They live in a country where murder is the leading cause of death among adults, cocaine is a major illegal export, and armed groups have recruited children as soldiers.
Colombian peace activists
bring message to Hawaii
The 2 youths will speak tomorrow
at the East-West Center
By Gary Kubota
Farlis Calle and Juan Elias Uribe have been working since they were teenagers in promoting peace and nonviolence in the Children's Movement for Peace in Colombia, a group nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The two are among a number of people participating tomorrow in International Education Week at the East-West Center.
Calle and Uribe, both 20, said they work in the Children's Movement because it gives hope to themselves and the youths in their country about Colombia's future.
"I think all the time we have something inside. It's like a flame," said Calle, whose father works as a banana plantation laborer. "I think sometimes the flame is going out. But when I do things, my flame becomes more and more bright."
Calle became involved in peace activities at age 15, serving as an organizer of children's groups from 15 towns and representing her town in a United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund workshop in 1996.
Uribe, whose cousin and dentist father were killed by assassins in 1996, also participated in the UNICEF workshop and helped in the first assembly of the Children's Movement for Peace. A goal of the group has been to give children a voice in expressing their desire for peace. In one voting initiative sponsored by a coalition that included the Red Cross and UNICEF, some 2.7 million children in their country expressed a desire for peace.
The voting in 1996 took place in an atmosphere of relative calm, even in regions known for violence, and inspired a national referendum a year later that affected the election of Colombian President Andres Pastrana, who had run on a peace platform, according to CNN.
Calle and Uribe said they do not expect the violence to end soon, but they are working toward the goal, forming coalitions with organizations such as the Scout Federation and Save the Children.
Calle and Uribe have conducted workshops on nonviolence on Maui and the Big Island, attended by scores of Hawaii high school and college students. During the workshop, they play a one-hour CNN documentary about Colombia and their group, "Soldiers of Peace: A Children's Crusade."
"It really opened my eyes," said Annie Nguyen, 16, a Lahainaluna High School junior. "It's inspiring to see people our age doing something. It really made me feel fortunate."
CNN senior producer Lydia Smith said she became extremely attached to the children when she did the documentary and wanted to help them, especially when Uribe asked for assistance out of Colombia because of the dangers facing his family.
"There was no way I could say, 'Gee, I'm really sorry,'" Smith said.
Smith is now the director of the Colombian Children's Peace Fund, helping to finance the education of several Colombian youths, including Calle and Uribe.
Uribe said he eventually wants to become a lawyer to work toward changing some laws in Colombia, and Calle said she would like to be a criminal psychologist and establish the first psychology research institute in her country.
"I want to create programs that are effective," she said.
Kicking off International Education Week, Calle and Uribe will give a talk at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the East-West Center's Hawaii Imin International Conference Center in Jefferson Hall, 1777 East-West Rd.
More than 400 students, teachers, faculty and representatives of international organizations will participate in the event.
Highlights include a summit at 12:30 p.m. on Afghanistan and its neighbors, a roundtable at 12:30 p.m. on how the United States is perceived by Asia and the Pacific, and a roundtable at 2 p.m. on dispelling misconceptions about Islam.
Star-Bulletin reporter Treena Shapiro contributed to this report.