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Pathways to community justice in Colombia

Pathways to Community Justice in Colombia

We are true believers that it is possible to impact positively on the community we live in. Even though is not easy some times, with the right help it is possible, we have seen it… we have even taken part of it. It’s us locals doing something for the community we live in, an opportunity to give instead of just take.

This project has all been a joint effort between the local Mosaic coordinators, an International Peoples Project and our partner organization, the School of Community Justice of the National University of Colombia. The theme was community justice through social networking, and it was developed in two phases (one that took place between October 2009 and January 2010 another that began in February until June 2010).

Given the turbulent past and present of a country like Colombia, it is understandable how alternative methods of conflict resolution fit in any given community in the country. The School for Community Justice strives to support the communities in need by providing them with the knowledge and skills to resolve their own conflicts without having to go to use the court system or to engage with illegal armed groups. By their framework, conflicts are seen as an opportunity to postively change people's behaviour, which results in the transformation of society. A perspective that CISV also shares. In this sense, the whole idea of the School of Community Justice is not only to give the community the tools to find a solution to certain situations but to generate in the different actors the capacity to understand each other’s needs and interests. This means putting aside the idea of conflict as an obstacle, to see it as an opportunity for moral growth and transformation, which ultimately transforms social relations. Managed properly, conflict can lead to the development of mutual respect and consideration, it can give confidence and self-determination, and it can improve the way we interact with others.  

The chosen place was Arauca, a state located in eastern Colombia next to the border with Venezuela. This isolated community opened their arms and hearts and homes to the School for Community Justice and later to our Mosaic project. 

Our group is from the capital city of Colombia, Bogota, and in many ways, we are isolated from the rest of the country. When we were told we would travel to Arauca our first thoughts were of conflict, guerrillas and paramilitaries. But a few short days there were enough to realise that this is an area like any other in Colombia: They have suffered through conflict and still do but they are people with infinite hopes and happiness. They are people who want to change the negative image of the place where they live. People who have faith and believe that tomorrow their country will be a better place.

On behalf of the project coordinators, we can say that between ourselves and the community it felt like love at first sight. We shared hope and the belief in their community and in our country. We felt privileged to be observers and to learn about how they solve their own conflicts, taking into consideration their social norms and how they manage to keep up the friendship ties within the community in a historically violent region. At the same time, we were very happy and eager to share our experiences, and CISV activities related to peace construction and prejudices. Our small contribution in this huge process was to share some of the spirit and educational tools of CISV. We are proud that through this partnership we have introduced the theme of Community Justice to our youth participants and we have encouraged community members in Arauca to take part in the meaningful work of the School of Community Justice.

One of the most inspiring moments was the planning and implementation of a weekend workshop with young people from the four towns in Arauca, participants of the International Peoples Project and the staff from the School of Community justice around the theme of conflict resolution.  

So far we can say we have discovered the realities of a stigmatized zone in our country, we have understood that community justice, as an alternative mechanism of conflict resolution, is a feasible way to achieve a peaceful society and we continue to work toward the challenge of creating activities that will help members of our own communities (in CISV and beyond) to become more active local citizens by supporting and contributing to the peace culture in Colombia! 

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