After Mayerly Sanchez's closest friend, 15-year-old Milton Piraguata, was stabbed to death in a gang fight, she vowed to find a way to stop street killings in Colombia. She had just turned 12.

In a country where homicide by gunshot is the leading cause of death (ahead of cancer, heart failure, and accidents), the now 17-year-old Sanchez says Christ's presence helps her to lead 100,000 children in a campaign that has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Violence has festered in Colombia for nearly four decades among paramilitary commandos, rebel guerrillas, and cocaine lords. The link between these factions and the hooded assassins who commit an estimated 85 percent of Colombia's murders is often unclear. In this urban briar patch, youth gangs flourish.

"All these gangs were in constant confrontation—one never knows what they are fighting over," Sanchez says. "Like a lot of people, Milton went out to watch what was going on, and he was facing a gang, or friends of that gang. In a fight, nothing and no one is respected—it was like they were going crazy, and he became a victim of watching what was happening."

Far from her speaking engagements to international audiences, Sanchez speaks to ct by telephone from World Vision offices in Bogotá. The staff has been sent home due to street disturbances amid a transportation strike; a friend of a World Vision employee has unlocked the door so Sanchez can call ct.

Occasionally a note of world-weariness creeps into her spirited voice—or maybe she is just tired of answering questions from the media. In any event, having spent much of her childhood fighting for peace amid often inexplicable bloodshed, at times she interrupts her breathless, lilting Spanish with a sigh.

"It's ...

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