Schools as Centers for Reconciliation in Colombia

For over forty years, a civil war has raged in Colombia between the central government, leftist opposition groups and more recently armed paramilitary groups. While accurate counts of the number of children involved in combat are not available, many experts believe that approximately 10,000 child soldiers are still active in Colombia today despite the demobilization of thousands.

In response, the Goldin Institute is working with local partners in Colombia to build upon the success of the National Partnership for Child Soldier Reintegration and Prevention launched in 2007. This National Partnership engages social, private and public sector agencies to prevent the victimization of vulnerable young people in armed conflict, builds the understanding and commitment within the nation to welcome exploited young people back into communities and provides skills, services and connections necessary for former child soldiers to reintegrate into society.

History of the Project

The use of child soldiers and young combatants in armed insurgencies, militias and resistance movements is a staggering and growing problem in regions as diverse as The DR Congo, Sri Lanka and Colombia. Well over 300,000 young people under the age of 18 are currently fighting in wars or have recently been demobilized. At the same time, the number of children emerging from these traumatic circumstances has dramatically increased.

Many of the communities in the Goldin Institute's global network are working to reintegrate former child soldiers and prevent their conscription into the fighting in the future. How can our communities help young combatants leave the fighting? How can former child soldiers receive the services and support they need to reintegrate into society? What are the roles and responsibilities of different sectors—education, business, government, religious communities, NGO's and others—in providing these services? How can we work together to make sure our society is ready to welcome home these former combatants? How can we work together at home and around the world to break this cycle of violence and prevent the exploitation of young people by armed groups and militias?

To explore and answer these questions, the Goldin Institute partnered with the Centro Mundial de Investigacion y Capacitacion para la Solucion de Conflictos (Centro Mundial) to convene a global forum on the theme of Reintegration & Prevention: Breaking the Cycle of Violence for Ex-Combatants and Vulnerable Children and Youth. This unique gathering brought together teams of engaged leaders struggling to address these issues from over twenty cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, DR Congo, El Salvador, Haiti, Israel, Kenya, Liberia, the Philippines, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States.

The forum also served as a catalyst to promote the launch of a National Platform in Colombia to engage social, private and public sectors throughout the country to promote co-existence, reconciliation and peace-building efforts. This National Platform continues to serve as a leader in the efforts to reintegrate former combatants by providing the skills, services and connections necessary to re-enter Colombian society. The National Platform is also leading groundbreaking efforts to prevent the victimization of vulnerable young people in armed combat and in building the understanding and commitment within the nation to welcome exploited young people back into society.

In September 2010, we partnered with Dr. Ceasar McDowell of the M.I.T. Center for Reflective Community Practice and Fr. Leonel Narvaez of the Fundacion para la Reconciliacion in Colombia to help address the crisis of young people used as combatants. This visit enabled our Colombian partners to adapt and use the "Critical Moments Reflection Methodology" developed by Dr. McDowell to uncover, understand, and document knowledge held by participants in the Schools of Forgiveness in Colombia.

In 2012, the Goldin Institute deepened its partnership with the Foundation for Reconciliation to pilot a groundbreaking new curriculum in six schools focused on preventing the recruitment of young people into armed conflict. The "Pedagogy of Care and Reconciliation" engages students not only in peace-building, reconciliation and facilitation skills, but also encourages schools to become centers of shared learning and development for the entire community.

In 2014 we refinined and expanded the reintegration tools learned in Colombia through cross-training workshops with our partners in Uganda. 

GI Global Associate Issues Progress Report on Project in Colombia

One of the core issues of the Goldin Institute's mission has been our work partnering with communities to promote co-existence, reconciliation and peace-building efforts.

Our partners in Colombia have made great strides in achieving this mission by building community-driven reconciliation tools that are an inspiration to our global network.

Since 2007, when we convened with local and international partners in Colombia to launch the National Partnership for Child Soldier Reintegration, we have continued to seek ways to help local leaders create new and more effective ways to reintegrate former child soldiers.

One community leader who came from the 'National Partnership teaching-tree' is our global associate based in Bogota, Lissette Mateus Roa. Last month, Lissette updated us on the progress of the pilot project began in her hometown in late 2011 called Pedagogy of Care and Reconciliation (PCR).

Lissette explained in the video update how the project is helping bridge the often deep-rooted differences that exist between teachers and students in the schools within her own community. The causes of these differences are complex and unique to the culture of Colombia, but in general are related to the country's decades long civil conflict. Lissette reports that in the schools that have participated, the makeup of the students is a direct sampling of the larger population at whole - especially in rural areas. This includes students who are likely to have experienced the domestic violence, learning challenges and poverty often associated with those displaced in Colombia by the civil conflict.  

As Lissette points out in both the update video and also in this more comprehensive report:


[quote]Most people need new tools for relationship building ... that is what we workshop together with the teachers using the main methodology called ESPERE. In these day-long sessions, two main components make up the training: Forgiveness and Reconciliation ... people learn how to forgive and trainees of the project learn how to empathize with those they may have viewed as being different."[/quote]


[img path="images/IMG_0394.JPG"]Above photo: Teachers consult the ESPERE guide at a recent workshop outside Bogota[/img]
[img path="images/IMG_0067.jpg"]Above photo: Goldin Institute Associate Lissette Mateus Roa leads a break-out circle at recent ESPERE workshop[/img]

To broaden the reach of this innovative new approach to reconciliation, Lissette's team has built an online social platform where training tools can be accessed as well as an online library of all supporting documents related to the PCR project (audios, videos, and photos). Perhaps most importantly, the social platform allows teachers and administrators the opportunity to provide instant feedback to improve the reconciliation methodology by reflecting on their own direct experience.

We continue to be excited to be a part of Lissette's project as she sees it through being more fully implemented. The ESPERE method has already shown great promise in being a model for improving the structural and social aspects of reconciliation and as part of the PCR, more widely applied internationally. In fact, we are currently exploring how to apply the same techniques being used in the PCR project by Lissette and her team to our partners in Uganda

We invite you to join us and Lissette in completing the PCR project – find out how your donation can work directly in peace-buiding efforts.