Youth, Water, and Peace: Stream Care and Conservation in Montes de María, a Proposal for Grassroots Peacebuilding

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Youth, Water, and Peace: Stream Care and Conservation in Montes de María, a Proposal for Grassroots Peacebuilding

by Katrina Kniss, communications volunteer

posted on August 11, 2016.

The Youth Peace Provocateurs (Jovenes Provocadores de Paz, or JOPPAZ) are a group of adolescent and youth victims of the armed conflict in Montes de Maria whose mission is to promote reconciliation, environmental protection, and to create a better future for youth. Because youth are still both victims and perpetrators in different contexts of the war in Colombia and the world, due to their voluntary or involuntary participation, their involvement in this group is crucial to build peace in their country. The region of Montes de María has a long tradition of community organization, and youth have actively participated in these processes. Youth showed a lot of interest and active participation in 2013, when the Peaceful Movement of the High Mountains mobilized peacefully, demanding holistic reparations because of the effects of violence and the crisis provoked by the loss of almost 7000 hectares of avocado crops. After seeing the high levels of youth involvement in the this event and all over the region, Sembrandopaz started to motivate and accompany the initiative of Youth Peace Provocateurs, since 2013. Within a short time, this youth-led group has pulled in youth participation from all across Montes de Maria, organizing them around the values of nonviolence and care for the environment.

JOPPAZ in the High Mountains region is made up of a coordinating committee of 10 leaders, a general assembly of 2 leaders (1 male and 1 female) from each of the 52 communities of the High Mountains for a total group of 104 youth that meets at least once a year, and all of the youth in the region are invited to participate in events and initiatives. Groups of youth connected with JOPPAZ also meet in Libertad, Pichilín, and Mampuján.

Colombia’s youth are the future of this country, and as such, are who will make possible the transformation of the country’s long cycle of violence. Youth represent the hope that allows us, as a society, to transform our collective pessimism into trust. The youth of Colombia will show us that change is possible, and because of this, they are who should lead and be the cultural force for peacebuilding and reconciliation.

Within this region and many others, however, many youth face the specific obstacles of childhood trauma and displacement, which have disconnected them from their identity as peasants and their traditional ecological knowledge. The values of non-violence and environmental care therefore serve to cultivate a culture of respect and responsibility that validates the dignity of the campesino (peasant) way of life, and free youth from the cycle of violence in which they are trapped, allowing them to be a positive force for peace in their community. In this context, a subgroup of JOPPAZ has emerged, the Guardians of Sustainable Environmental Development (Guardianes), and is now beginning work on a project that will engage both of these values of the organization of nonviolence and environmental care through the medium of working on stream bank restoration.

The government of Colombia requires military service for all men above the age of eighteen. This type of requirement only serves to reinforce a culture of violence and a continuation of a culture of war. In a historic moment in which non-violence should take the foreground, Sembrandopaz is therefore supporting the streams project as a proposal for an alternative environmental service to obligatory military service, one that recognizes the specific knowledge base of youth and engages them in the cause of conserving precious ecological resources, in other words, nurturing life instead of violence. The project will map an important stream in each community that Sembrandopaz accompanies (Pichilín, Libertad, Alta Montaña and Mampuján). The youth will mark its path with GPS as well as noting spots of importance for resources and biodiversity, and places that need special care. For example, where does the road cross the stream? Where is there sand mining? Where are there native trees that can prevent erosion? What areas of the stream are dried up? Where is pollution entering the stream? The Guardianes and this project recognize the crucial, life-giving role of streams in the coastal environment and promotes their conservation at a community level, led by those who best understand the local ecology.

In order to receive the funds and backing for such an extensive project, the youth must create a proposal for each community that demonstrates that this type of care is necessary. Each community has a group of 4-5 youth who are working on the proposals and will also be the same ones to carry out the project when the time comes. In recent workshops, youth have been learning to use GPS and mapping software, brainstorming lists of allies and important community collaborators, and putting together budget proposals. All of these activities, besides contributing to the project itself, are teaching crucial and practical organizing skills, as well as strengthening the values of a culture of peace.

These four teams will then collaborate during a retreat to improve their budgets and share ideas and resources. One community will then be chosen as a pilot to test out the project. While it remains to be seen whether or not the project will receive the funding it needs to be carried out to its fullest capacity, the planning process is also a journey full of excitement. Stay tuned for updates as the project progresses!

Youth from the High Mountains learning to use GPS and mapping software.
Youth from the High Mountains learning to use GPS and mapping software.