Eight months have passed since I arrived in Colombia and it is now an opportune moment to reflect on the time I have spent here. I can honestly say that my experience with Peace Brigades International has been the most intense but fulfilling experience of my life, a never-ending journey of lessons learned, friendships made, happiness, hardships, journeys, projects, goals and changes.
As surprising as it was for many of the Colombians whom I knew, I spent the first seven months of my contract in the hot city of Barrancabermeja, a port on the banks of the river Magdalena. Barrancabermeja is home to the biggest oil refinery in Colombia and has been emblematic of social resistance and the trade union movement, and for decades became an epicentre of the violence and social conflict caused by the Colombian armed conflict.
The city became a hub for the thousands of peasant-farmers displaced by the conflict in the rural areas of the region. The most difficult times were during the 90s and early 2000s, with episodes of extreme violence perpetrated by paramilitary groups, notably the horrific massacre of 16th of May 1998. However many Colombian human rights NGOs and associations formed by victims of the conflict, were born from the same violent context. Many of these organisations are accompanied today by PBI and still remain very active in the region working on issues of land restitution, impunity, reparation, state crimes, and human rights violations in general.
Living in Barrancabermeja has been an interesting challenge, not only because of the suffocating heat, which I was not used to, but also because at first it was difficult for me to understand the cultural and economic identity of the city, which seemed largely based around the oil industry. In the end I grew very fond of the people and the city, and will keep the memories I have made forever.
Today I am supporting the team in Bogota, which has allowed me to learn about other organisations that PBI accompanies (some of whoms’ cases are very well known in the Colombian human rights field) and enjoy what the capital city has to offer in terms of social life.
Delphine Taylor is from a Franco-British family. Born in the United States, Delphine grew up in Belgium where she developed a strong interest for travelling, cultural diversity and human rights. This passion to explore the world seems to be in the family genes as currently three of her siblings are living in Africa, while a fourth lives in Luxembourg. Her experiences abroad and her social commitment encouraged her to choose the educational route of sociology and anthropology, in particular questions about “otherness” in Latin America. She decided to form part of the PBI team to be able to live a new experience and to get to know different realities, human rights defenders and their respective struggles.