Colombia has been named after Christopher Columbus (The Spaniard who at the end of the 15th Century sailed over the ocean to the West Indies). In 1499 one of his lieutenants set foot on Colombia's coast.

One hundred years later all the indians living on the coast had been killed by the spaniards who also took their gold.
In the 19th Century there was a new war. Simon Bolivar led a revolt against Spain and Colombia was declared a free country.
In 1948 there was a violent civil war. 300.000 people died. When peace was made not everybody was pleased. A guerilla movement was formed which continued to fight against the government.
Today Colombia has three guerilla armies which control roughly half of the country. Aside from the county's army there are also private armies, so called paramilitary troops with more than 10,000 soldiers.
They fight against the guerillas, but also drive away the poor peasants and kill them.
The paramilitaries commit most of the murders of unarmed people in Colombia. They kill trade union leaders, journalists, judges, prosecutors and leaders of organizations working for human rights. Both guerillas and paramilitaries make money from the drug trade and take people as hostages. If money is not paid by the relatives the hostages might be killed. More than 3,000 persons were taken as hostages during 2,000. Some 200 of them were children. In the towns criminal gangs are responsible for most of the violence.

The school made into a peace zone

Sofia is a member of the Children's Peace Movement and one day she suggested that her school become a peace zone. The children wrote and painted on the school walls. Among other things they wrote "Peace zone" and "Peace is built in the heart of every person."

Sunday morning in the town of Turbo. The children playing on the beach of the Caribbean are members of The Children's Peace Movement. Sofia, 13, leads the ring dance. One claps hands and sings and places an invisible flea on a friend. After that the flea-bitten person must dance in the middle of the ring and one says one's name and what one likes before the person sends the flea on to the next person. After that everybody gets ice cream and sits down on the beach to talk about different things. How does one feel when made fun of? What feels good? What makes one sad? As friends one can listen to one another.
Sofia has made many friends through the Peace Movement. It is one way of being together. Spread happiness, one says - together on the beach, in dances, at parties.

Many are unhappy
- Many children are unhappy. They have seen many terrible things, their mothers or fathers have been killed, explains Sofia.
- In our group children learn what their rights and responsibilities are. They learn that they have a right to life and to love. But with us they experience new happiness and new friends. They are allowed to be children again. We make a Christmas crib together, arrange parties and collections for the children. It can take time, but after some time the children gain confidence in me. They tell me how sad they are and speak about the terrible things they have experienced. At lunchtime Sofia walks home to eat - rice and spinach.
- Sure, rice is good, but I like chicken the best. But that we only eat on Sundays and when there is a party.
Sofia's worst personal memory is when her own neighbor Rafael was shot. He was on his way home after collecting his son at school when two men came by on a motorcycle. One of them raised a gun and shot Rafael in the head. Then they disappeared.
- It was so unfair. Rafael never fought, he was nice to everybody and loved his children. A person so good should not need to die in that way.

School of Peace
If Sofia could she would stop violence and all killing.
- No one should have to flee their home. No one should lose their mother or father. That is my dream. Every morning Sofia puts on her school uniform. Thanks to her, 495 pupils students now have a "Peace School".
- I suggested that we make the school a peace zone. And that we should paint and write on the walls to remind all students and adults that violence only destroys. Therefore we have written "Peace is built in the heart of every person" on the walls.
- All children need love, says Sofia. At home we have a little hut that my brother made. We call it "House of love" We light a candle in the house and then love lights up all we have, says Sofia.

Maria in dangerous banana-country