News Briefs Vol. XXXVI No. 2

Report
from CHF International
Published on 01 Nov 2006
In this issues:
  • Building Peace in Colombia: One Neighborhood at a Time
  • Enhancing Economic Opportunity and Stability in Haiti
  • Editorial
  • From Darfur to Santa Fe: A Journey of Empowerment
  • Assessing the Impact of Con. ict in Ethiopia's Somali Region
  • Working for Stability in Iraq: CHF's Community Action Program (CAP)
  • Ex-Soldiers Now Constructing Roads in South Sudan

Building Peace in Colombia: Local and National Solutions

By Lisa Pacholek and Bryan Winston

CHF International works in some of the most dangerous places in the world, fostering stability and promoting peace. In environments like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Colombia, CHF's support of grassroots development efforts is helping to mitigate conflict and rebuild communities devastated by violence. Working with high-risk communities, CHF International is contributing to stability by promoting democracy, fostering local leadership, providing opportunities for economic growth, rebuilding fragile social ties, teaching peaceful conflict resolution techniques and nurturing hope.

In Colombia, CHF International is operating on a national scale while also addressing critical local problems. Since May 2005, CHF International is working in partnership with the Government of Colombia presidential agency Acción Social, coordinating a national program that has assisted 40,000 internally displaced families to recover from the impact of the widespread internal armed conflict. The program methodology developed and being implemented by CHF and 30 local NGO partners provides an integrated range of services to families - ranging from emergency humanitarian assistance, psychosocial support, income generation, housing improvements and access to water and sanitation. Conditions in 200+ receptor communities are being improved through providing impoverished households with the means to increase their incomes and by financing the construction and repair of vital community infrastructure.

Although once fought primarily in rural areas, the internal armed conflict has taken hold of urban areas now heavily populated with internally displaced persons. Ironically, these are the same people who fled the countryside to escape violence in the first place. The poorest families living in the urban slums often are ignored by local officials and isolated from national politics. They live in neighborhoods that are divided from within by conflicts over scarce public services such as healthcare and education and lack of economic opportunities. In these fractured environments, social problems fester and distrust is widespread. These conditions, when combined with a scarce police presence, permit the infiltration of illegally armed groups and become the catalyst for more conflict.

CHF International is progressively tackling the conflict through community development projects in some of the poorest and most violent urban areas - in Agua Blanca in Cali and in Altos de Cazucá in Soacha, a municipality just outside Bogotá. These neighborhoods are victimized and controlled by armed gangs and paramilitary groups. Households keep to themselves as a survival mechanism and are suspicious of others. CHF International recognizes that these types of disengaged communities, with few economic options and little community cohesion, are major threats to improving national stability and peace. Much of the conflict that CHF International encounters is caused by a lack of trust in the government and local leaders. CHF International works with a broad cross-section of the community to identify problems and prioritize projects that respond to the community's needs. Once community development projects are identified, CHF International coordinates with the local authorities to support the initiatives with funding and technical assistance. By identifying and implementing projects with the community in a democratic manner, our programs contribute to restoring faith in democratic processes. In addition, the financial support provided by the local government to build libraries, water systems and roads goes beyond the tangible goods provided. Government support helps to restore credibility in a system that has a history of corruption and has typically ignored the needs of the poorest.

CHF International is working with youth to foster leadership by providing training and opportunities to test and nurture leadership skills. In the past year, 1,000 youth have participated in CHF's conflict mitigation programs. Older youth are becoming role models for younger children. Fostering leadership and developing role models are especially important in Colombia, where families have been torn apart and communities ravaged by violence and forced displacement.

Without real economic opportunities, the lure of easy money through illicit activities is tempting, especially in neighborhoods that lack a cohesive sense of community. CHF International is raising income levels by linking unskilled workers to local employment needs. By coordinating with businesses and the Colombian National Training Institute (SENA), our programs are providing youth with valuable skills that correspond to the real needs of the private sector and placing them in jobs. Seed grants and technical assistance also help in the formation and operation of microenterprises. Improving access to economic opportunities and employment provide vulnerable youth with the necessary motivation and resources to reject illegal activities.

CHF International is also promoting trust, leadership, and mutual respect by creating appealing options for positive community engagement, such as dance groups, sporting events, cultural fairs and other community development activities. CHF's kite flying fair in Altos de Cazucá and a soccer tournament in Cali were successes, bringing together youth and adults in enjoyable, participatory settings. Improved communication and understanding among the residents have been notable results. Instead of promoting just a few activities, CHF International has supported creation of a broad range of community initiated projects in order to include as many groups within the neighborhood as possible. As the community comes together, opposing needs, desires and interests become shared needs, desires and interests, and conflict is reduced. This is especially important in the neighborhood of Altos de Cazucá, where more than a third of the 23,000 residents are displaced from almost every region of the country.

Even with increased economic opportunities and community ties, the CHF International team recognizes that at some level, conflict will continue as it does in all environments. Therefore, the way people manage conflict is also an important element of creating more stable conditions. Living in a neighborhood where murder is a common occurrence and justice rarely prevails, the population learns to respond with violence. In order to overcome this tendency, CHF International is promoting respect for differing viewpoints and is teaching mediation and other peaceful conflict resolution techniques. Community members are learning to deal with everyday conflict in constructive ways, whether disagreements at school with friends, or arguments with family members or neighbors.

Peace and stability begin in the family and spread outward to the community and national levels. CHF International is providing the tools, opportunities and knowledge needed to make that happen-from one neighborhood at a time to the national stage.

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