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I am because we are

"I am Cocco Kilele, daughter of Yiris, born by Rossana and Paulina, granddaughter of Rosa Cruz and descendant of Rosa Maria; and I am because they all were". This is how Cocco Kilele, a young writer, artist, Afro feminist and leader, introduces herself. She lives in Calle Quibdó, a community inhabited mostly by Afro-descendants and indigenous minorities. It is a riverside community, where an important part of the inhabitants are part of Cocco's family. 

He says that Calle Quibdó was born a long time ago. His family, the Mena Pérez family, arrived in this community thirty years ago. His grandfather, who is now 62 years old, inhabited Calle Quibdó since he was a child, and returned thirty years ago with his wife, Cocco's grandmother, to establish their home. In this way, Cocco expresses that "From there my experience with Calle Quibdó is born, because, although thirty years ago I did not exist, being linked to the ancestry of my family connects me directly". Therefore, part of her being and what she has faced comes from belonging to this place. She went to live in Medellín eight years ago to escape from Calle Quibdó, but returned to Chocó four years ago because she needed this community. 

Calle Quibdó is the closest rural community to urbanity, but it is, paradoxically, the most marginalized and excluded by the Quibdó administration. Despite this proximity, very little mention is made of it, reflecting the colonial vices ingrained in the municipality of Quibdó, in the department of Chocó and in Colombia as a whole. This contributes to the centralization that excludes rural communities. The risks he faces are the risks Cocco faces as a person, because "Calle Quibdó is my territory and my body too". Among these risks is neocolonialism; to be colonized again today. From this, many structural violences of great affectation are created, from which arise some systems of action such as submission or forced silence, which represent a challenge to face. This is why Semillas Negras was born, to prevent the violence from which Calle Quibdó suffers.

Cocco expresses that Mae Kiwe Intercultural contributes to its life project and its history. It is a space of strength, which faces great challenges as it is a huge project, created on solid foundations and with the purpose of achieving important transformations demanded by the Afro and indigenous communities. For this reason, she says that having the opportunity to create and begin to implement this project is a considerable challenge, but "Mae Kiwe Intercultural gives me strength from the difficulties it has and allows me to exploit all my abilities to sustain and deal with it". 

His expectations of the project include breaking down the systemic power structures present in these spaces. She recognizes that while these efforts begin with good intentions, they are often rooted in structures and issues that are difficult to address, but necessary. Recently, she learned about "action with harm," which allowed her to realize that there are forms of violence that she had not considered before. Because of this, Cocco wants to challenge these violent and colonial power structures, and aims to learn from Mae Kiwe Intercultural how to avoid reproducing these structures.

For Cocco, peace and youth participation are fundamental themes in the project. People like Karina Rivas, who has been a fundamental support for her since the beginning of the project, are examples of peace. Despite the internal conflicts faced by the community, embarking on creations like this is an act of peace. This allows understanding and respecting the other, aligning with the concept of "Ubuntu", which means "I am because we are". For her, peace is a collective concept and, therefore, decisions should also be discussed with the collective.

With the support of Madelyn Saavedra, WarChild's gender and protection officer in Chocó.

Photos by Michael Jessurun

About the project

The project "Mae Kiwe Intercultural: building bridges and fostering intersectional learning to advance the safe and meaningful political and peacebuilding participation of young Afro-descendant and indigenous women and men in Colombia" is funded by the United Nations Secretary General's Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and aims to forge and strengthen a protective social and political environment in which young people from Afro-descendant and indigenous communities, especially young women, participate and influence peace and decision-making processes alongside and in cooperation with local and regional government institutions, and are protected from the serious risks and violations associated with civic participation and advocacy.


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