International Youth Day – Part 3, Yvonne’s story

Image 3- Yvonne's story

As a part of International Youth Day we are sharing the stories of some of the youth leaders we’re proud to be working with. This year’s theme is ’Youth Building Peace’. Involving young people in transforming their communities into safer, fairer, more peaceful places is central to the work of all of our partners. As Colombia emerges from decades of conflict, and embarks on the process of  rebuilding itself as a peaceful country, young people have an important role to play in ensuring this peace is sustainable.

This trilogy of stories demonstrates how our partner, Si Mujer, is helping young people to contribute to building peace in Colombia. We support Si Mujer to train young people to know and demand the protection of their sexual and reproductive rights and to fight for gender equality. The young women featured here explain how they are now using what they have learnt about their rights to educate others, and to take action to help reduce sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination. The recent peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas received international recognition for having an unprecedented focus on protecting the rights of women and girls and LGBTI* Colombians. Si Mujer’s youth leaders are making important contributions to help make these promises a reality.

(*lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex)

“My name is Yvonne Gutierrez, I’m 19 years old, I’m from the beautiful city of Cali in the wonderful country of Colombia.

A year and eight months ago I found out about this marvellous organisation that works to defend the rights of young women and men. I first heard about it through an activity that their Child and Youth Friendly Healthcare Service ran in the school I was in at the time.

They invited me to take part in their training, and I’m so grateful to them for it. I don’t regret accepting the invitation one bit. The process they took me though helped me discover what I want to study, work and fight for. It’s amazing really, because before this I didn’t even know that there were such things as sexual and reproductive rights, or that things that happen around me in my home and community can directly affect me, or that I shouldn’t judge a woman for having an abortion because it is her right to do it. I’ve definitely come to love everything that Si Mujer stands for. I especially admire the youth steering committee they have here.

I’m still amazed when I remember that after just four days with Si Mujer, my life started to change. Before that, my life didn’t have much meaning but I learned to feel proud of myself, my relationship with my father went from being a constant fight to him starting to tell me he was proud of me – he’d never said that before. I’ve learnt how to say ‘I love you’ to my family with confidence, and I can teach my little sister about the wonderful rights I know we have and how to make sure nobody violates them.

I think that Si Mujer is like a bicycle – if you get on and pedal you go forward, but if you don’t then you always stay in the same spot. Thanks to Si Mujer I’ve advanced and I can say loudly and proudly, “I have a right to…!”

I’m really good at reasoning now, I have a plan for what I want to achieve in my life, and thanks to the training that Si Mujer has given me I can pay tribute to the name of ‘Children Change Colombia’ and use what I’ve learnt to transform lives. I’ve had the chance to get to know all the work Si Mujer does, and I have never met such compassionate people as the women who work there. The organisation is a university for life, I’ve not only learnt about social issues but all sorts of skills and knowledge that will serve me in other parts of my life, be it in my studies or work in the future.

Si Mujer has opened doors for me. They’ve given me the chance to do what few people manage – to love my work, and work for what I love. I’m infinitely grateful to all the team there, because they’ve helped me take steps forward towards being a better person, to keep dreaming and keep changing Colombia.”

 

 

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International Youth Day – Part 2, Sandra’s story

Image 2 - Sandra's story

As a part of International Youth Day we are sharing the stories of some of the youth leaders we’re proud to be working with. This year’s theme is ’Youth Building Peace’. Involving young people in transforming their communities into safer, fairer, more peaceful places is central to the work of all of our partners. As Colombia emerges from decades of conflict, and embarks on the process of  rebuilding itself as a peaceful country, young people have an important role to play in ensuring this peace is sustainable.

This trilogy of stories demonstrates how our partner, Si Mujer, is helping young people to contribute to building peace in Colombia. We support Si Mujer to train young people to know and demand the protection of their sexual and reproductive rights and to fight for gender equality. The young women featured here explain how they are now using what they have learnt about their rights to educate others, and to take action to help reduce sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination. The recent peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas received international recognition for having an unprecedented focus on protecting the rights of women and girls and LGBTI* Colombians. Si Mujer’s youth leaders are making important contributions to help make these promises a reality.

(*lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex)

“On the 11th of June 2016 I joined Si Mujer’s project and since then my life has completely changed for the better. Before then I didn’t know much about sexual and reproductive rights and I had no idea about the sacrifices other people had made in the past so we could enjoy these rights.

By joining Si Mujer, I have found what I have always been looking for. At first I wasn’t sure to what kind of role I would play in the organisation, but I am so happy now and pleased that I made the decision to participate in the training sessions. In every session I learn more about my sexual and reproductive rights abortion rights, how to access support when someone has been raped or contracted a sexually transmitted disease and much more.

Without a doubt, my life has made a complete U-turn. Si Mujer has supported me in so many ways and has encouraged me to grow as a person. Before I joined the project I was one of those people who used to speak for the sake of it, I hadn’t had any sex education and I didn’t really know what I was talking about when it came to sexual and reproductive rights. I wasn’t familiar with the current laws in Colombia surrounding abortion and because of this lack of knowledge I found it difficult to have an informed point of view on these issues, as well as many more concerning sexual and reproductive rights.

Si Mujer has changed all this for me and I now know the correct terminology when talking about these issues. My training has also taught me about women’s rights and that we have the right to decide on what happens to our own bodies. The project has helped me to gain confidence and improve my public speaking skills, and now I have a strong theoretical understanding of topics surrounding sexuality. With all this knowledge, I have changed so much for the better.

All the things I have learnt have had a positive influence on my everyday life and now I understand how to make the best decisions for me and my body. Now I can help others, share what I have learnt, and guide them as best I can so that they can make informed decisions about their bodies. All of the training I receive from Si Mujer is also helping me get experience for my future career, so that I can begin that chapter of my life as prepared as possible.

I am so grateful to Si Mujer for helping me in many ways – to grow as a person, to become a better person and to develop and improve my knowledge on these issues, and above all be happy.”

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International Youth Day – Part 1, Maria’s story

Image 1 - Maria's story

As a part of International Youth Day we are sharing the stories of some of the youth leaders we’re proud to be working with. This year’s theme is ’Youth Building Peace’. Involving young people in transforming their communities into safer, fairer, more peaceful places is central to the work of all of our partners. As Colombia emerges from decades of conflict, and embarks on the process of rebuilding itself as a peaceful country, young people have an important role to play in ensuring this peace is sustainable.

This trilogy of stories demonstrates how our partner, Si Mujer, is helping young people to contribute to building peace in Colombia. We support Si Mujer to train young people to know and demand the protection of their sexual and reproductive rights and to fight for gender equality. The young women featured here explain how they are now using what they have learnt about their rights to educate others, and to take action to help reduce sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination. The recent peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas received international recognition for having an unprecedented focus on protecting the rights of women and girls and LGBTI* Colombians. Si Mujer’s youth leaders are making important contributions to help make these promises a reality.

(*lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex)

“My name is Maria, I am 17 years old and I’ve been part of Si Mujer since before I was born. My mother was a victim of sexual violence and sought help from the organisation – she fell pregnant with me as a result of the attack, and Si Mujer have provided me with psychological support since I was a little girl. During one of these session, they invited me to join their training programme and I decided to do for it.

When I started the training process I didn’t know anything about the subject of sexual and reproductive rights, I had very mistaken opinions about abortion and other issues around the subject. That said, when they talked about sexual violence, I know a bit about it, but it was very difficult for me to speak about it given what had happened to my mum. I took part in further training, after the initial phases, and I learnt more and became a stronger person. We started a Youth Steering Committee – we have a say in everything Si Mujer does. Being part of the Committee helped me realise that the subject of sexual violence didn’t have to make me feel bad or weak, on the contrary, it could make me stronger. So I started giving talks in my school and that led me to set up a sex education project, because the school wasn’t providing it. It was a great process, thanks to the support I received from the teachers and the headmaster who approved the idea right away. I’ve shared what I learnt from Si Mujer with students in my school, and I’ve referred lots of girls to Si Mujer’s healthcare service and invited them to join the training programme.

In terms of my family life, the process I’ve been through with Si Mujer has helped a lot. Thanks to Si Mujer, my mum and I have learnt to talk about what happened to her. It used to be difficult but now she’s setting an example of how to make a success of your life despite the troubles of the past. We can use our experience to help many many other women who have experienced the same things she did, so that they don’t get consumed by their experience and can move forward and become stronger than ever before. I would say that the support I’ve received from Si Mujer helps me every single day. I’ve used what they’ve taught me to resolve problems in my wider family – I’ve helped my grandmother understand a lot of these difficult issues because they were taboo topics for her. Today she and all my family are proud that I’m part of Si Mujer, because they know that we’re helping improve lots of people’s lives. They’ve seen me give talks in our community about sexual and reproductive rights – people come up to me with questions now!

What I like most about being part of Si Mujer, which is possible thanks to CCC, is that every day I learn new things which I can use to help new people who don’t know about their rights and who are at risk of these rights being violated. Thank you to everyone who supports Si Mujer’s work!”

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Niños y niñas de Buenaventura exigen sus derechos en un foro juvenil

Camilo, nuestro nuevo Director de Proyectos, comparte sus impresiones acompañando una experiencia de participación infantil de nuestro aliado FUNDESCODES.

“La ciudad de Buenaventura, es el puerto más grande de Colombia, cerca del 60% de las mercancías que entran y salen del país, pasan por allí. Millones de dólares en ganancias se producen cada año, este contexto económico parecería prometedor para sus más de 400 mil habitantes, en su gran mayoría afrocolombianos.  Para mi es difícil ver como la comunidad está excluida de este proceso de desarrollo; su población vive en su gran mayoría en la pobreza, no tienen un empleo formal, ni una educación, ni servicios de salud de calidad. Además de sufrir de la violencia relacionada con las pandillas, el narcotráfico y una voraz corrupción gubernamental.

Este contexto de violencia y exclusión, afecta principalmente a la niñez y a la juventud, que no tiene muchas posibilidades para desarrollar sus capacidades y potencial, relegándolos a una visión de futuro limitada.

El pasado mes de noviembre cerca de 200 niños, niñas y adolescentes, lideraron un foro para expresar sus puntos de vista frente a las situaciones que los afectan. Los niños y las niñas respondieron a tres preguntas: ¿Qué problemas tenemos? ¿Qué proponemos para solucionarlos? ¿Qué apoyo necesitamos de los adultos para llevar nuestras propuestas acabo? Las principales necesidades expuestas por los niños y las niñas fueron: contar con suficientes parques y canchas seguras para poder jugar. También pidieron programas artísticos y culturales en donde pudieran desarrollar sus habilidades e intereses, tales como la danza, la música, el teatro y los deportes. Otro factor importante, es poder contar con rutas seguras para ir a sus colegios, muchos corren riesgos de ser atacados sexualmente, o de ser acosados por miembros de pandillas, incluso ser atropellados, por no tener espacio suficiente para transitar.

FDCD forum pic

Los niños y las niñas propusieron soluciones que ya viene implementando – ayudar a construir y mejorar los parques, organizarse para conformar grupos artísticos y deportivos, identificar rutas seguras. Este proyecto ha permitido que los líderes comunitarios, familias y escuelas apoyen sus propuestas, se han mejorado desde el trabajo comunitario, parques y canchas de futbol, se conformó un grupo de teatro y un grupo de danza, además de desarrollar políticas de seguridad infantil en sus escuelas, también se recuperó un centro cultural abandonado, para poder hacer reuniones y presentaciones artísticas. Falta el apoyo del gobierno local, esperan ser escuchados y que sus opiniones sean tenidas en cuenta para que las soluciones que plantean sean sostenibles. Nosotros los seguiremos apoyando porque creemos en ellos!”

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Children demand their rights at annual youth forum in Buenaventura

Our new Project Officer, Camilo, shares his impressions of our partner Fundescodes’ annual youth forum in Buenaventura.

“Buenaventura is Colombia’s largest port – around 60% of the goods that enter and leave Colombia pass through there. Each year, this generates millions of pounds in profits, which you might think would benefit the city’s 400,000 mostly Afro-Colombian inhabitants. But most locals are excluded from their city’s development. The majority live in poverty and suffer from constant violence by gangs and drug traffickers, and extreme corruption within local government.

Children and young people are worst affected.

At our partner Fundescodes’ annual youth forum in November, 200 boys and girls discussed the risks they face and proposed solutions, requesting the support of the adults present.

FDCD forum pic

The overriding need they identified was for safe parks and sports pitches. They also asked for cultural programmes, such as dance, music, theatre and sport, where they could develop their skills and interests. Another important issue for them was the danger they face when walking to and from school. They explained that they risk sexual attacks or recruitment by gangs, as well as hazardous traffic on the crowded streets.

Now, many of the solutions the children suggested are underway! With Fundescodes support, the children are working with adults to improve local parks, they have refurbished an abandoned cultural centre and set up a theatre and dance group, and they are identifying safe routes to their schools.

Community leaders, families and teachers also attended the forum, which inspired them to commit to supporting the young people in their plans. Support from local government is still lacking, but the children hold out hope that their efforts will be recognised by those with the power to make their solutions sustainable. We at Children Change Colombia are committed to helping them because we too believe they can do it!”

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A wonderful sense of team spirit!

Recently, our long-term UK supporters Peter and Clara visited our partner Tiempo de Juego to see the project in action , meet some of the participants and staff there and find out how their donations to Children Change Colombia have made a difference to the young people’s lives. They’ve written this blog post to share their experience and express their gratitude to everyone at the project for their very warm welcome!

Our visit to Tiempo de Juego was an incredible experience! We didn’t expect to find such a large and well-established project. Maybe typical stereotypes mislead us to expect some football pitches and a small area to support admin activities. On the contrary, we were very impressed with the organisation of everything and the fact that many of the children and young people are encouraged to take responsibility for supervising the different activities that Tiempo de Juego offers.

It was clear that the people in these positions of responsibility were very motivated.  They took time to tell us the details of what they were doing and what the different activities were.

For us, this is the most compelling aspect of Tiempo de Juego’s work; each member, independently of their role (participant, monitor, youth leader, coordinator, project manager) have realised that through the project they can help to develop themselves and others. They also understand their importance as a role model for others at the project.

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We met so many inspiring people there, but we  were particularly impressed by Eduardo*. He shared his story with us and, seeing him now, you would never guess his background.** In addition to the incredible achievement of turning his life around despite the odds, the most impressive thing about him for us was his commitment to Tiempo de Juego and his continuous efforts to ensure that the privileges he’s been able to attain for himself are shared with other members of the project. At the moment, he is studying sport in university in Bogota thanks to a grant he won from Adidas. He talked to us about his efforts to develop a shorter programme at the university that other young people from his neighbourhood can access, in conjunction with the University principal and private organisations.

7There’s a wonderful sense of team spirit at Tiempo de Juego. This is exemplified by the astonishing collective effort the staff and young people made to reclaim a warehouse and parking area which they are using for break-dance classes as well as the first ‘Art Fair’ last year involving all the community. We watched the video of the Fair and it was a real community celebration!

The recording studio and the artificial football pitch are other incredible achievements, although they involved a considerable external investment. We thought that the real achievement here is the way Tiempo de Juego administer and maintain them, as well as the project’s capability to ensure that the members benefit from these investments.

It’s very difficult to pick our favourite part of the visit. It was wonderful to see that everybody was very respectful and willing to show us their project, and particularly explain their personal involvement with it.

DSC_0731One part that we particularly enjoyed was having chance to talk with some of the children and young people during a break after their music workshop. Pilar and Andres, staff at Tiempo de Juego, facilitated our interaction with the youngsters and during this time they talked to us about their challenge to achieve what they dream. One of them wants to become a hairdresser, another wants to become a psychologist. Tiempo de Juego helps them get closer to realising their dream by providing them with advice and offering projects of different sizes that prepare them for future challenges.

We took a few lollipops that we managed to distribute during the break, everybody was very polite, even at this moment. Only one boy asked if he could take 2 more lollipops for his relatives, which initially caught our attention. Pilar and Andres explained that it’s common for children to save anything that they receive and take it home to share it with their families.

Another great moment was talking with Sebastian who manages the artificial football pitch. He told us about when he had the chance to go to Brazil for a football competition. He shared his experience from the putting in a proposal, to the competition process to the logistics associated with the trip. He told us it it was “an unimaginable experience”.

5Just before we left we went to the bakery and one of the mums who works there offered to buy some food for us. We were impressed with the affordable prices given that this project intends to be self-sustaining.

We’d like to say to the team at Tiempo de Juego: “Please continue growing up and developing Tiempo de Juego through your continuous commitment. Each of you is a role model for younger generations and an example to follow for many others. Thank you for all your time with us!”

*Children’s names have been changed for child protection reasons.

** You can read more about Eduardo in his own words in our blog post “No longer afraid to dream”

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Colombia Office Diary

On her recent trip to Colombia our Programmes Manager Jennifer visited a potential new partner organisation in Cali:

After strolling through the narrow streets for only 15 minutes, we had already crossed 3 ‘invisible borders’ – the lines that demarcate the territory of different armed groups. We were able to pass through safely thanks to the staff accompanying us, who are well known to everyone in the neighbourhood and appreciated by many locals. For others however, crossing these borders can be the difference between life and death.p8

As we walked along, a nine year old boy flew past us on his bike, slowing down a few metres ahead to say “hi” and chat.  Once we left him, we learnt that in 2014 he had been attacked and stabbed nine times. An armed group had tried to kill him in retaliation for ‘jobs’ that a rival group had paid him to do. He was asked to call certain people out of their houses, and once they were outside, the group murdered them. Thankfully he survived, but ‘invisible borders’ now confine him to a mere 2 blocks of his neighbourhood. If he leaves these blocks he will be attacked again and might not survive next time. The local school is visible from the streets he is ‘allowed’ to be in, but he can’t walk down the road to attend.

Hearing this harrowing story it really struck me how crucial it is to continue working in neighbourhoods like this one, which will see minimal changes after any peace agreement with the FARC. Many of our partners work in neighbourhoods controlled by armed groups that have no qualms about using children for their criminal activities.  We have to continue supporting our partners to make children and young people less vulnerable to these kinds of risks, to help them develop the skills to make safer decisions in the face of these threats, and to create role models that show children that they can have a positive future.

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