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.