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Seeding the Future: Emergency Pedagogy in La Danta, Colombia

News ,  Current news ,  Emergency pedagogy

In January 2022, Pedagogía de Emergencia Colombia (the National Centre of Excellence for Emergency and Trauma Education, Colombia) received a call for help from the town of La Danta. The town has been suffering from severe armed conflict for many years, the result of a flourishing drug trade in the region. Social and economic difficulties aggravate the plight of the local people, who increasingly suffer from stress, aggression, fear, depression and fears for the future. There has also been a steady increase in violence within families, which exacerbates the situation for the children. Emergency educator, Yaneth Velasquet Ruiz, summarises what the children and adults in La Danta experienced during the emergency and descibes the trauma education outreach as follows:

In the tropics of eastern Antioquia, on the border with Magdalena Medio, lies La Danta, an enchanting town with flowing water, caves and mines, full of trees, and with dense but majestic vegetation. We were in this magical and paradisiacal place with a team from Pedagogía de Emergencia Colombia.

Behind so much natural beauty is a population whose lives have been impacted by armed groups over the years. This led to the sowing of fear, uncertainty, silence and desolation in this place, alongside the diversity of indigenous trees planted in the thicket of the jungle. In the course of time, almost all residents had to go through traumatic experiences that touched young and old alike, in different ways.

We could see the armed groups silencing the voices of the children because they are afraid to speak, say or tell what they see, or what they have gone through in the midst of the armed conflict. We see the women who have silently watched their husbands and sons go off to a senseless war, and how the jungle literally swallowed them up; how their homes have been visited by loss and death, and how they have been victims of abuse of all kinds; how their rights have been violated, and their self-determination taken away. And there are also the men who, in one way or another, have been immersed in this hostile context that has absorbed them, and in which war has been presented to them as the only way out and the only chance, since the state has abandoned the people of La Danta.

Thanks to the initiative of some committed people, gripped by the sadness and desolation in La Danta, in April, 25 emergency educators from Pedagogía de Emergencia Colombia, came to La Danta in a bus full of suitcases and dreams. We had a colourful offer of clay workshops, experiential education, painting and form drawing in our luggage and, through verses, songs, rhythms, joy, circus and stories made the people believe that magic can happen in this sad, lost place. 

The most beautiful experience was that we were able to touch people’s hearts with all the fantastic offerings. All the workshops were prepared with attention to detail; we all enjoyed being able to wrap colourful parachutes around the the people in La Danta. Each of the crowns we braided turned the children into princes and princesses and even the older ones were enchanted. We dressed the little superheroes in capes that enabled them to fly. Our attention and care gave them space to express their feelings, to balance and calm their mood with healthy images, and to open their voices with a song. In this way, windows to their souls could be opened, as well as hope for another life. We are in the process of planning the next step. I am convinced that we will train a small group of emergency educators in La Danta who will understand the needs of the population and be able to take care of them.

On the day we left La Danta, we saw a child hanging out his laundry. I assume he was helping his mother as he did every day; it seemed to be the same picture, the same daily routine as always. But no. This picture was different. The child was wearing his yellow, braided crown. And in that moment, the picture was suddenly full of colour and hope.

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