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.

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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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“Meeting and playing football with some cool kids”

This blog post has been written by two of our youngest supporters, ten-year-old Oren and eight-year-old Brae from Norfolk.

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Oren and Brae are spending a few months living in Santa Marta in the north of Colombia with their parents, who have been Children Change Colombia supporters for many years. As well as enrolling at a local school, the boys have been getting involved in supporting a local branch of our partner organisation Tiempo de Juego. Their project in Santa Marta follows the same principles as the one we support in Cazucá near Bogotá – giving children from disadvantaged neighbourhoods the skills and knowledge they need to keep themselves safe, build their self-esteem and spread positive change in their community.

We have been inspired by Oren and Brae’s understanding of the difficulties faced by the children they have met at Tiempo de Juego and by their enthusiasm for fundraising to help children at risk across Colombia. We’re sure you will be too…

This is a special post as this isn’t just for fun. I’m not just writing this blog today to tell you what we’ve done this week. I’m writing it because I want to help some Colombian children we met and we need your help. 

While we are in Colombia, my mum is volunteering at a charity called Tiempo de Juego (Play Time). Tiempo de Juego help children who come from a poor neighbourhood of the city near us, called La Lucha. Lots of children who live there have very different lives from me and Brae and most of our friends. They don’t have water or electricity in their houses or doctors if they get sick. Also, lots of them don’t have a dad living with them and their mum has to go to work to earn money so they don’t have anyone looking after them after school and there are some scary and dangerous things happening where they live.

 Tiempo de Juego organises football clubs for children, so that they have something good to do. Also, when they go there they can learn from older children that joined the football club when they were young who can tell them how to keep away from the bad things in their neighbourhood, stay safe and have a better life. 

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Because my mum is working there we got invited to a charity football match. It is quite interesting as when they play football in their clubs the games have three parts. First, the children in both teams agree on some rules at the beginning. Everyone has to come up with the rules and there is no referee or grown up to decide the rules for them.  For example, they might say that a girl has to score the first goal (loads of girls play football in the clubs), or that play stops if someone gets hurt, or that everyone in both teams has to celebrate when someone scores a goal, and things like that. Then they play the football game. Then the third part is when the teams get together to decide who has won, and it’s not necessarily the team that scored the most goals! It is also about which team followed the rules best that they agreed at the beginning.

 So, last Wednesday we went to a special pitch (it was special because the famous Colombian footballer Carlos Alberto Valderrama, otherwhise known as Pibe Valderrama, played on it when he was a little boy) and we watched another charity play against Tiempo de Juego. In the middle of one of the matches the team instructor came up to us and asked if we wanted to play! We were a bit nervous at first because we didn’t know what the rules were, but we soon got the hang of it and before long we felt really part of the team. 

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In my match my team played well but the other team scored more goals 😦 but after the match we talked about who followed the rules best and we gave points. The score in points was, us: 7 and them: 5, so we won! 🙂

I wonder if Mr Brown might want to do a match like this in training to see how it goes? 

Anyway, I have been thinking a lot about these children and I feel sad that they don’t have the simple things they need in life. So Brae and I have made a fundraising page and we really, really hope that it can make a difference to their lives. 

If anyone felt that they could make a donation we would be so happy and we’d feel like our blog was really doing some good, apart from just talking about our adventure. We hope to see our new friends from Tiempo de Juego again so we will tell you more about them next time. Thank you, friends, family and all our blog readers!

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As well as writing about Tiempo de Juego in their blog – which has over 600 subscribers! – the boys have helped to organise a fundraising event at their school in Norfolk. On Wednesday 9th March, Colby School will be holding a ‘Colombia Day’ to raise money to support our work. Pupils at the school have been invited to wear the colours of the Colombian flag and there will be face painting, nail varnish, cake sales and games throughout the day. Oren’s friend Ava, who is four, has been busy preparing for the event…! Good luck and thank you to everyone involved, from all of us at Children Change Colombia!

Oren and Brae have already raised over £750 for Children Change Colombia! If you would like to donate to us and support their campaign, click here.

To read their other blog posts, click here.

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How training as a youth leader helped change my life and my school

2015 was the first year of our 3 year project on sexual and reproductive health and rights funded by the Big Lottery Fund and The Evan Cornish Foundation and run by our partner Fundación Si Mujer.

The project has trained youth leaders, who assist with the design and implementation of activities, and also share what they have learnt with their peers. Here is a report from one of those leaders, Diego Rico Rivillas[1] about how this training has impacted his life outside the project.

To read Diego’s report in Spanish, click here: Informe Diego

“In 2015 my school planned to develop a project on sex education. Since I have been learning so much about this with Si Mujer I spoke to the teacher who was in charge of this and we worked on it together until the middle of the year when he left. I then found out the school psychologist had been put in charge of the course and went to speak to her to update her on everything we’d been doing so far and to let her know what we had planned for the rest of the year. As we talked I realised that she planned to teach the course from a religious perspective and that rights such as the right to a legal termination and the use of contraceptives would be ignored. She also told me that I could no longer be part of the project.

On the suggestion of my teacher, I submitted a complaint form so that I could put forward my arguments on the matter. I explained that I thought the project should be taught based on scientific facts, openly and honestly, without prejudices and in a secular way as per Colombian law. I was told that my recommendations would be taken into account.

A couple of months passed and my school simply didn’t hold any more sessions on sex education.  Around this time, we found out that some of the girls in the school were pregnant. I talked to the school Directors and tried to persuade them to let me carry out the project if no-one else would. I tried to argue the importance of sex education to prevent even more teen pregnancies like the ones we were seeing, but still nothing happened.

In October I filled in another complaint form, in which I reminded my school of the importance of talking about sexual health and reproductive rights and of the legal framework that requires schools to teach children about these.

The school accepted that they had been wrong, and said that, since the school year was almost over, they would have talks about sex education in the upcoming ‘cultural week’ that they had planned, and then next year they would do something properly about the topic. Don’t worry, I will still be there next year to make sure that they fulfil this promise!

In addition to this, I have been able to carry out some replicas of my training with other students in my school – for example at the end of October I held a session with about 60 young people from grades 7, 10 and 11, where I told them about the cases in which abortion is legal in Colombia, and about use of contraceptives.

I think an even bigger achievement this year was being able to make my school modify a rule of theirs that restricts appearance and clothes, including restricting hair length for boys and preventing boys from wearing earrings.

In Si Mujer we had learnt about the right that education be directed at the free development of our personality and how we could defend this right in our schools. I spoke to my classmates about this, and the other things I was learning at Si Mujer, so when one of the teachers told my classmate that the next time she saw him with his earrings in, he wouldn’t be allowed to enter the school, he knew that it wasn’t right and he told her that she couldn’t order him to take them out. She replied that she could as he had signed a document agreeing to behave according to the school rules.

I tried to talk to one of the teachers about this, but she wouldn’t listen to me and just accused me of interfering in things that had nothing to do with me. In the end she told me to submit a complaint form.

I wrote a letter explaining the right the school was violating, with some details about rulings of the Colombian Constitutional Court on how this rule had been applied to educational establishments. I argued that since the document we had to sign on joining the school violated this right, it was not valid. I also reminded them that piercings were an ancient part of our culture, way before the Spanish colonised us. I asked them very politely to change the rule in the same way that other schools had already done to comply with the Court’s rulings.

The school informed me that they would have some meetings to discuss this and in the meantime I prepared by reading up all the rulings of the Constitutional Court and finding out as much as I could about the matter. In one of the meetings they let me have an hour to explain my argument. I prepared a presentation using slides, pictures and videos, in which I referred to our constitution, the rulings of the Constitutional Court and agreements that Colombia had with institutions such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. When I finished everyone debated the right that I had explained and what the school should do about it. It took a while but we eventually agreed that the school manual should be amended so that boys are also allowed to wear earrings, although we agreed on restrictions for how large they could be. At the end of the meetings the students and the parents and teachers were all happy with the agreements we’d reached.

Given all the differences we had this year, at the end of October I was surprised to receive a letter from the School Directors thanking me for having contributed to the improvement of their institutional processes.

Today I feel really proud of what I achieved last year, but I am certain that everything I achieved was thanks to what I’ve learnt through Si Mujer’s training, with the support of Children Change Colombia and the Big Lottery Fund. Without these organisations none of this would have happened.”

[1] Diego has kindly given us permission to translate and publish his report and to use his real name.
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Niños y niñas desvinculados de los grupos armados ilegales se encuentran de nuevo con sus familias

Natalia, nuestra Directora de Proyectos en Bogotá, observa a niños y niñas desvinculados de los grupos armados ilegales encontrarse de nuevo con sus familias

En Colombia no se sabe realmente cuántos niños, niñas y jóvenes hacen parte hoy en día de los grupos armados ilegales. Tampoco se sabe exactamente cuántos de ellos deciden salirse del grupo, escaparse, o cuántos son entregados. Lo que si sabe es que en algún momento dejaron a sus familias de origen, a sus lugares de estudio y de juego para entrar a estos grupos, y que algunos de los que han salido están siendo atendidos por una de las 8 fundaciones colombianas que aplican el programa Hogar Tutor. Una de esas fundaciones es CRAN, nuestro nuevo aliado y ellos me invitaron a participar en una actividad con algunos de los jóvenes desvinculados que están atendiendo.

Se trataba de un encuentro con las familias de origen de los jóvenes. Es decir, con las familias que dejaron hace unos años o meses y que en su mayoría no habían vuelto a ver.

La actividad era sencilla: mientras los papás, mamás, abuelos, hermanos, primos o tíos esperaban en un salón, el equipo de CRAN presentaba un video de cada joven, en el que le daban la bienvenida a sus familiares y les decían lo que esperaban del encuentro. Cuando cada video terminaba, entraba el joven y su familia lo recibía. Se saludaban y se sentaban juntos mientras se presentaba el siguiente video.

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Mientras veía como entraba cada joven, cómo se abrazaban y decían palabras de bienvenida, pensaba en lo fuertes que son estos jóvenes, en la cantidad de situaciones que han tenido que vivir en los pocos 13 o 17 años que tienen, y en todas las que les faltan para realmente poder cambiar sus días. Pensaba en lo diferentes que somos todos los colombianos, pues incluso entró una joven indígena que su familia no saludó, pero su madre le dio la silla donde estaba sentada para que quedara en medio de ella y de su padre que no levantaba los ojos del piso. Pensaba en lo afortunada que soy por tener la oportunidad de estar en ese espacio, conociendo esas historias, y en todo lo que debo aprender y hacer  ayudar a estos jóvenes a tener una inclusión social real, positiva y duradera.

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