Project: Protecting Children and Young People at Risk of Forced Recruitment and Gang-Related Violence

Project location: Bogotá, Colombia

In 2016, Children Change Colombia was able to send £30,000 to Tiempo de Juego, including £11,500 generously given by the Allan & Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust.

Thanks to your generosity, Tiempo de Juego’s work to protect children and young people from forced recruitment or other involvement in gangs and urban militia groups went from strength to strength last year. They worked with more children than in previous years, using drama, music, film and arts activities to occupy their free time, help them express their ideas in a positive way, and engage and galvanise their families and the wider community in positive change.

Key achievements of the project in 2016

·   110 children and young people have developed and put into practice life skills that enable them to confront the dangers and violence they face daily within their community

·   120 children and young people have been able to use art to express themselves, improve their relationships, and to become agents of change within their community.

·   6 youth leaders, who are also recognized as active positive leaders within their community, have taken on leadership roles in the running of the 4 programme units, and 4 of them are running these sessions with support only in planning and evaluation.

·   2 organisations have adopted TDJ’s methodology in artistic activities and use it to promote positive change in the outlook of young people in vulnerable communities. 2 more are in the process of adopting the methodology.

Activities with children and young people

During 2016 Tiempo de Juego (TDJ) worked with 272 children and young people in 4 units – music, drama, film and art. 83 children participated in music workshops, 39 in film workshops, 85 in art workshops, and 14 in drama workshops. In addition, 51 children participated in a separate film unit run by TDJ’s youth leaders.

Understanding risks in the community
One of the key aims of this project is to ensure that the children understand the risks that surround them in their community, develop skills to protect themselves from these, and understand how to use these skills in their day to day lives. Previously TDJ has been successful in engaging older children and teenagers in debates about the risks in their communities and how they can avoid these, but in 2016 they made important advances in this area with the youngest children in their groups.

In each of the units the workshop leaders led an analysis of the risks in the community and how the skills the children were learning could help protect them from these risks. In one music workshop, the youngest group of children learnt a song with lyrics that portrayed a world where everything is upside down and not as it should be. The children were encouraged to consider what was not as it should be in their home and community, and what their life would be if these things were put right. The children suggested a number of issues that they would like to change, such as violent relationships with their parents, overly-demanding school work, and Colombia’s long-running conflict. The workshop leader then helped the children think about how they could begin to change these issues by approaching potential conflict situations calmly and resolving disagreements in a non-violent way. The children came to an agreement that it is important for them to talk about their problems with adults, and also for adults to give children opportunities to play a part in making decisions about matters that affect them. One child said, “We should be in charge of the country, not the people who are now. Then there wouldn’t be any more war. We’d get angry about things when necessary but we wouldn’t be violent.” The children’s active participation and their thoughtful proposals during this activity demonstrated that they had taken on board the skills of peaceful conflict resolution and managing their emotions and were able to think critically about the risks they face in their community and beyond.

In general, children in the project have begun not only to understand the skills and the tools they are learning about and apply these in the group sessions, but also to apply them in their daily lives. From self evaluations and reports of the workshop leaders, TDJ estimates that 110 of the children have been putting into practice the skills that they have learnt. In self evaluations 65% of the children report that their participation in the project has helped them to improve the way they communicate with others, for example their ability to listen and to express their thoughts and feelings. 76% reported that they had learnt to respect the thoughts and feelings of others. At least 100 said that they felt safe within the group and considered it to be a “family” with whom they felt confident talking about their problems and emotions. The children who considered they had not developed skills in these areas were children who had only recently joined the project, or who had particularly difficult relationships with their families.

Learning about how to be agents of change
In 2016, TDJ organised a number of activities through which the children and young people could develop their ability to share the skills they had learnt, both artistic skills and life skills, with members of their community in Soacha and further afield. Through these activities the children were able to demonstrate how the arts can contribute to building a culture of peace in a community. In one activity, TDJ’s youth leaders ran a short workshop at Bogotá’s annual International Book Festival with children from schools across the capital to showcase the work they do with TDJ and its impact on them as youth leaders and on the children they support. They also talked about the positive impact TDJ had had in their community. This activity empowered the youth leaders to talk in public about the changes they are bringing about in their community, and the positive comments they received from the teachers and students at the festival helped them to recognise how important and impressive their work really is. Importantly, it also helped the children feel that they were breaking the negative stereotypes many people in Bogotá have of Cazucá and its population.

At the end of the year each group presented a selection of their work at TDJ’s large annual community festival – ‘Cazucá Sueña’ (Cazucá Dreams). The festival was organised by the young people themselves and attended by over 1200 community members (almost double the number of attendees in 2015). The aim of the festival was to demonstrate to community members the transformative power of art and to engage them in a dialogue about the risks in their community and how they can better protect children and young people against these. Organising a festival like this has in itself converted the children and young people into agents of change; they demonstrated to the community their positive potential. Through this festival, community members could see that the children can work together and achieve something that is constructive and good for the community.

Using positive leadership to improve the community
During this period, TDJ continued to work with the children to develop their understanding of key elements of positive leadership and provided them with opportunities to demonstrate what they had learnt in this area. TDJ found that the children were able to demonstrate their leadership abilities not only during planned activities, but also voluntarily in unexpected situations.

One of these unexpected situations arose on Colombia’s ‘Love and Friendship Day’ in September when the older children from the music unit performed for patients at three clinics for the terminally ill. The children found visiting the clinics and learning about the patients’ illnesses a difficult and emotional experience. After their first performance, the young people decided to discuss how they were feeling and why they felt the way they did. They concluded that although the experience was challenging, it was important to consider the patients’ feelings above their own and to pull together as a group to give the performances they had promised to give. The young people approached the following two performances with a positive attitude, aiming to spread joy through their music and interacted well with the patients. The mutual support the young people gave each other and their ability to put others’ needs above their own even in challenging circumstances are both important elements of positive leadership which the group demonstrated voluntarily, without input from TDJ’s staff.

Sharing with other organisations

In 2016, TDJ continued the work they began the previous year to enable other organisations to replicate their methodology. By the end of the year, 4 communities/ organisations in locations across the country – Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, Pereira in the central coffee region, Timbiquí in Cauca and towns in the Boyacá region – had begun applying TDJ’s methodology to their work with children. TDJ chose to work with groups of community leaders as well as staff at established organisations to ensure that their training would have the greatest possible long-term impact on the communities. TDJ hoped to entrench their methodology by training local leaders who are invested in developing their communities and would likely remain living in that community all their lives. The work TDJ began in 2015 with a group of community leaders in Timbiquí inspired these individuals to such an extent that they decided to set up a new branch of TDJ in their community. TDJ’s project staff, workshop leaders and youth leaders visited the new project base to support the development of this branch. During a week-long visit by the community leaders to Cazucá to immerse them in TDJ’s methodology, the youth leaders ran a series of arts workshops with the visitors.

Support and monitoring by Children Change Colombia

Children Change Colombia’s work is underpinned by a commitment to helping our partners become stronger organisations, better able to support vulnerable children in the long term.  Our Bogotá-based Project Officer, Natalia Ucros, has conducted monitoring and project visits throughout the year, providing technical support and overseeing submission of mid-year and end-of-year reports. Tiempo de Juego told us that the work they did with Natalia last year really helped them gain a clearer perspective of why the monitoring and evaluation tasks we request of them are so important to their development as an organisation, as well as to us as a partner.

Thank you for your support!
This work would not have been possible without your generous contribution!