A pot boils over a wood fire in the open air at a resting place in the Serranía del Perijá, in the mountainous rural north of Colombia. More than a hundred people, including former fighters of the rebel group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as FARC, their families, and local people, as well as soldiers from the Colombian National Army, are working together on the edge of a precipice.
They carry 3-inch diameter hoses over nearly nine kilometers of steep terrain as part of a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)-backed project to improve water supplies.
It took months of hard work to lift the hose, set it in place, bury it and connect it to a local river that provides a reliable water supply.
†The most beautiful thing I remember was the way the military, our former adversary, community, former rebels and local authorities worked together regardless of the past that separated us‘ said Yarledys Olaya, an indigenous Barí woman who fought for the now disbanded FARC rebel group for 20 years.
FARC guerrillas waged a half-century civil war against Colombian authorities, which officially ended with the signing of a historic final peace agreement in 2016.
A new life in a pleasant country
Yarledys Olaya is one of approximately 13,000 ex-combatants working for peace in Colombia and starting new lives in places like Tierra Grata.
“I envision my future here; I see myself growing old,” she says. “This process has not been easy. In the past we have seen our comrades murdered. But personally, it has enabled me to start my family, spend time with them and open up my home to my daughters†
†That is why we want to continue to build and focus on peace. Not just for the rebels who have been reintegrated into society, but for a collective peace for the country†
In the nearby town of San José de Oriente, locals feared that when the ex-combatants came to the region, violence would start again, but changed their minds when they brought peace and a willingness to work on community projects.
Yarledys Olaya arrived in Tierra Grata in November 2016 aboard a truck along with 120 other guerrilla fighters, most of them armed. She wore a camouflage uniform, boots, a black T-shirt and carried a backpack and rifle on her shoulder; she covered her face with a green scarf and did not want to be identified.
“There was a lot of mistrust. I felt we were holding back, surly, and that the locals looked at us differently.” Two months earlier, the peace agreement between the government and the FARC had been signed.
“This was not a personal decision, it was a collective decision,” she says. “I thought, let’s go on, but live life in a different way. The good thing is I didn’t have to see my comrades fall, which is normal during a war.”
Overseeing the ceasefire
It was an isolated location; an old farmhouse stood next to dense vegetation, including the native frailejones plant. A piece of land had been cleared to make room for the construction of a reintegration camp; military and Colombian police personnel were everywhere.
In a nearby area, the United Nations had set up tents where experts who had monitored the ceasefire would monitor the laying down of weapons. Between March and September 2017, the UN mission in Colombia received 8,994 weapons from the FARC from around the country, including Tierra Grata.
Six months were spent building the camp, which provided 158 living quarters. The ex-combatants would undergo a reintegration process there and then leave for a more permanent location, but most had nowhere to go and so stayed.
Daughters of War and Peace
Today Tierra Grata is a formalized village inhabited by some 300 people, both ex-combatants and relatives. Some were born there, others joined their families.
Yarledys Olaya left her newborn Yacana with a relative when she joined the FARC and was reunited two months after arriving in Tierra Grata. Two years later, she gave birth to another daughter, Yaquelín, one of 65 children born in the new settlement.
“Yacana is my daughter from the war, and Yaquelín my daughter from the peace,” she says.
Yarledys Olaya continues to work on community projects, building permanent structures and bringing water and electricity to the village. †As women during the war, we played a fundamental role,” she says, “and now, in this new moment, we are helping to build peace., because we feel that this process is ours; that’s why we’re willing to contribute our last drop of sweat to this future.”
SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
- Sustainable Development Goal 16 recognizes that conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain a major threat to sustainable development.
- It aims to reduce all forms of violence and the death toll as a result of that violence. It focuses on ending abuse, exploitation, torture and trafficking of children.
- The UN Verification Mission in Colombia was established in 2017 by the UN Security Council to support the peace process in Colombia.
- It has worked closely with national authorities and former combatants to promote progress on reintegration and security-related issues.