British political anthropologist and filmmaker Gwen Burnyeat on her two years as a PBI brigadista in Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

In this feature article in El Espectador, Gwen Burnyeat talks about her experiences with Peace Brigades International in Colombia:

Peace Brigades International is dedicated to providing international accompaniment and observation to the dynamics that conflict generates and provides protective accompaniment to human rights defenders who are threatened by their peaceful and legal human rights work. This NGO has had a project in Colombia since 1994.

I applied to be part of a team that is rotating because it changes every two years. I was accepted and sent to the Urabá. I lived for two years in Apartadó, where I provided accompaniment to community organizations and human rights defenders in San José de Apartadó, Cacarica, Curvaradó, Jiguamiandó at Bajo Atrato.

It was a fascinating experience, very hard. I knew firsthand the difficulties of living the armed conflict, I witnessed very strong situations, structural violence, exclusion, poverty. But I was also able to enjoy incredible scenery, witness the courage, creativity and love of communities that build peace amid violence and make in-depth analyses of their situation, while formulating alternative life proposals that are inspiration to many people in the world.

That experience changed me, it affected me deeply. I fell in love with this region and even today I continue in my purpose of researching the cultural, historical, political, social, economic dynamics of armed conflict.

In the full article, Burnyeat also discuss the death of Manuel Ruiz (a member of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó who was disappeared, tortured and found dead in Mach 2012); the experience of an eight-hour trek through the mountains to commemorate the killing of eight people by paramilitaries and the army in 2005; the cocoa exported from the Peace Community to Lush Cosmetics; making the documentary Chocolate of Peace with Pablo Mejía Trujillo; and much more about her life, activism and academic work.

The full article can be read (in Spanish) here.

We also found this reflection by Gwen on the PBI-United Kingdom website written after her first year in Colombia.

Gwen noted: “I generally went on three or four field trips per month, to each of the three communities that we accompany. Sometimes these trips involved a lot of travel – in jeeps, on motorbike taxis, in boats, walking or on a mule – as the community leaders who risk their lives to claim justice and work for peace often are most exposed when they are travelling. Sometimes it was roads and paths and rivers for days on end.”

She added: “I learned so much during my year as a volunteer in Urabá, about Colombia, its people and myself. That’s why I’m going back for a second year.”

This year, PBI-Canada has prioritized finding individuals who can spend a year or more in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala or Honduras as a brigadista.

PBI entities in the US, Colombia, Mexico and Canada collaborated in this webinar on February 28 that discussed what it’s like to be a PBI brigadista.

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