Recent scholarship has demonstrated that youth are not mere subjects of policy interventions, but vital actors in peacebuilding. I place this finding as the central starting point for peace research with youth in Colombia. For nearly a decade I have engaged in collaborative research with social leaders like Naún Álvarez González, a young, Afrodescendant campesino from a community that values oral tradition. Naún writes in this piece of increased opportunities for youth to participate in the creation and implementation of peace policy. Angela J. Lederach (Ph.D. ’20), Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Creighton University
Youth are at the forefront of peacebuilding in Colombia. We are the guarantors of peace, the ones who will ensure that violence will not persist. In my territory, Montes de María, young people carry the weight of Colombia’s armed conflict. We have lived, felt, and observed the violations committed against young women, Afrodescendants, Indigenous, and campesinos. We know how these violations fractured the social fabric of our communities. We are not just victims; we are also indispensable peacebuilding actors. We do not want the history of violence to repeat itself, which is why we organized the Youth Peace Provokers of the Alta Montaña (JOPPAZ) movement.
Across Colombia, youth have organized nonviolent marches in support of the peace accords, facilitated community reconciliation, and demanded greater equality through national strikes. We have placed our hands at the service of social change – and we have borne the weight of stigmatization for exercising our right to peaceful protest. Our collective experiences shed light on four priorities for peace policy.
First, peacebuilding must center environmental justice. For campesino youth, to take care of our environment is to take care of life, for to care for water generates life. With climate change and the extinction of species endemic to our region, our campesino identity is also disappearing. Today, there is a movement of young environmentalists in Montes de María. When we defend the land and everything that exists within her, we are defending our existence. Environmental care must be the starting point for peacebuilding.
Second, peacebuilding requires political participation. When the peace accords were first signed, we engaged in a process of participation. Out of these dialogues, we made collective agreements with our communities. But today technical operators are once again managing the implementation. Building peace means building community. The community must create, contribute to, and implement programs in a way that deepens trust and strengthens our territory. For us, this requires direct participation. Peacebuilding requires increased opportunities for youth to engage in political participation. We are already creating policies; what we need is participation so that our policies are heard.
Third, peacebuilding should invest more in social movements. The Youth Peace Provokers social movement has generated a transformative process in our territory – a territory violated by armed conflict and massacres, where the social fabric was broken. They tried to extinguish campesino life. They wanted our future to disappear. From this experience, our youth organizations took root. We began organizing, dreaming, caring for, and defending our territory. Ten years ago, I did not hear the voices of young campesinos. But today, young people in the Alta Montaña are presidents of community action councils, leaders of our community organizations, and members of our associations. Most recently, we organized and elected representatives to our municipal council. This is transformative change.
We are building peace to guarantee that campesino life will continue forever. But this requires a permanent process of movement-building. Peacebuilding should invest more in social movements like ours, rather than focus only on technical projects managed by external intermediaries. For transformative peacebuilding we need policies that ensure we will not be stigmatized for nonviolent mobilization. We need policies that promote community organizing efforts like our monthly assemblies, sustained dialogue processes, and community integration efforts.
Fourth, peacebuilding must work towards equitable change. As a youth movement, we have generated spaces of participation in places where our voices were not heard previously. This has been especially challenging for young women who face additional barriers. JOPPAZ is working to build true gender equity in our communities. The social and political participation of young women has strengthened our organizations. Through years of action and reflection, we have realized that the hierarchies always dominating our country have not generated constructive change. On the contrary, they have created greater inequality and discrimination. Youth across Colombia have awakened. We want change that deepens social equity across the differential experiences of gender, generation, class strata, and ethnicity. For rural youth, equitable peace requires access to education so that we can work in our rural health centers, educational institutions, and agricultural agencies.
Defending our territory, healing our relationships with the land, and building community shape our identity and sense of belonging as Montemarianos. Through environmental care, political participation, and equitable public policies, youth are building lasting peace in Colombia.
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Naún Álvarez González is a coordinator of the Youth Peace Provokers of the Alta Montaña social movement and the President of the Community Action Council of Camarón, Colombia. Additionally, he is working towards a degree in Social Work at the University of the Caribbean (CECAR). He has extensive experience in community-based peacebuilding, historical memory documentation, and environmental restoration.