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.