Michaela Soellinger is an accompanier with FOR Austria who will be collaborating with our team. The following is her reflection on arriving back in Colombia last week: 

So, here I am, back in Colombia in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Bogotá, the streets seem emptier than a year ago, so does public transport. I am standing outside one of my favorite restaurants, wearing a mask and nose protection, as is everyone around me. Shall I go in, or is it too crowded? One year ago, we spent the last evening of our FOR Austria delegation in that restaurant, reflecting about possible future work as part of the long-lasting cooperation within the FOR family, between FOR Austria and FORPP.

Our delegation included visits to several communities in Antioquia: Blanquita-Murrí in Frontino, San Jose de León in Mutatá, and the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó, communities FORPP continued to accompany throughout 2020.

This evening, I don’t visit the restaurant, it seems rather full. I’d rather cook some beans at home and ponder with my new FORPP colleagues what biosecurity measures will mean for the travels ahead, as we work together in support of Colombian communities’ and their leaders’ safety, walking with them  in their non-violent struggles for a life of dignity and in harmony with the environment.

I plan to be in Colombia for the next two years. My role here is to further the collaboration between FOR Austria and FORPP, strengthening the work with Antioquian communities to bring attention to their struggles for land rights and environmental protection. Colombia has one of the world highest rates of killings of environmental defenders. Since 2013, I have lived between Austria and Colombia, accompanying mostly communities and human rights defenders in the department of Antioquia with FOR Peace Presence (FORPP) and PBI (Peace Brigades International).

While walking through Bogotá, I can still hear Hildegard Goss-Mayr, one of the pioneers in non-violent action work in Latin America, whom I visited while preparing for this project, when I asked her for recommendations how to start out: Try to learn about the context as much as possible and try to listen with your heart and mind.

So here I am taking my first step. I am trying to learn and listen with heart and mind. I am trying to listen to and learn from my new colleagues and their vast experience in human rights work, to understand and analyze current sociopolitical dynamics in Colombia, the processes of accompanied communities and the threats against them. Thus, I hope to get ready for the next step, to learn from, listen to, and accompany the communities in their non-violent struggle for land, life and dignity.