Conflict Resolution with Former Child Soldiers and High-Risk Youth Focused Training in Colombia

Name: Mr. Oscar David Arizmendi Rodriguez
Occupation: Leader of Social Work Area, Ciudad Don Bosco Salesian Center in Medellin, Colombia

Following the recent signing of a peace agreement, which ended decades of ongoing violence and armed conflict in Colombia, new and already established local organizations are helping displaced and marginalized youth reintegrate into families and communities.  

More than 7.2 million people in Colombia have been displaced internally, due to the conflict, with a portion of those being youth exposed to different risk factors including former child soldiers. Many of those high-risk youth are now receiving help at the Ciudad Don Bosco Salesian Center in Medellin, Colombia.

Ciudad Don Bosco, is a non-profit organization established in 1926, which promotes the physical, social and spiritual development of high-risk youth through a specialized educational environment. This unique center attempts to include the participation of families and the community in this development process. Many of the youth who come to the Center are vulnerable which can have serious implications for their well-being and development.

Oscar David Arizmendi Rodriguez, Leader of the Social Work Area at Ciudad Don Bosco, says “We are working to reestablish the rights of the youth so they can have dignified livelihoods.”
The Children and Youth Protection Area of Ciudad Don Bosco, where Oscar works, consists of 7 programmes which focus on reestablishment and protection of rights for youth. Oscar estimates that more than 1500 youth will be attended by Ciudad Don Bosco in Medellin this year.

In October 2016, two months before the Congress ratified the final Peace Agreement, two UNITAR trainers specialized in youth and peacebuilding held a 5-day training-of-trainers workshop with approximately 40 participants working in several departments within Don Bosco Centers, Schools and Institutes. The peace and conflict resolution training covered various issues including gender, inclusion, conflict resolution, coexistence and resilience. The core of the training was based on 4 comic books which were developed in Colombia in collaboration with former child soldiers. These comics were included in the Center’s pedagogical strategy for the reintegration of former child soldiers, recruitment prevention of at-risk youth and de-sensitization purposes. Oscar said the training was very interesting, “because we learned many strategies for facing the issue of conflict within groups.”

Looking at the overall impact of the training, Oscar noted that within the Don Bosco Center the reach is already expanding, following the recently implemented multiplication of the training. That second round of training included colleagues from the areas of psychology, pedagogy, social work, and nutrition. The newly trained staff are also planning to expand the training-of-trainers to include children and youth within what they call the “Pedagogy for Peace” cluster of activities due to take place in 2017.

Due to the training, “Concrete positive results are already being seen” said Oscar, who shared an example of how one visualization method learned at the training was recently used to diffuse a conflict between a group of youth and the guards of the Center.

Learning different techniques for conflict resolution in a group setting is considered to be especially important for family settings, which has proven to be one particularly difficult situation for the at-risk youth. Oscar hopes that UNITAR will continue supporting Ciudad Don Bosco with the development of trainings intended to improve the impact of work conducted within families, ultimately leading to stronger communities overall.

Oscar has been at Ciudad Don Bosco for 13 years now and he is still very passionate about his work, because he is convinced that “children and youth are the present and future of society and I firmly believe that through my daily actions, professionally and personally, I can do something positive for this society”.

Related links:

UNITAR Launches Child Soldier Comic Books