By: Alvaro José Pretel Meneses and Andrea Morales
Security is a fundamental aspect for all people. Being able to walk the streets without fear that our belongings will be stolen or that our lives will be at risk guarantees a better quality of life and generates greater peace of mind for everyone, attracting greater economic and social development. However, in Colombia, more precisely in Cali, we have not been able to enjoy this for many years. Insecurity has taken over the city. Gone are the times when talking about a violent death was uncommon, and it has become normalized, like a landscape, a violent reality that surrounds us. For example, today, with a homicide rate of 56.6, Cali doubles the national average homicide rate . In addition, with an average of 75 thefts per day , it is one of the Colombian cities that suffers the most from this scourge.
Faced with the security crisis we are experiencing, there are many public policy solutions that have been generated from various sectors to overcome them. Some seek to strengthen the capacities of security and justice agencies and the security forces, so that they have more resources to confront criminals and dismantle criminal structures. Others focus more on social issues, seeking to generate greater opportunities to keep young people away from crime and lead them to a life framed in legality. However, recognizing that these strategies are necessary, and in many cases efficient, there is another much more cost-effective alternative, which, although little known, has been silently at work and showing important results in reducing violence in different neighborhoods of the city.
Abriendo Caminos, a community public health and violence prevention program implemented by the Alvaralice Foundation since 2017, has allowed for decreasing the rates of violence and generating changes in the norms, attitudes and citizen behaviors of hundreds of young people from different neighborhoods of Cali with high levels of criminal and economic vulnerability through the promotion of alternative methods of conflict resolution.
Based on community mediation strategies, the program has an impact on the de-escalation of conflicts associated with coexistence, through dialogue between the parties involved, allowing to bring positions closer, admit mistakes, understand the other and even generate friendships, without the need to resort to conventional methods of justice. Its benefits are very important. In addition to reducing expressions of violence, safeguarding the lives and property of the people in the neighborhoods it impacts, it generates ties between communities, which allow for the promotion of more solid security mechanisms in the neighborhoods, uniting neighbors in the face of threats and activating self-protection mechanisms against events such as forced recruitment by criminal structures, domestic violence, extortion, among other crimes.
To achieve its success, the basis of Abriendo Caminos has been to generate a rapprochement with the most neglected and least heard voices in the city, promoting the humanization of their stories and a more individual approach, based on observation, the creation of connections and relationships between the young people and the interrupters, as the people in charge of leading the mediation are called. In this way, the program makes it possible to reconstruct the life stories of young people in environments at high risk of violence, evidencing that they are victims of the conflict and that their chronicles are consequences of a multiplicity of phenomena such as lack of educational and employment opportunities, low social investment, high rates of teenage pregnancy, multidimensional poverty, exclusion, state abandonment, forced displacement and suffering from different types of violence in the past (psychological, family and sexual). Understanding the social reality of these people, allows us to realize that we did not all have the same type of opportunities, and therefore, it is necessary to develop a more humane and dignified approach to resolving the conflicts that we face.
Thus, Abriendo Caminos has become a success story worthy of replication in more neighborhoods of the city and the country, with positive results in the reduction of violence and community cohesion. It is important that this type of initiative be consolidated over time, expanding its reach to more sectors and populations. In addition, it should be complemented with other initiatives for the formation of life projects, the promotion of a good use of free time, as well as the generation of opportunities and training for work, so that its beneficiaries not only have the skills to resolve conflicts, but also move away from violence and promote improvements and social progress for themselves and their families.