Chepe Ubaque survived Colombia’s mean streets

Chepe Ubaque

Colombia‘s armed conflict forced Jose “Chepe” Ubaque and his family to flee the countryside and settle in Soacha, a city southwest of Bogotá, when he was just 11. It is known as a magnet for both internally displaced Colombians (nearly 4 million) and armed groups.

Mr. Ubaque was able to beat the odds that the tough streets of Soacha stacked against him and landed scholarships to universities first in Bogotá and then in Canada. But he has gone on to do something even more remarkable: He has returned to Soacha. “When people can, they just leave Soacha,” Ubaque says. But if the people of Soacha don’t help themselves, no one will, he says.

What young people in Soacha need is their own voice, Ubaque says. Hip-hop, graffiti, break dancing, and journalism can all help by giving at-risk preteens and teenagers a safe way to express themselves, while also helping them avoid violence, he says.

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