We are 16 boys and girls under 18 who have grown up in the midst of a war which is not ours, says Mayerly Sanchez of the Colombian Children’s Movement for Peace, which has put peace on her country’s national agenda.
Colombians are caught in the cross fire between warring drug cartels, right-wing paramilitary forces, and left-wing guerrilla groups-the legacy of a civil war known as La Violencia. Of the 1.5 million people displaced since 1985, most are children.
“The majority of our members are girls,” Sanchez told Ms. “Some go into high schools and inform classmates about their rights. And some work with small children as they play.”
The movement was formed in May 1996 when members of children’s peace groups attended a workshop, held outside Bogot, organized by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Children and adults planned a symbolic vote that highlighted one hundred “peace points.” On October 25, 1996, an unexpected 2.7 million children voted overwhelmingly for peace.
“Our work as a movement did not end with the vote,” Sanchez said. “It began in a stronger way from that point on.” Her group continues to advise organizations such as UNICEF, the Red Cross, and World Vision, a children’s rights group. Recently, they began working with a UNICEF program called “Return to Happiness,” which uses toys and puppets to help traumatized children recover from violent experiences.