Columbian peace communities: the role of NGOs in supporting resistance to violence and oppression

Colombia’s chronic war is one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Amid armed actors, pervasive violence, and increasing militarisation, many citizens experience hostility from all sides. This violence continues the historical marginalisation of Afro-descendent, indigenous, and campesino communities and is intensified by the Global War on Terror. In this context, aid agencies are challenged in their call to respond to the needs of those who suffer. But some ‘peace’ communities are rejecting violence and seeking ways to survive within war—becoming protagonists in their own protection. This is risky; it draws accusations, threats, and attacks. Over time, the lack of sustainable livelihoods, weak internal cohesion, and antagonistic external dynamics test peace communities’ determination. This article examines four such communities and explores factors that generate and sustain grassroots protagonism, leading to suggestions for how development organisations can enhance community-level protection and reinforce local peace processes to contribute to broader peacebuilding.