We give a big welcome to the five women who have just joined PBI Colombia as field brigadistas. In the midst of the pandemic they have travelled from Italy, Germany, Spain, Norway and France join us in the Colombia project accompanying Colombian human rights defenders. Here they introduce themselves and talk about what has motivated them to work with PBI.
My story with PBI began last year when I had the incredible opportunity to get to know the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and its path of non-violent resistance, a very enriching experience that changed my perspective and opened my eyes to the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia.
In this context I also met PBI brigadistas and listening to their stories I realised that I wanted to return soon to Colombia to learn more and commit myself to the work of accompanying organisations, defenders and communities that every day risk their lives to work towards peace and justice.
What struck me most about PBI’s way of working was the principle of non-interference in the work of defenders, a concept that seems very simple and yet is extremely different from what international organisations usually do. For me, who during my studies questioned the concept of development and its imposition from the global north on other areas of the world, this principle is extremely important and convinced me that working with PBI will be my way of contributing to the improvement of the human rights situation.
I am very happy to have arrived in Colombia, after many months dreaming of this moment, and I am looking forward to joining the team in Barranca!
My name is Gemma, I was born in Barcelona 37 years ago. I´ve joined PBI Colombia because I love this country and its grassroots organisations that fight for their rights to land, memory, justice and peace. Because I feel comfortable with PBI’s principles of non-interference, horizontality and consensus. Because I want my status as a European to serve a purpose. Because it was a dream I had and had forgotten. Because I need to get out of myself and walk towards “us”. Because I want to support a peace agreement that is a beacon of hope for the world. Because we accompany powerful, historic organisations committed to their territory and dignity. Because it means working with a wonderful team that only wants human rights defenders in Colombia to be able to do their work without being persecuted. Because I want to make hope bigger and fear smaller.
I got to know PBI through a volunteer work I did in 2013 with an organization called the Norwegian Committee in Solidarity with Latin America. Since then I have kept it in mind as something I wanted to do at some point and so here I am! PBI’s motto is “opening spaces for peace” and although “chevere”, perhaps isn´t quite the right word, in a way the way PBI works to fulfil the motto is quite chevere. We are in Colombia as representatives of international society, to support and give our contribution so that human rights are not violated and that a stable and lasting peace is achieved, but without interfering. We accompany at the request of communities, organisations and human rights defenders here in Colombia, because they are the ones who know and know what should be done and how it should be done. That is why I like PBI so much and these training days, although they have been intense, have made that feeling even clearer to me. I am very excited and I am looking forward to joining the team in Barrancabermeja!
When I told my family and friends that I was going to Colombia to be a PBI field volunteer, some called me brave, both for going to Colombia in general and for doing this kind of work. But I don’t see it that way. True, Colombia is a complex country with a history of conflict, but those who are really brave are the people, communities and organisations that continue to fight for their rights and their land despite the threats and aggressions they suffer because of their work. It is very exciting for me to be part of this project. PBI’s mandate and principles allow me to use my privileges of being European in a way that does not seek to impose our own concepts. Rather, I love the idea of contributing to the creation of safer spaces for those people and organisations that know their environment and needs best to do the work that is fundamental to achieving true peace and social justice in Colombia. During the next 18 months I hope to meet interesting people, learn more about their lived reality and their important work, and also to better understand the history and present of Colombia.
After participating in events where Colombian human rights defenders on tour in Europe told of their struggle and thanks to the suggestion of a Colombian representative of indigenous peoples in exile in France to apply for a position as a field brigadier with PBI, I came across this super project. Several of PBI’s principles, above all non-interference, non-violence and horizontality, seem to me to be excellent operating models for achieving its various objectives.
After several postponements due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are finally in Colombia, ready to participate in this project that will allow me to know the situation of defenders with my own eyes and be by their side accompanying them, for which I am very enthusiastic.
To a certain extent, the pandemic has silenced the situation of human rights defenders, so I feel lucky to be able to participate in making these struggles visible despite the health complications.
We welcome to all five of our fantastic new volunteers!