You probably haven’t noticed, but I haven’t posted for two weeks now. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t have noticed if you’d gone away either. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of anything to write about, but that I was half way around the world.
This time last week, I was in Curvaradó, in Chocó, Colombia. I was watching macaws in flight, eating coconut straight off the tree, speeding past caimans on the river bank, and gazing up at the most incredible stars I’ve ever seen.
But life goes on. Today’s to do list has included laundry and washing up, and will later culminate in food shopping (after a bank balance check to see if it’s going to be Sainsbury’s or Lidl this week). Everything is normal. My housemates are cooking dinner, BBC News is talking about energy prices, and next week I’ll be back in to the office routine. Life goes on.
Life is going on for the community I lived with last week too, and the others I visited.
Life is going on for the families who were displaced from their ancestral land in 1996/7, and still can’t return there. Life is going on for the human rights defenders who are, right now, receiving death threats and uncovering assassination plots. Life is going on for the family of Manuel Ruiz and his 15 year old son Samir, who were murdered in March last year because of Manuel’s work on land restitution. Life is going on for the children who live in a humanitarian zone where the government hasn’t sent a teacher for four years.
Life is going on for these communities, working incredibly hard to restore land that was stolen for growing African palm or for paramilitary bases. They’re carrying on today, as every day, in their grief and in their fear, in their gritty determination and in their hope.
Because their life goes on, mine has to change.
Over the next 9 months of my internship at Christian Aid, I’m going to be writing and speaking about the Ruiz family, about the communities in humanitarian zones like Las Camelias where I stayed, and about human rights organisations like the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace. I knew I’d be doing that when I came back, because it’s my job. I didn’t know I’d feel so compelled to.
In the conversations we had and the interviews we did, there were loads of harrowing words that will never leave me, but the phrase ringing in my ears at the moment is this:
“We’re alive because you know us.”
The guy who said this wasn’t being over dramatic, or self-pitying, or even trying to inflate our sense of significance. He was being matter of fact. The communities who are constantly threatened because of their involvement in land restitution and their struggle for justice for the atrocities they’ve already faced, acutely feel the importance of the international community. They’re safe when they’re accompanied by Peace Brigades International. Their voice is heard when it’s taken to the government by international NGOs and ambassadors. I’ve always found it easy to be sceptical about the impact of campaigning and lobbying (usually as an excuse for my apathy) but there’s no way I can hold onto my scepticism now.
Now I’ve seen the life or death difference that an international voice can make, I can’t keep quiet. There’s no way I can not add my voice to the political pressure that could help the people I’ve met, and millions like them, live safely on the land that is rightfully theirs. There’s no way I can not shout for justice when I’ve sat with the Ruiz family in their house, and cried for their dad and their brother.
I don’t know what it’s going to look like yet. I don’t know what happens next, how my next 9 months is going to look, or what I’ll do beyond that. But I know that life goes on, and because theirs goes on the same, mine has to change.