“I am a leader by vocation, not by choice”

Colombia began to write a new history on September 26, 2016, when the national government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed the Peace Accord. This milestone was especially important in rural areas and for ending the conflict and constructing a stable and lasting peace in a country historically affected by violence. It also shone a light on the struggle of those working to transform the reality of their territories so that the new generations have a better quality of life and more resilient communities.

However, according to figures from Indepaz, since the agreement was signed, 1,349 leaders were killed between September 2016 and August 2022. In response, the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) and the U.S. Agency for International Development have been implementing the “Somos Comunidad” program in 10 municipalities since 2020: Cáceres, Caucasia, Tierralta, Valencia, San Jacinto, El Carmen de Bolívar, El Guamo (Bolívar), Santander de Quilichao, Tumaco, and Sardinata. The program works to strengthen security systems, restore confidence, and promote social inclusion in these regions.

In the Montes de María region, young leader Edilberto Narváez says that “Somos Comunidad” has helped him recognize his rights and led to transformation through programs like the Community Resilience Plan, “but it has also made us believe again in territorial entities like the Mayor’s Office, which for years we saw as our enemy.”

This program also recognizes social leaders’ work as invaluable to community development. It leads campaigns to reduce stigma toward social leaders and the thousands who have been killed but have motivated and inspired the leaders of Colombia’s past, present, and future.

The ‘Somos Comunidad’ program has been teaching us how to support each other, form a network, how what hurts the other affects me, and how to overcome. Here, in some way, we are all victims, and having these spaces of trust where one can speak things that were unsaid before is very important and liberating."

“Somos Comunidad” works hand in hand with local mayors to develop public policies and protection routes for social leaders and with national entities to monitor specific cases to know the risk situation in which they may find themselves, discuss their needs, and develop solutions with entities responsible for their protection.

“All the capacities that I have strengthened until today have been thanks to ‘Somos Comunidad’: the workshops in which they teach us about leadership, social cohesion, how to present a project, justify it, how the calls work. And we value all this very much because we keep that knowledge. Leaders need to learn and here that happens,” says Willinton Mosquera, a young man who at 20 years old is a recognized social leader in the municipality of Caucasia (Bajo Cauca) and dreams of becoming a mayor or councilor.

"Somos Líderes de Vida"

On November 29 at the Teatro Colón in Bogotá, Colombia, the book Somos Líderes de Vida (We Are Life Leaders) was launched, published through the “Somos Comunidad” program to recognize the work of 23 social leaders. These silent heroes have worked every day to transform the reality of their territories, so that the new generations have a better quality of life and more resilient communities.

We work to understand the diversity and cultural and historical greatness of the territories where we work. Our responsibility is not only to help but to amplify the voices and messages of these leaders and to raise awareness and generate greater empathy for those who, despite adversities, fight for the rights of their communities.

Social leaders featured in the book, Somos Líderes de Vida.

Published on December 2, 2022.

Soraya Osorio

Country Director – Colombia

Email: connect@padf.org

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