Luisa Fernanda Romero Munoz, co-founder of Get Up And Go Colombia, was awarded the first-ever 2019 AFS Prize for Young Global Citizens for advancing peacebuilding in her home country by converting former Colombian armed conflict zones into cultural tourism destinations. The AFS Prize recognizes one extraordinary young person for creating successful social initiatives that require collaboration across differences and support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Applications for the 2020 AFS Prize winner, who will receive a $10,000 award, are open until 28 July 2020.
Luisa’s work fosters peacebuilding through tourism and education. Get Up And Go Colombia has impacted more than 20,000 people by helping residents develop transferable employment skills by learning English and working as tour guides, and supporting local businesses. Get Up and Go Colombia partners with government agencies reintegrating former combatants and providing support services for victims of the armed conflict.
“It has been an unforgettable achievement,” says Luisa about being the first-ever winner of the AFS Prize when we recently reconnected with her, “I feel more empowered and ready to keep working for social impact.”
How has the AFS Prize impacted you personally and your organization?
The AFS Prize has been a strong motivation to keep working for our cause. Young people sometimes feel like our work is not recognized. Then, when this kind of recognition appears, it helps you to focus and keep working for your objectives. It is like an internal voice telling you: hey, don’t give up, we believe in you and you are doing great! This is exactly what the AFS Prize has given to me as a leader and also for my team, a strong encouragement to keep moving forward no matter how many obstacles we face.
Since then, we have improved a lot in our organization. We have developed new roles inside the core team, made improvements to our operations, started using different methodologies to work remotely, and created a bigger network of local and international volunteers, new partnerships, and new initiatives.
The Prize oriented us to believe, to keep creating a positive impact in our community through different ways for peacebuilding, we have more people joining us to extend our impact to other regions in Colombia. We are more established now, with a clear goal, and giving up is not an option thanks to the AFS support.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work? How have you responded or adapted to the pandemic?
COVID-19 has affected us a lot as it stopped our tourism activities and projects. However, we have used this time to improve in certain areas such as marketing and finance, international volunteering, creating language exchanges. We have had to adapt to work remotely, but we also started developing new programs, such as new virtual tours.
In our new virtual experiences people will have the opportunity to learn about unconventional topics from the communities most affected by the Colombian armed conflict. For example, coffee brewing by a former FARC combatant who replaced guns with coffee preparation methods. Or discover street art murals with a survivor of the Colombian armed conflict who uses art for peacebuilding. This is still in preparation, but we hope to launch it very soon.
What is next for you and Get Up and Go Colombia?
The next for Get Up And Go Colombia is to develop a new platform with virtual experiences where we can support communities that have something to teach. This will be a different way to experience tourism while staying at home.
Also, we are working to increase our network of young social entrepreneurs and expand our projects to other regions in Colombia, as well as develop initiatives with young peacebuilders from all over the world. We are in contact with many young peacebuilders from Nigeria, Afghanistan, Syria, and other countries currently experiencing conflicts, so we are preparing something to work together and inspire the world about the importance of peacebuilding.
Since winning the AFS Prize, Luisa and Get Up and Go Colombia have expanded their activities:
- Cooperated with AFS Colombia on their project Experiencias para la Paz, jóvenes agentes de cambio.
- Participated in ANATO, the biggest tourism fair in Colombia
- Participate in the program Generation Change Exchange from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and received training on conflict resolution
- Attended YLAI Inspirando Catalizadores, a training in Mexico, developed by the U.S Embassy through its program Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI)
- Developed a new program called Bootcamp Juvenil for 60 young participants from the most affected municipalities by the conflict in Cauca and indigenous communities
- Developed podcasts for the radio about how to replicate their programs in areas without internet access
- Peace café, Berdamai, is moving forward, with plans to sell coffee brewing kits to support communities of coffee growers who replaced illegal crops into the coffee
- Showcased their programs in different broadcasts, like this podcast on tourism and peacebuilding
- Selected as finalist in a worldwide competition WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Youth Award in Sweden for the project Silvia360, a virtual reality tour that showcases a former war territory with peace testimonials, sustainable tourism and the indigenous community Misak
- Developed a crowdfunding campaign to help the families in need during the COVID-19 lockdown, collected funds to provide food for 80 families.
- Luisa graduated with honors from postgraduate studies in International Tourism Management at Ulster University in the UK and was recognized as the student of the year 2019.