Soacha Delegation

soacha 1 This month, a delegation of Youth Provoking Peace made their way from their cold, mountainous, urban terrain in Soacha, Cundinamarca to the blazing sun, torrential rain, and vibrant green hillsides of the Montes de Maria region. When we caught up with them they had just made their way down into Macayepo from the Alta Montaña, on caked dirt roads that cross through knee-deep creek beds. Despite the heat and long travel days, sleeping wedged wherever they could fit a hammock or a sleeping bag, the conversations were markedly void of complaints or frustrations. These youth were on a mission, determined to make the most of their interactions with their coastal counterparts. The youthful energy was tangible and contagious. Trucks were unloaded and at a moment’s notice handmade signs were raised to welcome the visitors and declare a common goal of peace, solidarity, and a better future. Cesar is a youth from the Soacha delegation. He took a moment to explain in his own words the goal of the trip. “Our primary objective was to have more unity with the people, to have communication, to bring the small portion of talent and effort that we create, that which exists in Soacha, Bogota so that the people from the community here in the coast might better understand us and be able to take in our culture and recognize it in the same way that we have been able to recognize our culture and fight for it.” cesar rappingCesar and his companions are not only urban youth interested in peace, but also talented artists and musicians who had come to share their art forms with the youth of the Montes de María. Both communities have suffered violence and difficult circumstances related to the long armed conflict in Colombia and the displacement created by it, and they have taken it upon themselves to be part of the reconciliation process for their home-communities. In Soacha, the arrival of people displaced by the armed conflict has led to difficult living situations, vulnerability, gang violence, and drug abuse. Montes de María was the sight of some of the most brutal displacements and massacres during the darkest years of the war. Both communities are working to reclaim their identity and build peace. The Soacha delegation enthusiastically shared their methods of artistic expression, including rap music and graffiti art, which have helped them transcend difficult circumstances and define their urban identity. This cultural sharing and solidarity between the communities has had its impact, both when a group from Montes de María recently visited Soacha, and in this current delegation to the coast. Both communities are home to organizations with which the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has partnered, peace-minded organizations such as Sembrandopaz. David, a volunteer from the Soacha delegation, explained to me that these exchanges are part of a program called “intercambios” in which youth participate in delegations to various regions and organizations in partnership with MCC. I asked David what he hoped the youth on the coast would gain from the exchange. He replied, “that they might be a little bit more open minded, that they might not only be focused here in the mountains, but rather that they see that on a national level many things are happening, many sad experiences, but that they don’t linger on this, but rather that they rise above it.” Carlos, a young participant from Macayepo, described his experience in these words, “For me, first of all I am grateful to all of them because they have helped me overcome many things, one thing in particular being timidity; thanks to them I have learned new things, I have helped my community. It’s good because we got to help our community, we got to know each other, and at least now I have a variety of friends that I wouldn’t have had. And I like this because it is a very good way to encourage people, the youth more than anyone, to not get involved in bad habits; they are able to be engaged in something else.” CarlosAs far as the youth from Soacha go, I asked Cesar if there were any lessons he would be bringing back to his home community. He replied, “That not everything has to be sadness, that there can be unity and happiness, that it is possible to do something beautiful with a big group of youth, and above all, if I’m bringing something to say, it’s that there was a lot of unity in the people, that there were many highly respectful collaborations and a lot of love.”