My Life in Focus
Summary of the Project
My Life in Focus is an ongoing media education project in two of the most marginalized urban areas of Colombia. Its mission is to empower vulnerable groups of the society as women, children and youth, to become powerful leaders and artists by using media technologies to transform images and perceptions about their communities, cultures, and themselves. In a society where media is monopolized and driven by profit, we believe in giving underrepresented groups the skills and education to take action and create their own media that addresses issues that affect them, that voice their stories, and that reflect their identities and cultures. The program uses media and digital arts as a tool for self-expression, empowerment, civic engagement, and social change, where women, children and youth are centered in the production and educational process.
The neighborhood of Cazucá in the eastern outskirts of Colombia’s capital of Bogota is largely made up from informal settlements and is currently inhabited by about 70.000 people. Roughly 10.000 of them are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who fled from various Colombian regions that have been affected by the country’s ongoing armed conflict.
With such a high number of IDPs, the community is also marked by extreme poverty and poor access to public services like education facilities and basic sanitation. This adds to the high vulnerability of its population caused by the activities of different illegal armed groups in the area including drug and arms trafficking and the recruitment of minors.
The Aguablanca community includes some of Cali's most violent neighborhoods in the eastern part of Colombia's third largest city. It shares several characteristics with the Cazuca neighborhood: a high percentage of IDPs, extreme poverty and poor access to public services. But it might even be more affected by armed conflict and violence, serving as a battleground for various illegal armed groups fighting a vicious war over turfs, drug markets and power. Over the last couple of years, violence has been on the rise, leaving more than 200 minors dead alone in 2012. Media and Human Rights Organizations reported about recruiting of minors, forced displacements, extortion rackets and massacres in one of this most vulnerable areas of Cali.
Both communities are crossed by what locals call "Lineas Inviibles" (Invisible Lines); boarders drawn by illegal armed groups that cut through the physical space and social fabric of the community. These lines tear apart families only because they live in two different blocks, 200 meters apart, but divided by an invisible frontier that threatens anybodies life that dares to cross it.
Marginalized women, children and youth
In communities where there is a strong presence of women leaders and activists, as it is the case in Aquablanca and Cazucá, in their most personal space, the home, women still suffer from the existing stereotypes and their consequences, including domestic and sexual violence, emotional and economic dependence on the partner, prevention from family planning, amongst others. To a great extent, this has to do with the image and self-image of the woman in Colombian society, how women are perceived as well as how they perceive and project themselves in society.
Like in many “red zones” like this throughout Colombia, the other vulnerable group among the population is the one of children and youth, not only lacking education opportunities and in some cases even basic nutrition, but also being at risk of drug abuse, becoming victims of different forms of violence or getting involved in gang activities.
These children and youth face unique economic and social obstacles: flawed or interrupted education, language barriers, a lack of skills for employment and often discrimination and exclusionary social environments. These factors put these young people at a serious disadvantage in terms of their individual and collective development.
My Life in Focus seeks to provide fundamental knowledge of human rights to the participants, thereby helping them build leadership skills for a better future, particularly focusing on gender empowerment. Additionally, participants are provided with professional-grade skills in all aspects of media, thus creating capacities for income-earning opportunities and giving them a real chance to improve their quality of life. Finally, through the program the participants are able to show their products and convey a socially important message to the rest of the country and the world, thereby creating sustainable change in their community and boosting their self-esteem as global citizens with a capacity to transform realities through art.
In addition, through digital literacy and media empowerment, participating women, children and youth are supported in engaging with their own lives in a unique way, and in experiencing the catharsis of an informal, but powerful, art therapy structure. It is not an overstatement to say that My Life in Focus programming is uniquely transformative, and our graduates see the world, and their place in it, in a very different light. Moreover, they gain skills and training as journalists and reporters and can relay news about their realities and communities through their own perspectives.
Up until now the program has reached out to more than 300 participants in Cali and Bogota over the course of two years. Through our outreach initiatives, our graduates have hosted community exhibitions and screenings for over thousands of people, through our YouTube channels, and via our social networks. Furthermore, we have provided many graduates ready to work in the media sector where many have already been placed in various professional positions. Our younger participants have shown great leaderships skills in their community and their performance at school has improved tremendously, let alone stayed away from armed and trafficking groups. Since one of our fundamental long-term objectives is to create a sustainable self-managed project, we aim to fully train our participants so that they can in turn train others and personally hold the capacity-building workshops without the support of outside professionals, that way transferring ownership of the program and skills.
Watch "Stories behind the Promise" a short documentary made by Cesar Ordoñez, a 17 year old project participant, which gives an insight into the neighborhood's security issues like Lineas Invisibles in the Aquablanca community.