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On the path of love: from bully to best friend

Civil war, drug cartels and poverty - the children in Colombia have many problems, but together with Plan International, they are staring to take control over their lives and are learning to live peacefully together

It is hard to believe that Camilo and Kiara are now best friends. Camilo used to bully Kiara, who was too scared and shy to report him.

"Camilo hit and teased me and I was afraid of how he would react if I said anything. I felt bad and did not want to go to school because I was afraid I would bump into him. I didn't want to meet my friends, or go out, nothing." Kiara says.

Camilo remembers how he and some of his friends used to bully Kiara. "I teased her a lot, hit her and did lots of nasty things. I was not a good friend."

Although Camilo made Kiara's life hell, he himself was going through a difficult time. He didn't get along with his parents and felt misunderstood by the world.

"There were a lot of problems with my parents, we fought all the time. If any of my siblings did something stupid, it was me who got the blame all the time. It was always my fault. It felt like my parents did not want me. Eventually, I told myself that I didn't want to live anymore. Twice I tried to commit suicide but luckily I stopped myself.

Kiara and Camilo's relationship changed when they joined Plan International's peace building project 'El Camino Del Amor' (The Path of Love) funded by the Swedish Postcode Lottery. The project supports and strengthens children, teaching them about their rights and encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions, both in school and outside.

Suddenly there was an opportunity for them to talk to each other, and Kiara took courage and told Camilo how she felt. Today it is hard to see any trace of the shy, bullied girl who was too scared to go to school.

"Everything changed when Camilo and I started talking to each other. He told me things about himself and I told him how it felt when he was being mean to me. After a while, I saw that he was actually quite understanding and caring. Trust started to grow between us and I spoke up when he said something to me that I did not like. I became much less shy and stopped being afraid of things.

For Camilo, the project has completely changed his way of looking at life. Before, he used to be frustrated and his relationship with his parents was disintegrating. Now he is more focused on his future, his parents treat him in completely differently.

"The peace group has not solved my problems, but when I joined the group, I learnt how to solve them myself. It made me realise that my behavior was not good, and I learnt how to talk about my problems instead. At home, it's much better now." Camilo explains.

The peace group's work to eliminate bullying and fights at school has had clear results and Kiara, who knows how it feels to be an outsider, is proud to now be able to help other children who have suffered abuse.

"There was a boy who used to be teased because he was so good at school. It made him very sad. I recognised myself in him and decided to help change the way he was being treated. Now it is much better, everyone at school is one group, no one feels left out." Kiara's says.

Even the teachers at the school have made positive changes. The atmosphere is better than ever and it is clear that the students and teachers feel they can talk to each other to resolve conflicts and problems.

"The capacity of students to solve their problems is amazing and it has meant that we teachers are not going to the principal requesting help with issues, as the students have already solved them on their own", explains Orlando Rivera, a teacher at Camilo and Kiara's school in Cauca Valley Department.

Since the Path of Love project began, conflicts at the school have been reduced by up to 90%. Every year, a new group of students gets involved with the project to ensure it continues.

Orlando has also noticed how project has affected the mood of the entire village.

"Previously, many of the adults thought that young people were lazy who did not take responsibility. Now they see all the amazing things that the young people have achieved. They show movies in the square, put on plays and broadcast radio shows about what is happening at the school and in the village. They have started art activities with the younger children and are there when the elderly need help. My students' parents are proud of their children. They have taken control of their own lives and have improved the mood of the entire village."