Peace in Colombia

In places like Apartadó (Antioquia), you will find a desire to chance things.
Photo (CC BY-NC): Dana Ritzmann

“48 millones” is an initiative designed to make visible and connect regional leaders in Colombia, thereby strengthening their efforts to rebuild the country after the long awaited end of the armed conflict.

19-year-old Larry speaks with the wisdom and tempo of someone who has lived a long life. He tells us he was a hammer thrower, a student official, a comptroller, and a tourist guide; that he had been a victim of the violence in Colombia, displaced by the war to Bogotá, and an environmental activist; that he has been so many things during his short life that, voluntarily or involuntarily, he has become a leader.

Larry’s mother was widowed during the so-called massacre of La Chinita in 1994, one of the cruellest episodes the country witnessed and in which the father of Larry’s elder brothers was killed. Larry himself was born in Apartadó in the department of Antioquia in 1998, and yet talking to him, one gets the impression that he was born in a different world to that of his parents and siblings. Larry speaks of his dreams, of his faith in democracy, of his eagerness to better himself and become an example for his nephews and cousins.

Cristian was born in the fertile region of Urabá almost 20 years ago, the same number of years he has to wait before becoming governor of Antioquia, a dream he smilingly mentions to everyone he meets. It’s not a child’s dream but a political path Cristian is striving to approach with each decision he takes. He is already president of the Board of Communal Action of the Primero de Mayo district, elected by the people for the position that was unpaid although it was important insofar that it was, as he describes it, the “lung of politics”. Cristian is the definition of a natural leader. During his last school year he was elected student official with 72 percent of the votes, and in 2016 he was nominated by his neighbours and elected by 331 votes to 41.

Along with a group of friends concerned with the environmental needs of Apartadó, Cristian and Larry set up the Más Verde Menos Gris Foundation (More Green, Less Grey) that works for causes like the defence of water, empowering the people and rebuilding the social fabric. The foundation addresses environmental and social issues, such as the scheme for 1,000 vulnerable youths with a background in crime to plant 1,000 trees and thereby contribute to the environmental revitalisation of their towns that, in turn, symbolically represent the beginning of a new attitude to life.

Leaders to Unite Millions

This was the initiative that led Cristian and Larry to join the “48 millones” project, a movement promoted by the Corporación Visionarios por Colombia (Corpovisionarios) and the Federación Nacional de Personerías de Colombia (Fenalper), with the support of the British Embassy in Colombia, that strives to connect the pioneering leaders in the peace process from different regions with citizens from the rest of the land who wish to take part in the reconstruction of the country at this historic moment.

Early in 2016, 48 millones summoned the leaders of the peace construction initiatives. The challenge was to find the heroes who, like Larry and Cristian, had already begun to rebuild the country in their home regions by means of various projects. The objective was to connect them and to endorse their work by assigning them innovative strategies that would make an impact on their communities. As a result of the call, almost 40 leaders from various Colombian regions shared their plans and dreams, coming together to strengthen trust and set up cooperation programmes for joint projects.

Referring to 48 millones, Cristian says: “They took a long time to set up this sort of platform. It enables those of us who are doing these things to come together, as it teaches us new ways of making social impact on the community almost immediately. Projects like ‘Minga le ayudo’ or ‘Hágame un 48’ are simple things that produce a great impact with scant resources.” (Translator’s note: The Quechua word minga means collective work and is used in this context replacing venga [come on], so the phrase is comparable to “come on, I'll give you a hand”, while “hágame un 48” is a play on the Colombian set phrase “hágame un 14”, an informal expression for “do me a favour”.)

The Words of A New Colombia

“Hágame un 48” was one of the actions carried out. Collection boxes circulated in every town to allow anyone who had received a selfless favour by a fellow countryman to write that person's name down on a piece of paper, put it in the box and have it handed to him in a ritual of recognition. In his turn, that person continued the chain, and so on until a closing date on which the box was opened and the chain of favours was made public. The action revealed forms of solidarity that already existed in the towns, generating dynamics that enabled the identification of good practices with an imaginative strategy.

“Minga le ayudo” is a collective action in which citizens cooperate to build, rebuild or refurbish a space or a property of public interest that is beneficial for the community. Larry and Cristian, along with other leaders from the Urabá region, recently organised a minga to help improve the living conditions of a shelter for Cuban refugees in the town of Turbo. They managed to convince a group of volunteers and welcomed the donations of the necessary materials. Over and above the specific purpose of each minga, the intention is to strengthen local leaders, supporting their accomplishment of collective actions. “Minga le ayudo” enables communities to practice cooperation for common ends, changing the idea that Colombians do not work in teams.

48 millones intends to shed light on the heroes who in different parts of the country are trying to solve the problems of their communities, proving that they are not alone and transforming the national imaginary regarding the identity of Colombians, particularly in the remotest areas. Furthermore, the project helps the urban majority overcome their feelings of helplessness at watching the conflict and construction of peace on television, offering them a platform from which to join the local initiatives set up to transform the country. In this way, bridges are built between different regions, between urban and rural areas, promoting cooperation, active citizenship and a new model of voluntary work, thus helping the 48 million residents of Colombia build the country of their dreams.

Cristian hopes that in future most Colombians will form a part of 48 millones, that when they need a favour they will say “hágame un 48” (at present the popular Colombian saying is “hágame un 14”) or “Minga le ayudo” (instead of “Venga, le ayudo”). As he tells us, he dreams that these will become “the little words of the new Colombia”.