Fighting For Peace


Maritza was 17 at the time when she started to become a peacemaker. But before her peacemaking days she was once part of a gang called “The Mexicans”. It all

started when an older girl convinced her to do drugs when she was only eleven. Maritza was soon let into “The Mexicans” as a lookout for the gang. There, she learned how to shoot and carry a gun and to defend herself.

The gang was later wiped out, due to them being imprisoned or dead. She had dropped out of school, and was frequently walking the streets.

Maritza's Neighborhood

Maritza lived in the roughest, poorest parts of a city in Colombia called Medellin. They were normally called communas, meaning communities. These communas surrounded the beautiful heart of the city. There was a lot of social economic inequality. The houses were really close together and there were narrow roads winding through throughout the city. For years so they could leave behind the violence in the other parts of the country, but brought it with them instead. The city was known for having assassins, urban militias, gangs, and drug dealers.

Shanty Towns Similar to Maritza's

Family Life

Her mother and her didn’t really get along. Maritza believed that her mother didn't love her. When Maritza was really young, her mother and father separated. Her mother found a new husband and Maritza grew up thinking that he was her real father, but one day he got mad and told her the truth. She was upset and didn't know what to think of it. When she got older

her mother started beating her for anything bad she did. Every time she broke something, she would get whipped. Every time she spoke against her mother she'd get hit. Every time she was caught on the streets with "The Mexicans" she was yelled at. Finally, when she was eleven she had enough and tried to run away, but soon realized she was worse off on the streets and went back home.

Maritza Turns the Tables

Throughout all of her hardships, she still went to church every week. There, there was a boy, named Beto, that was the altar boy while she was altar girl. When Beto turned twelve he started to work for a community organization. It consisted of a bunch of kids that he gathered from around town and they’d play games and talk. He approached Maritza one day, asking if she would join a dance competition. She reluctantly agreed and started to rehearse with the club.

Her first act of trying to be a peacemaker was inviting the other gang “La Libertad” to the competition. They agreed and they joined for the dance-off. This was the first step in the peace movement. At first she lost hope. Only weeks later "The Mexicans" had murdered the twelve-year-old brother of a La Libertad member. That led to an open war between the two gangs that left almost all of "The Mexicans" dead.

Maritza's Big Change

Maritza stopped believing that peace would ever come. She got back into drugs, and started to hang out with rougher, meaner people around the neighborhood. One night in particular, her mother and her got into a fight. Her mother beat her so hard, it broke her spirit. She had enough and ran to the kitchen. Maritza took the first bottle she could find and tried to drink it. It turns out it was bleach or some type of acid. She was sent to the hospital and stayed for about a week. When she got out, she stopped drugs and went back into the peace movement.

Maritza Today

Today, Maritza is traveling out of country to talk to schools about her experiences. At first, she was uncomfortable talking to young children. She started going to workshops that taught her about the peace movement, and she realized that her life was valuable, even the mistakes she made. She admits to slipping up and getting high every once and awhile, but says "I walk two paths at the time and still wish I could walk the peace path all the time. I think that my struggle to make peace and the way I have survived should be worth something." She is no longer attending school, and is only educated at an eighth grade level at age 17.

Maritza's Hopes for the Future

Knowing what it's like to go through being in gangs, doing drugs, and feeling unloved, Maritza hopes that her story will inspire younger children to stay away from the mistakes she made. She said, "I wanted to work with young people like myself who were at risk of getting mixed up in gang violence."

Gang Violence in Colombia

Colombian city devastated by gang violence