Haidy Duque has created an integrated set of psychosocial interventions to help people who have been displaced by violence in Colombia to recuperate their lives, increase their self-esteem and reintegrate themselves into society through productive means. She has a special emphasis on working with African-Colombian communities.

This profile below was prepared when Haidy Duque Cuesta was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999.


Haidy Duque has created an integrated set of psychosocial interventions to help people who have been displaced by violence in Colombia to recuperate their lives, increase their self-esteem and reintegrate themselves into society through productive means. She has a special emphasis on working with African-Colombian communities.


A person who herself was displaced by Colombia's ongoing internal conflict, Haidy Duque has developed a process of psychosocial intervention that attends to rural Colombians who have been physically displaced by violence. She has developed a methodology for leading the displaced through a recounting and analysis of their experience, so that they can come to terms with the past and begin to reinvent themselves, beginning with the search for income generating activity. The process is group-oriented, accessible to even the poorest client, and can readily be adopted by lay people for implementation.

Haidy engages with local church and civil society organizations as replicators of her methodology to maximize impact across the population. She also uses those contacts to help link her clients with other sources of institutional support as they rebuild their lives. Her organization, Taller de Vida (Life Workshop), is working in Bogotá and four other regions of the country with a particular focus on displaced Afro-Colombian populations that face not only the trauma and loss of livelihood as a result of displacement but racial discrimination as well.


The phenomenon of internal displacement in Colombia is linked to ongoing conflict among guerrilla groups, the national army, and paramilitary groups, all of whom relate in complex ways to drug production and distribution cartels. The threat of instability and violence forces many citizens, mainly from the countryside, to migrate to larger and relatively safer cities. According to CODHES (Colombian Commission on Displacement and Human Rights) there are currently more than 1.6 million displaced people in Colombia, approximately four percent of the total population. This number increases each day as the violence continues. Recently the number of people who are migrating is growing even faster, as levels of guerrilla and paramilitary violence have escalated once more. Patterns of migration over the last ten years show that the phenomenon of displacement has reached nearly all regions of Colombia.

Those who have been displaced face the double jeopardy of psychological trauma and the loss of economic security and opportunity. Those Afro-Colombians, many of whose communities have been particularly hard hit by violence, face another "hidden problem," as they already experience significant discrimination. These problems have led to great demand for solutions not only from affected individuals, but also from the cities that have to cope with the influx of people who often arrive without any means to support themselves. Though there are some federal and municipal programs that try to serve the basic needs of these groups, they are usually limited to the provision of food and shelter, and are unequipped to deal with psychological problems and long term survival issues. If lasting solutions are not provided, problems of delinquency, associated with lack of opportunity and low self-esteem, will increase and create further problems for these cities and a further drain on limited local and federal government resources.


Soon after her own displacement and move to Bogotá, Haidy created an organization, Taller de Vida, geared towards helping people in similar circumstances recuperate or "reinvent" their lives. The organization became a legal entity in 1995. Since that time, Haidy has refined her methodology with displaced people who arrived in Usme, a working-class section within Bogotá. She starts with a "recreation of life stories" component. The caring atmosphere of Taller de Vida encourages participants to open up and to examine their pasts, which often are tucked away to avoid painful memories. Participants write and share their stories with others who suffer from similar problems. As one participant that she worked with in the town of Dabeiba stated, "It hurts us to remember, but it hurts us more in the end to forget." Haidy has added handicraft workshops and linkage to agricultural relocation projects to strengthen the income generation component.

As her work on the ground progressed, Haidy sought out alliances with institutions with which she could multiply its impact. Local churches and citizen organizations have been natural allies, and she has also found some of the "graduates" of her program to be effective replicators. She has created a staff of three psychologists, two educators, three artists and two social workers to refine and further assist in replicating her methodology. Haidy is currently working in two centers within Bogotá and four other regions in Colombia. Several organizations in other areas of the country have requested that she train them in her methodology. Haidy has a special interest in targeting communities with large African-Colombian populations, with their triple burden of psychological trauma, economic insecurity, and discrimination.

Still in the early launch phase of her work, Haidy has displayed an entrepreneurial talent for marshaling the resources of a broad pool. Her strategy is to bring together citizens' organizations, schools, university students, and community groups to recruit and train members, forming local teams that will carry out her methodology in their towns. This process involves two weeks of working intensively in the communities, learning about the dynamics of the existing organizations, holding meetings to formally present the idea of Taller de Vida, and forming the teams who will receive training. The teams are composed of teachers, students, community leaders, and local social workers. Haidy's staff conducts training through six workshops of several days each to cover the various aspects of the methodology (working with life stories, identity, gender consciousness, racial issues, mental health, and use of handicrafts). The local organizations provide the room and board for those involved in training and the space to conduct the workshops. There is a built-in monitoring process in which members from the original Taller de Vida staff return to these towns to work through issues that emerge in the process and to provide ongoing training and feedback.

The Taller de Vida model has already received funding support from Amnesty International, as well as Swiss, German, and Norwegian funders. Haidy has also turned the handicraft projects into sources of marketable goods, such as greeting cards with poetry, jewelry, and candles. This phase of her work has provided a dual benefit. First, the members feel a sense of accomplishment upon being able to produce beautiful and marketable items with their family members, inspired by their own experiences; Second, these activities are also beginning to generate income for these groups---particularly through the sale of greeting cards. Haidy is working with a Colombian MBA student at Wharton Business School to solidify her business strategy, to reach more markets and increase the profitability of Taller de Vida's operations.

Haidy is also working on systematizing her methodology, incorporating the experiences she has had in various regions into a workbook that will facilitate the spread of her work throughout Colombia. In addition she is putting together a book that is a collection of the life stories of the people Taller de Vida works with to generate a better understanding among Colombians about the plight of fellow citizens who have been displaced. The book will also serve to validate the stories of these people, giving them a concrete product for which they can be proud. It could also potentially generate revenues for Taller de Vida.


Haidy Duque understands first-hand the issues that members of Taller de Vida have experienced. She, in fact, has "reinvented" her own life. Haidy grew up in the countryside and later moved to the capital of the state of Cordoba. Her mother was a teacher and community leader and her father a professor, head of Cordoba University's history and geography department. He later became a leader in the civil rights movement, fighting for the rights of Afro-Colombians, indigenous people and farmers. After his election to a local government position, as the representative of a wide-spread popular movement, he was assassinated by paramilitaries, as were many other educators, students, indigenous leaders, unionists and doctors who, as Haidy describes, "dreamed of a country with space for a dignified life for all." The cemetery in Cordoba where these victims were buried became a significant location for the survivors of the murders. The witnesses to this violence would meet there every Sunday to talk and work out their feelings about what was happening in their town. These therapeutic sessions led to the creation of the first human rights organization of Cordoba called the Foundation for the Rehabilitation and Life of Cordoba. Paramilitaries considered Haidy's participation as the Director of this group as dangerous. Upon receiving numerous death-threats, Haidy felt obligated to "take the road of displacement" that so many other before and after her have taken and she moved from Cordoba to Bogotá.

To begin her own life's reconstruction she began a master's program at the Xaverian University in Bogotá in Education with an emphasis on Community Development and Participation. She also joined various human right organizations, though she was often in disagreement with their posture about women's rights. She fought with the University for permission to study and work with families who had been displaced as part of her thesis. In this project she conducted workshops with the families, validating their past experiences and encouraging them to take control of their lives. When she finished her thesis, the families were not yet ready to let her go. They asked her to continue her work with them and to incorporate other people who had been displaced into the process. From that experience emerged Taller de Vida.