service in the country's ongoing armed conflict--a war that is largely financed by our tax dollars.
The paramilitaries and guerrillas call them "little bees" because they are quick to sting the enemy. The government uses the children as spies. To ensure that conscripted children can never return home, armed groups sometimes force them to kill their former neighbors or even family members.
These children become virtual slaves; many are sexually abused for years. Their childhood and humanity are destroyed.
Fortunately, Tania found an alternative to the horrifying "choice" she was offered. "I was about to join the paramilitaries when one of my friends brought me to Taller de Vida."
Taller de Vida means Workshop for Life and no organization could be more aptly named. MADRE has partnered with Taller de Vida for nearly a decade to give new life to children who are at high-risk for being recruited as child soldiers. And we work with children who have escaped from combat, providing trauma counseling, art therapy and recreational programs to young people in Bogota who have been uprooted from their homes and traumatized by war and poverty.
"I've been here for a year and for me it's been like salvation. First of all because it's a place where you feel you are worth something to someone. They listen and respect you for who you are. They help you to be a better person and to love and take care of yourself. I am studying and playing in a dance group. This has helped me so much. They have helped me to see that there are other options for me besides war."
Your donation to MADRE today will help support our programs for children like Tania. It will also sponsor scholarships for children who have no way to get an education. Like Tania, many of the over 400 children who come to Taller de Vida each year don't have enough money for food, let alone to pay the enrollment fee for primary school.
With your help, MADRE will also provide trauma counseling to help youth cope with the psychological wounds inflicted by war, including forced displacement, the death of loved ones, post-traumatic stress, sexual abuse and extreme poverty.
What MADRE and Taller de Vida have done for Tania, we have done for hundreds of other children over the years--and we can do for hundreds more, one child at a time.
Thank you for your loyalty and compassion. We deeply appreciate your ongoing support.
For peace and justice,
[Vivian Stromberg, Executive Director]
P.S. -- Because the need is so great and your support is so important, we want to send you a small gift for any donation over $50. The women of Taller de Vida have made beautiful small kite pins with colorful yarns, and they asked us to share them with you as their way of saying "thanks" for helping them at their time of greatest need.
P.P.S. -- Read the story of another young girl who was a child soldier like Tania.