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Exploring the Sustainable Development Goals

Promoting Peace
through Community and Opportunity

July 28, 2017 // by Allison Kooser

Seeking Peace | Escaping the FARC and Escaping Violence | How Opportunity Promotes Peace and Justice | Entering into Violent Communities to Promote Peace | Moving Forward in Peace


Yaneth’s entire childhood was plagued by violence.

As a young girl growing up in rural Colombia, her family struggled to make ends meet. When she was eight years old, she learned that the man that she thought was her father was indeed not, and that her biological father had fathered six other siblings, all about Yaneth’s age, with different women. Her mom tried desperately to feed her own six kids, but there was never enough money to go around. And Yaneth’s grandmother threw away Yaneth’s only toy—a doll—because she thought it was possessed by the devil.

So when Yaneth was 12 and guerrilla fighters offered her a way to escape her home, she jumped at the chance. She found a new place to belong and joined a new family—the rebel militia, where she remained as a fighter for five years. 

The country-wide, decades-long violence in Colombia was born as a reaction to an earlier conflict—a civil war known as La Violencia that ran from 1948 to 1958. The resulting rebel militia known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) engaged in a 50+ year struggle against the Colombian government, turning to kidnapping, drug trafficking and violence to fund their revolution and attack those in power. Over the last half-century, internal violence in Colombia has left “220,000 dead, 25,000 disappeared, and 5.7 million displaced.”1 And perhaps most importantly, it has shaped the lives of every Colombian growing up and defined the recent history of the country.

Seeking Peace: Sustainable Development Goal 16

It is situations like the one still unfolding in Colombia that underscore the importance of Sustainable Development Goal 16:

“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.”2

Without peace, it is nearly impossible to achieve any of our other development objectives. When life itself is uncertain, people are not investing in flourishing—focusing instead on simple survival, on making themselves feel safe.

Freedom from fear is as important as freedom from want. It is impossible to truly enjoy one of these rights without the other.

Amartya Sen

Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission writes in his book “The Locust Effect”, “For nearly a decade, the World Bank has been reiterating its finding that ‘crime and violence have emerged in recent years as major obstacles to the realization of development objectives.’ The Bank has stated flatly, ‘In many developing countries, high levels of crime and violence not only undermine people’s safety on an everyday level, they also undermine broader development efforts to improve governance and reduce poverty.’ Multiple studies by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have concluded that restraining violence is a precondition to poverty alleviation and economic development, plainly stating that ‘a foundational level of order must be established must be established before development objectives can be realized.’”3

Haugen goes on to say, “When it comes to violence, researchers are increasingly concerned that development experts are missing Amartya Sen’s insight that ‘development [is] a process of expanding the real freedoms people enjoy,’ and are failing to appreciate the idea ‘that freedom from crime and violence are key components of development. Freedom from fear is as important as freedom from want. It is impossible to truly enjoy one of these rights without the other.’”4

 

 

By including Goal 16 among the Sustainable Development Goals, the global development community has recognized and affirmed these truths—moving toward peace and justice, while simultaneously addressing more traditional development needs like clean water, access to food and healthcare.   

Escaping the FARC and Escaping Violence

Healthy pregnancies, deliveries, infancies and early childhoods set children up to succeed later in life—and conversely, health challenges in the first few years of life can lead to lifelong developmental delays. In order to build the next generation of world changers, we must first make sure that the youngest members of our world are well cared for and healthy. 

Yaneth’s longing for freedom from want drove her to join the militia at age 12, but it was her longing for freedom from fear that motivated her to escape the guerillas at age 17. Unfortunately, by the time she figured out that she didn’t want to fight anymore, she had also learned just how hard it would be to leave. She plotted her course, and one night began to run—away from the guerrillas, away from the mountains, away from the life that she had known. She ran for three days and two nights; alone, hiding and desperately hoping to survive.

When she reached a town, a local policeman saw her, but instead of offering help to the ragged girl running through the streets, he treated her as a criminal and beat her so bloody that she spent the next week in the hospital. Thankfully, another policeman recognized her innocence and offered her to stay at his home, where she recovered for the next few months. For the first time ever—at age 17—she learned to eat with utensils. 

We promote peaceful and inclusive societies by operating peacefully and inclusively, recognizing that our other development priorities—creating jobs, empowering women, addressing global hunger, developing infrastructure—cannot happen without an undercurrent of peace. 

Eventually, the policeman’s family told Yaneth it was time to leave, so she went to live in a girls’ home where other escaped fighters from all sides of the conflict went to live. During her time at the girls’ home, Yaneth began to study. She finished her primary and secondary education, and she was then connected with ACR—a governmental agency devoted to re-entry for former combatants. There, Yaneth learned life skills, was given resources to begin a new life in Bogota on her own, eventually met her now-husband and got a job with Opportunity International. 

As an Opportunity employee, her dream was to fight for freedom from want and fear: to address the violence that plagued her country for decades by encouraging connection and possibility. Her hope is that by providing jobs and education, she’ll help prevent any other kids from having to choose an experience like hers. She is helping to create the stability that prevents violence in the first place. 

How Opportunity Promotes Peace and Justice

Yaneth is a shining example of how Opportunity responds to violence and fosters peace.

In the face of some of the world’s most pressing challenges, Opportunity generates possibilities. In response to ostracized communities, isolated populations and severe divisiveness, Opportunity encourages connection. 

Through Trust Groups, Opportunity brings together neighbours and links their success to each other. By its very design, you cannot view those around you as the “other;” you must view them as your colleagues, champions and friends.

In the same way, we view our clients not as the “other,” but as our colleagues, champions and friends. When we succeed, our clients succeed. And when our clients succeed, we succeed. Our thriving is inextricably linked. 

We fight discrimination by working with some of the world’s most marginalized people—people who have long been excluded from the formal economy, the global stage or even their own neighbourhoods. We come alongside these incredible people and believe in them, cheer for them and connect them to one another. We stare violence down and challenge it with connection and friendship. We seek justice by creating opportunities for all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. We promote peaceful and inclusive societies by operating peacefully and inclusively, recognizing that our other development priorities—creating jobs, empowering women, addressing global hunger, developing infrastructure—cannot happen without an undercurrent of peace. 

Entering into Violent Communities to Promote Peace

Historically, Opportunity has not shied away from investing in communities plagued by violence.

So many of the countries in which we work have faced violence and instability stemming from political insurrection, rebel groups, contested elections and more. In the Philippines, Kenya and the DRC, we have sought to bring people together as violence seeks to tear them apart. Through community training and Trust Groups that connect neighbours, and economic empowerment that generates freedom from want, we have fought for Sustainable Development Goal 16. 

In Colombia, Opportunity has worked with former combatants like Yaneth, and built Trust Groups comprised of people displaced by internal violence. We have brought together people whose homes and neighbourhoods have been destroyed, and created new communities of women and men who are creating new futures together. The violence in Colombia is unavoidable, but we are working to create opportunities in spite of it.

Halfway around the world, Petronire Hakurink’s Trust Group in Rwanda exemplifies this same movement toward community and peace. Her group is called “Remera Abahule” which means “We come together” or “We understand each other, we are one.” 

The significance of this name is not lost on Petronire, whose life has been marred with unimaginable violence, stemming from severe division among people, neighbours and ideologies.

When the genocide began in Rwanda in 1994, Petronire was married with five children. The violence quickly found its way to Petronire’s front door, destroying her home, forcing four of her children to escape to Congo, causing Petronire to flee with a baby on her back, and violently attacking her husband and burying him alive. Petronire was abused, and described her existence as one of “bodies walking, but being dead inside.”

In the face of some of the world’s most pressing challenges, Opportunity generates possibilities. In response to ostracized communities, isolated populations and severe divisiveness, Opportunity encourages connection. 

Petronire’s entire life was destroyed by violence. She lost her beloved husband, was separated from her children for three long years, uncertain if they were alive or dead, and faced repeated assaults from the men around her. She was broken, isolated and devastated.

But Opportunity knew that Petronire still had a future.

We came alongside Petronire and other genocide survivors and began to foster community. We created Trust Groups like Remera Abahule and provided vocational training so that widowed women could learn to support themselves.

Petronire says, “Opportunity got me out of isolation. It has changed my life.”

Opportunity didn’t end the Rwandan genocide or stop the violence, but it did foster relationships and connectivity where division and loneliness had reigned free. It created opportunities, not only for economic advancement, but for freedom, safety, community and human flourishing. 

Moving Forward in Peace

In the same way that Rwanda has moved from tremendous violence to an era defined largely by development and progress, Colombia has entered a new season of peace building.

On November 24, 2016, FARC leaders and the Colombian government signed a revolutionary peace deal that sought to end the decades-long violence.

Of course, the transition to peace is never an easy one. 

On November 24, 2016, FARC leaders and the Colombian government signed a revolutionary peace deal that sought to end the decades-long violence. 

The reason “promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development” is a valuable Sustainable Development Goal is precisely because it’s hard to achieve. It will take considerable attention, effort and progress for us to achieve peace and justice on a local, national and global level.

Colombia’s peace-building process is demonstrating these difficulties for us as we speak. Former FARC fighters have broken away and continue to operate in jungle hideouts, and old FARC territory has been captured by new rebel groups.5 The progress is slow and complicated, and Colombia still faces countless challenges.

But there is progress toward peace.

As slow and winding as it might be, the global community is fighting for Sustainable Development Goal 16.

And through it all—violence, peace and the in-between—Opportunity remains committed to its clients.

We are proud to serve alongside hardworking women and men as they weather violent and aggressive storms and as they recover after the storm has passed. We build community to counter division, and celebrate when peace enters in.

We “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels” because we know that our clients must be free from both want and fear. We continue to bring people together and create opportunities so that clients, regardless of the chaos of their circumstances, can build bright futures for themselves, care for their families and transform their communities from the inside out.  


Keep Reading our Sustainable Development Goal Series


Accessible, High Quality, Sustainable Education for All

Education is the most powerful we tool we have to fight poverty around the world. Our goal is to make education accessible, high-quality, and sustainable for all students around the world—developing innovative programs that work toward Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

 Read More


Allison is a professional storyteller, freelance writer, and avid traveler. She spent the last year backpacking around the world meeting and interviewing incredible people with remarkable stories, eating amazing food, and climbing very scary mountains. Now, she lives in Chicago where she runs a small business helping nonprofit organizations identify, create, and share their stories, equipping them to better do the work they were born to do. When she's not working, you can usually find her reading a book, planning her next trip, or baking the best cookies on the planet.

 

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/colombias-civil-conflict
https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg16
http://www.thelocusteffect.com/
http://www.thelocusteffect.com/
http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/05/11/527890436/dissident-rebels-in-colombia-ignore-peace-treaty-and-continue-extortion

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