Join the Colombia Peace Presence Team
Current FOR status: Discontinued. Visit FOR Peace Presence for the latest information on this work.
Colombia Peace Presence Job Description
Teams in San José de Apartadó and Bogotá, Colombia
Thank you for your interest!
“I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of support or anywhere I would rather live and volunteer.” ””Dan Malakoff, former volunteer read more from Dan
- General Information on San José de Apartadó
- FOR’s statement of purpose
- Job Responsibilities
- Job Requirements
- Financial Arrangements
- Current and Former Team Bios and Blogs
- Project Mandate
“What I’ll miss of La Unión: The delicious organic food people share with us: beans, eggs, yucca (cassava), corn on the cob, avocados, plantains, and meat: locally-raised chicken, duck and beef, as well as my favorite, tatabra (wild boar hunted in the mountains). What I will miss the most: the people of the Peace Community…”
-Chris Courtheyn, former volunteer read more from Chris
San José de Apartadó, located in Colombia’s northern region of Urabá, is one of many communities in Colombia that have taken an extraordinary and nonviolent stand against war, by refusing to support any armed actor involved in Colombia’s decades-long conflict. The community has suffered terribly from political violence, mostly by paramilitary groups supported by the Colombian Army, and remains a principle obstacle to the paramilitary’s expansion of its violent project in the Urabá and Chocó regions. In March 2001, the Peace Community, whose central settlement of San José was accompanied by volunteers of Peace Brigades International, requested that the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) work to establish a long-term accompaniment presence in the nearby settlement of La Unión. La Unión is the agricultural center of the Peace Community, and has been victim to repeated paramilitary attacks.
The FOR initiated its presence in La Unión in February 2002, with two volunteers and added a team in Bogota in January 2005. The FOR Bogotá team helps generate political support for the team and community in San José; works to increase the visibility and security of other grassroots nonviolent initiatives, including FOR’s partners Red Juvenil de Medellín and the Antioquia Peasant Association; supports the FOR’s US campaign to end military aid; and organizes for FOR delegations visiting Colombia.
“I’m very grateful to be able to work in the community. I feel the same about FOR. Thank you for letting me be part of this project, and for taking care of us. I believe I have walked away with greater communication and analytical skills, and also a deeper passion for Colombia.” — Julia Nelson, returned volunteer
In 1998 FOR-USA awarded the annual Pfeffer Peace Prize to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, nominated by the Colombia Support Network, and a representative of the Peace Community traveled to the U.S. to receive the prize. The following year TFLAC was invited to the 3rd anniversary of the Peace Community, and in March of 2000 the coordinator of TFLAC visited the Peace Community for the first time.
The year 2000 was a tragic one for the community, as it suffered two massacres at the hands of the paramilitaries: one in the town center of San José de Apartadó in which five people were killed, and the other in June when paramilitaries assassinated six leaders of the Peace Community in the village of La Unión.
Along with the human rights organization Global Exchange, TFLAC decided to organize a U.S. delegation to Colombia in March 2001. While in San José, community representatives asked that the delegation return to observe all of its meetings with the government’s investigative commission that was formed after the July massacre in order to investigate all of the crimes that had been committed against the Peace Community. The community was worried that they would fall into the hands of the military, and wanted FOR-USA to be a witness. After the delegation returned, the request was modified to a request for a permanent presence from FOR-USA.
After this delegation the Colombia Committee was formed as a body to make decisions about the direction of the program and included members of FOR-USA as well as other organizations working with Colombia. Two more visits were made to the community in 2001 in order to develop TFLAC’s understanding of the Community’s process and the possibilities of international accompaniment.
While analyzing the request from the Community, various factors were considered. The Peace Community had had some protection from the periodic presence of Peace Brigades International in the town center of San José de Apartadó and national support from human rights organizations. Analyzing the experiences of PBI, the conflict in Colombia and specifically in the region of Urubá, and considering the international recognition of the Peace Community, the Colombia Committee determined that in general the armed actors respect international presence y had refrained from directly attacking the Community while it was accompanied in order to safeguard a favorable international image. The analysis of our capacity for dissuasion is continuous and very complex in a conflict whose dynamics can change easily according to the national, regional and international circumstances.
Considering other roles of a potential presence
Given the high level of U.S. military support for Colombia, the Committee believed that the presence of U.S. volunteers could help in showing the U.S. public an image of Colombia that would contrast with the general perception of a violent country without hope for change. Documenting the experiences of civilians seeking independent and nonviolent ways of life in the middle of conflict would serve to motivate Americans to demand a change of the militaristic policies and give support to civilian and grassroots initiatives.
For these reasons, the Colombia Committee decided that TFLAC’s Colombia Program would not only serve as accompaniment in San José de Apartadó, but that public education work in the U.S. would also play an important role in protecting the Community and securing long-term changes.
Establishment of the FOR-USA Colombia Peace Presence (CPP)
In January of 2002, the new program coordinator and the first two accompaniers arrived in the Community.
In years since the start of the CPP, team members and coordinators have shared all kinds of experiences with the Community: joys, sadness, dangers, fears, parties and successes. One of the team members who was in La Unión for 14 months describes the experience:
“In the last two months, while life here has gotten under my skin, I have see two distinct realities y have tried to understand how they can exist simultaneously. One reality is the peasant life — hard work and pride in that, laughter, so many skills that I don’t have (how to saddle a horse, for example), huge plates of rice and beans, fried plantains, expeditions with the children to far away fruit trees. And on top of this life — inside of it — is the life of war, the memories, the constant monitoring of the armed groups (soldiers were spotted in the road yesterday… was it a checkpoint or were they only passing through? the noise of gunshots and the evaluation: are they close? are they coming closer?), the fear. And this reality, the reality of the war carries its opposite — the reality of resistance to the war and its logic, the resistance that this community is living everyday.
I see people who every day choose to resist the military and economic forces that want to stop them through displacement, death, buying them off as informants or whatever other way, but who also choose every day to smile at me, to bring me guavas, eggs or baby bananas.
I see that the resistance is composed not only of a political position, but also of how one lives ones daily life. And the two realities that seem so distinct, seem to merge… survival is resistance and resistance is survival, life is made up of the past, present and future, of memory, of daily chores and of moving forward. One has to always move forward.”
The closeness and sharing of life with the Community distinguishes the work of the CPP from many other international accompaniment experiences in Colombia. On one hand this closeness creates very gratifying and important bonds of friendship, both for the team members as well as for FOR-USA, and contributes to the profound understanding of this alternative to war constructed by the war’s victims. On the other hand, sometimes the decisions are difficult — What is our role when a pregnant woman urgently needs transport to the hospital in the middle of the night? Is it the role of the team to advise the representatives of the town center to organize? Can one say that it’s not?
In requesting international accompaniment, the Community made the decision to raise its profile in order to protect itself. The founding of a peace community is a proactive strategy and the international presence is an additional ingredient. In addition, the request shows the desire of the Community that its history be documented not only for its own memory, but also for the outside world. Each time that we celebrate three months of resistance we do so in remembrance [of the victims], because they have offered their lives and did so choosing peaceful alternatives.
The theory of accompaniment
The experiences of other organizations like PBI demonstrate that international presence in a conflict region can diminish considerably the risks of the civilian population that has been converted into a military target by armed actors that consider them the collaborators of their adversaries. As explained in Unarmed Bodyguards by Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren, accompaniment literally personifies the international concern for human rights. It is a convincing and visible reminder to those who use violence that their actions won’t go unnoticed. The premise of accompaniment is that there will be an international response to whatever violence is observed by the team. That request carries the implicit threat of diplomatic or economic pressure; a pressure that the perpetrators of violence want to avoid. Therefore, all of our efforts focus on the prevention of attacks on those being accompanied.
Because of this, the armed actors and civilians in the conflict should have explicit knowledge of the physical presence of the international accompaniers as well as the support network that backs them up. The work therefore has two prongs: the physical presence of the volunteers and the political/diplomatic work that raises the visibility of the accompaniment as well as of the accompanied person.
Maintaining contact with officials
The volunteers and coordinating team of FOR-USA maintain direct and frequent contact with the Colombian civilian and military authorities in order to advise them of the international presence in the Community, inform them of how witnesses are faring, and to be able to listen to the government’s analysis of the situation in Colombia and the community. These opinions are incorporated in our analyses of security and the political climate. We also advise these same officials about specific accompaniment tasks that differ from the norm. Additionally, the team meets with the U.S. embassy and various other diplomatic representatives for the same reasons. In addition, relationships with international, national and local NGOs are extremely important for building internal solidarity networks and to jointly analyze and react to threats. We do not make direct contact with illegal actors.
The hope is that with a great visibility and higher level of international support we can open the political space for the very important work of the movements seeking justice and peace that does not exclude the poor and marginalized.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation is composed of women and men who recognize the essential unity of all creation and have joined together to explore the power of love and truth for resolving human conflict. While it has always been vigorous in its opposition to war, the Fellowship has insisted equally that this effort must be based on a commitment to the achieving of a just and peaceful world community, with full dignity and freedom for every human being.
In working out these objectives the FOR seeks the company of people of faith who will respond to conflict nonviolently, seeking reconciliation through compassionate action. The Fellowship encourages the integration of faith into the lives of individual members. At the same time it is a special role of the Fellowship to extend the boundaries of community and affirm its diversity of religious traditions as it seeks the resolution of conflict by the united efforts of people of many faiths.
In the development of its program the FOR depends upon persons who seek to apply these principles to every area of life. FOR members:
- Identify with those of every nation, race, gender, sexual orientation and religion who are the victims of injustice and exploitation, and seek to develop resources of active nonviolence to transform such circumstances;
- Refuse to participate in any war or to sanction military preparations;
- Work to abolish war and promote good will among races, nations and classes;
- Strive to build a social order that will utilize the resources of human ingenuity and wisdom for the benefit of all, an order in which no individual or group will be exploited or oppressed for the profit or pleasure of others;
- Advocate fair and compassionate methods of dealing with offenders against society;
- Serve as advocates for victims of crime and their families who suffer loss and emotional anguish, recognizing that restitution and reconciliation can help to heal both victims and offenders;
- Endeavor to show respect for personality and reverence for all creation;
- Seek to avoid bitterness and contention in dealing with controversy, and to maintain the spirit of self-giving love while engaged in the effort to achieve these purposes.
The purposes of the volunteer presence in Colombia are:
- Accompaniment of San José de Apartadó to assist in protecting the lives of the community, and by doing so, help to maintain open the space for human rights and for neutrality of the civilian population in the Colombian countryside.
- Learn and report about other ongoing efforts by the Colombian civil society to build peace, including other Peace Communities, national and regional Peace Networks or Organizations and other grassroots forms of resisting war.
To these ends, the team members seek to:
- Offer nonviolent support and protective accompaniment to members and leaders of the San José community (especially in the settlement of La Unión), and to the Colombian organizations that accompany them, as they are threatened with violence from various sides;
- Identify what is happening in the country through direct observation and by listening to a wide range of viewpoints and experiences, respecting the need expressed by involved parties for confidentiality;
- Learn about and visit Peace Communities, Networks, Organizations and grassroots sectors involved in finding non-violent solutions to the war in Colombia, reporting to the US public about these efforts within the needs for confidentiality;
- Provide the outside world with a non-partisan analysis and reports of the situation as viewed from within the country or communities;
- Provide accurate and timely information to the Fellowship of Reconciliation in cases of attack or threat against the accompanied community, to assist in directing international attention toward the need for human rights protection.
- A clear understanding of and commitment to nonviolence, and to the value of bearing witness through an accompaniment project.
- Proficiency in both Spanish and English.
- A strong commitment to teamwork.
- Minimum commitment of one year.
- Maturity. We do not accept applicants younger than 23 years of age. The maturity of all prospective volunteers, regardless of age, will be evaluated.
- Resilience and the ability to work effectively under intense pressure and stress.
- Willingness to live in an extremely rural environment.
- Sensitivity to and the ability to work with people of different cultures demonstrated through previous experience with people of another culture. Experience in the field is an asset, but is not required. Familiarity with rural communities is also helpful.
- Familiarity with consensus decision-making.
- Ability to represent the project in a professional and appropriate manner, in a wide variety of settings.
- Ability to track and analyze information that is pertinent to the safety of volunteers, the need for external support, and/or the opportunities for enhancing the work.
- Ability to work with a computer, for word processing, e-mail, and basic maintenance of the computer itself.
- Reasonable proficiency with writing reports, summarizing information, and capturing stories through anecdotes or interviews, is highly recommended. Some familiarity with photography is recommended.
- Other skills that may be useful but are not required include experience with first aid, translating and interpreting, cooking, and other skills of daily life.
- A good working knowledge of the current situation in Colombia is highly recommended.
Team members are expected to do outreach in the United States to share their experience (speaking, writing) after service in Colombia.
FOR covers living expenses (food, lodging, and travel when doing FOR work) in the field during the term of service (in addition to providing a small monthly stipend and some health insurance). Team members are strongly encouraged to raise money to assist with their personal expenses while serving on the team.
FOR will provide extensive training, which includes the following: reading materials, FOR-led training sessions in the United States and Colombia, self-study plans, and where appropriate attendance at conferences, classes or trainings on specific topics. In addition to training, each qualified applicant will be interviewed. The interview and training process is a mutual-discernment process — to help the applicant decide if serving in this project is a commitment he or she would like to make, and to help FOR determine if he or she is adequately prepared for the experience.
The next training will be May 2014 in Nyack, NY. Applications and references must be completed and submitted no later than April 2014.
Fellowship of Reconciliation: Colombia Peace Presence
Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) representatives in Colombia will act in the spirit of the Fellowship’s statement of purpose, which joins people together “to explore the power of love and truth for resolving human conflict.” FOR members identify with people “who are the victims of injustice and exploitation, and seek to develop resources of active nonviolence to transform such circumstances.” They also “refuse to participate in any war or to sanction military preparations.” These commitments have led the FOR to recognize and support the extraordinary commitment to nonviolence and justice of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, in the Urabá region of Colombia. FOR representatives at all times abide by the laws and Constitution of Colombia.
Our mission and mandate are expressions of interest and concern of people of conscience and faith in the United States for the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in Colombia, and for a just and nonviolent resolution of conflict in Colombia generally.
Through the installation in Colombia of international (especially US) observers, the FOR seeks to:
- Support the Peace Community’s right to life and protection of the human rights of its members and of nearby residents.
- Contribute to improvement of the situation of human rights and international humanitarian law in San José de Apartadó and the Urabá region, in order that civil society have the space to work for social justice and the peaceful solution of conflicts in the region.
- Inform the international community about the situation of the Peace Community, Medellín Youth Network, Antioquia Peasant Association, and their regions, thus contributing to a deeper understanding of the human dimensions of the conflict in Colombia and of efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict.
- Convey to Colombians through our presence the active concern of U.S. society for civilians affected by the conflict in Colombia.
The FOR Accompaniment Project seeks to obtain these objectives through the following activities:
- Accompaniment of Peace Community: FOR observers will physically accompany members of La Unión in San José de Apartadó, in the settlement and work areas, in order to strengthen their security. FOR observers may also accompany Peace Community members while they travel outside the community, and other settlements of San José on occasion. FOR observers carry out accompaniment on the basis of requests from the community.
- Activities to raise the visibility and increase the security of other partners, the Medellín Youth Network and Antioquia Peasant Association (ACA).
- Reporting to International Community: FOR observers in San José report, including via public communications, on their experiences and what they learn to the international community, especially the United States. As resources permit, FOR will also report on peace initiatives in Colombia besides the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and other partners.
- Communication with Colombian U.S. and UN officials, FOR advisors, and human rights NGOs: FOR observers periodically communicate their presence and concerns to Colombian and U.S. authorities, to convey FOR’s concerns related to the community and to learn from others’ perspectives.
These activities are meant to be mutually reinforcing of each other.