The project was set up following a direct appeal by young street gang members and works by giving communities a sense of their responsibility to their children and giving young people the support and confidence they need to seek alternatives to violence. Project volunteers and staff are trusted and respected by the local community ‚Äì and by the gangs. They are trained in mediation techniques based on restorative justice ‚Äì a pioneering social justice methodology used in South Africa and Northern Ireland, which actively involves victim, perpetrator and the wider community in the process of reconciliation.
It ran from 9:00 AM, 18 April 2011 to 12:11 PM, 23 October 2014
Registered Charity in England and Wales (1075037)
The project works in houses in ‚Äúconflict areas‚Äù i.e. no-go areas between different gangland boundaries within Aguablanca, an extremely violent slum area of Cali. Houses are safe places where young people can take refuge and receive the support they need to start rebuilding their lives. Importantly, they are places where they can build friendships, have fun and enjoy a childhood previously denied to them. They are also neutral spaces where relations with families and communities can be re-established. The programme has become a life-line for hundreds of young people, helping them to overcome past difficulties, access education, gain vital life skills and become active members of their communities for the first time. The project offers: 1. Outreach The project‚Äôs work starts out on the streets. Tutors approach young people involved in gangs directly and gradually establish a relationship of trust, encouraging them to reflect on their lives and providing them with the support they need to start resolving some of the conflicts in their lives in a more peaceful way. When they are ready, they are encouraged to join one of the houses. 2. Individual, personalised support At the house, each young person is supported by a tutor who provides guidance and support, and is somebody the young person can rely on ‚Äì bringing some structure and regularity to the children‚Äôs chaotic lives for the first time. Through this relationship, young people are encouraged to think about their lives and plan for their future. They decide on personal goals ‚Äì ranging from being enrolled at a school to improving their relationship with their family and overcoming traumatic experiences that may have contributed to them turning to the streets in the first place ‚Äì and are given the tools and support they need to achieve them. Artistic, sporting and recreational activities are facilitated by youth leaders who are often themselves ex-beneficiaries and act as role models. 3. Resolving conflict and creating a better community A crucial element is mediation work, based on the principles of restorative justice. Rather than punishing wrong-doing, young people are encouraged to acknowledge and reflect on what they have done and ‚Äúmake up for it‚Äù through positive action. Many of the young people at the project experience conflict in the family and/or their communities, which is addressed through Family and Community Circles. These Circles bring members of the family or community together to discuss their needs and decide on fair, workable solutions to specific problems. Last year, for example, each day more and more stinking refuse was piling up near one of the houses. At the Community Circle, after much discussion and with continual mediation by the Tutors and young people, the two people largely responsible agreed to stop dumping their rubbish, help clear up the rubbish with the young people and plant flowers and bushes. The area remains rubbish free. Children are encouraged to recognise, explore and develop solutions to the problems they and their communities face ‚Äì and, crucially, to see themselves as active members of their community. The programme carries out much-needed community works, from graffiti removal to tree planting. A series of cultural and recreational events and workshops are held for the whole community and an income generation scheme (ice cream vending) is being developed.
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