A lifetime and three years ago, I lived in Ottawa. It was wonderful, despite polar vortex conditions. They say you can never go back but last week I did. I ate a falafel, had wonderful conversations with old friends, spent too much money on books and maple syrup, and connected with the MCC Ottawa Office.
A little perspective goes a long way; working in Colombia, it can be hard to see results of what we do and even harder to step back and reflect on whether we are actually involved in positive models and methods. After finishing Seed, I felt a little lost: I had survived a very challenging assignment in Mampuján and did not really feel that capable of anything anymore. It was good to be in Ottawa and be reminded that I actually have skills and talents that I use everyday in my job.
However, I was once again challenged to examine what my role, as a Canadian, is working in peacebuilding in Colombia. I may be capable, but there are many Colombians who are just and much more capable at doing what I do. Besides simply the opportunity to learn, learn, learn from those around me, what unique strengths do I bring to this position?
This question is bigger than just a personal reflection or attitude.
During my time in Ottawa, I had the opportunity to address the students at the Laurentian Leadership Centre, where I attended three years ago. I talked about how in other places, such as Mampuján, sometimes the best way to lead is not to lead, but to walk beside; leadership does not always involve being in charge but is about being willing to learn and to support those who truly are leading, recognizing the dynamics of power and privilege. Our international relations should also reflect this principle.
As Canadians, we often refer to ourselves as global leaders. But what would it mean to actually walk alongside and to listen from the rest of the world, not just our friends in the G8, but those countries, such as Colombia, where our policies have negative impacts?
It is important not to lead, but to learn, to not be so concerned about power but to examine structural injustices and our role within them.
For example, far from simply viewing ourselves as global leaders in peacemaking (whether this means peacekeeping forces and diplomacy as in the past or today’s paradigm of protecting global security) we must examine how our policies contribute to the violence and disorder we are trying to stop. For example, in areas where Canadian mining companies are active in Colombia, violence and human rights violations increase.
Part of how I view my role therefore is to engage in dialogue and open communication with Canadians, as a Canadian. I got the chance to do that last week when Jenn Wiebe, from the MCC Ottawa office, and I visited the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and met with public servants who work on the Colombian desk. It was a great opportunity, not for public shaming and anger, but to build a relationship based the work of Justapaz and MCC Colombia.
Canada has had trouble complying with their agreement to file an annual human rights assessment report, a requirement before the Free Trade Deal was signed. Justapaz documents human rights violations caused by conflict and has a large network of leaders across the country with access to unique information that can be helpful. As a Canadian, I can help, or at least offer, to facilitate these relationships.
International and national advocacy is important because it reminds us that we do have the ability to create change and cultivate relationships. Many of the problems facing both Colombia and Canada are structural; every structure in place is full of people. As we dialogue with those people, we have an opportunity to present new ideas and the reality of what happens on the ground, both supporting local level advocacy in Colombia and using international connections.
The issue is of course much deeper than simply mining or trade, but how we view the other and ourselves. Do I work in Colombia because I view Colombians as needing me to fulfill some sort of role that they are incapable of doing? As a nation, do we view other countries and our relationship with them as either a place to improve our economy or save them from themselves?
Or are we engaged in mutual transformation and support as we live and examine the realities, both positive and negative, of a globalized world?