Why is Alternative to Violence Project in Colombia important to spreading peace in the wake of the peace talks?
For Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) Coordinator of Western Colombia, Gladys Cedeño, “the peace agreement is a starting point to work from families on increasing awareness and conscientiousness of what peace means”.
“It is the beginning of a profound and comprehensive work for peace and nonviolence, which generates the need to plant peace, to know strategies and alternatives in media and educational institutions,” said Cedeño.
Many AVP Facilitators believe that now is the time to broaden the scope of AVP workshops, believing that their focus on building communities and trauma healing will help bridge polarized groups as well as spread dignity and self-respect.
“The breadth of people who have been directly or indirectly affected by violence in this country is enormous. Indirectly everyone has. There is a lot of pain, trauma, fear, and resentment that really needs to be addressed if we are going to be able to live together,” said Paul Stucky, who was crucial in bringing AVP work to Colombia and currently works with the Center for Environmental and Social Studies (CEAS) in Bogota to assist local churches in work with victims and reconciliation.
“Our society is very polarized so the challenge is how to build bridges that make dialogue possible. How to build trust where there hasn’t been trust. How to go from a zero-sum game, a you win/I lose or I win/you lose game, to find a place where we have something to contribute and have that contribution be recognized,” said Stucky.
“The AVP training and workshops are very helpful in building community among participants, giving skills for people to recognize their own personal value and the value of others. This is the essence of what human rights and dignity is about: the ability to communicate and talk to each other in constructive ways and begin to think about communities. AVP has a lot to contribute in terms of building communities as well as trauma healing. This is very important,” said Stucky.
Wiflredo Benitez, an AVP facilitator working primarily in Bogota, held a workshop where two participants from opposing sides of the conflict came together.
“It was a very beautiful experience because we had a person who had been a part of the guerilla and in the same workshop, in the same space, we had a commander of the paramilitary who had renounced everything. They didn’t know. They had no idea. They shared all of the exercises, laughed, and talked together. At the end of the workshop, the participant who was in the guerilla told the group about her role. In the other corner, the man raised his hand and said “ah! I didn’t know. I was part of the paramilitary in the conflict.” Everyone else was in their seats like oof! What a shock! But it was really beautiful. People who participated in the war also can be victims of the conflict.”
Benitez believes that AVP workshops in Ciudad Bolivar, where the majority of people are victims of the armed conflict and displaced from their homes, give agency to people in a seemingly powerless situation. For him, the workshops not only help participants overcome their trauma, but simultaneously redefines their role as a victim to one of an empowered spreader of peace.
“This is what we are gaining from AVP. The ability to show people that they have the capacity to have lived a very strong episode of violence but now overcome it and not just stay in their trauma or episode, but now to help other people to also overcome their traumas,” said Benitez