Colombia Accompaniment Report: Beyond Self-Help

The farming community of La Alemania has been repeatedly harassed. The community building was burned down and from time to time security forces are present, a reminder that the people and property of La Alemania are vulnerable. Please read the report of Ruth Noel and Chris Lieberman who, in November 2015, were accompaniers in Colombia sent from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship to learn about the situation in Colombia and to stand with the Colombian Presbyterian Church (Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia).

In our communities, we’ve met folks who express frustration when people only want a “hand-out” rather than a “hand-up.”

We met people who expressed much the same sentiment in the community of La Alemania, Colombia (a farming community that was targeted by outside interests for control of their land and lives). As one person told us, “All we’re asking is for partners to work with us. I don’t want the government to give handouts. I want the government to live up to their promises. I want support from others, so we can rebuild this community after all the fighting, displacement, and death that has destroyed so much.” Looking at us as outsiders, hoping that we had some influence with people beyond Alemania, we were asked to encourage “the authorities” that a hand-up can make all the difference in the world for them.

It’s hard to get the full picture of suffering experienced in Alemania. One analogy might be that they are being treated as “pawns” on the land that stronger forces want to move away, capture, or control in a real-life Game of Thrones. We were told that nine people in their community have been assassinated or “disappeared.” Over the years they have had their land taken, then returned with houses in disrepair and land overgrown. Government aid to which they are entitled has been a struggle to receive. In this complicated struggle some of the people of Alemania have been worn down, moved to the city and have turned to lives of begging from others. That’s understandable given the physical and psychological trauma faced for so many years.

What’s harder to explain is the iron-willed determination of the people we met whose spirits are still nurtured in hope and strengthened by their collective hard work. These are resourceful people who are not limited by their hardships. We asked one man, “Would you say you’ve had a hard life?” He replied simply, “Hard, hard, and more hard.” Then he smiled and told us a joke. One woman, whose husband was a community leader who was assassinated for his resistance to outside exploitation, said that her son now refuses to leave the land. “We live here now to honor his memory. It gives me strength to go on.”

On the first night of our stay in Alemania we brought food to share in a common meal as we talked together. To our surprise, several children were present but they were not invited to eat with us. It felt rude to us to eat while others were not included. So, when we had our fill –somewhat as an afterthought– we offered what was leftover on our plates to the children. They received this eagerly and thanked us. A striking example for us –a parable perhaps– of people who will not ask for a handout, not even for the children. Yet, a people who are eager for partnerships that can expand the community table.

They are organizing, strategizing, planning, and dreaming about whom to talk with and whom to ask, not for a handout but for a hand-up in building a better future. One elder concluded, “Before the violence we were living in peace. We had a good life. We didn’t need any help from the outside. Our goal from the very beginning was to fight for this land. And, we appreciate and pray to God that you can help share the story so the exterior world can see how we’re still living here and working each day for a better life for our children.”

Read the fourth and final report from Ruth and Chris.