Peacebuilding en Las Américas

A Photo Story: AVP with Nasa Indigenous Community in Cauca, Colombia

Bombed building from Red Zone violence, Caldono, Cauca, Colombia.

The geographical areas with greatest vulnerability in the Colombian armed conflict have been the indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories, located in the coastal and southwestern regions rich in natural resources. In 2016, Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) workshops began in the Nasa indigenous community in Caldono, Cauca, a former Red Zone of armed conflict. 

“Caldono is north of Cauca, south of Colombia. It is a strategic region for armed groups below the law. Because of this, we are victims of this armed conflict. We want people to understand this. It is not that we are a Red Zone, but it is because of our geographic location, which allows these groups to move in this land,” explained Omar, a local leader and AVP participant. 

“Caldono is a place with many mountains and forests, so it has been very impacted and taken by FARC. FARC is very well known on an international level because of their acts. We live in this context. We live very close to the war.” – Yuli Ochoa, Participant 

A bombed school where the workshop took place. “It is very common to see the war, this conflict. There are currently not mass killings like before, but we have to be careful of people we don’t know. We have to talk to them cautiously and have a level of care and precaution to know where we shouldn’t go. This is it. This is the context we live in.” – Yuli Ochoa, participant 

Joaquin, 73 years old, stands on top of a hill overlooking Caldono. He walked for four hours from his home in the mountains, the farthest peak shown in this photo, to attend this community training for peace.

“We are Paez Indigenous. The majority of inhabitants of Caldono are Nasa Indigenous. It is to say that there is a very small population of farmers, so we, the indigenous, manage our own reservations, governments, ideologies, and ways of doing proceedings when problems in society arise under our laws. Our indigenous community is very strong. We have our own culture, cosmovision, and customs.” – Yuli Ochoa, AVP Participant

Yuli, Director and Teacher at School, opened her doors to AVP Colombia. She stands in the garden she created outside of the school. 

Kids are often very affected from this… We can talk about how the war is over there, how it is causing all of these problems, but many times there are things happening inside the home. For this reason, a young person decides to go to the guerrilla or do military service because they don’t see another option for their life. They don’t see good treatment in their homes. They don’t see opportunities or understanding. So, if we can see a young person and reach them in a way that is non-violent, it would help to generate another mentality, another way of thinking, reflecting and understanding that they as a person or as a community or family is extremely important in the process that is there.” – Yuli

AVP Colombia Road Map. Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) workshops began in this Nasa indigenous community in Caldono, Cauca in 2016. The local sponsor was the Pentecostal Church whose pacifist pastor serves on the municipal reconciliation committee.  Participants included a former guerilla and a former military soldier.  

The workshops draw on the shared experience of participants, using interactive exercises, discussions, games and role-plays to examine the ways we respond to situations where injustice, prejudice, frustration and anger can lead to aggressive behavior and violence.

Concentric Circles is an exercise used to start to break down barriers by getting people talking to each other. Two people will take turns talking about a topic. When one person is listening, they are only listening. They do not make comments or enter into discussion.

Concentric circles exercise.

Some examples of Concentric Circle topics include: Someone I admire and why. Something good that happened to me on the way to growing up. A quality I admire in a leader and why. A quality I look for in a friend and why. A time I did something I am proud of. A time I overcame fear. A positive influence that is helping me now. A part of me or my life I want to work on this next year. Some things I do to show I respect myself. Some ways other people can help me grow toward my goals. 

Gladys Cedeño, AVP Colombia Facilitator, sits with participant 

I can say from what we have seen, [AVP] is a way that not just reaches someone, but allows them to work on their internal part.” – Yuli, participant

Self-reflection and group reflection are both important aspects of the AVP basic workshop and methodology.  

One woman writes about her strengths. 

“One thing is that we have now is a larger understanding of where conflicts come from and from this information we are able to resolve our own internal problems. Some problems are similar in other countries because our problems are caused by people and as people we have difficulties. But, if we know how to resolve these difficulties and find alternatives, it is a blessing and valuable.” – Omar, participant

The Alternatives to Violence Project Basic Workshop teaches interpersonal conflict resolution skills through a series of step-by-step processes. These experiences in small groups and one-to-one interactions build a sense of community and trust through experiential exercises.

Trust exercise.  

Joy and laughter are important parts of the Alternatives to Violence Project. Light and livelies are an energizing activity and/or humor to balance sedentary activities and emotionally “heavy” exercises. They are the icebreakers and community builders.

“The AVP program we can apply by teaching and practicing what we have learned.  If before we lived in a corridor of guerrillas and violence, now it has to be a corridor of peace for our region, our families, our ethnicities, and our territory. We must bring it to other groups and our families, teaching them what we have learned.  We have to find solutions to our problems by dialoguing and changing our attitudes.” – Omar, participant

“What I have received from AVP was very significant for me because each workshop that they gave us proved to be even more practical. In this way, we can apply nonviolence to things and we can generate alternatives. We can generate routes and different ways so that we not only can transform, but others can too. And to know that this work does not just correspond to me, but also impacts the way I work with my students, the way I am with my family and the community that I am a part of.  It was very significant. I want to thank the facilitators for their support. It is a very useful tool we can apply to our context, where you see a lot of suffering in homes as well as in society. So, I would like to thank you and I hope you are well!”- Yuli

Group photo