In November 2016, the peace accords signed in Colombia ended more than 50 years of armed conflict. However, what is written in ink in a matter of seconds does not reflect the long process of peace and reconciliation across villages, cities, and regions that will be required for Colombia to move forward. A report by Amnesty International finds that even since the signing of the accords there has been some continued violence. The need for change is ongoing as Colombia grapples to find its footing.
One of the most positive advances toward peace has come from Colombia’s civil society, and particularly its work with young people. As the peace accords were being negotiated, the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) extended 18 small grants to a diverse group of organizations to take on the country’s challenges going forward. These include conflicts related to gender, civil engagement, land rights, the environment, and violence.
One of the main ways that these IAF grantees have advanced peace is through exchanges. For example, 32 organizations from the IAF’s current and recently completed portfolio met in Cali from April 22-27 to move the peace agenda forward by helping to create safe communities with sound economic opportunities.
“We are the ones who have to inspire peace, and we need to do it from here,” asserted Hernel Garcia Sánchez, president of Junta de Acción Comunal Cumbarco.
In spite of the many challenges associated with the peace process, the mood during the recent exchange was one of hope. The event engaged not only elders but also forward-thinking young people like 17-year-old Alexander Gonzales Zapata, an adviser to the board of directors of the Escuela de Semillas (Seed School), which was founded with support from the IAF and a former grantee, Asociación de Productores del Corregimiento de Puerto Frazada Vereda Las Vegas.
The migration of young people to urban areas is a critical issue for rural communities, as it is difficult to incentivize youth to work in agriculture without providing economic opportunities with room to innovate. The Escuela de Semillas incorporates these missing elements into its curriculum in order to convince young people to stay in their communities and experiment with new practices and methods. And crafting innovative approaches is not only about agriculture. In Cumbarco, young people are taking part in activities related to communications and music in order to become confident leaders and better reconcile their future with the new context in Colombia. Through interviews with elders and by engaging in public speaking, they are able to build self-esteem and reconstruct their community’s identity. Many have moved beyond worries of conflict and are now looking to pursue careers in fields such as journalism and radio.
IAF grantees are also supporting efforts by young and old to conserve natural resources and exploit the opportunities that they can provide. In Dapa, the Fundación Ambiental Dapaviva is promoting environmental education in schools and in the nearby Cerro Dapa Carisucio National Forest Reserve. Elementary school students are engaging in hands-on learning by composting and managing their school garden and visiting the nearby reserve. A select group of older students is being trained as volunteer reserve rangers who are leading ecotourism initiatives, maintaining paths, and assembling and placing trash receptacles. The national forest reserve and its surrounding area are particularly important as urbanization threatens this critical habitat for endangered and migratory species.
Colombia still faces many challenges that cannot be solved simply with the stroke of a pen.The process of expanding economic opportunity, enhancing peace and security, strengthening governance, and unlocking private, public, and community resources – all elements of the IAF’s 2018–2022 Strategic Plan that seem particularly applicable to this country emerging from conflict into peace – will take time and effort for years to come. However, civil society organizations, and especially their work with young people across the country, are helping to develop new solutions to address the issues the country faces and to build better communities for future generations.