The power of a safe and inspiring space for young people in Chocó, Colombia

26/06/2018 – Founded in 2014 in Chocó, one of Colombia’s most disadvantaged regions, Fundación Espíritu Indomable (FEI) was established to provide opportunities and support to children, young people and families from vulnerable local communities. FEI is a member of the Fight for Peace Alliance.

Started by taekwondo athletes, FEI harnesses the power of martial arts to engage young people and offer a pathway to a range of programmes in areas such as culture, identity, food security, nutrition, health and education.

From the outset, FEI saw the urgent need to have access to designated spaces and facilities in each of their target communities, where they could run their programmes. However, the absence of such spaces meant that many martial arts classes had to be held in the streets, a situation which continued for almost four years.

“As strange as it sounds, martial arts delivery was the most sustainable aspect of our work”, explains Wiston Mena, FEI Founder and Director. “Young people were so engaged in the sessions and in taekwondo that they weren’t concerned about training barefoot on a public road, and having to stop every time traffic needed to pass by.”

FEI’s partnership with Fight for Peace, through training and ongoing consultancy support, helped instil a belief in the organisation of the possibility of securing appropriate facilities for their programmes.

“When I went to the Fight for Peace Academy in Rio de Janeiro and saw everything that can be done when you have a safe space, I knew that we needed to have our own place. We were inspired by the belief that it was possible. In a way, this made our challenge bigger, we were not looking for access to spaces anymore, we wanted our own space”, recalls Wiston.

Earlier this year, FEI realised their ambition by opening their very own academy, an enormous feat given the traditional lack of funding for infrastructure projects in Colombia and the scarce resources in the local community.

“We kept knocking on doors in pursuit of funding and, in 2017, we received the support of UN Women who responded to our belief in the importance of a safe place for our work to reduce violence against women in our community” says Wiston. “This space allows us to think strategically, and increase our coverage and impact. Now we can strengthen the programmes that we couldn’t develop that well when working on the streets.”

Deep thought was put into the development of FEI’s new base. At Fight for Peace, brand and space is extremely important in encouraging specific behaviours, creating a feeling about the organisation and defining how it is recognised by others. These principles, all taught as part of Fight for Peace’s training to Alliance partners, have been adopted by FEI in their new facilities, with values, branding and images adorning their state of the art spaces.

“We spent a lot of time deciding how we were going to represent our brand and our identity in our new academy as we are well aware of the power of the environment and the impact it has in inspiring our staff team, visitors and young people and in informing how we work and behave. We are delighted to have this academy and to be able to also open it up to and inspire local schools and organisations in need of a safe space”, said Wiston.