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.
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.