Creating a Culture of Peace in Colombian Classrooms
In a school where fighting, bullying, theft and absenteeism were the everyday norm, one teacher had the vision to help change the status quo. Guillermo Lopez Ossa knew he could empower the 650 students at Deogracias Cardona School in Risaralda, Colombia to transform their harmful classroom dynamics, despite chaos there and in the community. In short time, he had decreased violent incidents by 25 percent at Deogracias, and looked to expand to schools around the region.
Following training on peace education through the Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) Program’s alumni online learning series, Ossa applied for and received a small grant for a school-wide project to reduce violence in Deogracias classrooms. Through Project CAPAZ — “Cultura de Paz” in Spanish or “Culture of Peace” — Ossa used games, drama, and art to help students discover their passions and realize what was important in their lives. He taught students to nurture trust in themselves and in others, cultivate self-discipline, and become agents of change and creativity.
“They go home and see a drunken dad, or a single mom, and they have problems. But we explain to them that they aren’t the only ones with problems,” Ossa said. “We want to show them that they can take these problems and become stronger and more successful in life. They love that.”
During the pilot project, 109 secondary students were trained with CAPAZ methodology. In the weeks following, incidents of violence dropped by 25 percent in Deogracias classrooms. Students began sending letters to the principal and talking to their parents asking for more training with Project CAPAZ. The response on the part of students exceeded even Ossa’s own expectations. “It was amazing,” he said.
Deogracias school authorities were quick to respond as well. Ossa’s principal contacted him just weeks after the project’s conclusion to begin institutionalizing CAPAZ across the entire school. In the follow-on project, student leaders from the original CAPAZ cohort will act as mentors for their classmates to coach their peers on developing a culture of peace.
Ossa plans to expand Project CAPAZ well beyond the walls of Deogracias. He has been awarded an Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AIEF) grant by the U.S. Department of State to collaborate with other TEA alumni within the Latin America region to implement CAPAZ in classrooms across Colombia, El Salvador, and Nicaragua as well.
While he has many ambitions for Project CAPAZ, Ossa’s thoughts have not strayed far from the students at Deogracias: “If you look at those kids, they had lived with violence everywhere. But they’re good kids. If students see that they can be a part of the solution, and not the problem, we can and will see change in the classroom.”