“Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see thorugh the distnaces. That’s not for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
I caught myself thinking today about how I’m actually really lucky to be able to do what I do here. My most faithful readers may, in all honesty, be wondering at this point “What exactly DO you do?” January is almost over and yet I still feel like the new year is just starting up (this probably has a lot to do with Colombians not getting back from vacation until mid-January) and as it does, I am looking ahead to the changes and challenges of 2012 here in Medellin. I want to let you in on a tiny bit of Colombia-retrospect and a good deal more of a look into what this next year holds for me work-wise:
A Few Socio-Political Highlights
The three major happenings that have had ripples in my work and life here in Medellin this year have been the nation-wide student strikes over semi-privatizing higher-education, the mayoral elections and more recently the killing of the gang-leader of one of the major narco-trafficking gangs in Antioquia, “Los Urabenos”. In the first week of January the Colombian police killed “Giovanni”, a de-mobilized EPL member and later de-mobilized Paramilitary turned gang-leader, in Choco (the pacific coast) and captured his second-in-command.
Now, what’s crazy is that my first two months in Bogota I thought about and weighed/analyzed these kinds of realities all the time, saw them as the primary panorama of my life in Colombia, and yet I only really heard about this major step in the internal conflict because at that time I was contemplating going to Santa Marta (on the Caribbean coast) for a few days and found out I couldn’t because this neo-paramilitary gang shut down essentially the whole north of the country and access thereto. In other words, there was no way to get to Santa Marta, and I wouldn’t have wanted to go anyway.
This was a small-shake of a wake-up call. It’s incredible to say because 1) I live here 2) I work with victims of exactly these kinds of groups 3) I’m in a TEAM of people working with people affected by the reality of this war and evil (yes evil) business BUT, I forget. I forget how deep the control of the narco-trafficking groups goes. I forget how everyday people are putting their hope in this kind of news: a violent leader now dead, thanks to violence! I forget. And isn’t that frightening? I had a similar moment reading an article about a murdered union-leader… Crazy.
My Job This Year
I wanted to start with a little reminder about the context of my work, notably, Medellin, Colombia. Yet within this mixed-up context I also have a job, believe it or not. Or, really, I have 4 jobs.
Since I arrived in September my primary tasks have been 1) Trying to understand, organize, and empower the group of 15 churches who were part of a series of workshops about being Sanctuary Peace Churches into truly being a network. 2) Trying to get to know, listen to, and accompany the “association of victims” in La Ceja. What this has looked like, largely, is a lot of home/church visits, lots of setting up, confirming and planning meetings and a few workshops or events. I have felt extremely busy at times, most of the time really, but not very much like I’m doing anything. Some lessons learned were that when doing accompaniment work, it isn’t necessarily helpful to have a leadership-type personality as one tends to overburden oneself while dis-empowering your socios.
In any event this next year’s work can be best described by breaking it down into 4 main tasks:
1) Prison Workshops
One of the Sanctuary Peace Churches/Organizations is Prison Fellowship who are working with two prisons here in Medellin, a women’s and a men’s. Since day one they’ve asked how I could be involved in the prisons and I have gently put them off, saying I needed to focus on the ISP as a network and getting to know it first, even though getting involved in specific projects was a long-term goal all along.
So! I have offered to give a 6 week workshop series based largely on the Alternatives to Violence basic manual with a little bit of nonviolent communication, circle processes and theater of the oppressed mixed in. The program coordinators were ready to just say “Go” and have me start right away, but instead I’m going to be leading training of facilitators a la participatory method, for the next 8 weeks and we will then conduct th 6 week workshop for inmates. I actually had my first meeting with some of the facilitators yesterday. There’s no way I’m qualified for this, in any world, but we (yes we, I’m very clear that we’re all in this together!) are going to try to do our best. For now I’m running trainings on Mondays and visiting prisons on Thursdays.
Organizational Strengthening for Peace Churches, or something to that effect, would be the translation of this acronym. It’s a 2 year process which Justapaz, the NGO in charge of the program, has run in several other regions (Carolina and Juan have both worked some with it). The goal, as the title explains, is to basically re-organize/structure churches to be more efficient and focused on peace issues through a series of one or twice-a-month all day workshops and homeworks. Justapaz is offering the program to 6 of the 15 ISP (Sanctuary Peace Churches) here in Medellin. They’re hiring one full-time worker for it and I will be helping co-facilitate for 2 of the churches. This, I’m told, will be a 1-2 day a week commitment.
3) La Ceja
I continue to help lead/participate in the Social Action Committee of my local church and it’s relationship accompanying the victims’ association in La Ceja (about an hour away). This year’s goal is to a) work within our home church to bring more of an external/social-justice focus to the congregation and b) continue in our emotional, spiritual, communal and legal accompaniment to the victims in La Ceja. In terms of my time and life what this means is that I continue to have tuesday night meetings with the team from the church, I’ve started going every tuesday afternoon to encourage and support the very very new crochet group we’ve been trying to encourage in la Ceja since September. (The hope is community building/skill acquirement/trauma healing…which all sounds really good but I still feel mostly like I’m just going to a crochet group. NB: I don’t know how to crochet) We plan about one workshop a month and are going to be working with Circle Processes as well. I’m also interested in the self-capacitation we’ve said we’d do in order to be a better resource for folks trying to sort through the implications of the new Ley de Victimas.
The Sanctuary Peace Churches is the part of my work I’m still really unsure about in terms of how it will evolve. We have a major all-day planning meeting on Friday to make the agenda for the year. The idea is that I could continue to go to Junta (leadership) meetings but mostly support the network through working on specific projects (such as the jail work and Ceja work and specific campaigns) but since coordinating has been such a big part of my work so far, I’m a little worried about what shifting focuses will do.
People that speak to me on skype frequently know that I often complain about any number of things regarding work and life. It’s probably a hugely attractive quality of mine. But I recently met a charming expat here in Medellin working 50 hrs a week in the perfume industry. She loves it, it’s her passion, and it’s really cool that we all can have such varied passions, I suppose, but it made me realize how, despite X, Y and Z, at the end of the day I get to spend my day thinking about what will help restore people, build them up, prevent future violent conflict and mitigate past trauma. I get to clearly do what I do because I’m following Jesus and say that and be frustrated with others on the basis of that same commitment.
“Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
Maybe my way of kissing the ground for the next year and a half looks a little frantic and improvised, but I think it’s still part of the beauty I love.
Tell me how YOU kneel and kiss the ground!