This week we are excited to send our first email update as FOR Peace Presence to our grassroots community. We are eager to share with you the evolution of our ongoing work in Colombia as we continue with our transition from a project of Fellowship of Reconciliation USA (FOR USA) to our own independent organization that is part of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) family. Here’s what we have been up to in the past few months:
- In March we organized and facilitated two successful delegations in Colombia. The first was a collaborative effort with the IFOR, specifically IFOR Austria, Service Peace and Justice (Servicio Paz y Jusitica – SERPAJ) in Colombia, and IFOR Sweden (SweFOR). We also hosted a delegation of the Pacific School of Religion Changemaker Fellows, an incredible group of US-based activists and artists. We are organizing another delegation from February 21-March 6, 2015 that will include time in the Caribbean Coast mining regions, in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, and with the Collective of Conscientious Objectors in Bogota. Please check out our website for more details on this upcoming delegation!
- In May, we facilitated a training of new volunteers at the FORUSA headquarters in Nyack, New York. It was amazing to engage with young activists committed to nonviolence in the collective quest for peace and social justice.We welcomed Nikki, our first new team member from the training, in July and we look forward to sharing with you as the others join our team throughout the upcoming year. Meet our current team of accompaniers here.
- In June, FOR Peace Presence program coordinator Michaela Soellinger and I traveled to Europe to launch our joint campaign with IFOR Austria with LUSH Cosmetics, Austria. LUSH uses the organic, fair-trade cocoa from the Peace Community in their products. We also had the opportunity to attend and participate in the peace event in Sarajevo that marked the 100-year anniversary of the start of the First World War. To reflect on this time in history, activists from around the world came together in roundtables, lectures, and workshops to deliberate and share methods of nonviolent activism. FOR Peace Presence facilitated a workshop on our protective and political accompaniment work in Colombia and took part in a panel presentation, featuring our accompaniment work as one approach to nonviolent intervention in armed conflict.
- Our ongoing presence in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó, a community emblematic of the struggle for peace in Colombia, continues. Our team in the field – Gale Isabel, and Nikki– live there full-time, sharing daily joys, sorrows, and ongoing struggles with the community and helping ensure that they may continue their brave stand for nonviolence. Gale recently wrote a piece about the military illegally entering the Peace Community hamlet of La Union, and we remain very concerned about increased militarization in the area. Things have heated up in the region after a firefight took place there one week ago.
- Working with the Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors (ACOOC), we recently accompanied a visit to Arauca in an effort to support and seek the release of the young conscientious objector being held by the military, despite his commitment to nonviolence and continuous refusal to participate in Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict. Check out the article that Nikki wrote for NACLA following this visit to the military base.
- Our relationship with the lawyers collective Tierra Digna continues to deepen. Excited to be a part of the global movement to demand accountability and challenge corporate practices which devastate communities and the environment, we accompany them in their work with communities threatened by mining, industrial agriculture, and large development projects. Kaya from our Bogotá-based team just returned from our monthly accompaniment of Tierra Digna on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, an area that has been and continues to be heavily controlled by paramilitaries. Additionally, we are organizing a U.S. speaking tourwith Tierra Digna this Fall -we will send out more information in the near future.
In recent months, we’ve been saddened and concerned as other international accompaniment and solidarity organizations face difficulty funding and maintaining their teams on the ground. We are doing our best to respond to an increased demand for accompaniment here in Colombia and to be here for the long haul. In response to this increased demand, we’ve started traveling to the Afro-Colombian port city of Buenaventura to accompany the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission and their work with the incredibly courageous people of the Puente Nyero Humanitarian Space.
Additionally, two members of our team just returned from the northern Guajira Department where they observed a People’s Consultation, a community-led endeavor to publicly examine the impacts of mining on territories and communities in La Guajira. This region is undergoing a major drought and environmental and social ills directly associated with the Cerrejón mine, the largest open-pit coal mine in Colombia, and we urge you to sign this petition in solidarity with the affected communities.
We regularly update our website (www.peacepresence.org), our Twitter (https://twitter.com/Peace_Presence), and our Facebook (www.facebook.com/PeacePresence) with the latest happenings on our team and with our partners.
Our work is still needed at this critical moment, and with your support, we continue to stand with Colombian communities and organizations engaged in active nonviolence to defend life, land, and dignity.
Please stay in touch, and thank you for joining us as we carry out this important work in Colombia and explore new paths forward! Together we are building a real and lasting peace.
FOR Peace Presence