Diomedes is an indigenous teenager and he seems shy at first but opens up quickly when talking about his experiences with The Peace Circus. He is part of the Kamëntsá ethnic group and lives in a small village in Putumayo, Colombia, a beautiful emerald valley where green mountains enveloped by volcanoes are protected by serene white clouds.
His life has been fraught with difficulties. At 10, his family was forced to leave their home when his father was threatened by an armed group. Members of a guerrilla occupied the family’s land and murdered one of his uncles for refusing to obey. Diomedes and his family were eventually able to escape and rebuild their lives, but the trauma has lived on.
Today, Diomedes is in tenth grade in the Bilingual Artisanal Educational Institution Kamëntsa. Despite poor school infrastructure, depression among students and a lack of parental support to children when it comes to education, prospects for a positive tomorrow are within reach, thanks to initiatives like The Peace Circus. This project, implemented by War Child and financed by the H&M Foundation, uses theatre, arts and peace lectures to deconstruct a culture of violence in favor of one where relations are built on respect, democracy, tolerance and non-violence. The focus is an environment where children can be children again, feel protected and think about a future outside the conflict.
Diomedes, who was previously bullied for a cognitive problem resulting in pronunciation difficulties recalls that since The Peace Circus activities started, the other kids stopped bullying him. However, the ill-treatment and rejection were not limited to him.
“Girls were pushed aside and boys did not play with them”, he says. “During physical education classes, we often played football or basketball without the girls. Girls would only play with girls and boys only with boys”. What Diomedes refers to is a characteristic of some indigenous communities rooted in sexism and reinforced through centuries.
Today, these practices have been challenged without hurting the ancestral culture of Sibundoy Valley’s indigenous communities. “In the Peace Education sessions, we learned that women have the same rights as men”, Diomedes explains, and celebrates that the girls of his school are now equally involved in activities previously reserved only for boys.
After school, he dreams of joining a religious community, as this would enable him to reach the most isolated villages in Colombia. He wants to keep studying, help people from the most vulnerable communities and support other children suffering the consequences of armed conflict, rejection and bullying. Time, his life story and his experience with The Peace Circus have strengthened his belief that despite the differences and adversities in life, it is necessary to always respect each other and to learn to coexist peacefully.
War child works towards a world in which no child's life is is torn apart by war.