by Lexi L. '19
Sixteen Upper School students are currently in Colombia for a three-week Global Service Learning experience that is part of the Spanish IV/V immersion class, Resistance, Empowerment, and Independence. Starting in September, the students studied resistance and liberation movements in Latin America with a focus on Colombia. In Colombia, as part of their service work, students will interview and video record community members about their experiences with Colombian resistance movements. The students are living with host families in a very close-knit rural community where no one speaks English. Students regularly post reflections as part of their learning process.
We have only been in the village for one day, but already we have been welcomed as if we are family. Early this morning (in order to better avoid the mid-day heat) we were given a tour by Andreas, one of the community leaders – it lasted longer than we expected, because we stopped at every house we passed. Only near the end of the tour did Andreas explain he wanted to make sure we met everyone so we could feel more at home, and if we ever needed anything, we would always know who lived where and who we could ask for help. I thought I was simply lucky when I met my homestay family, because they are the most kind, thoughtful people I have ever met, but after talking with the other students, I realized everyone felt the same way. Everyone here is endlessly patient, even when our Spanish is broken or slow, and they are always trying to help us learn more about the language and their community.
Not only have they opened their doors for us – they have opened all of their lives, including their history. Since we have arrived here, several different community leaders have shared their stories with us – from the inception of the town in the seventies, to the violence during the turmoil in Colombia in the nineties, and all the way to the healing process, which is still continuing today. Signs of the empowerment of the community are plastered everywhere – literally – in the form of murals on the sides of buildings, decorated with paintings of happy families, beautiful mountains and rivers, and messages of peace, prosperity, and hope for the future. Yet, their increasing autonomy and confidence isn’t only beautiful – it’s effective. In the past years, they have built their own well, developed a way to power their gas stoves using the methane from cow excrement, and begun negotiations with the government to get the violence they experienced recognized. And it’s worked – the government has offered to create a monument, but they have refused, holding out for more, like reparations to those who lost family or property.
The scars of the violence are still visible – there are empty houses from the mass exodus after the violence, pictures on walls of people who fled and have yet to come home. Some people still haven’t returned. Some have, but built new houses, abandoning their old abodes – the memories attached are too painful. But despite this, and despite all the community has been through, they always remind us that this is only a part, and a small part at that, of their history. They have done so much more than survived violence. And they plan to do much more, too.