I returned from a three-week project trip to Colombia in mid-October with a wealth of new impressions, experiences and encounters. During my visit to the project, it became clear to me what a significant role art plays as a means of transformation in the Horyzon project Paza la Paz:
My trip started in the capital Bogotá. In Juan Rey, a remote community at 2,800 meters above sea level, I was greeted by the "Golden Family", a 15-member group of lively teenagers. At first glance, they seemed like normal teenagers: the boys teased the girls and vice versa, coolness is important and good looks too. But then the Golden Family performed a theater on the street, which not only made me swallow empty, but also made passers-by stop. It was about violence against women, domestic violence, femicide and the state, which does nothing about it.
The Golden Family, as the name suggests, is also a kind of substitute family for many. On the way home, I learned from one of the project workers that many of these "normal" teenagers come from broken families and have had to endure severe blows of fate. The Golden Family therefore gives them both support and a perspective on a life that is not characterized by violence, but by peaceful coexistence.
With their theater, the young people of Juan Rey are doing important educational work in their community. Together they raise their voices and bring the feminist strike cry "ni una menos" to their families and communities. At the same time, the theater is also a way for them to work through their personal traumas related to violence.
The next day we drove to the neighborhood of Santa Fe, the "Zona de tolerancia," or red light district, where the Horyzon project Paza la Paz has been present since early 2021. Before we arrived in Santa Fe, I was prepared by the project staff: Zona de tolerancia means that everything is tolerated here: Drug trafficking and use, weapons, prostitution, crime, but also the presence of a growing LGBTQ+ community and a large Venezuelan diaspora. In Santa Fe, one of the young people from the project took me around the neighborhood and explained the context. I saw apartments where Venezuelan families live ten to a room, the street for trans prostitutes, and the precinct of a criminal gang. When we arrived at the YMCA center, the young people received me shyly and reservedly. Later I realized that this is a natural protective reflex. Why should one trust even a stranger just like that? During the dance performance that followed, the young people then thawed out a bit.
By mixing a traditional Colombian dance with a Venezuelan dance, the project makes a statement against the burgeoning xenophobia against Venezuelan migrants.
The theater, dance and rap performances, the graffiti and murals trigger multi-layered learning and development processes in the young people. For example, they jointly identify a specific problem in their community, such as violence against women, xenophobia or drug problems, and develop a concept in their group on how to address this problem in their environment. This enhances their planning and organizational skills, their creativity, their problem-solving behavior, and their identity as peacebuilders.
Throughout the process, the youth are closely guided by the project staff, who skillfully incorporate knowledge content into the workshops and train the youth in core skills. Through this approach, art becomes a form of expression for the young people, a way of processing emotions and trauma, and a means of transforming their personalities. The goal is not to train the young people as artists, but to trigger life-changing developments through art.