Accompany the return of the Castaño Family

“Say something in Scottish!” eager faces gather round and I manage to get a few words out in English before someone calls me out and they all start giggling. “Eso es inglés” scoffs one of the girls before starting to count out loud the number of people in the room, “one, two, three, four…”.

Today the total reaches twenty-one including the three month old baby whose name Luz means light. It’s easter week and I’m spending it in a small holding farm in Bajo Atrato, in the Urabá region of Colombia. My field volunteer partner from France and I are here for five days accompanying the family of Mario Castaño, a land reclaimant and community leader who was brutally assasinated in front of his wife, adult children and grandchildren in their family home in November 2017. They’ve been displaced in a nearby town ever since and only return to the family farm with the accompaniment of CIJP (the InterChurch Commission for Justice and Peace, one of the organizations that PBI has accompanied for the longest in Colombia) and PBI.

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The return to the family house in the Biodiversitu Zona “Arbol del Pan”, La Larga Tumaradó

Mario Castaños Bravo was forcibly displaced from the region in the late 1990s, in the era the locals call “the violence” when paramilitary groups worked hand-in-hand with the government armed forces to displace the rural population under the guise of fighting the FARC guerrillas that were present in the area. Shortly after, with the area cleared of small scale farmers and guerrilla forces pushed back to the mountains, large scale businesses moved in, destroying the ecosystem by cutting down the forests and draining wetlands to install huge plantations of plantains and palm oil. When Mario and other displaced people returned in the early 2000s the landscape was almost unrecognisable. With the support of CIJP he was able to bring his family to reclaim their land, reconfiguring it under the figure of a “humanitarian zone” and to help other communities in the process of land reclamation, actions which put him at great risk and that would ultimately cost him his life.

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Elilia Isabel, the widow of Mario Castaño, holding his protrait and surround by three of her daughters and grandchildren

Our accompaniment in the field is as often as much centered on the emotional well-being of individuals as their physical integrity. While our logoed t-shirts and the PBI flags that we put up when we enter a community, and the work we do advocating the cases within high level government both within Colombia and internationally allow us to visibilise our presence and affect change, our role as field volunteers additionally provides moral support and solidarity. This week is a time of great nostalgia for the family, the air is peppered with anecdotes about Mario, placing him in the landscape that he loved so much. It’s also a time of uncertainty: who is going to lead the community now, when might they be able to return, are further reprisals imminent? In the middle of the night the dogs start barking and startled awake I can feel the tension in the air until people relax and fall back asleep.

The next day Mario’s widow tells me that she didn’t sleep the rest of the night – despite our presence, despite the other twenty people present in the tiny house in hammocks, tumbled together in beds and on the floor around about her. It reminds us that each attack on human rights defenders affects the social fabric of the communities and families they leave behind. Processes are interrupted, and the fear of repetition often means that new leaders can be reluctant to step in and can leave communities vulnerable to further human rights abuses.

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On the last morning after a night of swingin hammocks listening to a chorus of frogs, crickets and the occasional snore, we pack up our hammocks and make our way together with the family traversing paths through the surrounding business owners’ plantations back to the main road. A large SUV with tinted windows, the armed protection scheme that the government has provided for Mario’s widow, is waiting to take them back to the town where they’re currently displaced.  We say goodbye with promises to stay in touch by phone and take motorbike taxis to begin our journey back to our base.

Morna Dick

Morna y Nelcy marzo 2018
Morna with Nelcy, daughter of Mario Castaño

Resisting in the Naya River

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Navigating the clear waters of the Naya River is a pleasure for the senses. Lush vegetation bursts forth as you leave behind the Pacific Ocean to enter this river basin: a zigzagging river flow, whose banks are dotted with 64 black communities, all belonging to the Naya Community Council[1]. They have been here since ancestral times, “338 years to be precise”, according to Continue reading Resisting in the Naya River

PBI Colombia is looking for a new Advocacy Officer for the USA and Canada

Dear Friend,

Peace Brigades International (PBI), Colombia Project is an international non-governmental organization that works with international observation and accompaniment teams based in conflict areas of the national territory. Our objective is to protect the spaces of action of the organizations of human rights defenders as well as of the rural communities in Colombia.

PBI Colombia (COP) is accepting applications for the vacancy of the ADVOCACY COORDINATOR FOR NOTHERN AMERICA.  This person will be in charge of designing and implementing an advocacy and visibility strategy to raise awareness of the situation of the people and organizations which are accompanied by PBI Colombia. The new person will be based in Bogotá, required to travel several times per year to the US and Canada.

In addition to the application form, you will find included a description of the activities to be carried out, a profile of the candidate that we are looking for and the conditions of the job. Before sending the application, please make sure you have read them carefully. Visit our website www.pbi-colombia.org to learn about the organization and its volunteer work in Colombia.

PBI Colombia values diversity and has a strong commitment to equal opportunities. Applications are welcomed from all qualified people. All applicants will be treated under equal conditions without discrimination of gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or physical disability. Given the high number of applications we receive, we can only contact those selected for an interview.

  • Deadline of receiving applications: June 17, 2018
  • Date for written test: June 21, 2018
  • Dates for interviews: between June 27 and 28, 2018
  • Start date: preferably July 11, 2018

Please send your completed application form along with your CV (maximum 3 pages) till the deadline to the following email address: comunicaciones@pbicolombia.net with the subject: “ VACANCY: ADVOCACY COORDINATOR FOR NORTHERN AMERICA: (name and surnames) “.

This position is only for people who are NOT Colombian, in line with PBI’s international policies. We invite all Colombians to apply for vacancies in the PBI projects of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya and Indonesia. For more information, visit www.peacebrigades.org.

Description of the activities, profil of the candidates and conditions of the job

Application form

Thank you very much for your interest in this vacancy of the Colombia Project.

 Best regards,

 PBI Colombia Project

 

What motivates someone to join PBI Colombia?

Five new volunteers have joined the Peace Brigades International Colombia Project and will become members of the field teams in Urabá, Barrancabermeja and Bogotá. They come from Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain. What motivates someone to join a volunteer project like PBI Colombia? Below we meet the new volunteers and they tell us why. We welcome them all to the project.

Christina blog

Christina Gerdts, Germany

For me, human rights defenders and communities who defend life and their land are examples of dignity not only for Colombia but for the whole of humanity. Having the opportunity to accompany these inspiring people and communities and to offer my support so that they can continue to work in such an adverse context fills me with great pleasure and hope. Also, building trust and respect between people from the global north and south through my work in PBI seems to me to be an exciting prospect for social transformation towards a more inclusive and fair world where people live in solidarity with one another.

Carlos blog

Carlos Ruiz, Spain

Why PBI? Why Colombia? It isn’t easy for me to respond to these questions because there is so much I could talk about, including my previous experience in Argentina and my interest in the psycho-socio-political (apologies for that word!)… One thing I can say is that learning from those who dedicate their lives to the common good and their amazing collective processes is the biggest challenge I have faced. I should also mention that PBI’s commitment to horizontality and consensus is important to me in this adventure. The way in which we do things is as important as what we do.

Sophie blog

Sophie Helle, Switzerland

I am curious about our world and concerned about its violence, and I am constantly looking for new ways to participate and contribute to a peaceful world. As Colombia is going through a key period in its history, I want to participate in work to protect Colombian civil society leaders. It is important to value them and recognise their importance in the process of reconstructing the social fabric. I identify with PBI’s principles of non-violence, non-interference and horizontality, and I am honoured to be able to meet such courageous people, learn from their knowledge and experience, and accompany them in their daily struggle for the respect of human rights. I believe that individual action can lead to collective change and, therefore, I hope to participate in keeping open windows of opportunity for the construction of lasting peace.

Maelys blog

Maelys Orellana, France

This year a new chapter has opened in my life, here in Colombia with PBI. I am full of enthusiasm and determination to participate in the construction of peace and the defence of social justice. For years I have been working on these issues from France, and I wanted to dedicate myself professionally to this work in the Latin American context, where there is considerable social and political violence but where resilience and intense and just struggles are alive. I know a lot about the work of PBI, its principles and its mandate, because I was a volunteer with the French national group for several years, and after experiencing the welcome and affection I received when travelling in Colombia last year, I have now embarked on this adventure that is enabling me to express solidarity and respect for Colombian leaders, and to put all my energy into protecting them so they can continue to develop their work in favour of human rights.

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Adrian Carillo, Spain

It would be really difficult to give one definite reason for why I came to PBI Colombia, not because of a lack of reasons; just the opposite in fact. In the two weeks that I have been here, both in the country and in the project, I constantly have a sense of complexity and perplexity which makes it difficult to reflect on what brought me here. In 2016, a good friend and former brigadista told me about PBI and I was fascinated by how her eyes lit up while she told me the details of the work: consensus, horizontality, the accompaniments, the human relationships with defenders…. Since then I have wanted to be part of the collective efforts and ideals that make PBI a project that never ceases to amaze me. It has also offered me an opportunity to return to Latin America after six years, and to look again with fresh eyes, as if I had never been here. I am not one of those people who goes in search of places; I prefer the places to find me. Also, in the case of Colombia, I think that the only way to experience the country is to let its spaces and its stories to be unveiled little by little. So, for the many reasons that there may be, the truth is that I cannot remember at present any that stands out more clearly than the others. However, the sensations that little by little are revealing themselves during this experience of getting closer to the “peace” and conflicts that inhabit this country are self-explanatory. In short, I can only be grateful for the welcome from both the PBI team as a whole and the people I am meeting, and I will try to return a little of that affection by putting all my energy into this process.

final blog

Under the oil palm trees

“We are walking land”
(Indigenous saying)

 The landscapes of the Bajo Atrato region in Colombia are inundated with palm trees. You might be thinking they are the like the palm trees that appear on postcards next to beaches and crystalline waters, but no, these are somewhat different: flatter, wider and lower. Instead of juicy coconuts hanging at their centre there is a red, oily fruit, a bitter crop indeed for the communities who live here. Continue reading Under the oil palm trees

making space for peace