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We started the day at our home base, the second floor classroom at CINDE where we’ve met every day this week to hear from speakers, watch videos and presentations, and take pages and pages of notes. This morning, our group’s voices were the only ones in the room as we talked through the progress and evolution of our research questions and brainstormed ways that CINDE and CUNY might stay in touch past the end of this incredibly fast-moving week!  Our conversations aligned with a theme that would emerge time and again throughout the day: cultivation. We moved forward with thoughts of how to cultivate our research, our practice, and our relationships.

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Cultivating Self.

Plato stated “Apply yourself both now and in the next life. Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.” With that being said cultivation of anything provides the ability for ultimate growth. Listen to one Youth Studies student narrating more on the cultivation of self.

Cultivating Youth.

We met with and learned about the organization Colombia Joven, an entity of the Administrative Department of the President, which conducts youth participation in formal spaces. Law 1622 of 2013 allows youth to participate in civic engagement. The two strategies used by Colombia Joven to engage youth are detailed below:

(1) Fútbol to promote peace. An interesting concept to their approach is an adjustment to the rules which insist that a woman must make the first goal of a soccer game. The added stipulation allows for women to be seen as equal to men to combat the inequalities women in Colombia face (which is similar to the U.S.: lack of employment, wage gap, conforming to traditional gender norms). What happens next? Much more needs to be done than just shooting a goal. What can Colombia Joven do to start bridging the gap between this disparity?

(2) Paz a la Joven: Workshops that promote the social construction of peacebuilding. Topics include teamwork, technology, and the portrayal of violence in the media. Youth receive incentives for their participation.

Despite their efforts, youth participation has been relatively low. Youth councils have been formed, but it does not guarantee that the youth are heard. There are more than 12 million youth in Colombia that face many issues including access to education and health, unemployment, motorcycle accidents, suicide, pregnancy, gender roles, and lack of investment in technology. While the government has researched the issues youth are facing to create policy to eradicate them, involving youth in the process will allow for more meaningful work and participation to occur. Seeking out the youth and working alongside them will allow the government to understand why the youth are suffering. It will also allow a youth–adult partnership to be built to demolish the negative perceptions that society has about youth as well as the negative perception that the government does not care about youth.  The missing piece of the puzzle is the incoming president, who begins his term soon. How will his administration affect how youth work is done? Hopefully, youth are included in the conversation so that they receive the appropriate supports.

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http://www.colectivoagrarioabyayala.org/2011/05/colectivo-agrario-abya-yala.html

Cultivating Community.

Today’s speakers came from a variety of backgrounds but all emphasized the importance of cultivating community in their respective work. Listening to the speaker from ColombiaJoven, his commitment to nurturing a community of practice through research to improve youth engagement in political processes and bodies was clear. Hearing from the Abya Yala agrarian collective, the horizontal nature of the organization and the focus on connecting urban and rural youth around disparate struggles and common causes painted a picture of deep, intentional community-building. The speaker from Wayra del Sur spoke to building local community around a physical place—the garden—and actions: shared work, shared love of soccer, and shared hope.

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Cultivating the Earth.

Today’s experience around public policy and participation with youth brought to light a new perspective of how public engagement is viewed. This new perspective arose from conversations that we had throughout the week around the displacement of indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, farmers in Colombia and the idea that the displacement of these cultures has disconnected the true identity of Colombia. In numerous dialogues, various presenters emphasized the ways the country can learn about peace and prosperity if they take the time to learn from these cultural values while also teaching them to learn from one another so that these lost cultures are made visible again. After all, they are a part of the larger community that makes Colombia whole. Today was an extension of that conversation in which this way of thinking can activate participation in youth. So you may ask: what is this perspective?

This afternoon the two collectives from Abya Yala and Wayra del Sur spoke about the need to preserve and cultivate the earth for after all the earth is what nourishes us, created us and unifies us. The group’s name Abya Yala stems from and translates to “fertile land”/ “land of vital blood.” Their mission is to reconnect with indigenous and Black roots and advocate against their displacement and destruction of their agriculture. Participation roots from supporting lost cultures becoming visible once again and that these cultures are recognized as a part of the society through the appreciation of natural resources in which they live. This appreciation comes from realizing that these rural areas feed the country and provide all of the resources that the country uses, so how is it possible to dignify these cultures? Wayra del Sur exercises cultivation of the earth by organizing projects for youth to create community gardens in Bogota. These community gardens allow for public spaces to be redefined and have all members of the community participate in the cultivation of their growth. In addition, they also received funding from the Mayor’s Office of Bolivar to host annual street festivals where the community can participate together in numerous activities, allow local farmer markets to generate business within the community and appreciate the “grounds” in which they live. This ideology of participation of/for the earth creates a new discussion about the way we view citizenship, community connection and mobilization of peace.

Day 4 for the Youth Studies study abroad team brings a visit to Pontificia Universidad and a youth participation discussion at CINDE.

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Today, the CUNY SPS Youth Studies Dream Team had a well-deserved “late start.” It was a cold morning yet some of us decided to do yoga led by Prof. Bishop at 7 am on the roof. The rest of us slept in and pigged out on our hotel breakfast buffet. Promptly at 8:30 am we got in our van driven by our VIP driver. As we chugged along through the steep hills of Bogotá, we took in the amazing vistas of the city. Our Dream Team arrived at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and was greeted by undergraduate scholars that are part of the Misión País Colombia.

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We began with a simple ice breaker that required us to use plastilína (clay) to mold our impressions of Colombia. Following our wonderful sculpture activity, we were asked to go around the classroom and look at some pictures to learn about Colombian history, cultural diversity, environment, economy and politics. We dove into those topics and then saw a video that documented the work of Misión País Colombia. Their mission is to work in conjunction with youth and communities in rural areas across Colombia to develop the tools and skills necessary to thrive in their communities. Two important elements in their program are to generate work and co-construct a course of action for their post-conflict social challenges. They stated “Nosotros no queremos ser los mejores, pero ser mejores para el mundo” (We don’t want to be better than anyone else but be better to change the world). Based on the testimonies in the video and from the students leading the workshop, it was clear that this volunteer program is transformative for the communities and student volunteers as well.

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Después del almuerzo, we hopped into our trusty van and headed back to CINDE to hear from experts about youth participation. The panelists were Martha Sofía Ardila Simpson and Alfredo Manrique Reyes. Martha stated that youth participation begins from infancia and has to be fostered through adulthood. Building tools and strategies is a process to deepen the level of participation in the lives of young people. Alfredo talked about the importance of participation as well, stating that there has to be solidarity in order to be impactful in the lives of young people. He highlighted exclusion by posing the question “How can you be part of a movement if you can’t be yourself?” We then watched a video on the Legión de Afección, an organization that recruits youth leaders from excluded communities to “make them visible.” La Legión aims to “find options for youth without options so they can fall in love with their lives.” This is done by incorporating arts such as music and dance to recognize strengths in young people while bringing various services to the community. Both speakers emphasized that true participation is putting power in the hands of young people.

Youth Studies students 4, 5, and 6 came together to write about this powerful day: 

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Image retrieved from Museo De Arts Contemporaneo De Bogota

Our early morning began with a visit to the Institute of Family Well-Being (ICBF), a temporary care facility for alternative youth that provides protective services for youth ages 6 to 17. Housing is provided for one hundred girls and thirty boys who reside there for a minimum of twenty days to as long as three months depending on the circumstances of their individual cases. Youth are entitled to parental visits once per week. The Colombia school system operates under two different calendars (one from January-December and the other from July-June), and depending on the school calendar, some participants have the option to continue going to school whereas others can’t since it’s the middle of the school year.

ICBF partners with Ayara, an NGO artistic foundation run by Afro and Mestizo Colombians that provide social, artistic, educational and productive activities stemming from the Hip Hop culture.  Ayara’s methodology (Ayara High Impact), focuses on strengthening the life skills of youth so that they can be able to better function in society. This methodology focuses on rap, break dancing, capoeira, fashion making and graffiti.

During our visit, Ayara facilitated three workshops where we all had an opportunity to join, and we immersed ourselves in the activity as participants. We all had the option of creating a rap, muralism and graffiti, and break-dancing. This inclusive experience provided the opportunity to work alongside recognized artists as they delivered services to this vulnerable youth population plagued by issues such as abuse and abandonment. Furthermore, these workshops allowed participants to let go of the negativity that we harbor in order to connect to our creativity. The message was that whatever happens in your life doesn’t have to remain as such. It all depends on how you look at it, and it can always be changed.  Participants had an opportunity to express what they were feeling and challenged themselves and their thinking to try different things, thus letting go of their inhibitions, and expressing themselves in a confident manner. Despite their situations, the empowerment received from the Ayara staff encouraged participants to be free, creative, motivated and engaged.

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The afternoon session with Jose Miguel Sanchez, Popular Educator and Political Science professor, and Marcel Marcentes, Graphic Design Street Artist moderated by Olga Lucia Olaya provided a historical overview of different forms of youth leadership through art and culture in current contexts. These conversations stressed the importance of using graffiti (free art form/spontaneous expression) as a medium of youth development.  Graffiti provides many options for youth in Bogota and is connected to not only the transformation of cities but the reflection of current and ongoing social and political issues.  According to Marcel, “I want youth to keep using the street as a stage.  Each piece of artwork is a political tilt.”

From our conversations we learned that similar to the United States, arts programming is the first to be removed from our school systems, although it is a necessary and powerful vehicle that enables youth to express themselves. In a Eurocentric society, youth from marginalized communities are able to use graffiti and other forms of art to change their narrative. According to one of the Ayara facilitators “You can live as an artist. Art saves lives.”

Below are the individual reflections from three Youth Studies students. Each student has entered the immersive experience prepared to focus on a specific lens that will serve as a starting point for their personal research trajectories.

Student 1 – Focus on Youth Development

Met with CINDE today. Staff was available to speak about the different programs they offer focused on “construccion de paz” – peace building. They described the work they have done globally. It was interesting to hear about Tegucigalpa and the tools they provided to communities in order to help cultivate peaceful communities.  I wanted to understand what ages are considered young people in this type of work. They clarified that young people are 18 to 28, adolescence is 12 to 18.  CINDE works with children as early as kindergarten to age 40.  CINDE’s work focuses on young people, parents, family and community as a whole.

We visited an elementary and secondary school, Las Villas, in the town of Soacha. Las Villas has six different school sites serving about 5000 students. The school offers CINDE programs which are integrated into the day program and after school. Students are required to complete 120 hours of “servicio social” – social service. The service has to be completed during “jornada contraria” – out of school time on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. We heard young people’s stories about the program. Their descriptions were eloquent, heartwarming and inspiring. They were shy about speaking to the group, however, once the group session ended they were quite willing to take pictures and talk to us.  One of the young men gave a demonstration of his salsa dancing skills.

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Student 2 – Focus on Staffing

Spending a great deal of my professional career engaged with peer leadership and development, I focused my lens on the staff.  The CINDE staff shared some of their recent projects from the past few years, including a peace building initiative in Honduras and Community and Family Centers here in Colombia. The staff each presented different aspects of the programs with passion and great depth of knowledge regarding pedagogy, purpose, and scope. As a woman in a leadership role in my organization, I was happy to see many women in leadership roles as well, with men supporting in administrative and technical capacities; the coordinator for our immersive experience, Henry, is a master’s student in a youth development field. I bring these gender issues to the table as males in youth development, from my experience, are outnumbered by women, and is also reflective in our Youth Studies program, and this study abroad course.

After engaging deeply with CINDE staff, we traveled north to Soacha, to engage with Las Villas, a school that CINDE has worked with for many years. We were greeted by the eager and smiling faces of current, past and future members of the Proyecto Gestores Sociales y Ambientales, a required program for students to graduate. The staff were extremely proud and supportive of the young people that desperately wanted to represent their experience in the program. We also heard from a woman, who began as a mother to students in the program, and through her involvement, became a staff member. This type of organic engagement strikes me as a crucial indicator that CINDE works extremely hard to support the communities they engage with. CINDE continuously conveyed that their style of engagement is setting up communities to create an environment ripe for those communities to organize in the ways that make sense for them to achieve agreed upon goals.

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Student 3 – Focus on Funding

At CUNY SPS, many class discussions have circled around the topic of funding. Specifically, how funding streams affect the organizational governance, advocacy, changes in mission priorities, target demographics, and capacity to attract, engage, develop, and retain staff. Anyone working in youth programs knows that there are many hurdles to securing and maintaining funding sources for programs in the States. It was only natural that we touched on this topic in our discussion. How are CINDE programs funded and financed? This question solicited a knowing nod by the staff. Surprisingly, they answered that their programs are self-maintained. Time constraints prevented the team from elaborating on how their organizational model is structured to be self-sustaining. After all, the ajiaco was getting cold! Our hosts were generous in sharing comidas tipicas of the region. Ajiaco is a traditional soup attributed to Bogotá. Today we learned that the herb used to flavor this soup is indigenous to this region and is only used for this soup. The chicken was great too.

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After our very filling lunch, we climbed back on our transportation and headed to the municipality of Soacha. One of the CINDE colleagues began to elaborate on the various systems that are at play in funding the Community Family Centers (CFC). Private funding streams are primary sources of revenue. Banks, foundations, UNICEF, and consumer charity programs play a large role in the funding of the CFCs. What are consumer charities? She says that some funding comes from small donations made at the cash register at consumer check-out points. She mentioned that a local government has set aside a small amount of funding for music program within the CFCs. At Las Villas Sol Naciente the Director shared the elaborate plans for the expansions of many of the existing programs. Unfortunately, at the moment there is not enough funding available to develop these programs. The school is working hard in lobbying to secure funding from the ministerio de educación. There are many challenges facing the community of Soacha; displacement of folks from rural communities affected by the continued threat of violence to Soacha and poverty are high among them. These challenges affect the educators, facilitators, and parents of the young people of this community and the holistic approach of the CFCs help to mitigate some of these challenges by instilling a sense of community connection, learning and uncovering talents and challenging young people to care and protect their environment.

I was deeply touched by the story of one parent. Her son was diagnosed with autism and she was searching for some way to help create a sense of connection to others. The CFC at the Sol Nacimiento was a place where she could go and help him to find connection. Through her engagement with the program, she uncovered her hidden math talent while tutoring other students in the program. Currently, this parent is working to spread the word and help other parents engage with the CFC, using her story to demonstrate the possibilities that can be uncovered through engagement. As she shared her story, she was moved to tears, as was I. The impact of quality programs in Sol Nacimiento are surely needed in the community of Soacha and beyond. I hope to learn that next year, the director’s vision for the expansion of these programs find a sympathetic ear at the ministerio for the good of Soacha.