Manuel Castaño Interview/Article
For the first time since its founding, the World Summit of Nobel Laureates gathered in Latin America—in Bogotá, Colombia. A city healing from decades of armed conflict and social upheaval, Bogotá served as a hub for thousands of international summit participants and nearly 15 Nobel Peace Laureates. The colors and sounds of the city rang loud and proud for the first week of February when world leaders and peacebuilders gathered to exchange ideas and dialogue.
And against the backdrop of flourishing change and plans for peace, the summit’s youth program, Leading by Example, hosted over 500 passionate young adults from around the world. It was this program initiated by the Permanent Secretariat that welcomed the Ivy Council delegation of nearly 20 students to attend the summit. But for one Ivy Council delegate (and Ivy Inspire editor), Manuel Stefano Castaño, attending the summit transcended the entire framework of the youth program. Returning to the country called “home,” Castaño set foot on Colombian soil for the first time in nearly 20 years. After fleeing the country because of ongoing civil conflict with FARC, his recent return afforded him an experience that no other Ivy Council delegate could have even imagined—national pride and emotional reminiscence to last an entire lifetime.
“Having the Nobel Peace Prize World Summit be hosted in the city where I was born means everything to me. Hundreds of thousands of people, like me, had to flee the country because of armed conflict. To see this event and peace treaty unfold in my lifetime is something I will always remember,” Castaño remarks.
And rightfully so, the city was vibrating with fervor and hope for the remarks of 2016 Nobel Peace Laureate, and President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos. “We are exchanging guns for dialogue…for a new day for Colombia,” Santos stated in his opening remarks. Setting the tone for the remainder of the week, the President urged attendees to focus on love, breaking the vicious cycle of fear feeding into hatred. The love-fear dichotomy was resilient. Castaño mentions, “The topics of reconciliation, peace, and forgiveness, but most of all love, are what moved me most in their discourses. The President spoke a lot about love. I was glad he did. Many politicians don’t.”
And love resonated most clearly in youth votes for the first FARC peace referendum, an overwhelming “yes” for forgiveness. Most youth who had suffered as a result of the conflict wished to put an end to generations of orphaned children, an end to mass victimization. Their votes collectively spoke to the idea that forgiveness trumps resentment and that forgiveness yields love. And love extended to unity, people passionately joining together on the front of humanity. “We need to understand that we are all ONE people. One nation. One race. I was motivated to see that the current leaders in my country are inspiring youth to fix what they broke,” Castaño says.
While this message of universal humanity stretches to the farthest corners of the earth, it was in Bogotá that youth activists and changemakers demonstrated just how empowered Colombia has come to be in the last five years. Of the near 500 youth delegates attending the conference, over 350 were native Colombians. University students, social action organizers, and government interns alike gathered to share their thoughts on turning the country around. And for Castaño, this gathering was cathartic, “Many of the young people in Colombia made a conscious decision to act and be proactive in peacebuilding efforts…they cared enough to stand up for others who had suffered. That is something seldom seen from young people in this generation.”
And what makes these youths unique? “They are interested in harmonious coexistence. They are interested in equality and transparency on behalf of governors. They are interested in doing things right. This is what will be the difference in years to come,” suggests Castaño.
But of all the reasons for youth attending this summit, the most significant remains an educational one—learning from the experiences, discourses, and narratives of Nobel Peace Laureates and other prominent conference dignitaries. For Castaño, the greatest lesson was that of hope, “I think my biggest takeaway from the Summit is that peace is possible. It is realistic. It is not something that is hard to achieve…many Laureates spoke this during the event. But the unified message that I heard from them was that of understanding that peace and harmonious coexistence depend on us.”
The shift in the mindset of youth in Colombia drives hope for Castaño and millions of other Colombian young people such as himself. This hope was the linchpin for Bogotá’s being named a “City of Peace” upon declaration at the end of the summit, a signatory impetus for moves toward stability on the part of both the Colombian government and its many citizens. And Colombia now stands as a near paragon for constructive peacebuilding in a region engulfed in social unrest, guerrilla conflict, and economic turmoil. Bogotá’s hosting the World Summit was no coincidence—the first Latin American city to do so, it surpassed every expectation the international community had for it. It shattered divides, removed barriers, and created an open space for meaningful discussion.
Now it falls on Colombia’s engaged and impassioned youth to continue the newfound legacy of peacebuilding by sustaining peaceful protest and honest conversations about coexistence. As Castaño mentions, youth play a unique role in peacebuilding in Colombia because their efforts, “were, in a sense, self-inspired.” This self-guided path for youth in Bogotá and across the country push younger citizens to continue working with nonprofit organizations, volunteering their time to social action causes, educating themselves on conflict resolution processes, and devoting time to the meaningful cause of fostering national unity. Youth must not only be, but also enact, the change they wish to see. And just as the youth program of the Nobel Summit suggests, youth must lead by example. Given the seismic effects of Colombian youth protests surrounding the FARC peace deal earlier last year, the youth movement seems charged for equally successful campaigns in the coming decade. In the end, it will be the youth of Colombia who will shift the voice of the republic to one that undoubtedly pushes for unilateral peace. The youth of Colombia will create a new hope for social change, one that diverges from the bloodstained history of an overwhelmingly beautiful country ravaged by decades of war.
Castaño echoes these hopeful sentiments felt by many Colombians, “The fact that the world has its eye on Colombia moved me greatly because it is such a strong example of unified peace efforts that transcend borders and cultures. And Colombia has the potential to be an oasis for its citizens. I am most excited to see the beginning of the change toward that possible reality.”