At a school in Cauca, Colombia, a group of young peace activists are remembering the events of the civil war that raged for 50 years. They are known as semilleros de la paz, or ‘those who sow peace’.
As part of a Plan International project, they are helping to build a peaceful society after the war that came to an end following a peace treaty signed in December 2016.
At the meeting Yunior, 16, and Sandra, 15, hold up a banner that shows the impact of the conflict in the Buenos Aires region. Symbols show exploding mines, armed fighters shooting civilians, men sexually assaulting women and bodies thrown into a river.
Yunior and Sandra recount the atrocities committed over 5 decades caused by the fighting between the guerrillas and paramilitaries. It is thought that over 8 million people witnessed serious crimes during the conflict.
It's better to dream of a good future and to work for it than to dwell on the negative past.
Families were repeatedly caught between the 2 fronts, forced to attend political meetings, swear their allegiance and forced to vacate their houses for the insurgents.
Due to the conflict, violence defined the lives of children in the region. "Many lost one or both parents," 13-year-old Yaris Valentina explains. "We lived in fear of being forced to join the guerrillas or paras."
In Buenos Aires alone, nearly 2,500 people are taking part in the Plan International project. It allows young people to learn about and come to terms with past events and work together to develop a new and better future.
Nancy López from Plan International Colombia says, "To give them courage to speak about their experiences, a theatre group performed a play with scenes from the war but also scenes of reconciliation. During the intervals, audience members described their personal experiences. Intense emotions arose and everyone wanted to tell their story."
"The next 2 phases involve making changes. At the end of the project, we will throw a party in memory of those who died during the war," says López.
As part of the project, the peace activists have compiled a ‘calendar of dreams’ which documents their hopes for the future. Yadis, 16, says, "We need libraries, sports fields and better bus connections to Cali so we can study there."
Yadis and her friends are also making videos about their community to show it in a positive light. "People should realise there is far more here than the violence that is always reported. It's better to dream of a good future and to work for it than to dwell on the negative past," says Yadis.
Every 3 months the peace activists take part in district meetings to ensure their opinions are heard in local development plans. At the end of the year, they meet the mayor and remind him of his promise to include them in the planning process.
The group meet regularly to inform other young people about their rights and advise them on where to get help if they have been affected by abuse. They also speak about which roads are safe to use, where mines may be located and the importance of staying away from drugs, alcohol and criminal gangs.
Plan International is committed to building peace alongside young people in Colombia. During the peace negotiations, we campaigned for children’s voices and hopes for the future to be included. The aim of our work is to create peaceful communities in which young people play an important, leading role.