Children with numbers

The children of the youth village "Benposta Nacion de Muchachos" come from all parts of Colombia. They are here because they are victims of the armed conflict in Colombia – in their home country they were forcibly recruited by armed groups or were victims of sexual violence.

Children frolic, a rooster crows, and it almost seems as if a small paradise exists up here in the mountains above the Colombian capital Bogota. But the young residents of the have anything but a happy past behind them. At the Benposta educational facility, they will experience protection and security, says director Daniel Campo Romero, explaining the project's goals.

Among the more than 130 children and young people between the ages of 8 and 18 who have found a new, safe home in the village is Jose. The 14-year-old boy calls himself Jose because he is not allowed to reveal his real name. Other children have only numbers and no names to preserve their anonymity. Their tormentors should not have a chance to find out where their victims are.

Here they find a perspective
Jose was forcibly recruited by the guerrilla organization FARC. Friends from his indigenous community in Cauca helped him escape to Benposta. He cannot go home, because the rebels punish deserters with death. In Benposta he tells his story. Here Jose can live without fear in an environment far from war and persecution. It is a place where children learn to laugh again. "In Cauca, there was fighting almost every day. That is why we had to march, hide or flee very often. And when it came to direct encounters, we had to fight."

In Benposta, children and young people from the Colombian war find a home and, above all, a perspective. The project is supported by the children's missionary organization "Die Sternsinger". The money collected by German children during their carol singing campaigns directly benefits their Colombian peers. During his first visit to Colombia, Prelate Klaus Kramer, President of the Children's Missionary Society, was impressed by the strength of will of the children who are trying to make a new start: "I was deeply impressed by the fact that the children here are shaping their own reality, that they are taking responsibility for their everyday lives, that they are also solving their own conflicts."

Life as in a Christian religious community
The concept of Benposta provides for personal responsibility. The children live similar to a Christian religious community. They elect a mayor, try to solve their conflicts themselves through discussion rounds and democratic voting. That's why the youth village is also called the "Nation of Children," because basic democratic rules apply here, just like in a functioning state. Kramer is convinced that the idea of Benposta Colombia can help to break out of the spiral of violence: "I have seen very self-confident children here who have shown that they have overcome their fate and that they are very positive and optimistic about the future."

Child soldier Jose hopes his homeland will someday make it out of the war just like he did. At some point, he hopes, there will be negotiations between the warring parties: "One solution to the conflict could be for both groups to negotiate. Both the government and the guerrillas, because otherwise the whole thing will never end. Finding a way out of war is never easy – because both are armed, both kill, and you never know who will win and who will lose."

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Christina Cherry
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