This summer, Andrés Freire '11, Alex Frye '11, Camila Leiva '09, and Deivid Rojas '11 joined with students from La Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, to form Taller de Paz (TDP) to work with children of internally displaced families ages 10 - 14 living in Suba, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. The program encourages peaceful resolutions to conflict and self-expression through photography, art, and digital storytelling, and uses these mediums as empowerment tools for the students to explore their environments, as well as their own meanings of peace. Find more information, including videos and photos, at the TDP blog or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Cheveres, porque nos podemos expresar libremente sin preocuparnos de estar peleando y de no tener nada con que divirtirnos."
"They're cool, because we can express ourselves freely without worrying about being in conflict with each other or not having any fun."
-Luisa Forero Tellez, 11, on what she thought of the Taller de Paz classes
Approximately 4.6 million civilians have been internally displaced by the civil war in Colombia. At all levels of the Colombian government, there has been systematic failure to adequately address the needs of the internally displaced population. Bogotá, the country's capital, is home to 17 percent of the internally displaced. Forty to 50 families arrive there daily and typically face very limited access to housing, food, jobs, education, and safety. Most families end up living in neighborhoods where violence and drugs are commonplace.
Launched last summer, Taller de Paz (Workshop for Peace) is a project we created working in conjunction with Conciencia Social (Social Conscience), a student group at the Colombian university La Javeriana. Our project received support from the College, La Javeriana, the Bogotá local district government of Suba, several private businesses, grassroots organizations, and individual donors.
From left, Taller de Paz co-founders Alex Frye '11, Deivid Rojas '11, Andrés Freire '11, and (front row center) Camila Leiva '09, with program facilitators from La Universidad Javeriana: Katherin Lopez, Angelica Barrera, Camila Diazgranados, Diana Diazgranados, and Sandra Bermudez.
Our goals were to work with children ages 8-14 of displaced families living in the Suba district of Bogotá, implementing a curriculum focused on developing leadership skills and self-expression, as well as encouraging peaceful resolution to conflict. This curriculum was composed of four talleres or workshops: art, technology/photography, social justice, and English/theater, each facilitated by a Swarthmore and Javeriana student pair. Each workshop was aimed at teaching some technical aspects of their subject which were then used as tools in order to actively engage the students in innovative projects designed to provoke reflection and critical thinking.
For example, in the art workshop, students identified problems in their community and then built models of their ideal city. In the photography/technology workshop, students created digital presentations using photography and video to document problems in their community or in Colombian society. As part of their project, the students interviewed community leaders, police officers, government officials, and private citizens, challenging them to explore issues confronting Colombian society openly and honestly. These are just two examples of the many ways that the students used their newly acquired skills to explore their respective communities and to start thinking about how to be leaders in those communities.
"As a Chilena living in the U.S., I struggle daily with how we can create truly collaborative North-South social action initiatives that place value on local communities," says Camila Leyva '09, now in a teacher preparation and certification program at Bronx International High School, a public high school for recently arrived immigrants. "The most important testament to the success of TDP was the enthusiasm and energy that the children brought every day to the photography, social justice, English, and art workshops. I was also so impressed by the commitment of the mothers and fathers that made it possible every day for their children to participate in the project." Watch more in this video by students at La Universidad Javeriana.
Our program provided important concrete benefits for the participants and their families, including a safe and fun space where students could spend their summer break and express their emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. They received snacks and lunch every day (which was sometimes their only meal), free transportation to and from the program, and all the materials necessary to facilitate each workshop. As part of Taller de Paz, students were also able to visit the Presidential Palace, a movie theater, an athletic complex, and an ecological park, places most had never been to.
Ultimately, 43 children completed the program, and registration ended with an extensive waiting list. We had a 100 percent attendance at graduation, which was attended by our students, their families, and our community partners. We established alliances with several community organizations for future collaborations and also received positive coverage in the local newspapers.
These families opened their doors and lives to us and the program. Though most had suffered terrible losses, such as having their homes destroyed or being persecuted by armed groups, they were still willing to share their experiences with us. Many were disillusioned with the Colombian government and the majority of the families considered Acción Social (the president's agency in charge of dealing with the displaced population) "liars and cheaters." Most of our students' families lived in one-room houses fitting an average of 6-7 people. Many did not eat regularly and had little access to jobs, education, healthcare, and other basic services.
"To make a longlasting impact in the lives of displaced kids in Bogotá, we need to become a permanent, Colombian, community-based initiative with a wide network of support in both countries," says Andrés Freire '11, an economics and Spanish major from Philadelphia. Here, he helped lead students on a tour of the presidential residence in Bogotá.
Over the course of the summer, we all formed strong bonds. Since the program was designed to create a safe and comfortable space for its participants, the relationships that we and the other facilitators built with the kids were not like those of teachers, but more like friends, siblings, or mentors. Consequently, many students noted the positive differences between their experiences in Taller de Paz than in their normal schools. Through these unique relationships, our program gained the trust and confidence of the participating families and thus was able to gain better insight on the lives of internally displaced people living in Bogotá.
It does not appear that the conflict in Colombia will be resolved anytime in the near future. Since there has been no effective commitment to addressing the conditions that continue to perpetuate the displacement crisis, the innocent families that have been involuntarily tangled in the situation will only continue to suffer the loss of their livelihood and deteriorated living conditions. Thousands more displaced people will continue to arrive in cities like Bogotá and neighborhoods like Suba. Thus it is extremely important that young Colombians acquire the skills needed to address the social problems confronting their families, their communities, and their country.
"As a Colombian-American living in the U.S., my conscience and heart are in constant struggle to accept what is happening in Colombia and how the U.S. is directly and indirectly contributing to the conflict," says history major Deivid Rojas '11. "But as TDP proved this summer, there are ways to collaborate and empower communities without creating a dichotomy of superiority and inferiority. We hope that, through these important relationships, we can continue to work, learn, and grow with this community."
We and our counterparts at La Javeriana who created Taller de Paz are dedicated to continuing the program and making it a permanent and trusted presence in the displaced community. We are currently seeking corporate sponsors and non-profit organizations with which to create alliances, as well as grants and scholarships. Most importantly, the program has now expanded to run throughout the year and will be administered by the students at La Javeriana. From here in the U.S., we are now working to create a book documenting the project.
Getting this project off of the ground was one the most incredible experiences we've had the privilege of sharing. Collectively, we'd like to thank everyone who made this summer possible, with special mention of the College, the Swarthmore Foundation, and the Swarthmore Friends Meeting House for the funding they provided. We also recognize the hard work, dedication, and support of our Colombian peers from La Universidad Javeriana, as well as the enthusiasm and commitment demonstrated by this summer's participants of Taller de Paz and their families. Thanks to all of our supporters, Taller de Paz definitely has had and will continue to have an impact on the lives of displaced children and their families in Colombia.