Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Heeding the Call: A Program on Justicemaking for Junior High School Youth

The Colombian Childrens Peace Movement

Based on information from People Building Peace, Peace News, My Hero, and Sara Cameron's website.

Adults are usually regarded as the leaders in working for peace and—for good reason, as many have made a tremendous difference. Yet children can make a tremendous difference, too. Farliz Calle is one of those children. She is one of twenty-six children who organized an election in her home country of Colombia as it was being torn apart by violence. On October 25, 1996, 2.7 million children in Colombia cast their votes for 12 basic rights that included the right to love and family, the right to a clean environment, the right to justice, and the right to peace. With the aid of UNICEF (The United Nations Children's Emergency Fund) and adults from the community, the children of Colombia started a movement that created "peace zones" in schools and parks. One year later, 10 million adults also voted for peace in a national election.

On the day of the Children's Mandate there was peace in Colombia. If there can be one day of peace, why not a week, a month, a year, fifty years Why not fifty years of peace to make up for our fifty years of war? — Juan Elias, 16 years

Why was Columbia in need of peace? In 1948, civil war broke out in Colombia. A civil war is one where the opposing factions both live in the country. These wars can be particularly destructive and difficult to end.

Without equal education children who have nothing can never have the same opportunities as those who have everything. — Angelica, 13 years

Often civil wars have the appearance of being about two groups with different identities that cannot get along. However, scholars and researchers have determined that most civil wars are caused when one group tries to control resources, resulting in limited access to resources for other groups, who become frustrated and take up arms. This is one reason why war (and hence, peace) is a justice issue.

Another reason is because the toll of war generally falls heaviest on marginalized groups. This frequently means children. War hurts children by taking away their loved ones. It hurts children by filling their lives with fear and instability. It hurts children by forcing them to grow up too soon, often making them into soldiers even before reaching puberty.

Neither the children's vote nor the adult vote a year later ended the violence in Colombia. It continues to this day. Still, the children of Colombia did not give up. Supported again by UNICEF, they established the Retorno de la Alegria (Return to Happiness) initiative. This program trains youth to be peer counselors to youth and children suffering from the effects of war. Over 500 volunteers have been trained in counseling, therapy, peace-building and self-esteem building skills. They work with individuals and institutions, like schools, religious organizations, and government.

I work as a volunteer play therapist with children who have been forced to leave their homes because of the war. Some of the children have seen terrible things, like seeing their father be tortured and killed. They find it very difficult to understand what happened. We play together with the trucks, and boats and rag dolls and sometimes after that you can figure out what went on. Some of the children are very shy but I give them the parrot puppet and sometimes they tell him things. They often talk about the goats and chickens and cows they left behind when they left their homes. They worry about the animals. — Wilfrido, 16 years

Being a peace builder takes skills, and young people do not need to wait until they become adults to develop those skills.

Children are sweet and beautiful, but we want to show adults that the role of the child must be elevated; there are acute crises in countries when children have to make up part of the solution. You say children are the future. But we are the present, a present which we all have to build together. — Farliz Calle