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“A microphone, a guitar and a spray can; these are their weapons.” These could be the lyrics of a song by the wildly popular Juanes, but the singer-songwriter was actually referring to the work of his foundation, Mi Sangre, which campaigns for a Colombia free from violence for young people.
The Foundation’s programs offer Colombian youth, many of whom are victims of violence in the country -- 4,000 minors died in 2003-2006-- the chance to practice the art of singing, painting and composing to exorcize the threat of violence on the streets, in their neighborhoods, homes and schools.
That is why I am so pleased with our partnership with Juanes and his foundation. A month after we signed a Memorandum of Understanding, I am happy to reaffirm the importance of this partnership based on mutual learning and support.
Our support focuses on measuring the impact of this pro-peace initiative with a view to systematizing it and promoting its expansion.
Our technical teams’ initial visit to schools in Sierra, one of the Medellin neighborhoods where the Foundation works, provided input on the realities and challenges we need to take into account to help young people.
“There’s only one street into this neighborhood. That’s it, one street. Our young people have assumed it as their destiny…just one path: the path of violence,” said a school principle, describing the situation of the local young people, who cannot cross the boundaries established by the youth gangs.
“I want to show young people that they can have a future, that they can complete their education, go to university and be prepared to get a good job. I’ve made the commitment that every year 15 of my students will go to college. Last year, we managed to get seven accepted, but we need help,” he said.
In Colombia, where the conflict has continued for more than 50 years, the road to peace is long and full of obstacles. This is especially daunting for young people. After having been victims of abuse and forced displacement, many of them exhibit long-term effects which feed into the cycle of violence that is still affecting some regions of the country.
In a study on the impact of violence in the education system for example, children were asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Some replied saying they wanted to be members of paramilitary forces and when asked why, they responded: “because they are in the town square with women, weapons, money and jewels.” For young people, these things represent power and leadership.
Children suffer the most
The violence that still plagues Colombia affects children the most of all, and the statistics bear this out. Between 2003 and 2006, approximately 4,000 minors died in violent circumstances. Some 900 were killed in massacres, according to the National Police Force. And despite major campaigns to prevent their forced recruitment, there are still large numbers of children in armed groups. Poverty obvious nourishes this situation: nearly 40% of Colombian children live in poverty while 17.5 % live in extreme poverty.
With innovative cultural initiatives for young people, Mi Sangre helps mitigate the impact of violence, contributing to building safe environments and developing young peoples’ citizen and life skill to give them access to a better education and enhanced opportunities.
“Pazalobien” is one of the methods Mi Sangre uses in schools. Its two objectives: to build a culture of peace based on positive experience and to do so through young people’s the language and expressions.
Juanes, who I was fortunate to meet at the memorandum signing, told me that through Mi Sangre, he has met many young people, friends and colleagues, who through art have assumed responsibility for their community, their history and for building their future.
“I used to think that youth was a lost age and that I should wait until I was an adult to make decisions. Now I realize that as a young person, I can participate and contribute to my community,” said 15-year-old Lina, a participant in Mi Sangre programs.
“To be young is to dream, sing, wear your hair in a wild style, to disagree and to imagine. But it is also to propose, participate and transform,” said 18-year-old Razpa.
Measurement, the key to success
It is essential to rigorously evaluate how effective art and music are in improving the quality of life for young people subject to violence. Within the World Bank-Mi Sangre Foundation partnership framework, the Bank will provide technical assistance for designing and implementing these evaluations.
This will strengthen the Foundation’s impact, thanks to measureable evidence with its target population – children and young people in situations of risk and violence. It will also encourage government leaders to consider this type of initiative in their public policies.
During the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, the minister of education said that World Bank support will potentially enable the methodologies developed by Mi Sangre to be scaled up nationwide.
Today, we want to share how music and art can contribute to building a society of peace. To this end, we will bring together actors and key beneficiaries in national and international events to share their experiences.
Our education team in Colombia, led by Martha Laverde, with support from staff working on peace issues in other sectors, is committed to this challenge. The team has developed a rigorous work plan and we’ll be using this blog, our website and the media to share their progress.
This is the only way we can help make young people’s convictions and aspirations a reality:
“Art serves to express what reason cannot. I think we young people can transform the world,” said 20-year-old Wilmer, who works for the Foundation in Medellin’s Comuna 5 neighborhood.