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What no child should have to see…

The paintings of a nine-year-old boy, living in a ‘safe zone’ set up with the support of Christian Aid, bring home the reality of the decades-long conflict that has torn Colombia apart.

Edile sits at a desk and paints a picture  
Edile with one of the paintings reflecting his fear of attacks by armed groups

Disturbing scenes from Colombia

From a distance, Edile’s painting looks like one you might see in any primary school classroom in the UK. It’s only when you take a closer look that you realise the distressing truth: no nine-year-old should ever feel compelled to draw scenes like this – of armed men firing bullets into a house.

Edile is growing up in the midst of a vicious conflict in Colombia – one that has killed at least 220,000 people over the past 50 years.

War for land

It is a war for land, characterised by appalling human rights abuses: executions, ‘disappearances’, people forced at gunpoint from their homes by armed groups, who often sell this land at a huge profit to timber, banana and palm oil companies. They use the threat of violence to prevent the people they displace from returning.

  • I am afraid of people dying, that they are killed, that the paramilitaries will come here.’

Edile’s father was murdered by an armed group when Edile was very little. He is now afraid that paramilitaries will kill other members of his community. His painting gives form to his fear.

‘I am afraid of people dying, that they are killed, that the paramilitaries will come here.’

His fears haven’t gone away yet, but Edile now feels – and is – much safer than he was.

He lives with his mother and grandma in a ‘humanitarian zone’, an area backed by international law and created by communities to protect themselves from the violence around them. Anyone bearing arms is denied entry.

The space to be children

Edile’s newfound security means he can now enjoy lessons and educational activities. The teachers keep an eye on the psychological wellbeing of Edile and his friends, who have been through so much in their short lives. They also have the space just to be children again.

‘I am happy here,’ says Edile, his eyes shining. ‘It is fun, we play ball, I have many friends.’

Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace

The Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP), one of our partners, played a crucial role in setting up the 15 humanitarian zones that help to keep these children safe.

Father Alberto Franco is one of CIJP’s charismatic leaders. You’d never guess that this warm, relaxed man in a Panama hat has been the target of death threats. He refuses to be intimidated. He says he will continue devoting his life to speaking out to defend the rights of Afro-Colombian communities against paramilitaries and a government that is often complicit in their atrocities.

He explains the importance of the humanitarian zones: ‘If you’re on your own, you can get killed and nothing happens. But if you get together with your neighbours, people know what happens to you, where you are, how you are. People start to defend each other.’

Living in the zones accelerates the healing process, too: ‘The humanitarian zones enable people to share the pain and talk about their situation, or cry. They create the space for people to be listened to.’ 

CIJP helps communities understand the law and provides lawyers to represent communities in the courts, so that perpetrators of violence can be brought to justice.

People like Edile need your help

The tyranny of violence is being challenged by the strength of communities such as Edile’s, the bravery of men such as Father Alberto and the rule of law.

But the conflict is not over, and there are still around 5 million displaced people in Colombia: people wrenched from everything familiar and dear. There are many, many more people like Edile who need your help.

No child should have to go through the kind of fear that Edile has had to experience. With your support, we can help more communities like Edile’s to live a life free from fear.

 


 

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Christian Aid Week 2014

Video: Edile's story

Our work in Colombia

 

 

 

 

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