Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers in Colombia

Leah Danze
Leah Danze (Developing Minds Foundation, Medellín)
December 14, 2015


On September 1, 2014, the 28th round of Colombian government-FARC negotiations began in Havana, Cuba.  Two days later, I arrived in Medellín, Colombia to begin my year as a PiLA Fellow at a reintegration house for former child soldiers of the FARC and ELN.   

While the FARC’s commanders and government negotiators were discussing issues regarding victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition in Havana, a teenage former child soldier of the FARC was giving me a tour of the reintegration house where he and 44 other former child soldiers live. As the Peace Talks between the Colombian government and FARC continue, more and more former child soldiers are arriving to the center to begin their process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

When the teens in the program are not taking their vocational courses or studying at the high school in downtown Medellín, they are at the reintegration house, where psychologists and social workers accompany them in their journey out of the armed groups and into school. I spent my year as a PiLA fellow helping coordinate and host activities at this reintegration house. Among my responsibilities was meeting with local community leaders to program activities for the teens. For example, I met with leaders of the meditation group Montaña de Silencio, who agreed to lead meditation workshops for the teens in the program. Montaña de Silencio has now been offering both meditation and peace talk workshops for the teens at the center for a year.  In these workshops, we have touched on topics ranging from healthy forms of communication to forgiveness, life and death, patience, and the power of resilience. 

As the months have gone by, the involvement of Montaña de Silencio has grown.  Every other Friday, they screens a film and afterwards hosts a discussion about the themes presented in the movie. 

Leah Danze; Developing Minds

I also invited other community and cultural leaders to host dance, improv, and acting workshops at the center. The aim of the workshops is to promote the teens’ personal growth  while they participate in group activities with their peers as well as with people from outside of the center's close-knit community. The teens often smile and laugh during these workshops; our hope is that these activities will also foster self-confidence, self-esteem, trust, and respect for others. 

One of the highlights of my year as a PiLA Fellow was meeting with community leaders to learn more about the armed conflict and the country’s healing process. This year I have attended conferences on art, therapy, and post-conflict Colombia.  I was interviewed by Spanish Public Radio about the projects at the center and I was invited by the Director of USAID Colombia to attend a graduation ceremony for former soldiers of the FARC and ELN at the Museo Casa de la Memoria. I am now working on a proposal to help give a presentation on the relationship between meditation, the arts, and the healing process at a cultural center in Medellín called Casa Tres Patios

I remain based in Medellín as I pursue an art therapy certification and complete a course in printmaking at La Universidad de Antioquia.  My year as a PiLA Fellow has informed my decision to learn more about how art and community can help heal  those who have suffered from trauma.  I am extremely grateful for my year as a PiLA Fellow and I am excited for Xavier Burke, the 2015-2016 PiLA Fellow, as he bonds with the teens at the center and shares in accompanying them on their journey of reintegration into society.