After only living in Mampujan for four days, I’m not even going to pretend that I have the community figured out and understand what my role will be as a community member. However, what I have observed and experienced has been fascinating and has also provided a few clues as to what the next two years of my life will look like.
Mampujan is a small community, literally about the size of a city block, where everyone knows everyone and exactly what they are doing at all times. My every action is well noted and commented on. For example, I attended a community meeting at the church, a couple streets down from my house. At lunch time, I returned to my little house to use the washroom. Despite the small size of the community, I took a wrong turn and ended up on the other side of town. I then took another wrong turn and ended up on the highway, where I found my way to my house. Two houses down from my house and five minutes after leaving the church, one of the women walking on the street asked me if I was alright. Someone had seen me wandering around on the street and thought I might be lost. Word travels fast in this town!
Another example: I was in the store eating buying some oatmeal for breakfast when another lady asked me what I was doing. I explained that I was going to cook some oatmeal, said good-by and went home. Five minutes later, she showed up at my door and asked to watch me make oatmeal to see if I cooked it the same way that Colombians do. Apparently, we cook it the same way, but in Colombia, oatmeal is baby food. Most adults eat some sort of boiled root (name or yucca) and some fried meat for breakfast, with rice on the side. Her two year son, however, is a big fan of oatmeal!
I have been amazed by the resilience and activism of many of the community members. Mampujan was displaced by a paramilitary group on March 11, 2000. The entire community was forced to flee their land, eventually settling in their current location, one of many, many communities who have been victimized by the ongoing conflict. However, the community is one of the first to go through a sentencing process, under the Justice and Peace law, of those who committed the acts of displacement and is know is a process of reconciliation and reparations, based on the new Victim’s Law. Check out this interactive visual for a cool look at the history of the process. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Anyways, I have had the honour of attending several different meetings related to the sentencing in the last few days. On Thursday, there was a meeting with several different communities leaders that are part of the process from various communities that have suffered displacement and massacres, along with officials from the Organization of American States that are accompanying part of the process. There was discussion of positive and negative results of the sentencing process and the history of the community. It was fascinating and highly impacting to actually hear from community members themselves what they have gone through in the past few years.
One thing that really stood out to me was the choice of the word victims. Many times, we view that word as a weakness or as a debilitating factor. However, for Mampujan, being recognised as victims of armed conflict is a source of strength and empowerment for the community. It means acknowledging that the community was not a group of guerrillas, as they were accused of being when they were displaced. It means that the community now has access to the rights to the same rights as other victims of armed conflict, such as government intervention and aid. It means they can participate in reparations process. It means that what happened to them was not their fault and that their dignity needs to be returned to them, by the form of official apologies and the rebuilding of infrastructure. It means that community organizing to reach this point is completely justified and needs to be applauded and encouraged to continue.
And it’s exciting to see how it is continuing! For example, yesterday in Colombia was the day of the older adult. There was also an all candidates meeting taking place in a larger town nearby, Maria la Baja. I got to help make white tissue paper flags and posters for a march all of the adults where planning on doing yesterday into Maria la Baja to remind the political candidates that adults have the rights to health, education, and well-being and that all policies and decisions must work from this perspective. It was impressive to see the enthusiasm everyone had to participate and to ensure that their voices were part of a discussion that often sorely lacks input from the people who need political will the most.
I unfortunately did not get to attend the march, as I am back in Sincelejo for some meetings and debriefing time. But I’ll be back in Mampujan on Wednesday and won’t be leaving for the next month. I’m excited about getting meet more people and continue to figure out what my role in the community will look like. How can we together encourage positive, sustainable change to take place? And I’m also excited to go swimming in the creek!
Check out this video to see more of the history of Mampujan: