Redefining the Notion of Community Building: Strategic Community Building as Peace Building in Medellín, Colombia

Medellín, Colombia, has been an urban epicenter of political violence for more than 40 years. As the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) concluded their peace negotiations putting an end to more than 50 years of civil war, youth leaders in Medellín continued to find ways to cope with the conflict. They have developed ways to identify and execute alternative and very efficient ways to build peace in their communities and improve the living conditions of children, youth and adults.

The Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) Program, housed at AC4, initiated a project in Comuna 8, Medellín, intended to bring together research, theory, and practice in collaborative action with local youth leaders. This project looks to comprehend, elicit, and ultimately contribute to the strength of the already innovative work being done by youth community leaders. It is doing so by providing theories and methods from the fields of conflict resolution and communication.

The YPS program is based on the premise that strategic community building IS peacebuilding. This is informed by the notion that in order to do strategic community building, the local leadership, their knowledge and practices, must be identified and disseminated in a participatory process between content experts in the field of conflict resolution and local practitioners of peacebuilding and community building.

At the beginning of this project, the YPS Program Director, Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida, conducted a Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) workshop for youth community leaders. Briefly, CMM posits that we make our relationships in communication and have the agency to make better social worlds. In this workshop they learned to deconstruct complex communication, consider alternative perspectives, and sequence their communication in a logical flow. As a result of this workshop, the participants were better able to articulate the nature of their interventions and thus carry out peacebuilding initiatives that were better planned and had a longer life cycle.

After various workshops conducted by both Dr. Fisher-Yoshida and Dr. Aldo Civico, leaders of the YPS program, the participants began to share their learning experience with more than 15 other organizations around their territory, Comuna 8. AR-T C8, AC4’s main local partner in this sector of the city, is providing the space for organizations from all around the community to gather and reflect upon their individual efforts, share their methods and practices, and explore possibilities for collective work.

These encounters are being mediated by two of the youth leaders, Kelly Valencia and Claudia Gonzales from AR-T C8, who took the initiative to explore, along with their peers, the inner dynamics of peace and conflict of Comuna 8, through the use of some elements of CMM and Dynamical Systems Theory (another process for mapping complex systems that we shared with them).

An important element of the YPS Program is to identify and support youth leadership of communities where conflict has been intractable and peace unsustainable. The YPS Program is supporting these youth leaders and monitoring their projects as part of our attempt to refine best practices through partnerships between youth leadership on the ground and YPS in the academy.

Author: Joán Lopez, Project Coordinator for the YPS Program.

Photos provided by author; taken by Corporacion Art-C8 during a community mapping exercise.

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