Colombia: No Child Should be a Soldier

by MADRE, An International Women's Human Rights Org.

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:

Copyright Miguel Macias
Copyright Miguel Macias

In July 2009, Miguel Macias, a MADRE volunteer and youth media producer, returned to Bogota to conduct workshops with the youth of Taller de Vida. For two weeks, Miguel worked with 15 students on writing for the web, photography, journalism, video, radio and Drupal (an internet content management system). The first week was mainly instructional, while the second focused on the writing and shooting/recording of the students’ stories. All of the content produced will be posted on Youth Radio, a youth media organization with bureaus across the US and internationally.

Many of the workshop participants were former child soldiers who had escaped from paramilitary groups and found Taller de Vida. Now, as teens and young adults, many are reluctant to discuss their ordeals. Through the workshops, they wrote stories exploring their pasts, often as portraits of themselves or someone they know. Yina, a young woman, wrote of the experiences of women and girls recruited into the male-dominated FARC guerilla army. Yvonne wrote of the importance of theater in her life.

Miguel left Bogota with plenty of finished and raw materials (writing, audio, video, and pictures). He plans to produce several of the stories into full web posts for Youth Radio. Telling and sharing their stories enables the youth of Taller de Vida to heal from the traumas of life as a child soldier.

Here is an excerpt from Miguel’s blog entry for MADRE on his experience working with the youth of Taller de Vida:

“Teaching these young students from Bogota I wonder about their memories. And I wonder about how those memories shape who they are…I still feel there is a story that needs to be told. There is a messy body of memories, history, experiences, opinions, years, interpretations, conflicts. And I want to deconstruct it. Understand how the consciousness of this conflict is built. And maybe then I'll feel that I gave something significant back to those Colombians who gave me their trust.”

To read more about Miguel’s experience, and to see a video that one of the students produced, please visit:

Copyright Miguel Macias
Copyright Miguel Macias
Copyright Miguel Macias
Copyright Miguel Macias
Copyright Maya Bogdanow
Copyright Maya Bogdanow
Copyright Maya Bogdanow
Copyright Maya Bogdanow
Taller de Vida 1
Taller de Vida 1

MADRE’s local partner, Taller de Vida, works in Usme, an urban district of Bogotá, Colombia that has been particularly affected by displacement caused by the ongoing armed conflict. The population of Usme is primarily composed of low-income families, with 80 percent of families working in the “informal economy.” There are three armed actors active in the area, putting children at a high risk of recruitment into a life of combat. Taller de Vida is currently working with 250 children and young people in the center in Usme in order to rehabilitate former child soldiers and to prevent the recruitment of others through awareness-raising activities.

Taller de Vida continues to offer alternatives to violence to young people in Bogotá who have been uprooted from their homes and are at high-risk for being recruited as child-soldiers. Some of their activities include trauma counseling, art therapy, and recreational programs such as dance and theatre. They are also very active in informing Colombian youth of their human rights. One of Taller de Vida’s most successful endeavors included former child-soldiers learning videography through a project entitled Reinventing Life through Art, which allowed them to document and heal from their traumatic experiences. In 2007, MADRE volunteer Miguel Macias traveled to Colombia to train 16 young people to use professional digital cameras and video editing systems as part of this program; Miguel is planning to return to the country to continue his work with youth.

The Bambu Project is a psychosocial intervention program that works with young ex-combatants in offering them basic tools for successful reinsertion into society. For five years it has facilitated, in the population they serve, skills to enhance dialogue, negotiation, mediation and ultimately overcome violent scenarios through workshops on theater, video, photography and dance. The project also provides a variety of activities to local primary and secondary schools to prevent and raise awareness in the community of the issue of child soldiers. Right now, Taller de Vida is working with Colegio Monteblanco in Usme, serving 3,000 kids, 140 teachers, 120 people from the community and 150 parents. Finally, the project entitled Proyecto Corazon de Cebolla is aimed at encouraging children to view education as an important asset to be valued, therefore motivating them to stay out of armed conflict.

Taller de Vida 2
Taller de Vida 2
Taller de Vida 3
Taller de Vida 3

Taller de Vida works in Usme, an urban district of Bogota, Colombia, with a relatively high population of internally displaced refugees and former soldiers of Colombia’s ongoing paramilitary conflicts. 80% of families in Usme earn income in the “informal economy,” without benefits or adequate health care; children in this area are not exactly inundated with economic opportunities.

MADRE and Taller De Vida are working to change this. The project is now in its fifth year, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the success embodied by its young participants.

At a learning center in Usme, 15 specially-trained teachers, most of whom are young people themselves, work with 250 former child combatants, using art as a methodology for trauma counseling to encourage healthy reinsertion into civilian society.

Project operations also include visits to local elementary and middle schools, where 3,000 kids participate in programs led by 140 teachers, 120 volunteers, and 150 parents. This aspect of the project focuses on prevention and awareness.

Graduates of Taller de Vida’s programs often stay connected with the organization. Take Gina: recruited by the army at 11, she was eventually “demobilized,” and returned to Usme without useful employment skills, plagued by the post-traumatic stress of exposure to violent conflict at a young age. Gina found Taller de Vida, and today she helps other young people heal from the wounds of war by teaching workshops at the learning center.

In the future, MADRE and Taller de Vida are looking to expand the project to Pereira, a city in Southern Colombia, where recent economic depression and an influx of migrant workers doing cheap labor in the area’s coffee industry have created pockets of poverty where recruitment officers scout for young people whose limited resources make them easy targets.

Update on MADRE’s Work in Colombia November 2007

Project Successes Taller de Vida began Year Three of Reinventing Life Through Art in 2006-07, and used the generous contributions from Global Giving members to complete Stage Four of the project. Activities included:

Trainings MADRE provided technical assistance and funding to facilitate a series of trainings on filming and editing videos. The young people working with Taller de Vida have already created several videos and requested technical assistance on editing them. In response, MADRE arranged a one-week visit to Taller de Vida for a volunteer active in our Sisters Without Borders (SWB) program.

This partner, who previously trained members of our sister organization CHIRAPAQ in Peru, conducted trainings that focused specifically on films that document the situation of young people in armed conflict, their experiences of displacement, and their hopes and dreams. He worked with 23 young people in the Taller de Vida center in Usme (a district near Bogotá that, as a consequence of the ongoing war, consistently receives the second-highest number of displaced persons in the country). Trainings took place in the morning and afternoon; morning sessions served teens ages 17-20 years old, and the afternoon sessions were for participants ages 11-20.

Purchase of Equipment for the Videography Program MADRE provided new equipment for the innovative videography program being carried out by Taller de Vida. The equipment and software for video editing were brought to Colombia by our SWB volunteer, an expert in film recording and editing, who taught Taller de Vida staff and participants to use it. Equipment included: • (1) Apple Computer - 15” screen – with Final Cut Pro for editing videos • (1) External Hard drive LACIE 250gb • (1) Camcorder SONY HVR-A1U • (1) Camcorder Panasonic PV-GS300 • (2) Batteries • (2) UV Protector filter • (20) Cassettes DVM – 60 minutes • (1) Tripod Velbon Sherpa

Additional Support MADRE has also provided support for the purchase of two computers for the Taller de Vida children’s library, and helped strengthen the activities implemented in the Youth Center in Usme (including theatre, dance, music, and photography workshops).

Impact and Beneficiaries Reinventing Life Through Art continues to serve Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, and mestizo (Spanish-descent) youth between the ages of 13 and 19 who live in the poorest neighborhoods of Bogotá and are at high risk for aggressive (often forced) recruitment by Colombian military and paramilitary forces. Direct beneficiaries number about 1,500 and indirect beneficiaries total approximately 4,000. In the past three years, hundreds of children (including many former child soldiers and many children who narrowly escaped forced recruitment) have participated in Reinventing Life Through Art, where they have developed new skills, worked with Taller de Vida’s psychologists and social workers to heal from the trauma they have endured, and found new hope for themselves and their families.

One of the most inspiring aspects of the project involves alumni returning to Taller de Vida to mentor newcomers. A source of hope for both new and former students, Reinventing Life Through Art helps vulnerable young people create life-sustaining relationships, develop concrete skills, count on safe outlets for their frustration, improve their ability to generate income, heal from trauma, and support others in those processes. The project creates a cycle of positive reinforcement, as new members of the group see the successes of former students, and graduates see new young people entering the project and turning their lives around with Taller de Vida’s support. We thank Global Giving members for your important support for this necessary project and hope that you will continue your support.


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Organization Information

MADRE, An International Women's Human Rights Org.

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Yifat Susskind
New York, NY United States

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Thanks to 253 donors like you, a total of $20,138 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving. Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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