Colombia is located in the northwesternmost corner of South America. Parts of the Amazon rainforest are found here and Colombia is one of the countries in the world with the greatest biodiversity.
The country is affected by climate change, but no direct environmental considerations are taken into account, which has resulted in deforestation, soil erosion and endangered species. Natural resources are crucial to the country’s economy, but have unfortunately led to conflicts. The 40-year civil war, which ended in 2016 after a peace agreement was signed, has left the country neglected on a number of points that particularly affect children and young people. Psychological trauma, violence and high unemployment are not uncommon in Colombia.
Some results from the past year
The peace agreements have been an important opportunity to ensure that children’s rights are taken seriously and Plan International works to ensure that children who have been affected in various ways by the civil war receive support and the opportunity for better conditions for growing up. Ensuring that people understand and are aware of what the transition to peace means in practice has been an important focus at Plan International. That is why in the past year we have, among other things, arranged training in peace culture and violence prevention for 14,000 children and young people, 2,200 parents, people who work with children and public employees. Through our vocational training, 509 young people have also been given greater opportunities to find work.
Entrepreneurship gives hope
Before, I was shy and did not really dare to say what I thought. Now I am much more confident in myself – and more creative!
That’s what Carolina says. She has always dreamed of opening her own hair salon, but during the Civil War it was difficult to hope and dream. After attending Plan International’s intensive entrepreneurship course, Carolina has now opened the Deyby and Mary salon – named after her children. Not only does the salon provide her with enough income to support her family, it also gives her a sense of independence and self-confidence. Carolina is one of 2,150 young people in the Valle de Cauca area who have received help from Plan International to start their own.
Participation in society
Dialogue that creates peace and understanding
I have learned that we are all equally valuable and can achieve the same things. The fact that a man is sensitive does not make him less masculine and a woman can also play football. We deserve respect no matter who we are.
In Colombia, girls are often seen as less valuable than boys and conflicts have traditionally been resolved through violence. Dialogue based on openness and understanding is therefore important, not least for young Colombians who will now live in peace. Sebastian is one of the young people who participated in Plan International’s dialogue groups. There, young people learn to participate in debates where all parties can be heard and shown respect – regardless of gender, ethnic background or age.
A laborious path to peace
After more than 50 years of civil war, the parties signed a peace agreement in Colombia in December last year. Plan International now supports children and their families to build a new society where people can trust each other.
It takes two hours to drive from the town of Cali to the small village in the province of Cauca. Rolling green hills surround the road, but the closer we get the more often we see only brown spots: the result of mines that have been a part of life for those who live here.
At school, young people between the ages of 13 and 16 sit in a semicircle around a memory map. They are all peace activists and participate in Plan International’s projects to strengthen young people in the peace process. After decades of war and violence, it is a challenge to get the citizens of society to trust each other again and resolve conflicts peacefully.
– Many children lost both their parents. Girls and boys lived in fear of being forced into guerrilla forces or other groups. Just two years ago, a child died here when he walked on a mine, two others were seriously injured, says 13-year-old Yaris Valentina.
To get young people to talk about what they have been through, Plan International works with theater groups that play plays on the theme.
– Between the scenes, the spectators get to describe their own experiences. There have been a lot of emotions. Suddenly, everyone wants to tell their story, says Nancy López at Plan International.
Now the young people have made a timeline of war-related memories and events in their region, when it is ready it is time to think about the future and its possibilities. When the project is over, there will be a party to remember and honor those who died in the war. It’s time to look ahead and dare to dream. Yadis is 16 years old, has a big smile and braided long hair.
– We need libraries, sports facilities and better bus connections to Cali so that we can study there. A football school would be wonderful because there are lots of talents, she says.
Every three months, the young peace activists participate in district political meetings so that their wishes and thoughts are documented in the district’s development plan. At the end of the year, they meet the mayor to remind him of his promises.
Facts about Colombia
Population: 48 million
Life expectancy: 74 years
Infant mortality rate: 13 per 1000 births
Proportion of children starting school: 87.7%
Proportion of women in Parliament: 18.7%