We’ve reached our destination , Bogota, and it is UNICEF day – a day we always look forward to on these rides, because we get to get up close and personal with a community that day in day out face the reality of survival. Last night two young men were killed, a week ago six were murdered in gang conflict, ten years ago 29 killed by the army is a “false positive” wherein the murderers acted to get promotions. After a briefing we are headed out to Soacha on the outskirts of Bogota, an unofficial township of some 500,000 folk who have come here to escape the troubles between the 3 protagonists in the Colombian countryside – left wing guerrillas funded these days from drug trade and extortion of businesses large and small, right wing paramilitary who act for landowners and the rich, and of course the army. Like the townships of South Africa, conditions are not good, sanitation is atrocious and made all the worst here by the current rainy season that is one of the worst in living memory. Colombia has the second highest number of displaced people (after Sudan) and of course these unofficial townships are fertile recruiting grounds for the subversives. The methods are tough, cooperate or you die. Virtually every small business in the community has to pay “protection” money. The government isn’t interested so the situation is dire.
UNICEF, along with other agencies, is trying – in this climate of violence against the most vulnerable, provide the children with hope, help protect them from the clutches of the underworld, and just do simple stuff like instil in them values of coexistence, non-violence, gender and racial equity. All simple values these, but a long way from the reality of the streets these children live on. The programme we get introduced to, takes the thing they are passionate about, and turns it into the vehicle for providing these kids with some belonging, some hope. It’s a big 6 a side football competition with 30,000 kids so far, every team must at all times have at least 2 girls, & 2 boys on the pitch. There is no referee – the teams agree the values they are going to promote in the contest for this match, and the adjudicator takes notes throughout the match and decides the winner and points at the end of the match. Goals scored therefore (and for each team, the scoring must go in boy-girl sequence ) are only one of many factors that determine the ultimate winner.
We are present for the pre-match negotiations, the match and the post-match debrief. This game, “Golombiao” provides an uplifting relief for these 12-18 year olds, from their daily challenges. When we have a talk with them all, the thing unanimously they want the most, is for their streets to be less violent. The violence is random, the innocent are the victims.
A big challenge indeed, certainly it’s hard to see much improvement without a government that cares and is strong enough to get both the Left and Right insurgents to disarm. Photos of our UNICEF Bogota day are here.