’Everyone here is a bridge-builder’

Caux Peace and Leadership Programme

26/01/2018
CPLP bridgebuilder Colombia

 

That was the first sentence Maria Paula Garcia Romero heard when she first arrived in Caux, Switzerland, in 2016. She was about to take part in the Caux Interns Programme, now re-named the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme. Her life underwent a profound shift since then: she went back to her home country, Colombia, with a deeper understanding of herself and her surrounding environment and decided to play an active role as a changemaker.

 

Making change happen

Maria Paula was already familiar with the structural exclusion of the Wayuu people, Colombia’s largest indigenous community, in La Guajira region. She had visited the area before and had witnessed another Colombia, one that was diametrically opposed to the reality that she had been used to in Bogotá, the country’s capital. However, it was when she got back from Caux that she realized that she could in fact do something about the extreme poverty and marginalization to which these people had been subjected.

She began by setting up a library in the heart of La Guajira, in close collaboration with the indigenous communities. ’You can only make change happen by co-creating’, she explained. This was one of the lessons she had learnt from her experience in Caux, which she then put into practice. The idea of the library hadn’t come from her, but from her discussions with local authorities on their most pressing needs. Lack of access to education and illiteracy were two of the most difficult issues affecting indigenous people, the community explained to her, and together they decided to take action.

A year after the initial plans were outlined, everything was ready: the ’Biblioteca Suuralairua’ was finally a reality, offering access to books and other learning materials to more than 200 Wayuu children, all in a community-managed space. Local teachers are in charge of visiting the library regularly to monitor its smooth running and to evaluate its impact, explained Maria Paula.

 

Suuralairua = Roots

Suuralairua means ‘roots’ in Wayuunaiki, the native language of this indigenous community. The library’s logo depicts a bird holding an open book. ’An open book from us to them and vice versa’, is how Maria Paula described the representation of the collaborative effort that made such an endeavor possible.

She managed to get backing from her family and friends to make the library project come to fruition, and enterprisingly, she also got donations of educational materials from bookstores and publishing companies. She even convinced a shipping company to make a free delivery to the community, located about 900 kilometers from Bogotá. The shipment would have cost around US$2,000, an amount difficult to cover by a non-profit, volunteer-driven project.

’If you want your community to change, you first need to change yourself and truly believe that you can become a change agent’. Maria Paula described this as one of the lessons she had learnt during her experience in Caux.

The intercultural dimension of the interns programme was also one of its major assets, according to her. Being exposed to a variety of worldviews, cultures and beliefs, and even sharing a room with someone from a different corner of the world, as is the practice in Caux, made her grow as a person, Maria Paula explained. That also guided her in her approach to the Colombian indigenous communities, with regard to their perspective and cultural practices, factors which are often disregarded or disrespected in mainstream Colombia.

 

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