A day in the life of a PBI volunteer in Cali

After a 10 hour bus ride throughout the night from Bogotá to Cali, I was expecting to relax for a while before doing some work. Maybe even have a short nap. However, just as I was taking my bags off the bus, I received a call from the PBI house in Cali. It was Jérôme and he asked me to go straight to the house to help him out. It was an emergency.

When I arrived he explained everything. We had two PBI volunteers in Buenaventura who had received information that there was a security problem preventing traffic from circulating in the region of Bajo Calima; which is where they were scheduled to go this morning. We had to decide whether they could continue the trip or not. Furthermore Olga, a lady we accompany in Cali, had phoned. She told us that the community councillor of the western mountain range of Nariño had been shot in the head this very same morning and she needed our accompaniment to go and visit him in intensive care. We had to get back to her before 9.30am…

A part from these two separate incidents, we had two other volunteers in the field in Urabá who were also travelling today… The phone rang. It was the volunteers in Buenaventura and it looked like the initial information was correct; because the driver who had been hired to take them to Bajo Calima had refused to go because of the risk. We decided it would be best that they not travel until we had reliable information that it was safe. As for Olga, we decided that Jérôme would accompany her and that I would take over monitoring the trips from the house. We agreed on all of this by consensus with the coordinator in Bogotá.

For the next few hours I was permanently on and off the phone with Bogotá and the three different groups of volunteers; those in Buenaventura, another two in Urabá and Jerome who kept me up to date on his movements with Olga. I also had to constantly update a document which we call “clinical memory” to record our actions during emergencies. This work can initially be quite stressful… However, I’ve been a volunteer with PBI Colombia for two years now, so I’m used to it. And by lunchtime things had calmed down considerably: The volunteers in Buenaventura were going to stay there, those in Urabá had completed their trip without incidents, and Jérôme was on his way back to the house as well. I could relax.

And more importantly I could prepare for my trip to northern Cauca! I had travelled from Bogotá because we did not have the human resources available in Cali to accompany a human rights organisation to the People’s Congress in Caloto. It had initially been scheduled to take place in a different town but the attempts of the indigenous Nasa to expel both the Colombian army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from their territory in Cauca had earned so much solidarity from the organisers of the People’s Congress that they decided to change the location. What, I wondered, would be in store for me on this accompaniment?

–          Dan

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