The story of Karen Ridd, a PBI volunteer in El Salvador

Published by Brent Patterson on

Many may remember the extraordinary story of Karen Ridd, a Peace Brigades International volunteer in the late 1980s.

In December 1989, the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s reported, “Following a two-week trip to Nicaragua in 1986, Ridd decided to put her beliefs in social justice to work in Central America. She joined Peace Brigades International, going first to Guatemala in 1988 and, last February, to El Salvador.”

“As a volunteer, she received free room and board and about $60 a month for the often dangerous work of keeping watch over Salvadoran trade unionists and others whom the government and right-wing death squads consider subversive.”

“Suspected by Salvadoran authorities of aiding leftist rebels against the U.S.-backed right-wing government, the 28-year-old human rights activist from Winnipeg was abducted [on November 20, 1989], along with six other foreigners, by national guardsmen and later physically and verbally abused by the Treasury Police, known widely for their brutality.”

“Ridd showed remarkable courage throughout the ordeal: at one point, she even refused to leave jail unless a female colleague from Colombia was also freed.”

Karen is a member of the Quaker community in Winnipeg and is now an Instructor in Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies at Menno Simons College there. This past January, she spoke at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops about her peacemaking experiences in Israel, Palestine and Central America.

The Omega student newspaper reported, “She began her presentation by describing her intense experience in Panajachel, Guatemala where she witnessed a mother mourning the loss of her murdered son. The young man had happened to be employed by the Guardia de Hacienda or Treasury Police, a police agency responsible for atrocious human rights abuses.”

In the article Karen recounts, “It was a few years later that I found myself briefly imprisoned by the Treasury Police in El Salvador and it would be very easy to paint that young man as the other. He was emblematic of all that I stood in Guatemala against, yet I spent the night holding his mother’s pain and trying to save his life.”

Last year, Peace Brigades International placed 27 volunteers in Colombia, 10 volunteers in Guatemala, 10 volunteers in Mexico, 8 volunteers in Honduras, and 4 volunteers in Kenya to support the vital work of at-risk human rights defenders.  

We are currently seeking volunteers for our field projects in Honduras (application deadline September 15) and Colombia (application deadline October 11).

Join us and help make a difference!

Maclean’s photo by Dave Bonner.


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