Several generations in Colombia have been affected by the armed conflict and thousands of people have been trapped in the middle of the violence. As a result, many children and youth have not been able to study. The Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) Arando la Educación project has allowed 7,000 people to enrol into primary and high school, providing them with an opportunity for a better life and future.
Resuming lost education
Twentytwo-year-old Nelson* is one of many Colombians who missed his initial chance at an education during the civil conflict. At 11, he was forced to flee his hometown and leave school because of violence and fighting between different armed groups in the area.
Following the peace agreement, Nelson has been able to resume his education and now dreams of becoming a veterinarian.
In Colombia, three out of ten children from rural areas have never attended school and about seven out of ten have been unable to complete their studies. Today, hope lies in education and the country must commit to expand educational coverage to reduce inequality and avoid a lost generation of youth, a key national resource.
Learning after the war
Dayro Gutiérrez grew up in Meta, a rural area southeast of the capital Bogotá. When he was 18 years old, an armed group came to his village.
“They murdered my father, my uncles and my cousins. I decided to join FARC so as not to run into the same fate as them.Dayro Gutiérrez
During his time as a guerrilla he trained as a doctor, but was never formally qualified. After the peace agreement, he handed over his weapons and eventually obtained his high school diploma. Now he wants to start a degree in Medical Studies.
"For eight years I trained as a doctor in FARC and I performed more than 80 surgeries. I operated on hernias, extracted tumors, performed abdominal surgeries and operated on fractured arms and legs. I also performed surgeries on war injuries," Dayro recalls.
As a part of the peace process, education is fundamental for reconciliation and the integration of ex-combatants into civilian life. Dayro's biology teacher, Carlos Aya, recognises his students' effort, saying: "Access to education has come at a time when they want a change of life. Education is a way to open up doors to exploration. They are learning other views of the world, which brings new aspirations."
In Puerto Jordán, the Institute for Agricultural Promotion (IPA) is training more than 60 unschooled adults who dream of generating development and productivity in their communities. One of them is Edwin Villamizar, a farmer from Norte de Santander. "I did not study as a child. I had to sacrifice, so that my sister could study." says Villamizar. He wants to be a veterinarian to help all the peasant families in the region.
In rural areas, the peace agreement brings real changes for those who have been affected by the conflict. With a relevant and quality education for unschooled adults, it is expected that the marked inequality in the country will be reduced. In areas like Puerto Jordán, the living conditions of the people have already improved thanks to education.
Education is a commitment to reconciliation
The Arando la Educación project is part of an initiative approved by the National Council for Reincorporation, financed by the Norwegian Embassy and the Ministry of National Education. It is implemented by the Colombian Foundation of Veterans and Peace Promoters, the National University (Open and Distance learning) and the Norwegian Refugee Council.
With 128 teachers, the programme has served more than 3,200 people from communities surrounding the 26 reintegration zones for ex-combatants and more than 3,500 ex-combatants, through primary and secondary school enrollment. Thanks to this project, 212 people have graduated from high school so far. The war took away many Colombians’ access and right to education. Today, these men and women study to make peace in rural areas a reality. Arando la Educación closes the gap and provides communities with opportunities to achieve lasting solutions.
* Name changed for security reasons.