A View From Afar: My Trip to Colombia
Goldin Institute Associate Srishtee Dear on her Recent Trip to Colombia to Attend the Foundation for Reconcilation Conference
Ten thousand feet in the sky, rocking back and forth in a cable car to our accent, we reached Monserrat, a tourist destination and holy site for Christians. Houses speckled the mass of incredible and incredibly populated land below us, sheltering approximately eight million people. With so many bodies, it is quite easy to dismiss the social implications of economic or political moves, easy to forget that with each body comes a story – a past, and a future.
I arrived to El Dorado International Airport with seven years of Spanish under my belt, which I quickly and laughably realized was the equivalent of a fourth grade level of fluency. Nevertheless, communication was never much of an issue during our stay. Father Leonel Narvaez, the founder for the Foundación para Pardón y Reconciliación, Lissette, our Global Associate and den mother, as well as all those in attendance of the ES.PERE conference, treated us with the utmost hospitability. Sixteen volunteers for La Foundación gathered together from South and North America for the same purpose– to improve the lives of their people through forgiveness and reconciliation.
[quote]With rebel groups such as FARC and ELN, as well as right-wing paramilitary forces, former child soldiers make up a decent percentage of the population, yet are quickly ostracized for their pasts. In it in these communities, where victims and perpetrators collide, that the ES.PERE model is needed most.[/quote]
In the U.S., social services are accessible for most people, as therapy and community meet-ups are a quick click and commute away. Yet, due to rampant instability in many South American countries, their citizens lack the basic foundation to trust institutions, as they have always had to fend for themselves. Sabas, a local hero amongst organizers at the Center for Reconciliation and a former child solider, said that the ES.PERE (Schools for Forgiveness and Reconciliation) programs aim to initially attract citizens by providing everyday trainings for them, such as “how to properly take a bath” and “music therapy” so they are more likely to return to learn about Forgiveness and Reconciliation, a concept foreign to many.
As I quickly came to realize throughout my trip, the Colombian people are some of the most heart-warming, inclusive, and diverse people I have had the pleasure to meet. Walking down the streets of La Candelaria, I felt like one of them. Their artistic brilliance and eagerness to help outsiders is one that often gets overlooked in the media portrayal of a ‘drug-crazed land’. These are people who have had to live and relive a violent past, and livelihoods filled with prioritizing survival amidst left and right wing battles for power. Hearing former combatants speak to the importance of humanizing and reintegrating an entire sect of citizens helped me understand how many people lack a community. It is through community building efforts that a population grows and stabilizes. Just as in Colombia with the ES.PERE program, and now steadily throughout South America and parts of Africa, it is imperative that the social services we often take for granted, are also given to those who could benefit most.