Carrie Shoultz is a Practical English for Success (PES) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Atlántico, Colombia.
Alyssa Galik is a a Practical English for Success (PES) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Bólivar, Colombia.
In early July, a dozen Colombian students joined with six American students visiting Colombia for the first time to participate in a unique peace building project, exploring the roles of youth in the peace process. These young peacemakers explored three questions:
- To what extent are youth supporting and contributing to Colombia’s ongoing peacebuilding process?
- To what extent can we connect the promotion and protection of human rights with peacebuilding initiatives?
- To what extent do imagery and storytelling support truth-telling, and in turn reconciliation within the Colombian context?
Our tool for exploring and understanding these questions? Photography.
For this project, Peace Corps joined up with Outside the Lens, a San Diego based youth development program. Peace Corps Colombia has been utilizing Outside the Lens curriculum in Colombia since returned volunteer Alli Spring brought the curriculum to Colombia during her service from 2012-2014. The curriculum focuses on youth development and community activism through photography. More than 200 students have participated in workshops throughout the Caribbean coast just in the last year.
The peace project made for a great expansion to our current programming and partnership with Outside the Lens.
So how did we do it?
Step 1 – Ask the Experts
First, we decided to connect with the people who are actually working on the peace process. Colombian students first met all the visiting American students at an all-day orientation in Manzanillo del Mar. After some dinámicas to introduce ourselves to each other, we all sat down to listen to a panel of people working in various fields in Colombia. The experts either worked or studied in health, education, social work, or youth development. Experts included Peace Corps Colombia Director Geralyn Sheehan, U.S. Embassy education specialist Gloria Morales, and Yisella Carmona Romera, a coordinator in San Juan Nepomuceno with Familias en Su Tierra (a national government social program). Having the mix of people who study the topics academically alongside people currently working “on the ground” provided for a diverse range of opinions and experiences. Since both the Colombian and American students were coming in with limited knowledge of these various fields, it was an important foundation for the week that would follow. The students could begin exploring the essential questions and considering how to represent their answers in their photos.
Step 2 – Consider the questions
To explore the questions, students considered the different levels at which peacebuilding occurs: individual, community, country and global. Three visual projects were designed to visualize these different levels of peace.
- Peace by Piece – peace at the individual level. Everyone’s story is valid, but no one has the whole story. When you combine it all together it creates a larger picture of peace happening around us.
- Peaces of Us – peace at the community level. We considered the different elements of peacebuilding at the community level and who are the leaders in our communities fulfilling those roles?
- Reconciliation: Other than the sum of its parts – four elements of reconciliation were considered (truth, justice, mercy, and peace). The students took images designed to be double exposures. The idea being that when you put everything together something new arises.
These were our projects and we only had one week to do them! Students all brainstormed their images and planned them in advance as much as possible to make the best use of our time.
Step 3 – Take the pictures!
Finally, after hearing from the experts, brainstorming the themes and photo projects the fun could start! The Colombian students returned to their communities to prepare the community for the American student visit. This included helping to prepare a cultural welcome, informing the community leaders that their portraits were going to be taken, and deciding on a schedule.
The American students visited 4 communities: Campestre, an urban community in south Cartagena; Villa Rosa, a small farming community in south Atlántico; Manzanillo del Mar, an Afro-Colombian fishing community outside Cartagena; and a small community in Montes de Maria that in 2002 had been completely displaced (families have since returned to their community and have been working together to rebuild). In a testament to the incredible diversity of the Caribbean coast, the 4 sites could not have been more different, despite the Americans never having to travel more than 2 hours from Cartagena!
We decided to focus on one project per community. Campestre focused on Peace by Peace. In Villa Rosa students worked on Peaces of Us. Finally, in both Manzanillo del Mar and Montes de Maria we did Reconciliation.
In each community the Americans were given a small cultural welcome that allowed them to get to know the community through song, dance, and stories. This was followed by a brief community and then finally, cameras came out. The experiences ranged widely, some communities were more unsure of the Americans wanting to take their photos while others were completely on board. Overall, the 4 days of site visits were very busy but the students were still able to complete all their projects.
Step 4 – Create the images
Finally, the closing ceremony took place at UniColombo in Cartagena. Colombian students from each of the four sites we had visited were in attendance alongside the American students, working together to finish editing their photos and reflect on the week. The day was busy with students passing around iPads in order to select or edit their final photos.
In the afternoon, the students were able to reflect about their experiences over the past week including things that were unexpected or especially meaningful. Colombians were surprised by how interested in the peace process Americans were, which gave them a lot of hope for the future. Meanwhile, Americans remarked that they didn’t expect to receive such warm welcomes in each town they visited and how touched they were by their personal interactions with Colombians. One American student even said, “At first I was worried, but I felt so welcomed into the villages and it was an amazing experience to work with others… Now I want to travel more.” It was obvious that both groups of students were walking away with new ideas about peace and cooperation! It’s safe to call this a successful second and third goal project!
Step 5 – Continue the work
So where do we go from here? We are thrilled by the partnership between PC Colombia and Outside The Lens and how it has continued to grow over the years. We hope that more and more sites will continue to use photo camps as a way to encourage personal development, creative expression, and (just, maybe) to promote and support the ongoing peace process in Colombia. Outside The Lens plans to make this trip to Colombia an annual experience and are definitely looking for ways to expand the trip to new PC sites! Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to get involved.
To see all the final projects and a small travel diary visit: http://fotocolombia.outsidethelens.org
And to learn more about Outside the Lens programming with Peace Corps Colombia visit: http://otlcolombia.weebly.com