|“We are the hope, the protagonists, the ones who can turn this long-suffering nation’s dream into reality.” This is a small part of the hymn of Messengers of Peace (one of my organizations), a hymn we use to tell Colombians and the world what we think.|
We strive to make all children and youth aware of the social responsibility of creating peace in our country. Peace does not just refer to an end to problems or to armed conflict, but rather to changing the way that human beings relate — shifting our values and committing to our planet.
The world is spinning, searching for answers. They are destroying my dreams with war and lies. But I said no. I said no to the destruction because Christ took me and showed me the way, and he made me a champion. I live in a country that is going through a difficult period, and it has wounded us to the core. Little by little, our armed conflict is destroying the essence of our beautiful Colombia. International Humanitarian Law, the only set of rules that can begin to relieve the terrible pain of the people who find themselves in the middle of the conflict, is violated. In our territory there are more than three armed groups fighting each other: the guerillas, the paramilitaries, and the military. Gangs are growing, showing boys the easy way to survive. Child abuse and mistreatment are taking place in every corner of our country.
In 1996 a group of representatives of children and youth from several child-welfare organizations in Colombia met and decided to collaborate in our work with children and youth. Though we were based in different parts of the country, each group was doing incredible work, and we were all striving to help end the Colombian conflict and promote the well-being of children.
We decided to do something on a national scale because our country needed to know what we were working toward. We also decided that the participants themselves should be children. One of the child activists suggested that we stage a vote. But how could we do that when children didn’t even have the right to vote?
After a couple of hours of discussion we decided to hold our own election, one specifically for children. We hoped that our election would cause adults to listen to the voice of Colombia’s children and recognize our rights, as well as our desire for peace. When we told the adults in our organizations about this plan, the reaction was divided. Some said it was a good idea, and others said that we were crazy, that we would never accomplish that on a national scale. We joined forces with the adults who believed in us, and we got to work.
The ballot we developed listed twelve of the universal rights established by the Convention on the Rights of Children, which was ratified in Colombia in 1991. Then our mission was to do outreach in elementary and high schools, churches, and other institutions throughout the nation, explaining to everyone under eighteen why it was important to come to the polls and vote responsibly for peace and civil rights, to stop the child abuse.
The big day arrived — October 26, 1996. At first we were a little scared, but then we saw that children, youth, parents, and grandparents were gathering in Colombia’s biggest parks, and there were clowns, balloons, and caravans to help promote our cause. That election day was the first day that the media did not portray the presence of any armed group on television or in the papers. It was truly a day of happiness for the country, and especially for the children and youths, because on that day we felt that we were heard.
A total of 2,700 children and youths voted to affirm that the most important rights in Colombia are the rights to life, to peace, to love and family. Through this vote, we taught adults a lesson — that the majority of children and youths think about the common good, not the individual. We showed this by voting for education.
Clearly, we could not stop with the results of the vote, so with the help of other groups we created an assembly. In that assembly we created a minor’s code, where we proposed that youths should not be obliged to serve time in the military. Today this is a reality. One year after our vote, more than ten thousand adult Colombians supported our mandate; they voted for peace, life, and liberty, saying with their vote that they would not involve more children and youths in the war, that they would not kidnap people, and that all of Colombia should be allowed to live in peace.
All the participants in the Colombian Children’s Movement for Peace were committed to our country, and we were the ones going into schools and teaching children and youths how to claim their rights without letting their responsibilities fall to the wayside. We held daily trainings and formed a solid base, mostly using games as teaching tools.
World Vision Colombia, one institution I am a part of, supported us and understood that we wanted to have our own space to do our work in. That’s why after years of work in community projects, we created Messengers of Peace, a space where children, youths, and adults could make possible the construction of a culture of peace. In this organization the participation of children and youths is essential to the process of development in a community with scarce resources. This whole experience was strengthened by the participation and active involvement of youth in all stages of planning, execution, and follow-through on national and regional levels, and in program development in different cities.
Our mission is for young people to exercise their citizenship around the building of peace and democratic bases. In doing this, we achieve the recognition that we are legitimate players in society. In the movement’s own process, we seek to promote the recognition and application of the Convention on the Rights of Children (emphasizing articles 12–15, 17, and 30–31, which have to do with participation) and our national constitution (which speaks about the rights of children and adolescents in articles 44–45, 50, and 67).
Children and youths from the movement dream of being the protagonists in building a culture of peace in Colombia, of taking on an active role that is purposeful and responsible in different areas of civil society and government, calling on Christian values as central to our mission.
This protagonism is represented by our desire to actively contribute to the construction of peace in our country, starting with our own lives, those of our families, and those of the communities where we live.
Our biggest achievement to date is visible in the thousands of hopeful smiles on the faces of the children and youths that we are training; they now know it is possible to dream and change the world. The best way to bring about change, and the most basic, is to be active in your community — to work, play, and learn with your neighbors, identifying problems and coming up with helpful solutions together.
I think that the most important mission for all of humanity, and especially for me, is to follow Jesus Christ and be his instrument of peace on earth, helping the less fortunate and showing them that opportunities exist in the world. I hope each of us will be an instrument that, with love and leadership, accompanies human beings who have lost hope.
I am sure that you can see a change in this generation because the world vision of youth is to cast away the constraints that society imposes. We are showing this awareness and looking for ways to develop the skills we have learned in childhood and adolescence to make positive changes in our country and in the world.
In this way, we as women play an important role. We are the ones in charge of making life a little sweeter because we are sensitive, loving, and respectful of the problems that afflict humans, especially children and youth. The female members of the Messengers of Peace movement define ourselves by the ways in which we have searched for a space to participate in society, a space where we can exercise our citizenship and play a part in searching for solutions to the problems we all face, by means of nonviolent intervention. That is something that we are planting in the hearts of all human beings whom we meet.
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