Sirly Cerpa was neither born nor raised in Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, nor in San Jose, but this does not stop her from being one of the eight members of the Community’s Internal Council. She is from Tierralta (Cordoba) and her family was originally from the coast.
In Upper Joaquin, (a hamlet and surrounding area that is part of the Peace Community and is two days’ walk from the Community’s main settlement), the paramilitary violence at the end of the 1990s provoked the displacement of the Cerpa family to an urban area. Sirly was a child at the time, but remembers those years. “The hardest have always been the attacks by the army against the civilian population”, she tells us, and goes on to remember: “and when the paramilitaries came to the area, they took people away, they tied them up, and people were killed”. Sirly keeps alive the memory of a cousin killed at the hands of the paramilitaries.
In the Peace Community they found the support of other people and a place where her and her family were welcomed. She remembers with emotion the moments in which the Peace Community has called for solidarity to support its members or neighbouring farmers.
She tells us about how in 2013, when neo-paramilitaries from the Gaitanista Self-Defence group kidnapped a young man called Buenaventura, a sizeable group of people from the Peace Community got together and went looking for him. Sirly tells how the river had swelled and she was asking herself “with so much current, will the river let us cross?”. But it did not set them back and they continued in good spirits in their search for the young person who had been kidnapped. She recognised that “whenever you are faced with situations like that, which make you afraid; you don’t want to be in those shoes, but you have to live it anyway”. This is the collective strength that being part of the Peace Community gives them, as she says herself: “this struggle gives you a lot of strength, you feel the companionship of one towards another. It’s very beautiful”.
Being elected to the Internal Council was a surprise for Sirly, but she took on the responsibility when she saw the trust that people put in her. She believes that there are fewer women in the Council because “women are very timid, although we realise that in the end we end up supporting everything”. According to Sirly, there are many women working in the organisation, but not in the visible part. Being in the Internal Council obliges her to “step up, take on responsibilities and show that women can do it too, that we are a force”. In her role she tries to encourage other women “to live it in the way that I do, we don’t want any woman to live in hiding, but to stand and be counted”.
Julia and Tamara
 Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado Complicidad, cooperación y protección al crimen: la ‘democracia’ que tenemos, 11 September 2013