MADRE, An International Women's Human Rights Org.

MADRE's mission is to advance women's human rights by meeting urgent needs in communities and building lasting solutions to the crises women face. MADRE works towards a world in which all people enjoy the fullest range of individual and collective human rights; in which resources are shared equitably and sustainably; in which women participate effectively in all aspects of society; and in which people have a meaningful say in policies that affect their lives. MADRE's vision is enacted with an understanding of the inter-relationships between the various issues we address and by a commitment to working in partnership with women at the local, regional and international levels who share our go...
Aug 4, 2010

Born Into War

MADRE recently completed a shadow report of human rights abuses in Colombia, which was presented to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in July 2010 in conjunction with their review of Colombia’s human rights record. Researchers from MADRE conducted over 30 interviews with former child solders from the capital city of Bogotá and the city of Pereira. The age of recruitment ranged from 10 to 17 years of age and participation varied through most of the identified armed groups in Colombia.

Recruitment stories ranged from joining armed groups voluntarily due to abandonment, being orphaned, or fleeing domestic or sexual violence or other issues at home. Some children were lured into joining armed groups with promises of a better life only to find the promises were false and that they faced the punishment of death if they tried to escape.

Since 2006, the Attorney-General’s Office has found 109 bodies of childrenmainly victims of armed groupsin clandestine graves. According to testimonies of former child soldiers, children recruited by armed groups were frequently killed for “insubordination” ranging from stealing food from the group’s reserves to trying to escape. Here is the story of one Colombian child soldier and the trauma she endured:

“My mother was 15 when she first fell in love. She had me when she turned 16 but only took care of me for four months before leaving me with my father and my grandmother. My dad left me a month later. I lived with my grandmother and studied and worked. I spent almost all of my childhood working. I sold things like food and toilet paper in the street. We lived in a neighborhood called La Esperanza, in the southern part of Bogotá.

I was seven when my grandmother fell ill. I was already in the 5th grade but I had to work in a bakery to earn money while my grandmother was in the hospital. Later, I started begging for money because I couldn’t make ends meet.

A week after I turned eight, my grandmother died. I became homeless but I still worked and went to school. When I turned 11, I decided that I could either go on living in the street, or I could join the guerrillas. I went to where they were and did basic training for five days.

They gave me a gun and taught me how to use it. They told me that life would be hard with them and that they don’t get paid anything for what they do. I told myself, “Life here is easier than in the street. Stay.” After basic training, the big guys from the army came to the camp. My first order was to pick up a little dog and hold it. They shot at me and killed the dog. After that, I became tougher.

When it was my turn to kill someone, I always hid my face because I was afraid. I went to bed dreaming of the people I had killed.

War is something terrible you do to people who don’t want to be guerrillas. These people are stuck in the middle and they are killed by the soldiers for saying things like, “You are guerrillas, you are assholes,” or whatever.

One day they made me kill an old man but I couldn’t do it. They sentenced me to death so I had to run away.

The guerrillas were my family but because I betrayed them, they wanted to kill me. They were a family that didn’t forgive.”

Apr 12, 2010

Women in Sudan Unite to Provide for their Families

The women farmers and their families
The women farmers and their families

During the last farming season, MADRE and our sister organization, Zenab for Women in Development, coordinated the delivery of sorghum, millet and peanut seeds to hundreds of Women Farmers' Union members in Gungulesa, Guregana and Um Khanjar, Sudan. Previously women had to commute to a central seed distribution site. This was especially significant because Sudan’s cash-strapped Ministry of Agriculture was unable to distribute seeds this year. MADRE and Zenab also coordinate trainings in organic farming and human rights, as well as provide the women farmers with more effective farming tools and financial support for land rental. In addition to growing healthy food for their families, the women farmers are generating enough income to send their children to school. “Without the Women Farmers’ Union, I would never have earned enough to afford school fees for my children,” Hadija, a 47-year-old farmer, told us. “I am so proud because this year, I was able to send my youngest daughter to college with the income from my crops.”

One group of women farmers have pooled their extra income to fund literacy training in their village, where 95 percent of the people cannot read. In another village, the women are using their earnings to bring electricity to the community. With MADRE and Zenab’s support, these small-holder women farmers are able to create lasting food security for their families and positive change for their communities.

Mar 1, 2010

Mobilizing Art for Social Justice

Decades of internal conflict in Colombia have resulted in the recruitment of thousands of children as soldiers. MADRE’s sister organization, Taller de Vida, continues to work with former child soldiers, as well as children who are at risk of being recruited. Taller de Vida provides these youth with art, theater and dance programs to support recuperation and prevent recruitment.

Using new multimedia tools from workshops that MADRE volunteer Miguel Macias conducted, former child soldiers have been able to heal and voice their experiences through the arts.

Jorge, one former child soldier, expressed how Taller de Vida provided him with alternatives when economic hardships were pushing him towards rejoining an armed group:

“I found the organization Taller de Vida, which supports me through the arts. I participated in a project called Bambu, where they taught me to believe in myself as a person, they gave me a job, and helped me live a life with dignity and not hurting anyone.”

Transitioning back into civil society can be even more difficult for girls and young women. Some young women have recorded their stories in audio clips, while Carolyn Flores and Yovani Mora produced a video entitled “What does it mean to be a woman in Colombia?”

The arts programs facilitated by Taller de Vida go beyond just serving as an outlet for expressing personal memories. One group of young men in Bogota were able to apply the tools and experience from the work with Taller de Vida to achieve their goal of starting an Atlantic folk music group called Kayeke. The members of Kayeke were able to actively use art to oppose violence, and have since performed at various art shows around Bogota.

Full web posts of these stories and Taller de Vida’s work with other young people overcoming the trauma of war-torn childhoods can be accessed at MADRE’s blog: http://madreblogs.typepad.com/mymadre/colombia-child-soldiers/

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