Thanks to the generous support of people like you, MADRE recently sent support to our partners at Taller de Vida for their lifesaving programs with former child soldiers.With this support, Taller de Vida will be able to continue providing psychosocial counseling and educational training to Colombia’s Afro-descendant and Indigenous youth who are affected by Colombia’s armed conflict. Taller de Vida will also continue running their art therapy program, where young girls and boys displaced by war and poverty can participate in theater, dance, capoeira and photography classes as a means of expressing their feelings and frustrations through creative outlets. With your support, these youth are developing their self-expression and their talents in the art, and working together to envision and create a culture of peace.Thank you for supporting this important project!
We recently received an email from Stella Duque, director of our sister organization Taller de Vida. She shared some exciting updates from her programs with former child soldiers and children at high risk of being recruited in Colombia’s armed conflict.Taller de Vida is preparing to launch an important campaign to confront the recruitment of child soldiers in Colombia. For many children from poor families, joining an armed group is the only way to get a meal each day. Once a child is recruited, armed groups become the only family they know. They grow up knowing nothing but a life of combat, perpetuating a war that has already lasted more than 40 years.Stella and Taller de Vida are working to break this harmful cycle. Their programs offer trauma counseling, art therapy and recreational programs that allow children to heal from their experiences of war.The campaign "Take my body out of the war" (Saquen mi cuerpo de la guerra) will feature an exposition of photos and texts created by the former child soldiers who participate in Taller de Vida’s art therapy workshops. The exposition will give these children a platform to raise awareness, raise their voices and share their experiences of life in armed conflict. This campaign, like so much of Taller de Vida's work, will serve as a therapeutic outlet for these children. Thank you for supporting this crucial work!
In Colombia, MADRE partners with our sister organization Taller de Vida to provide resources, rehabilitation, and healing through art to former child soldiers. When our partners gave a group of children the chance to express themselves through drawings, they spoke of their experiences and their hopes in their own unique voices.
Below are a few of their drawings and their thoughts.
Drawing 1 – “I do not want to go back to an armed group and experience how I spent my childhood. I do not want to go back and be in an armed group or stay on a mountain and endure the cold or listen to the helicopters of the army”.
Drawing 2 – “I want to take a few steps to teach me more about love, happiness, the most important thing for me is to lead a new life, watch the sun brighten more light my path every day. I want to help children and help them recognize the resources they have”.
Drawing 3 – “I do not want to go back and live what I lived through. I do not want to shoot others and make them suffer in the worst possible way and feel alone in the world”.
Drawing 4 – “The step I would like to take in my life is to take back what I never had. And now I would like to study to move forward and help my family and be happy which is why I do what I can to have moral and strength to be what I want to be: a nurse, and to always have my own thoughts”.
Drawing 5 – “I do not want to go back to the hatred, the resentment, to a river of blood, pain, violation. I do not want to go back and see a lot of young people in the war. The world is full of obstacles that you need to know how to cross”.
Drawing 6 – “What I want most is to feel as free as the air to take a step forward. And to overcome everything I would like to take a step to enable myself and be a good person. And I hope that tomorrow I can tell my story without fear and without fear and dread”.
While MADRE staff was in Colombia visiting with our sister organization Taller de Vida, we spent time at the center in Usme, talking to children about their experiences with war and their healing through art. Today, we’d like to share some of their thoughts with you:
“We left our home because of the conflict,” says Linda, a thin 16-year-old with a long braid. “But the war has followed us here. The armed groups patrol the neighborhoods and take children to fight. We are careful. It’s especially bad for the girls.”
“For me, this place isn’t a building,” Jessica, 14, a serious girl with sparkling eyes, says of Taller de Vida’s Usme center. “It’s a home.”
“Yes,” says 15-year-old Daniel, “this is where can talk about the threats we face from armed groups and drug traffickers and help each other to do something about them.”
Maria, 14, jumps in “When I am here, I can be happy because this is where we care for our dreams. I want to be an artist when I grow up and paint pictures of peace for children.”
With you support, we are able to provide former child soldiers and children uprooted by war with trauma counseling, art therapy and recreational activities. Thank you for supporting this critical work!
MADRE staff member Cassandra Atlas reflects on her visit to Taller de Vida:
Our trip to visit sister organization Taller de Vida’s programs in Colombia was my first as a member of MADRE’s staff. If I could take away only one thing, it would be how amazing it was to see the tangible impact of the programs we have in place.
During our afternoon session on the first day of our trip, all of the children we met with had at one time been part of an illegal armed group. Some had only been demobilized for a week or two. Yet every one of them was actively participating in Taller de Vida’s programs, which are made possible in large part by the generous donations from our membership. Every child there was benefitting. Even at only a week out, the level at which these children are able to express what’s happened to them during their time in captivity is so inspiring.
There was one performance in the afternoon where a young girl, through drama and dance, without speaking, reenacted her abduction into an armed group. She played out every moment from her separation from her sister to abduction to her daily life and the abuse she suffered at the hands of other soldiers. It was extraordinarily powerful to watch. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old, and yet her ability to emote and communicate was astonishing. It was moving to everyone present – there was no denying that experience.
Things that are very basic – macramé, taking photos, performing plays and dancing– provide these children with emotional rehabilitation and a sense of responsibility, a way to achieve and strive for better. Much of what we heard during our discussions with Taller de Vida was about the way these programs equip children with life skills and coping mechanisms that they do not receive through government-sponsored reintegration and rehabilitation programs.
The government-sponsored programs do not provide these kinds of trainings and emotional recovery, but instead provide a small stipend and simply send kids back out into the world with no support system. In three months the stipend is gone, and the children are left on their own, without the tools, financial resources and life skills to become capable adults. The Taller de Vida programs supported by MADRE run parallel to these government programs and successfully find ways through dialogue, education and art to help these children go on and live incredibly fulfilling, responsible and productive lives.
I think what was most remarkable to me is the way a small group like Taller de Vida is able to provide the kind of social services these kids really need, in ways that have been, and continue to be, lost on the state. The government, rather than learning from the experiences and achievements of Taller de Vida, persists in its refusal to acknowledge that there might be better, more integrative ways for its social services to function.
Acknowledging that Taller de Vida’s programs are working would mean having to acknowledge that the state programs aren’t providing the social and emotional reintegration and rehabilitation its children require and crave. The state needs to learn from these experiences, to use this knowledge to help build alternative, healthy lifestyles for its children and its citizens, rather than continue to provide an inadequate and nominal financial solution. The future trajectory of Colombia as a whole rests on such acknowledgment and action.
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