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Colombia – choosing peace with dignity

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Colombia is a country that has been living with violence for decades. Armed conflict is deeply rooted in the country’s history, and the violence continues despite the signing of a peace agreement.

Every day there are reports about the murder of popular leaders fighting for their rights, environmentalists protecting nature, ex-combatants trying to re-integrate into society, women because they are women and young people because they express critical opinions. Intimidation, extortion and fear are part of daily life for many people.

Colombia is a society with extremes of wealth and poverty, where about 50% of the population works in the informal economy. The pandemic has further exacerbated the inequalities and shown that the country is still a long way from overcoming poverty. It is a poverty that goes beyond a shortage of food – the people are also poor in freedom of opinion, political involvement and prospects for the future.

Atucsara, a partner organization of Fastenopfer (Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund), works with farming communities in the department of Cauca. It takes an integrated, multi-dimensional approach which ranges from improving agricultural production to boosting participation in political life so that communities can put forward their suggestions and take part in debate and decision-making processes. But what would be the point of all that without at the same time working to develop a culture of peace and gender equality? That would be to forget one important aspect, namely the awareness that every single person has a key role to play in establishing peace.

Peace is about the past, and about human relationships and equality between the genders. Peace depends on the interests of individual groups and on the conflicts that are playing out in several different regions. Atucsara contributes to a culture of peace through its work by making people aware that they can change their reality.

Atucsara’s projects are about much more than knowledge-sharing. It also supports activities such as setting up savings clubs which help to build up trust and a sense of responsibility between people. Agricultural communities are working together to develop alternatives to growing coca. People are being equipped with the ability to put forward their own suggestions and demands in forums for dialog that bring together different generations to reflect on their relationships and discuss subjects like domestic violence. Major issues such as reconciliation and forgiveness in the context of conflict are also addressed. All this is helping to establish more peaceful coexistence within communities.

“Making peace means teaching the right values, respecting beliefs, trying to find strategies for living together in a healthy, non-violent way. It means knowing how to live together with your neighbors and set a good example. It means being able to understand and relate to other people’s suffering.”