Building peace, one project at a time in Colombia — Global Issues

A pot boils over an outdoor wood fire at a rest spot in the Serranía del Perijá, in Colombia’s mountainous rural north. More than a hundred people, including former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group known as FARC, their families and locals, as well as soldiers from the Colombian National Army, work together on the edge of a precipice.

They carry three-inch-diameter hoses over nearly six miles of steep terrain as part of a project backed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to improve water supplies.

It took months of hard work to lift the hose, put it in place, bury it and connect it to a local river that provides a reliable supply of water.

The most beautiful thing I remember was the way the army, our former adversary, the community, the former rebels and the local authorities worked together, regardless of the past that separated us.says Yarledys Olaya, an indigenous Barí woman, who spent 20 years fighting for the now-dissolved rebel group FARC.

FARC guerrillas waged a half-century civil war against Colombian authorities, which officially ended with the signing of a historic Final Peace Agreement in 2016.

A new life in a pleasant land

Yarledys Olaya is one of the 13,000 ex-combatants who have committed themselves to peace in Colombia and have started a new life in places like Tierra Grata.

“I imagine my future here; I imagine myself getting older,” she says. “This process has not been easy. In the past we have seen our comrades being killed. But personally, It has allowed me to form my family, to be able to spend time with them and open my home to my daughters.

That is why we want to continue building and betting on peace. Not only for the rebels who have reintegrated into society but for a collective peace for the country..”

In the nearby town of San José de Oriente, locals feared that when ex-combatants arrived in the region, the violence would start again, but they changed their minds when they brought a just peace and a willingness to work on community projects.

Yarledys Olaya arrived in Tierra Grata in November 2016 aboard a truck along with 120 other guerrillas, most of them armed. He was wearing a camouflage uniform, boots, a black T-shirt and he was carrying a backpack and a rifle on his shoulder; she covered her face with a green scarf not wanting to be identified.

“There was a lot of mistrust. I felt that we were reserved, sullen and that the local people looked at us differently”. It had been two months since the Peace Agreement between the government and the FARC had been signed.

“This was not a personal decision, it was a collective decision,” he says. “I thought, let’s continue but let’s live life differently. The good thing is that I no longer had to see my teammates fall, which is normal. during a war.”

Ceasefire monitoring

It was an isolated place; an old farmhouse stood alongside dense vegetation, including the native frailejone plant. A piece of land had been cleared to make room to build a reintegration camp; Everywhere there were Colombian Army and police personnel.

In a nearby area, the United Nations had erected tents where experts who had monitored the ceasefire would verify the laying down of weapons. Between March and September 2017, the UN mission in Colombia received 8,994 weapons from the FARC throughout the country, including Tierra Grata.

Six months were spent building the camp which provided 158 accommodations. The ex-combatants were supposed to undergo a reintegration process there and then leave for a more permanent location, but most of them had nowhere to go and stayed.

Daughters of war and peace

Today, Tierra Grata is a formalized town inhabited by some 300 people, both ex-combatants and family members. Some were born there, and others joined their families.

Yarledys Olaya left her newborn Yacana with a relative when she joined the FARC and was reunited two months after arriving in Tierra Grata. Two years later she gave birth to another daughter, Yaquelín, one of 65 children born in the new settlement.

“Yacana is my daughter of war and Yaquelín my daughter of peace,” she says.

Yarledys Olaya continues to work on community projects, building permanent structures and bringing water and electricity to the town. “As women during the war, we played a fundamental role,” she says, “and now in this new moment, we are helping to build peace., because we feel that this process is ours; that is why we are willing to contribute our last drop of sweat to this future”.

SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Solid Institutions.

SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

  • Sustainable Development Goal 16 recognizes that conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain a major threat to sustainable development.
  • Its goal is to reduce all forms of violence and the deaths caused by that violence. It focuses on ending the abuse, exploitation, torture and trafficking of children.
  • The UN Verification Mission in Colombia was established by the UN Security Council in 2017 to support the peace process in Colombia.
  • It has worked closely with national authorities and ex-combatants to promote progress on reintegration and related security issues.

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