The multiple forms of violence associated with protracted conflict disproportionately affect young people. Literature on conflict-affected children often focuses on the need to provide stability and security through institutions such as schools but rarely considers how young people themselves see these sites as part of their everyday lives. The enduring, pervasive, and complex nature of Colombia’s conflict means many young Colombians face the challenges of poverty, persistent social exclusion, and violence. Such conditions are exacerbated in ‘informal’ barrio communities such as los Altos de Cazucá, just south of the capital Bogotá. Drawing on field research in this community, particularly through interviews conducted with young people aged 10 to 17 this article explores how young people themselves understand the roles of the local school and ngo in their personal conceptualisations of the violence in their everyday lives. The evidence indicates that children use spaces available to them opportunistically and that these actions can and should be read as contributing to local, everyday forms of peacebuilding. The ways in which institutional spaces are understood and used by young people as ‘sites of opportunity’ challenges the assumed illegitimacy of young people’s voices and experiences in these environments.
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In2011President Santos announced the creation of a fund to subsidise education places for supposedly 8.6 million Colombian students so they could access entirely free education for primary and secondary schooling (El Espectador 2011; Colombia Reports 2012).