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Jesuit Refugee Service livelihood programs help Colombian refugee women to be empowered and participate in the peace building process. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

(El Nula, Venezuela) November 7, 2016 — Women and girls are among the most vulnerable in Colombia due to widespread violence caused by decades of conflict. Young girls are exposed to armed recruitment, while women often find themselves on their own in their attempts to sustain their family. With the lack of opportunity, they are likely to fall victim to exploitation, including prostitution and human trafficking. 

Many of them flee to neighboring countries in search of safety and stability. In Venezuela, Jesuit Refugee Service works at the border with Colombia to support these Colombian refugees. 


In Tàchira, Apure and Zulia, JRS brings women together to strengthen their artistic abilities and facilitate in the local integration process. By learning how to make handles, necklaces, earrings, purses, or hammocks, they acquire the tools needed to start businesses and achieve sustainable economic stability.


"I never thought I would learn how to knit and make my own daughter some earrings! We were able to exhibit our handicrafts together in other cities. Those were beautiful experiences that I'll never forget. We were able to come together and create an even stronger bond." says Gabriela, one of the participants.


These workshops serve as a space for women not only to explore their creativity through crafts but also to share their experiences and create a network of support to improve their psychosocial well-being. 


As Paula shares: "I used to stay alone at home and never go out. These workshops gave me the opportunity to meet with other women that I've grown to value a lot. They have been through difficult situations in their lives and are trying to move forward." 


Coming together empowers them to contribute to the peace building process by bringing new elements and a different perspective to the dialogue as women survivors.

This program is not only catered to women, but also men, especially the spouses of women participating in the program. Men's involvement allows for a better understanding of women's rights and more support for women to learn new skills that will help them succeed. 


In this sense, the arts and crafts workshops serve as a space to cultivate peace and gender equality. In the words of Gerson Cardenas, advisor of JRS Venezuela, "Learning about art is a development that promotes a culture of peace as it provides women with tools to settle the conflicts that they encounter on a day to day basis. This has also been a space that has allowed them to develop skills that will give them the ability to deal with problems, especially in their own homes." 


After participating in the program, these women will have mastered a set of skills that will empower them to be self-sustaining and be able to succeed independently through their own businesses. 


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