The following piece was excerpted from a report Natalia Caruso (MADRE Program Coordinator) and I wrote for 2009 edition of the publication Youth Media Reporter.
The armed conflict in Colombia between government, rebel
guerrilla and paramilitary groups has ground on for well over 40 years, undoing
countless communities and traumatizing generations of Colombians. It is
difficult to overstate the impact that a generation of warfare has inflicted on
the population. Massacres, kidnappings, “disappearances” and displacement have
become a tragic but common feature for many communities in
Meanwhile, in a neighborhood outlying Bogotá, Colombia, a deceptively nondescript building houses a group of young people mobilizing media as a tool to counter the pervasive violence sustained by the decades-long armed conflict.
Founded in 1992, Taller de Vida (Workshop of Life) stands as
a bulwark against the pervasive atmosphere of violence in
The organization’s programs are youth-led, in many cases by the same people who originally entered the organization as participants.
The story of Adela (not her real name) provides one such example. When she was 11-years-old, she fled an abusive family and was recruited by an armed group. For the next four years, she served as a child soldier, transporting goods and guarding hostages. Finally leaving the armed group, she was placed into the state welfare system. Although she had left the “battlefield,” she struggled to re-adjust to civilian life and to share the story of her life with the people around her.
In a recent conversation with MADRE staff, Adela explained:
The social welfare system only preoccupies itself with whether we helped clean or that we studied, but never worried about what we, who had been part of the armed conflict, felt. I believe that it is very important. It is so important for the children who have been involved in armed conflict to have someone who will listen to them, who will allow us to freely express ourselves, and to have someone who understands us. The social welfare system doesn’t do that. They don’t give us psychological assistance. I believe most of my fellow child soldiers feel the same way.
Taller de Vida’s media and art programs are mobilized in the service of addressing the serious psycho-social needs Adela identified here and helping people with trauma. This is exemplified by the video production entitled “Esta Guerra no es nuestra y la estamos perdiendo (“This War is Not Ours and We are Losing it”). In this project, youth participants documented their experiences of war and displacement. In so doing, they put forward a powerful message of opposition to the conflict, to its impact on their communities, and to the human rights violations it triggers.
The risks of violent attack are significantly higher for those whose work raises their profile as an agent for social change, and particularly for Indigenous activists, women’s human rights campaigners, and trade unionists. As a result, the youth project leaders and participants at Taller de Vida engage in their work at significant risk to themselves. Yet, to walk into the offices where their activities take place, one is keenly aware that the desire to promote an atmosphere of free expression, of shared values and of joy overrides the conflict still raging outside. The dynamic among the young people in artistic workshops—dance, capoeira, video, and photography—at Taller de Vida is enthusiastic and energetic.
In a recent similar initiative, Taller de Vida and MADRE
partnered to coordinate a multimedia workshop. Miguel Macias, a MADRE volunteer
and radio producer, shared his reflections on his recent visit to Usme, in the
The first day of workshops is conducted at the top floor of the building Taller de Vida has in Usme. (…) Some of the students are barely 22-years-old and they have already been a part of an armed group in
. Or two. My instinct pushes me to push them to give those stories away. So I can publish them. So I can surprise the readers of the world. With their stories. Colombia
Taller de Vida has created a safe space for young people affected by the armed conflict to come together and express themselves freely. Their art-therapy activities, such as the video series and trainings on video documentation, are based in a human rights perspective. The young people of Taller de Vida have their own voice and their own vision of a future without violence, conflict and internal displacement.