Diakonia works closely with the people
History is currently being written in Colombia. For over 50 years, a bloody civil war raged between the state and the FARC guerrillas. A peace agreement has now been signed, and the FARC soldiers have left the jungle and made their way down from the mountains to hand in their weapons. Neider Munevar at Diakonia’s office in Colombia works with our partner organization in Cauca, one of the areas hardest hit by the conflict.
How is the situation in Colombia now?
“There’s a lot of joy, hope and enthusiasm. Important steps have been taken to ensure lasting peace. That’s huge. A lot of people have fought hard to get us here, and many have sacrificed their lives in that struggle.”
“But there’s also fear, because other conflicts have emerged around the armed conflict. In some areas, these concern the drugs trade; in others, they’re about palm cultivation or mining operations. Several different armed groups are involved in the conflicts, and now that FARC no longer is an armed actor, nobody really knows what’s going to happen. But the question being asked now is: who are the new enemies?”
How does this affect Diakonia’s partner organizations?
“They’re in the midst of this reality. They can see how different groups – both those that are armed and those that no longer carry weapons, such as FARC, which will now function as a political party – are trying to forge links with certain popular leaders and organizations while slandering others. In some cases, this leads to organizations disintegrating and work becoming more challenging.”
How does Diakonia work for peace in Colombia?
“Our task is to support the partner organizations in their work. We work a great deal on dialogue between different ethnic groups. We also work a lot on autonomy. For example, the indigenous peoples have their own unarmed and highly respected guards, la guardia indígena, and indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians each have their own rules for living alongside one another, utilising natural resources and solving conflicts within families and between neighbours, for example. These are important building blocks for sustainable peace. Our partner organizations have also played a key role in the peace process. Among other things, they have made sure that women have taken part in the negotiations and that the role of women has been highlighted in the peace agreement, including women’s opportunities to own land, political reforms taking into consideration that there must be women in decision-making positions, a women’s perspective being taken when replacing the illegal cultivation of coca leaves, in mine clearance, and when ensuring that the rights of the conflict victims are met.”
Why did you start working at Diakonia?
“Those of us working for peace and human rights in Colombia have a positive image of Diakonia. It’s an organization that works closely with the people and their struggle, that really wants to effect change.”
What do you like most about your job?
“What I enjoy most is being out in the field, accompanying and supporting our partner organizations. Diakonia does an important job, which is why it means a lot for us to be visible and involved. And I’m learning a great deal.”
In what way is Diakonia’s work important?
“We don’t provide much financial support. But we’re there to back people up and support them in that respect. This is important, especially politically, because other people can then see that they are being supported by a credible, respected organization. This makes more people listen to them.”
“When I travel far, far away in the country’s poorest province, Chocó, when I travel down the river to the most remote village, people know what Diakonia is. Working for Diakonia isn’t like working for just any organization.”
You work on difficult issues, with people who have really had a hard time. Where do you get your strength from?
“When I see injustice and violence and how people are fighting for a dignified life for themselves and others, this gives me the strength and the will to work harder. My job in life is to work with people. I’ve known this since I was very young.”