The AVP program in Colombia is PLA’s longest-running program and has included five regions: Bogotá/Central, Atlantic coast, Northeast, Occident and Medellín. From 2006 to 2016, AVP Colombia completed over 300 workshops, impacting more than 2,500 participants. Youth have been a priority population for AVP Colombia as well as victims of the armed violence, 75% of whom are women. Workshops continue with communities in indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories located in the coastal and southwestern regions rich in natural resources.
With the signing of the Peace Accords in 2016 ending the 52-year armed conflict, Colombia faces new challenges and opportunities. One challenge is reintegrating the newly demobilized FARC guerilla army personnel and persons involved in paramilitary activities.
In 2016 workshops began in the Nasa indigenous community in Caldono, Cauca, a former Red Zone of armed conflict. 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. One striking feature of the workshop was participants’ emphasis on the relationship between peace at home and peace in the country with profound reflections on the way violence is passed from one generation to another within families and communities. Work with victims and victimizers is very important because they are the ones who will generate peace, said Gladys Cedeño.
AVP workshops with adolescent children of ex-combatants in economically marginalized communities plagued by gangs, criminal networks and domestic violence. Franciscan Sisters promote AVP to build the next generation of leaders during this critical post-accord period, marked by ongoing assassinations of social activists and ever deepening national polarization.
AVP workshops expand the children’s level of awareness so they can interact with other people and enjoy and share a space that allows them to obtain internal and external knowledge. It is an opportunity to value the rights and duties that will improve their relationship with themselves, with the people they love and with other people with whom they interact daily.
Franciscan Sisters developed a coexistence strategy from the areas: recreational, psychological, communicative and reflexive. Using these strategies, the student will be able to discover, affirm and deepen the strengths and those of his classmates, orienting them to transform his personal life project more accurately.
It is very important the previous contribution and during the coexistence, of the group director, since the methodology to be used is totally experiential, participatory and reflexive, where the main actors will be the same students and our role will be active companions in the process.
The Franciscan Sisters have incorporated the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) into their work for peace. Since 2006, 75 people have been trained as facilitators (40 of whom are Franciscan Sisters). Alba, the AVP National Coordinator from 2006-2011, was the pillar in the training of the Sisters since 2011. Hundreds of Franciscans Sisters and their associates have taken at least the Basic Workshop. As of 2016, a total of 75 people have completed the facilitator training from the sisters; of these, about half are lay people and half are vowed Franciscan Sisters. Franciscans Sisters are spread throughout the country and incorporate AVP into their work in communities.
AVP Colombia does workshops in Granada, Antioquia, a city that suffered greatly due to its strategic placement as a FARC stronghold in the early 2000s. The paramilitary went in and ‘fumigated’ the town, killing everyone in sight including old couples, children…everyone, said Franciscan Sister Adela. The violence prompted many survivors to migrate, but for those who remain, trauma still pervades many aspects of life. Children are showing signs of the terror of War. AVP workshops have helped ease the pain of families and survivors who saw parents, sisters, or brothers killed. Granada represents one town of the many who have suffered similar violence where AVP Facilitators have helped create a space where individual participants can heal deep personal and communal wounds.