Our exciting new three-year project with Circulo de Estudios
Today, 19th June, is International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. To mark this day, we want to tell you about our work with our partner Circulo de Estudios on the issue. Together we will ensure that being born into conflict does not have to define a child’s life.
Levels of conflict related sexual violence remain high in Colombia’s jungled Chocó region, where we have been working with Circulo de Estudios since early 2017.
For years, armed groups have perpetrated massacres, torture and disappearances against the local population, forcing thousands to flee to the regional capital Quibdó. Families have been torn apart, half the city’s population lives in extreme poverty, and rival armed groups vie for control of communities. The presence of these groups puts children at increased risk of sexual violence, whether they are involved with the groups or not.
Conflict-related sexual violence affects all generations. Children conceived this way often struggle with identity issues and have problems building relationships with their families, making them feel isolated and putting them at higher risk of recruitment into armed groups. The stigma associated with both the mother and child can have life-long effects on their mental health, as they can feel ashamed and find it difficult to integrate into their community.
Jairo and his mother Maria, who are participants in our project in Quibdó, fought these feelings:
When Maria was 16, guerrillas attacked her remote town in Chocó and she was raped by two of their men. She fled to Quibdó with her mother and soon realised she was pregnant, but was too ashamed to report the abuse to the authorities or to seek medical advice about her options.
After her son, Jairo, was born she suffered severe psychological trauma and struggled to accept her son. The only emotions that Jairo learned to feel were the anger and desperation he encountered at home. He dropped out of primary school, and with no support to help him understand why he felt this way, turned to the only people he thought could give him a purpose; he began running errands for a local armed group.
When he was 10, Jairo was invited to join the project run by our partner Circulo de Estudios. At first, he was reluctant to take part and was aggressive towards the other children. But with support, Jairo changed his behaviour and began to make friends. He realised that he could be appreciated without having to resort to crime.
Two years later, he is a regular at the project and he’s discovered hidden talents. He’s a natural leader, his peers look up to him and he loves helping to run activities for the younger children. He’s now known within the community for his work with children, not with the armed groups. He’s back in school, Circulo de Estudios is helping his mum, and he has even set up a band playing traditional local music.
Our work tackling conflict-related sexual violence in 2018 and beyond
We want to take this opportunity to tell you about our exciting new three-year project with Circulo de Estudios (CDE), which began this Spring. It will continue to offer support to children and young people affected by conflict related sexual violence in Quibdó.
We are delighted to have secured funding from Latin American Children’s Trust for the project, enabling us to build on the achievements of our work in 2017 and provide longer term, more sustainable support to children, their families and local communities. A new and exciting element of this project is a focus on youth leadership and advocacy work that will help the young people themselves to take action to protect their peers from conflict related sexual violence.
Last year, CDE identified that they were interested in incorporating a youth advocacy element into their work in Quibdó and so our Colombia-based Project Officer worked with them to identify the steps that they needed to take in order to do this. Using examples from our other partners’ experiences, we helped CDE’s team to recognise that in order to develop youth advocacy it was important to provide more opportunities for child and youth participation within the project, to help the children and young people to develop the leadership skills and confidence required for carrying out advocacy activities in the community. Our Project Officer then helped the team to identify ways in which they could involve children in the planning, implementation and evaluation of the project.
These plans have now taken shape and over the next three years we will be working with CDE to train a group of 40 young people to become youth leaders and learn how to demand that children’s rights are protected in their communities. They will learn about leadership, what it means to be a leader and different ways in which they can advocate for their rights.
The aim is that over the three years, these young people will advocate for changes in their schools to ensure a greater protection of children’s rights. They will also participate in meetings with public institutions and local government mechanisms that are responsible for the protection of children’s rights, and work with adults in these forums to define the risks children face in their communities and actions they can take to mitigate these. We will be providing on-going training and guidance to these young people along the way and we look forward to being able to update you on their achievements over the next 3 years.
Thank you for your support which makes our work on this incredibly important issue possible – it’s thanks to you that children like Jairo have the chance to redefine their lives and build a safe, happy future for themselves.