Chepe Ubaque survived Colombia's mean streets. Now he helps others do the same.
"What's your news for today?" asked Laura Herrera one recent Saturday afternoon at a journalism workshop. Ms. Herrera, the foundation's social-communications specialist, and Ubaque's girlfriend, has led this group of mostly 10- and 11-year-olds for the past year.
The children shot their hands in the air; and, one by one, told their stories, which tied in with the session's theme of what constitutes violence. One girl said that there had been a lot of robberies in her neighborhood recently; a boy said that one of his peers brought marijuana to school.
The children discussed ideas on how to make their neighborhoods safer – more police on the streets, they all proposed – with disarming clarity, using phrases like "verbal violence" and "gender-based violence."
The discussion was far from abstract: Most of these children have been directly exposed to violence – in some cases instigated by Colombia's nearly 50-year-old internal armed conflict between government forces, paramilitary groups, leftist guerrilla insurgents, and criminal gangs.
One of the journalism workshop's 10-year-old participants, Andres (not his real name), witnessed the murder of his father nearly a year ago outside his house a few blocks from the workshop. His father had worked for a right-wing paramilitary group, or bacrim (bandas criminales – emergent gangs).
Immediately following his father's death, Andres talked about growing up to become an assassin and seeking revenge, Herrera says. But his time in the weekly journalism workshops has altered his perspective.
"When I started doing the workshops I didn't know what my dreams were, but I have been learning a lot of things, and I want to be a journalist," Andres said after the session. "Journalism is a very beautiful thing because it allows you to know the world, to know people."