Last week I returned from Paipa, Colombia. Paipa is a small town in the Boyacá state, four hours from the capital city of Bogotá. It is located in a beautiful agricultural region and is known for its peaceful community in a country at civil war. I was involved in two events there. The first event was dedicated to the issue of violence and children. Colombia, despite the warmth and hospitality of Colombians, was a particularly good location for such a meeting. Children continue to be recruited on both sides of the war, by both paramilitary troops and guerrilla forces. The BBC reports that the average age of recruited children actually dropped from 13 years of age in 2004 to 12 years of age in 2005 (December 12, 2005). Among some of the issues that we addressed was the controversial issue of corporal punishment. Other important issues covered were sexual abuse, psychological violence and armed conflicts. Several concrete goals for meeting the needs of kids caught up in violent situations were drawn up and will be implemented over this next year.
The second meeting in which I was able to participate was a leadership academy. This was directed toward future leaders in the region. Some 20 participants from all over Latin America, representing a number of different organizations took two days to reflect on issues such as personal goal setting, vision development and mentoring. It is our hope that leaders in ministry to children at risk will be multiplied throughout the region. We are looking to future generations to begin considering carrying the torch for children who are often overlooked. We hope to begin mentoring younger leaders and mobilizing the Church to get involved with key issues facing children and youth. In many ways this is why I am so excited about training future children at risk workers. Not only will training play a major role in our ministry in Costa Rica, but mentoring future leaders must become a dominant focus if we are to truly tackle the obstacles that are keeping young people from reaching their full God given potentials.