Fern, Queen’s University Belfast
Peacebuilding in Colombia, 2019
Fern has just completed her Masters in Violence, Terrorism and Security at QUB and was the recipient of the 2019 Peacebuilding in Colombia scholarship. Here she describes her time in Colombia, taking part in the course in Bogota and travelling further afield as well.
The Peacebuilding in Colombia course organised by Red Tree Study was definitely one of the most rewarding and interesting experiences of my life. Whilst Colombia has become known predominantly for is violent history and prolonged conflict, this course allowed exposure to the many wonderful things Colombia has to offer, that are often overlooked, such as its breathtakingly beautiful scenery, a deeply engrained, vibrant culture, outstanding coffee and most importantly amazing people. Colombians are warm, welcoming, passionate and optimistic; it is hard to comprehend that this is the same nation that suffered from one of the longest and most violent conflicts in recent history. My personal interest in the course stemmed from my upbringing in Northern Ireland. We have a very similar peace process in place in Northern Ireland so I was interested in exploring these similarities, as well as understanding what factors may hinder peace processes and cause them to fail.
During the three week programme, our days were generally divided between informative lectures on campus at Los Andes, and site visits to key organisations in the peace process such as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the UN Verification Mission. The topics in the lectures ranged from outlining the history of the conflict in the country, to analysing studies on the current peacebuilding measures and practices. It was amazing to learn about the processes and promises made throughout the peace process in the lectures and then have the opportunity to see and contextualise this information in the organisations which had been created to implement these promises and arrangements. I found it so inspiring that so many people who had been negatively affected by the conflict chose to reengage and dedicate their lives to work within organisations that aimed to redress the past, such transitional justice and reconciliation mechanisms.
The most memorable part of the course to me was the opportunity to have conversations with ex-combatants. This was an extremely eye opening experience, as it was not only incredibly informative, it was also emotional and raw and provided a real life, human aspect to our studies. I personally felt that these sessions were so important for allowing stereotypes to be broken down and demonstrated how ex-combatants can play a vital role in the reconciliation and peace process in Colombia.
Whilst many perceive Colombia to be a daunting city to travel to alone, the Red Tree Study team ensured that the entire process was so seamless and stress-free. From the moment I arrived in Bogota the team were on hand to assist and help in any way possible. The team were also responsible for organising the fantastic social calendar which involved waterfall treks, museum trips, movie evenings, bike tours and nights out. They ensured there was the opportunity to meet and do something as a group nearly every day of the course if you wanted to. Many of the coordinators were from Colombia so we were able to engage fully with local activities and try things that you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. The social aspect of the course was such an added bonus on top of the academic content, it allowed us to make friends with people from all over the world and enjoy a new city together.
Whilst each weekend was filled with social activities, the Red Tree Study team also encouraged us to explore more of Colombia if we wished. I took the opportunity to go to Medellin over a bank holiday weekend in the middle of the course and also travelled to Cartagena after the course ended. I would definitely encourage anyone else to do the same, as internal flights within Colombia are generally very cheap and there are so many beautiful places in Colombia to see. The Red Tree team were so helpful with any questions with regard to this and even took us to local travel agents to get cheaper flights.
Finally, Bogota was such an amazing city to visit and live in. The bustling, graffiti covered streets are truly unique and portray its vibrant history and culture. The accommodation we stayed in felt more like a 4* hotel than student residences. My room had beautiful views of the mountains and the sprawling city from high above. Our rooms were cleaned daily and the residences had a gym and various social areas within it. The location of the halls was so convenient, as they were only 5 mins walk away from most of our lectures and 15 minute walk from the centre of Bogota. There were also lots of restaurants nearby, as well as supermarkets and pharmacies which was very handy.
I am so grateful to Red Tree for the opportunities they have given me to explore the depths of Colombia’s political situation and history. I also felt that this was the best possible way I could have explored this city as a whole. The team are so enthusiastic and passionate about peacebuilding in Colombia, and it is a passion that has undoubtedly transcended onto every student that was part of the course.