Peacebuilding in Colombia 2018: A student perspective
This week’s blog is from one of our 2018 Peacebuilding in Colombia students, Katie Flett, from the University of Otago.
“Wow. I can’t believe as I am sitting here writing this entry that the course is over! It feels like only yesterday that I was stepping off the plane. The three weeks have flown by in a blur.
We started off the course with an introductory lecture on the origins and evolution of the armed conflict. It gave us all a general understanding of everything that had happened so far in Colombia. With everyone in the course coming from different backgrounds and levels of knowledge of the conflict this was a good way to get us all up to scratch.
One of the highlights of the first week, of course, was the definitely the visit to the United Kingdom embassy in Colombia. We heard the British ambassador talk on their perspective of the conflict and the broader goals of the embassy generally.
Two particularly important lectures we had in the first week were the lectures on the Colombian electoral system and the other on the public opinion, 2018 elections and perspectives for peace. These lectures were especially useful to understand the significance of the presidential elections that occurred later that very week. This was an exciting time to be in Colombia with two candidates from either end of the political spectrum. Both had very different views on the peace agreement and would have a huge impact on its implementation when elected.
One benefits of the course are that there is a wide variety of social activities on offer. One of these was the dance class on the traditional Colombian dances we had in the first week. While I may have two left feet it certainly was fun to give it a go! We also spent a day hiking to Choachi Waterfall, incidentally the tallest waterfall in Colombia. It was definitely worth the hike uphill for the breathtaking view.
The next week was a whirlwind of site visits and lectures. The hot topic on everyone’s minds was the recent election results. We started off the week with a visit to the Colombian Agency for Reincorporation with another visit later in the day to the Agency for Renovation of the Territories. It was great to be able to actually visit the institutions that we had been learning about and ask the people directly involved in the process what they were doing.
A definite highlight of the second week was the weekend trip to Villa de Leyva, a gorgeous old colonial town ruffly three hours from Bogota. We spent the Saturday driving around the area in 4×4 jeeps, stopping to see the terracotta house, visiting the stunning blue lakes and last but definitely not least, finishing the tour at a local vineyard for a spot of wine tasting. Of course, a mandatory activity on Sunday was watching Colombia’s football game. While I knew nothing of the rules of football the atmosphere in the restaurant was infectious, I found myself swept up in the excitement and cheering at the top of my lungs with everyone else.
One of the best parts of the last week was the visit to Monserrat. The old church sits at the top of the hill and is visible from nearly everywhere we went in Bogota. After nearly three weeks of seeing it every day, we finally got to the top. The view from there made it seem as if the city stretched on endlessly.
We also visited the UN building in Colombia, chatting with those working in the UN Verification Mission. They discussed what the UN is doing to help support the peace and the history of its support, it was a really good way to see what the role of international organizations in the peace process is.
Overall the highlight of the entire course was the conversation with the FARC political party members. We were able to see what the mindset was behind the party and their view of recent political events. It was nice to be able to put all the theory and information we had learned in lectures and compare it with how those in the actual party saw events.
I have loved every minute of the course, the only drawback is that it was only three weeks! There is not enough time to pack in everything that the course and this city has to offer. I will definitely have to come back at some point in the future to explore more of Bogota and Colombia in general!”