Forgiveness isn’t just a word

Claudia Giron is the coordinator of El Costurero de la Memoria, which is a collective made up of victims of forced displacement, enforced disappearance, sexual violence, false positives and other human rights violations in Colombia.

PBI: What are the most transcendental consequences of the armed conflict in psychosocial terms?

Claudia Giron: One of the biggest things is fear, the paralysis that selective victimisation deliberately aims to acheive, and fragmenting, silencing and dividing people in order to generate distrust.  I think that it deeply affects organisations, despite their ability to keep going and their moral strength.  People try to uphold their principles, but in some way the biggest effect is fragmentation and our inability to articulate ourselves collectively in a way which encompasses our diversity, because the war has fragmented us.

I’d say that we are a very strong country, with many strengths in terms of organising and being resilient, but we have trouble seeing how we are bound together and how as a collective we can assimilate things which happened beyond the current situation.

PBI: The FARC demobilisation process might take place in the coming weeks.  What is needed for the perpetrators to successfully reintegrate themselves?

Claudia: Psychosocial work is fundamental, and it doesn’t mean receiving them either with a beating or with open arms. It should be possible at some point, when people have worked hard enough on themselves, to have the possibility of taking part in spaces to exchange experiences and meet others who were victims, and not just on an emotional level.

One of the interesting things about forgiving is how it makes it possible to look towards the future and build it in a different way, to not have to carry the burden of hate and resentment which will hold you down.  And forgiving someone is complex because it cannot depend on whether they have asked to be forgiven.

Father Michael Lapsley, director of the Institute for the Healing of Memories in South Africa uses this example:  it isn’t that a thief will say to someone “forgive me for having stolen your bicycle”.  Father Lapsley would say that if he doesn’t give you back the bicycle you can’t heal anything.  If he asks for forgiveness, but does nothing to compensate for the absence of a bicycle in your life, like giving you some roller skates to get around on, nothing changes.  In conclusion, in some way we need to create situations where forgiveness becomes more than just a word.

PBI: What is your survival strategy and where do you draw the strength to not seem like a victim, but like a human rights defender and help other victims?

Claudia: My training as a psychologist gave me a lot of tools to help myself and to grow while I helped others.  I got my strength from all the people who have lived terrible things and have continued to believe that life and having hope in life is possible.

The great challenge is to get strength from spaces where you don’t have to justify what you do, like going for a walk, having a cup of chocolate with a friend, chatting, laughing, dancing, reading a good book, reading poetry, seeing a play… things that are simply experiences.

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