They voluntarily gave up arms to help Colombia move towards peace. Now, they will use skills developed as guerrillas to help communities in Antioquia impacted by underdevelopment, poverty and conflict. As part of the reincorporation process of Colombia’s peace agreement, 90 FARC former combatants have been officially certified as ‘Promoters of Health and Life’ by the University of Antioquia in a United Nations-backed programme which has also involved members of the state security forces.
Many of the former combatants learned medical practice in rural regions, where there were no hospitals available for them to use, during the armed conflict. The programme, which is also supported by the Swedish government, has helped them to consolidate skills that will now serve fellow citizens, as well as other FARC members based in special Training and Reincorporation camps.
‘Now as a health promoter I want to simply save lives, that really was always my vocation’, said one former combatant, Margherita, who spent 25 years as a medic in the FARC.
Another former combatant, Wilson Villalobos, was a FARC dentist. ‘Personally, I aspire to help people improve their oral health in public hospitals or, if it’s possible, to have my own office. It’s a big aim, but worth dreaming’, he said.
As part of their new medical duties, the Promoters will participate in missions to provide healthcare in communities in Antioquia with little access to state services. In these areas, they will visit homes, schools and social centres to reach as many people as possible. The programme hopes to open doors for former combatants to study medicine at university.
The UN hopes the Antioquia programme will be replicated elsewhere in Colombia. ‘These former combatants are today reincorporated in life and for life. They will no longer pick up a gun but a stethoscope to listen to the heart’, said Carlos Iván Lopera of the UN Development Programme.