A pot cooks over an outdoor wood fire at a resting spot in Serranía del Perijá, in the mountainous countryside of northern Colombia. More than a hundred people, including veterans of the rebel group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as FARC, their families, locals as well as soldiers of the Colombian National Army, working together on the edge.
They are carrying 3-inch diameter hoses over nearly 9 kilometers of steep terrain as part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – supported project to improve water supply.
It took months of hard work to lift the faucet, put it in place, bury it, and connect it to a local river, which provided a reliable source of water.
“The most beautiful thing I remember is the way the military, our old enemies, the community, the former rebels and the local government have worked together, despite the past that has divided us.“, said Yarledys Olaya, an indigenous Barí woman who spent 20 years fighting for the now disbanded FARC rebel group.
The FARC guerrillas waged a half-century-long civil war against the Colombian government, which officially ended with the signing of a The Last Peace Agreement in 2016.
A new life in a pleasant land
Yarledys Olaya is one of 13,000 veterans who have pledged for peace in Colombia and started new lives in places like Tierra Grata.
“I envision my future here; I envision myself growing old,” she said. “The process hasn’t been easy. We’ve seen our teammates get killed before. But personally, it has allowed me to start my own family, be able to spend time with them, and open my home for my daughters.
“That’s why we want to keep building and betting on peace. Not only for the rebels who have been reintegrated into society but for a common peace for the country. “
In the nearby town of San José de Oriente, locals feared that when veterans arrived in the area, violence would flare up again, but their minds changed as they only brought peace and willing to work for community projects.
Yarledys Olaya arrived in Tierra Grata in November 2016 in a van with 120 other guerrillas, most of them armed. She wears a camouflage uniform, boots, a black T-shirt, and carries a backpack and a rifle on her shoulder; she covers her face with a green scarf not wanting to be identified.
“There was a lot of mistrust. I felt that we were reserved and weird and that the locals saw us differently.” Two months ago, the Peace Agreement between the government and the FARC was signed.
“This is not an individual decision, but a collective decision,” she said, “I thought, let’s go on but let’s live differently. The good thing is that I no longer have to watch my teammates fall, which is normal in a war. ”
It was an isolated location; An old farmhouse sits next to dense vegetation, including native cactus. A piece of land has been cleared to make room for a reintegration camp; surrounded by the Colombian army and police.
In a nearby area, the United Nations has set up tents so that experts monitoring the ceasefire will verify the laying down of weapons. Between March and September 2017, the UN mission in Colombia received 8,994 weapons from FARC around the country, including Tierra Grata.
Six months were spent building the camp, which provided 158 living quarters. Veterans were supposed to go through a reintegration process there and then leave for a more permanent location, but most of them had nowhere to go and so stayed.
Daughters in War and Peace
Today, Tierra Grata is a full-fledged village inhabited by about 300 people, both veterans and family members. Some were born there, and others joined their families.
Yarledys Olaya left her newborn, Yacana, with a relative when she joined FARC and was reunited two months after arriving in Tierra Grata. Two years later, she gave birth to another daughter, Yaquelín, one of 65 children, born in the new settlement.
“Yacana is my daughter in war, and Yaquelín is my daughter in peacetime,” she said.
Yarledys Olaya continues to carry out community projects, building permanent structures and bringing water and electricity to the village. “As women in war, we played a fundamental role,” she said, “and now in this new moment we are helping to build peace.”, because we feel that the process is ours; that’s why we are willing to contribute our last sweat for this future. “
SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
- Sustainable Development Goal 16 recognizes that conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain significant threats to sustainable development.
- It aims to reduce all forms of violence and deaths caused by that violence. It focuses on ending the abuse, exploitation, torture and trafficking of children.
- The UN Verification Mission in Colombia was established by the United Nations Security Council in 2017 to support the peace process in Colombia.
- It has worked closely with national authorities and veterans to promote progress on reintegration and security-related issues.