Join a Delegation

LISTENING. ACTION. LEARNING. VIOLENCE REDUCTION.

Jump to our delegations calendar.

 

Delegations are a primary way to become involved in the work of CPT.

CPT sends short-term (7-14 day) peacemaker delegations into crisis settings around the world. These delegations link communities experiencing violence with concerned individuals, churches and groups. Delegations offer participants a first-hand experience of CPT's on-the-ground experiment in faith-based non-violence.

Delegations are open to all interested people and do not require specific nonviolence training -- just fill out a Delegations Application. You do not need to identify as Christian to join a delegation.   Delegations are also the first step for those considering joining CPT's Corps and Reserve Corps of peacemakers ready to staff CPT's violence-reduction projects. Apply here for the Peacemaker Corps.

CPT has limited funds available to assist applicants who otherwise couldn't participate. CPT is committed to undoing racism and will give preference in funding assistance to applicants from communities which have been disadvantaged by racism.  Apply here for a Delegations Scholarship.

 

Delegation participants seek to:

 

CPT seeks individuals with:

 

Participants should be prepared to:

 

Fundraising Expectation 

Delegates are expected to raise a specific amount to cover the costs of the delegation. The amount covers round-trip airfare from a designated US or Canadian city (except as noted), all in-country travel, simple accommodations, two-to-three meals per day, honorariums and other delegation fees. (Individuals who plan to travel from other than the US or Canada, please contact the CPT office for details.)

Locations and Dates

US/MEXICO BORDERLANDS DELEGATION

2017:  4-14 October Delegation. 

Witness the impact of immigration enforcement in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands where foreign policy masquerades as domestic, where life and death decisions are foist upon our neighbors, relatives and friends, placing them in vulnerable and volatile situations. 182 bodies were recovered in the Tucson Sector of the border alone this last fiscal year.

 Journey with us through this zone of conflict, the gauntlet of the Sonoran desert, part of the lethal continuum that our neighbors from Latin America travel to reach the fields, factories and detention centers of the U.S. Come to observe, query, discern, contribute, learn and then take home the story of human struggle and hope.

With the lens of the borderlands we will examine how immigration reform does and does not impact our neighbors, and  ourselves wherever we live in the U.S. We will meet some of those directly affected by public policy. Migrants, local residents, activists, law enforcement personnel. We will walk desert trails, visit sites which include detention centers, human resource centers, cooperatives… back and forth across the border. We will see first hand the impact of militarism on our neighbors and the border communities.
 
February is reasonably mild here. Cool nights, warm, dry days. Prepare for moderate level trail walking. A passport or border card is essential for this delegation. Spanish is helpful but not required.

FUNDRAISING EXPECTATION: $800 USD which does NOT include the cost of travel to Tucson, Arizona. 

Click here to apply. 

 

COLOMBIA

2017 Delegations:9ab0a0ec-3236-4487-a3be-30d368dc5083

English Language Delegation:  10-24 June

EL Magdalena Medio is a region rich in renewable and non-renewable natural resources. Due to its richness and strategic position in the country, the city of Barrancabermeja and the Magdalena Medio region have suffered high levels of violence. Massacres and forced displacements left whole communities uprooted where criminal interests took advantage to take the lands and develop their economic projects.

Armed groups and paramilitaries control Barrancabermeja and the region. High levels of unemployment and poverty have created a situation where young people see no other options but to get involved with these groups. When judicial efforts to evict communities from their lands do not work, paramilitary groups are used to threaten them

Come and meet the Human Rights Defenders who document and denounce the constant violations that are being experienced in Barrancabermeja and the region. Get to know the communities of El Garzal and Nueva Esperanza. Communities that, although threatened by paramilitary groups and by eviction orders, managed to stand firm against a corrupt system and continue to fight to receive the titles of their land.

Click here to apply. 

Some physical rigors are involved in most CPT delegations, such as hiking in mud and heat or mountains, hours-long trips by boat or truck, and generally long days.

 

 

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY DELEGATION

2017: 11-21 August (Pow Wow)81d8fd9c-d384-446f-b195-13a29dac3c3a

Find out what it means to be an ally to indigenous communities engaged in healing, resisting colonialism and struggling for sovereignty.

Corporate clear cut logging of Asubpeeschoseewagong traditional territory has destroyed hunting, trapping, food and medicine gathering activities. Residential schools have profoundly affected both families and communities . Mercury contamination found over forty years ago still continues poisoning the residents in the area .

Explore what it means to live in right relationship with the earth and each other. From a base in the city of Kenora, delegations will meet with leaders of Asubpeeschoseewagong people , indigenous and non- residents. Delegates undertake an analysis of colonialism, participate in undoing racism trainings , and learn about being allies to address the problems of structured violence though nonviolent actions.

FUNDRAISING EXPECTATION: $725 Canadian Dollars which does NOT include the cost of travel to Kenora, Ontario, Canada. 

Click here to apply. 

PLAN AHEAD for 2018:

25 May- 4 June; 21 September- 10 October (Women's Gathering) 

 

 

 

IRAQI KURDISTAN

2017: 10-23 September


The Kurds of northern Iraq faced discrimination, terror and death under the regime of Saddam Hussein. After the 1991 Gulf War, they gained a measure of autonomy and safety under U.S. protection. Therefore, as the security situation deteriorated in rest of Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, thousands of displaced persons fled to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) area in the north, where it seemed safer. However, northern border villages have recently been the site of military attacks by Turkey and Iran. 

Click here to apply.

CPT's delegations will be based in Sulaimani, in the KRG. Delegates will meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations, human rights groups, displaced persons, and government officials. They will gain a perspective on the challenges facing people in northern Iraq and the impact there of violence in other areas of Iraq and along the borders of the KRG. The delegation will participate in the work of CPT's longer-term project of reporting on human rights abuses and supporting local reconciliation. Some physical rigors may be involved.

CPT has had a presence in Iraq since October 2002, first in Baghdad and since November 2006 in Iraqi Kurdistan.

FUNDRAISING EXPECTATION: $3200 US, which includes round-trip airfare from a designated U.S. or Canadian city. Those planning to travel from other countries, contact the CPT office for more information.

 

PALESTINE / ISRAEL

2017: 15-29 August, 10-24 October, 20 November - 3 December

 

PLAN AHEAD for 2018:

2018: 25 March - 4 April CPT Europe German Speaking Delegation.

 

Road closures, home invasions, checkpoints, separation barriers, and the presence of militant Israeli settlers near Palestinian villages threaten Palestinian human rights.  Although the situation for many Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel is grave, the Palestinian and Israeli nonviolence activists remain steadfast, building a nonviolence movement of hope and resilience.  CPT delegation members will gain a perspective on how ongoing issues affect daily life, and will experience the power of Palestinian and Israeli citizens overcoming what seem to many to be permanent obstacles. 

Road closures, home invasions, checkpoints, and the presence of militant Israeli settlers near Palestinian villages continue to threaten Palestinian human rights, and Israel's separation barrier (much of it built on confiscated Palestinian land) continues to separate Palestinian communities from each other and ordinary Israelis and Palestinians seeking to come together for peace. CPT delegation members will gain a perspective on how these issues affect daily life, and will experience the power of Palestinian and Israeli citizens overcoming what seem to many to be permanent obstacles. 
Delegates will meet with Palestinian and Israeli human rights representatives and peace workers in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They will visit Palestinian families whose home and livelihoods are threatened by expanding Israeli settlements. They will travel to the city of Al Khalil (Hebron) and the village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills and experience firsthand CPT's work alongside Israeli and Palestinian partners. They will challenge the structural violence of the Occupation through nonviolent public witness. 
Delegates should be prepared for some physical rigors, such as hiking in rough, extremely hilly terrain, heat in the summer and damp cold in the winter, and generally long days.

Click here to apply. 

Delegates will meet with Palestinian and Israeli human rights representatives and peace workers in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They will visit Palestinian families whose home and livelihoods are threatened by expanding Israeli settlements. They will travel to the city of Al Khalil (Hebron) and the village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills and experience firsthand CPT's work alongside Israeli and Palestinian partners. They will challenge the structural violence of the Occupation through nonviolent public witness. 

Delegates should be prepared for some physical rigors, such as hiking in rough, extremely hilly terrain, heat in the summer and damp cold in the winter, and generally long days.

CPT has had a continuous presence in the West Bank since 1995.

FUNDRAISING EXPECTATION: $3250 USD, which includes round-trip airfare from a designated U.S. or Canadian city. Those planning to travel from other countries, contact the CPT office for more information.

Apply

To join a Short-Term Delegation, fill out an Application Form below, or contact the CPT office to request that one be sent to you:

 

Delegation Scholarships

CPT has limited funds available to assist applicants who otherwise couldn't participate. CPT is committed to undoing racism and will give preference to funding assistance applicants from communities which have been disadvantaged by racism.

 

Fill out forms and send to:

CPT, PO Box 6508, Chicago IL 60680
Tel: 773-376-0550 Fax: 773-376-0549
email: delegations@cpt.org

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Delegation Application.pdf42.53 KB
Scholarship Application.pdf23.55 KB

Online Application

Application for Short Term Delegation

Please set aside approximately 30 minutes to fill out this application. After completing the Application, be sure to sign and e-mail the Statement of Personal Responsibility.

  1. Please fill out the information below to help us plan for how you can most effectively participate in an upcoming CPT delegation. You will note particular emphasis on the role of support persons for this peacemaking mission.

  2. Click, sign, save, and e-mail (no printing necessary) the Statement of Personal Responsibility
    .
  3. Optional: Please send a brief resumé of your education and work experience if available to delegations@cpt.org.


CPT has limited funds available to assist applicants who otherwise couldn't participate. CPT is committed to undoing racism and will give preference to funding assistance applicants from communities who have been disadvantaged by racism. Contact delegations@cpt.org to apply.



Application Form

Take as much space as you need, although the space looks short, there is no word limit.
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Christian Peacemaker Teams

P.O. Box 6508; Chicago, IL 60680; Tel: 773-376-0550; Fax: 773-376-0549

e-mail: peacemakers@cpt.org; Web Site: www.cpt.org

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) seeks to enlist the whole church in organized, nonviolent alternatives to war and places teams of trained, peacemakers in regions of lethal conflict in an effort to reduce violence.

 

Application for Short Term Delegation

1. Please fill out the information below to help us plan for how you can most effectively participate in an upcoming CPT delegation. You will note particular emphasis on the role of support persons for this peacemaking mission.

2. PLEASE ATTACH A LETTER or ESSAY giving us some idea of your experience or training in cross cultural work, nonviolent direct action, undoing racism, mediation, or other peacemaking activity. Include thoughts on how you plan to make use of this delegation experience in your congregation/meeting, community or region.

3. Sign the Statement of Personal Responsibility below.

4. Please attach a brief resume of your education and work experience if available.

5. CPT has limited funds available to assist applicants who otherwise couldn't participate. CPT is committed to undoing racism and will give preference to funding assistance applicants from communities which have been disadvantaged by racism. Click here to apply.

Name (as it appears on your passport): ____________________________________________________________

Address:________________________________________________________________________

City:______________________________State/Prov:_________Zip:_______________Country:________________

Tel:(h)_______________________________(w)__________________________ (c)____________________________________ Fax:________________________

e-mail:____________________________Date of Birth:____/____/____

Passport#:___________________________

place of issue_____________________ date of issue ______ expiration date ____________ Citizenship:_________

Health Ins. Co.:__________________________________________Policy #____________Tel:_________________

What city will you fly out of:______________________________Frequent Flyer info.:______________________

Please indicate any medical or mental health concerns, dietary restrictions or if vegetarian, and list any medications your regularly take. __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________
Your blood type__________

Gender identiy____________ . Are you currently on CPT’s mailing list? Yes ____ No ____ .

EMERGENCY CONTACT: Please fill in to assist in case of emergency. PLEASE GIVE A COPY OF YOUR SIGNED STATEMENT OF PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY (see below) TO THE PERSON LISTED HERE.

Name:_______________________________________Address:_________________________________________

City:____________________________State/Prov:_________Zip:_______________Country:__________________

Tel:(h)_____________________________(w)_________________________(fax)___________________________

e-mail:_______________________Relationship:_________________________________

CONGREGATIONAL CONTACT: (Please include name of person and name of church, meeting, or other)

Name____________________________________________Address:____________________________________

City:____________________________State/Prov:_________Zip:_______________Country:__________________

Tel:(h)______________________________(w)_________________________(fax)__________________________

e-mail:_________________________________________Role:__________________________________________

MEDIA SUPPORT PERSON: to distribute information to key contacts or press people in both church and secular media during the delegation, and to assist in setting up speaking engagements or media interviews upon your return.

Name:________________________________________Address:________________________________________

City:____________________________State/Prov:_________Zip:________________Country:_________________

Tel:(h)___________________(w)_________________(fax)_________________e-mail:_______________________

1. Please check all that apply: I have experience, skills, or training in ___group facilitation, ___leading worship, ___writing articles or press releases, ___translation, ___organizing peace actions, ___nonviolent direct action, ___visual arts or street theater, ___decisionmaking in emergency, ___fundraising, ___photography. On this trip I plan to make/write ___photos, ___slides, ___audio tapes, ___video tapes, ___articles. ___Yes, they can be shared with others. I will also bring ___messages or letters of friendship*, ___banners*, ___prayers, ___other__________ (*check with delegation leader first)

2. Please share a copy of this form with each of your support persons in order to facilitate communicatiion.

3. Answering this item is optional: CPT seeks to include participants of diverse backgrounds on its delegations. How would you describe yourself? __ African descent, __ Asian descent, __ European descent, __ Latin American descent/Hispanic __Aboriginal/ Native American, __ Multi-racial, __ Other________________ .

STATEMENT OF PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY

I (print name) ___________________________________________________ have voluntarily joined the Christian Peacemaker Team traveling to (place) ________________________________________ from (dates) ______________________________________.

I am aware that I am entering a situation that may be tense at the present time and that there may be danger of war or other violent conflict occurring while I am there. I understand that this is a project of nonviolent peacemaking.

I understand that I could be imprisoned, taken hostage, injured or even killed. I understand that in cases of hostage-taking or kidnapping it is CPT’s policy not to pay ransom and to reject military or violent approaches to resolving the matter. I also understand that access to health care facilities, adequate shelter and food may be difficult on occasion.

I assume and accept full responsibility for any risks of personal injury, illness, damage, imprisonment or other deprivation that may occur as a result of my participation in this program including, but not limited to, the risks described above.

I understand that Christian Peacemaker Teams and its supporting denominations (Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church USA or any other supporting denomination or group), employees, or volunteers cannot ensure my safety or well being while on this trip.

I also hereby release and agree to hold harmless the Christian Peacemaker Teams and its supporting denominations, members, employees, directors, agents and successors from any and all liability or claims, demands rights, causes of action, whether known or unknown, brought by me or on my behalf or by my heirs, beneficiaries, executors, or assigns.

I am at least eighteen (18) years old and have read and understood the above statements.

Signed this _____________________ day of _______________________________(month), 20_______

(your signature) ____________________________________________________________


(witness #1 signature) _____________________________________________________

(witness #1 print name) ____________________________________________________

(witness #2 signature)______________________________________________________

(witness #2 print name) ____________________________________________________



Delegation Reports

Below is a sample of actual trip reports from various CPT delegations. These are provided to illustrate what your delegation might look like. [Reports reflect the views of the authors and may not reflect the official views of CPT.]

Aboriginal Justice delegation - Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows, Ontario) - August 2011

Trip Report for CPT delegation to Treaty #3, August 2011

-- by Rebecca Weaver Yoder

Members of the delegation: Merwyn De Mello (Ossining, New York, USA), Kaitlyn Duthie-Kannikkatt (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), Julián Gutiérrez (Risaralda, Colombia), Anneli Hemminger (Ispringen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany), Dieter Hemminger (Ispringen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany), Rebecca Johnson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Carrie Peters (Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania, USA), Muriel Schmid (Salt Lake City, Utah, USA), Tamara Shantz (St. Jacobs, Ontario, Canada), Meredith Lane Thomas (Bellefontaine, Ohio, USA), Rebecca Weaver Yoder (Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA).

 Friday, Aug. 12th

            Friday began the first day of the CPT's Aboriginal Justice Team Treaty #3 Area delegation, with ten delegates arriving to the First Baptist Church in Kenora, Ontario. Amid introductions, orientation, and logistics, it was noted that with just ten persons we represented five different countries. This number would grow with the arrival of another delegate later on.

As we began to get to know one another, a common interest was shared in the importance of learning the history of the First Nations. It was noted how overlooked this piece of history has been and continues to be today. Throughout the next continuing days delegates would begin to learn how meaningful simple observation and listening would be in the process of engaging this history. Some persons expressed that their interest in this delegation stemmed from a need to show respect for the land and people where their own ancestors settled and where many continue to live to this day.

Saturday, Aug. 13

            Morning began with rusty voices stirring the large cool sanctuary of the First Baptist Church with the tune, “Wade in the Water.” We sang this song as part of our morning reflection, a practice that would become a daily activity. Julián, one of the two delegation leaders, began the morning by inviting the delegation to consider the idea of an Ecological Footprint. The purpose of this activity was to address ideas surrounding our own consumption.  Discussions that followed included ideas about decreasing our consumption, as well as issues of privilege and income when talking about what kinds of materials we consume.

            A second activity about Cross Cultural Communication was introduced by Julián, and we began the workshop with a written narrative by a former CPTer. Delegates took turns reading paragraphs about the CPTers experience with communication, cultural sensitivity, and their white privilege. The reading of this narrative began a conversation among our group about current and past effects of colonialism and white oppression.

            One particular issue we focused on was the making of mistakes. It was acknowledged that mistakes are frequently made when engaging in communication across cultures. Some proposed that while mistakes are inherently painful for both the individual and the receivers of their action, the mistake can be a seed for important learning. One person said, "Possibly a mistake can enable one to be humbled and learn, especially if they belong to a privileged group."  This idea would become very important to our delegation as we would continue to learn and undo harmful judgments, racism, and assumptions.

            That same afternoon, our delegation walked through the downtown area to the Kenora Fellowship Centre. There we were met by Colin, a charismatic First Nations man and friend of CPT. He explained the grave history of colonialism of the indigenous lands of Canada. He spoke about the implementation of residential schools and stated that this was when “they started to paint us white.” This meeting left us with a somber sense of the deep hurt and terror that European settlers and colonizers have left upon this land and its people. When the meeting was finished we were welcomed to stay for the centre's street picnic and fried fish. Persons who came to the shelter for food were mostly all First Nations. We stayed for another hour to talk and eat informally. This experience remained as a reminder about the stark demographics of Kenora's lower class and the oppression that continues today.

We finished the day with the documentary, "As Long as the River Flows."

Sunday, Aug. 14

            We began this day by attending the Sunday morning service at First Baptist Church before departing for Grassy Narrows. Shoon, a resident and friend of CPT, greeted us upon arrival and welcomed us to the Trapper's Centre where we would stay the next few nights. We then took a short drive to a small cleared, grassy area, known as the main blockade site. At this location, Grassy Narrows residents have upheld a nine year long blockade of logging trucks into the Whiskey Jack forest.  We observed the small cabins built around the area, and then sat down to learn more about CPT's history and current activities. Some mentioned that being at the site was particularly moving because they could sense that there was a deep meaning to the area. We observed the road leading to the forests and saw a large sign that read “Ministry of No Respect.” (Reference to Ministry of Natural Resources)

            That evening we viewed the first half of the documentary, “The Scars of Mercury.” This film introduced us to more of the history of Grassy Narrows and the community’s struggle with rights to trapping. We learned about the mercury contamination of the local fish from toxins released by a nearby company and how that poisoned many local First Nations. This was a strong reminder of the Anishinabe people's long history with struggling to survive against powerful outside forces.

Monday, Aug. 15

            Our visit to the Kenora Court House was both an interesting and sobering experience. Prior to visiting we had been told that indigenous persons are often treated more harshly in the court system and that this is reflected in the demographics of the Kenora Prison--a facility mostly filled by First Nations inmates. Our time in the court house was followed by a visit to the Northwest Legal Community Clinic, where we met with Sallie Hunt, a staff lawyer. She once again reminded us that marginalization of Aboriginal persons within Kenora is very strong, and therefore the services of the clinic are used by mostly Aboriginals. Sallie's fervent descriptions of racial profiling and governmental neglect for First Nations communities outlined some key issues they face including; homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, and high numbers of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Sallie noted that many of these current issues relate back to the effects of systemic abuse including forced residential schooling.

Tuesday, Aug. 16

            The next morning we gathered with fresh memories of the previous day's meetings, to begin what would be a day full of deep internal processing and reflection. Stephanie Landon, an articulate Anishinabe woman and friend of CPT, gathered us together for a workshop on undoing racism and colonialism. We first began by sharing our hopes and fears for the workshop, as well as past experiences with racism or colonization that have particularly influenced us. Following the sharing, Julián led us in a "privilege walk," an exercise meant to help persons to realize privileges that they may or may not have in relation their surroundings. Questions are used to determine privilege, such as, "“Are you surrounded by people who speak your native language as a first language?”  By the final question, our group was staggered along a spectrum, with those of the most privilege having taken the most steps. We were then asked to speak about how we felt about our individual positions. It was clear then, how different our lives are based on our given privileges.

            Stephanie then led us in a simple exercise where we embodied indigenous persons as they experienced the catastrophic terror of being invaded by white settlers. Each of us received a role; such as child, parent, elder and were then gathered around special belongings we had brought. Slowly, one by one, an outside source invaded and began taking away our people and possessions.  Stephanie's way of facilitating the exercise was powerful as she methodically asked individuals how they were feeling during the activity. By the end, our minds and bodies were filled with painful emotions and a glimpse of history's reality. Many expressed a deep appreciation for this simple activity that was so unexpectedly powerful. At this time, we were once again reminded how much there is to learn from observing and being present in such a vital, yet overlooked history. Charles Wasagase, a First Nations teacher, who was present at the workshop then welcomed us to participate in a smudging ceremony with Sage, a sacred plant among Aboriginals. We gratefully received this generous invitation and let the smoke of the sage cleanse our bodies. This day's exercise would become one of the most pivotal experiences of the delegation. 

Wednesday, August 17

            The next day we traveled to the Kenora Museum with an eagerness to continue the process of undoing racism and colonialism. The new insight that we had been given the day before had opened a space within us that felt vulnerable, determined, and reflective. Our visit to the museum was followed by a deep disappointment as we realized that the museum held little information or historical exhibits about the indigenous tribes of the region. The history presented featured only the white settlers and colonizers of Kenora. Our delegation gathered over lunch to discuss our feelings about the morning visit, and our frustration with historic and current exclusion of First Nations people from published history.

            Our afternoon focused on another visit, this time to an organization geared towards Aboriginal women who have experienced cases of sexual violence. Five staff members met with us at the Kenora Sexual Assault Centre to discuss what their primary focus is and how they work to combat various forms of violence. This small grassroots organization was surprisingly a lively, driven group of women that expressed a great interest in explaining their depressing yet important work. They mentioned how marginalized and vulnerable Aboriginal women are within a society lacks adequate funding for programs like theirs. Another staff member explained how KSAC is unique because it helps Aboriginal women by use of traditional healing practices rather than clinical medication. They explained that while many first responders objectify and accuse women of their circumstances, the centre instead counsels and supports women during and after investigatory processes.

            Later that evening we gathered for a discussion about our learning from the day and a reflection on the undoing racism and colonialism workshop. During this time we grappled with new feelings of tension as delegates expressed intent desires to connect on a deeper level with local First Nations people. We were fortunate to have Stephanie, the facilitator of the previous day's workshop, with us for the discussion. Stephanie patiently listened and acknowledged persons desires, but then began by explaining a little bit about cultural differences. She mentioned that while some persons may feel they are not connecting, they may actually be in ways they do not suspect. She referred to cultural norms of speaking for the First Nations, telling us how calm reactions and expressions are often mistaken for lack of interest or enthusiasm. Our group then recognized the importance of patience with personal relations and careful listening when being present with others.

Thursday, August 18 

            The following day we visited the Ne-Chee Friendship Centre in Kenora. Our group was welcomed in by two staff members who described the centre's work with assistance programs for Aboriginals. These free programs include educational assistance, employment advising, justice advocacy, and health assistance. The two women explained how they depend greatly upon a tightly knit network of specialized programs, to which they can refer their clients. As we listened and asked questions, one of the women suddenly asked us if we knew anything about the residential schools. We nodded, remembering articles, books, and stories that we had heard prior to this meeting. She then nodded seriously and restated what we would continue to be hear by many; that the residential schools are to blame for the many social issues First Nations face today. Alcoholism, domestic abuse, poverty, family dysfunction, cultural and language loss are just a few of the problems they then mentioned. We left this meeting with hope for the programs that these two women spoke of.

Friday, August 19

            After an evening of preparation and research, our team gathered together to meet with two representatives from Weyerhauser, an international logging company with a local branch in Kenora. We had passed the processing plant several times on our way to Grassy Narrows, and had seen the immense piles of logs spanning several parking lots. Members from Grassy Narrows had spoken with us about the company's wish to clear cut within their own forests. We knew this to be a worrying issue for the community because of clear cutting's devastating history and ongoing destruction of First Nation territory. However, we wanted to meet with the company to find out more about why they're present here.

            When the representatives arrived we listened to them speak about their company's facility, values, goals, and standards. Mike and Carol spoke clearly and confidently about their interests and hopes for the forests of Treaty #3, saying that the bio-diverse area was rich in fiber and within close proximity for  transportation of logs to the mill. Words such as sustainability, were commonly referred to when asked about their logging practices. They assured us that their company puts great priority into restoring the lands from which they cut. Despite their articulate presentation and impressive knowledge of logging, we had our doubts about the truth behind their intentions. Claims were made that Grassy Narrows in particular, has been unresponsive in their attempts to negotiate a business arrangement. As of now, Weyerhauser is not legally permitted to log directly within Grassy Narrows territory. The two representatives expressed their frustration that the community members refuse to "come to the table" on this issue. This was a worrying sign for us, because it meant that the company does not see Grassy Narrows refusal to let companies log their land as a justified and permanent answer. Several of us were also concerned to note their subtle implications that these community members cannot communicate in a format they deem sufficient. To us, this felt like a staunch reminder of how white colonizers assume their form of communication is standard or the only acceptable way. After hearing community members intelligently and articulately voice their concerns about depleted wildlife, razed forests, racism, colonization, it was clear that this company's priorities did not include time for listening to the First Nations.

            Short after our meeting ended, we left for what would be another discouraging hour. Sean Stevenson, a representative from the Ministry of Natural Resources agreed to meet with us and present his understanding of the area. While we asked questions about the licensing process for logging and trapping rights within Treaty #3 territory, he insisted on talking extensively about forestry, terrain, and the regions of Ontario. This was information that was educational and informative, but was evasive of our questions. He vaguely responded to issues concerning First Nations and also refused others by saying that it was classified information. We maintained our valued respect and did not press him when refused an answer. As we left he thanked us for our interest, but we could not help but feel unheard, dissatisfied, and sobered by the magnitude of power weighed heavily against Aboriginal rights and survival.

Saturday, Aug. 20

            Early the next morning, breakfast preparation for the annual Pow-Wow in Grassy Narrows began. Our group had agreed to help out and was hard at work frying bacon and eggs. Locals stopped in to say hello and greet delegates as they walked back and forth delivering fresh new pans to servers. The day that followed included another visit to the blockade site, attendance at the Pow-Wow, and an evening fish fry. Many of us agreed that being back on the reservation was rejuvenating and comfortable. As we watched the dances or joined in the intertribal dance, we could feel the pride of persons wearing their intricately designed regalia. To us, this experience in Grassy Narrows was particularly meaningful and life-giving. Several times, persons mentioned how grateful they were to find so many unexpected opportunities to be present and learn from community members. A few delegates learned to weigh, cut, skin and fry fish while others had time to simply sit and chat with residents.

Sunday, Aug. 21

            The following day began with a visit to J.B. Fobister, one of Grassy Narrow's renowned trappers. We had been anticipating this, after hearing that a decade-long law suit involving J.B. had been settled earlier that week. The law suit ruled that the Government of Ontario can no longer authorize logging and mining within Treaty # 3 nor control trapping rights. J.B., Shoon, and another community organizer had been honored the night before at the Pow-Wow with a celebratory dance.

            As the morning rain slowed, we crowded into J.B.'s living room to hear him speak about trapping, governmental regulations and current social dilemmas for First Nations people. J.B. spoke with a slow and contemplative pace as he answered questions and explained his lengthy history with governmental interference in First Nations territory. His account of the most recent law suit was sobering as he mentioned the discrimination and prejudice they encountered in meetings and court. Despite the victory, many community members are still weary of the permanency of their protection. With an edge of frustration, J.B. explained how difficult it is for Aboriginals to gain recognition from the government. Often he says, Aboriginals go unnoticed until an interested white person says something. We listened quietly, allowing space for J.B. to speak more about racial privilege and colonization of indigenous land. As our visit ended, J.B. expressed his hope that we could learn something from our visit, we responded that indeed we would.

Monday Aug, 22

            On our final morning of the delegation, we gathered once more in the Trappers Centre to reflect upon our learning's, insights, and hopes for our next steps. Each person brainstormed ideas about what they could do upon leaving Grassy Narrows. Many noted a strong desire to read and learn more about the indigenous tribes of their home areas. Others mentioned that they would write about their experience and tell others formally and informally.

            Rebecca then led us in a discussion about being allies and what that means for indigenous and non-indigenous persons. Specifically we focused on how we, as non-aboriginals, can support and advocate for indigenous persons. We discussed the term "ally", and questioned what this role really means. In the article, "Jen Margaret Winston Churchill Report 2010," the author writes about the limitations of the term and challenges the common beliefs about allies. Instead, she writes, "Being an ally is a practice and a process - not an identity. It is an on-going practice that is learned and developed through experience. " As our group talked about the article, we reflected about our own learning's from the past week and J.B.; that true teaching and advocacy comes directly from the First Nations, who own the right to speak for themselves. Our role, we explored, is to continuously learn to be allies, supporters and assisters. We must speak only for our own selves, from our own experiences, and from the context and history of our ancestors. ###

 

 

 

 

 

Aboriginal Justice delegation - Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows, Ontario): September/October 2010

Delegation to Asubpeeschoseewagong and Kenora, Ontario
September 24 – October 6, 2010

 

Delegation Members:  Julian Gutiérrez, co-leader (Dosquebradas, Risaralda, Colombia), Peter Haresnape, co-leader (Christchurch, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom), Jill Foster (Montreal, Quebec, Canada),  Jared Ingebretson (Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States), Daniel Mengeling (Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States), Melanie Penner, AJT Intern (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), Joel Rash (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), Kathy Thiessen (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), Amy Van Steenwyk (Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States)

 

Orientation to Kenora and CPT, Friday, September 24-Sunday, September 26

            Our orientation to Kenora began with meeting former chief Tommy Keesick and his friend Calvin Chicago, also a former chief.  They met us at Anishinabe Park, an historically significant area.  It was the site of a six-week long occupation in 1974 by Anishinabe people from local reserves along with allies who came to lend support.  At the time, Tommy was in his thirties and Calvin was seven years old.  They shared some details that we hadn't heard in reading about the occupation beforehand, such as the support of many local churches which brought them blankets and food.  At one point it was necessary to load all the children, including Calvin, into boats to take them down river to Fort Francis for their safety.  Tommy and Calvin have formed the Treaty 3 Citizens Coalition and Participants to work towards greater transparency and accountability.  They invited us to a rally scheduled for later in the week.  Tommy also shared some stories from residential schools, our delegation's first opportunity to hear about them firsthand.  Many of those who were adults at the time of the occupation have passed away, most notably Louis Cameron in April of 2010.  Tommy is aware that he is one of the few left who can tell a firsthand account of the occupation and he has had some recent heath trouble too.  He attributes his recovery from addiction, stress, and illness to frequent participation in sweat lodges which he recommended to us. 

            We took advantage of being in Kenora over the weekend to visit local churches as well as explore the area more on foot.  Many people visited Jubilee Church, a church that focuses on meeting the needs of urban Aboriginal poor, practically as well as spiritually.  There was plenty of opportunity to meet and talk to members and visitors there around a meal following the service.  Kenora being the small town that it is, we encountered some of these people again in our short stay there.  Later that day we had time to talk about our faith journeys, discuss the role of faith in CPT,  learn more specifically about the Aboriginal Justice Team's work and share some of our reasons for joining this delegation.

 

Connecting and Learning in Kenora, Monday, September 27 – Thursday, September 30

            On Monday we went to court to see for ourselves the dynamics at play in the legal system of this small town.  As expected, the vast majority of defendants were of First Nations descent.  The few times that a non-Aboriginal defendant came before the judge the interactions were notably different:  more eye contact, more expressions of sympathy, speaking directly to the defendant rather than to the lawyer.  In one case an Aboriginal, wheelchair-bound elder with no prior record was treated sternly, without directly addressing him, in contrast to a non-Aboriginal defendant facing the same charges to whom the judge apologized for handing down the minimum sentence.  We also learned more about the challenges Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder adds to any case.  In one situation, the defendant (Aboriginal) clearly was not able to process the legal jargon spoken to him, yet no attempt to ensure his understanding was made.  Translation also was not available to a defendant who needed it when we were in attendance. 

             Next we met Sallie Hunt, a lawyer at Northwest Community Legal Clinic (NCLC) who also is President of the Board of the Kenora Sexual Assault Center.  She did not grow up in Kenora and because of that has an outside perspective.  She observed, “We're almost two societies at times, passing each other like ghosts.  Non-aboriginal people live in one space, Aboriginal people live in another space.”  NCLC practices poverty law, helping with appeals, Social Assistance claims, and employment and housing issues. Appeals can be made to the Independent Review Board, but not in all cases, for example, not if it involves Treaty 3 police officers.  There is also a Human Rights Commission which puts the burden of investigation and proof on the person filing the complaint – a daunting task for most people, particularly people with few resources to begin with.  Despite Prime Minister Harper's apology for residential schools and its effects, government financial support of programs working for Aboriginal benefits and rights has slowed to a trickle or been cut completely.  Social Assistance benefits are still not equal to what they were prior to 1995 and the average Ontario Works benefit is not enough to cover rent and food, particularly since much of the affordable housing in Kenora has been closed down due to health codes or redevelopment.    Women living on reserves do not have property rights in the case of separation, making them particularly vulnerable to abusive situations and homelessness.  Money that goes to reserves for secondary education and other purposes sometimes gets reallocated which means people end up on waiting lists for the financial means to continue their education.

            We visited the Fellowship Centre, Kenora's only emergency shelter, to meet with Colin Wasacase, retired educator, activist, storyteller, public servant, and former residential school student and principal.  Colin gave us some cultural background to help us understand him and objects that have special significance to him:  tobacco pouches as gifts for elders, sweet grass and sage to burn and release pain and sadness, Eagle feathers to instill strength, courage, peace and love, and a white Eagle feather, one of only two, that keeps him connected to his twin sister who has passed away.  He also gave us historical background and explained why sharing the land made sense to Aboriginal people as opposed to owning it or giving it away. As he said, “We are never owners of the land.  The Creator allows us to take care of it for a while.”  Colin attended Residential School for all of his education, later returning to teach and eventually to be principal.  Although residential schools were purported to provide stability for children of transient tribes, he observed that they also indoctrinated people.  Colin never heard anyone say it was forbidden to speak their native languages, but it was never taught or used.  He tried to bring change from within, accepting higher positions until he found himself working in education at the federal level.  Recalling that time of his life, Colin said,  “I was a token.  That was really why I quit government.  My face became plastic.  I could not smile.  When I smiled I felt like my face was cracking.  It was really not me.”  Since that time he has dedicated his life to community leadership and involvement in and around Kenora, currently sitting on various boards and supporting others with political aspirations to get involved as well.

            Most of the day Wednesday was set aside for a workshop in undoing racism and oppression led by Stephanie Landon and Marie Lavalley from the Kenora Sexual Assault Center.  Part of this workshop focused specifically on the Aboriginal experience of racism and oppression and how that has caused many communities untold suffering as their roles in society, their loved ones, and their land have all been lost to a great extent.  We also examined the ways that racism can permeate group dynamics in any group or organizations.  Using role-play, we practiced ways to be allies in difficult situations that could arise on a CPT delegation. 

            The next morning started with a trip to the Ne-Chee Friendship Center where we met Don Copenace who has been the director there since 1998.  Ne-Chee means friendship in Ojibwe and is one of 114 Friendship Centers across Canada.  The Ne-Chee Center's core funding is from the government, other programs are funded provincially as well.  A few programs are offered there at the center, the majority however are outreach, either in homes, at other agencies or at the courthouse.  One area of outreach is the local jail which is chronically well over capacity with only floor space for some inmates.  Approximately 90% of the inmates are of native descent.  A Street Patrol  has been making the rounds since the Friendship Center first opened.  They patrol every day, particularly around Anishinabe Park, a common route used to walk between Kenora and the nearest reserve, Rat Portage.  Another program is  a new alternative secondary school that has had a significant number of graduates when compared to the small percentage of First Nations students that graduate yearly from Beaver Brae High School.   Don talked some about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which he appreciated in that it focused not so much on forgiveness but on finding ways to move toward healing.  We learned from Don that the Aboriginal population is growing much more quickly than other groups, a significant factor in a small town like Kenora, with ten First Nations communities within an hour drive.

            From the Ne-Chee Center we went to the Treaty 3 Citizens Coalition and Participants Rally at a crossroads of two major highways just outside of Kenora.  Signs were displayed, such as “Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is to blame.”  Turnout was quite small, which was clearly disheartening because there were people who had promised to be there, but failed to show up.  The leaders sense that there is political pressure on supporters to stay away.  Once again, we had a glimpse into the complex relationships within Aboriginal communities.  We were able to talk at more length with Calvin, Tommy and their independently named grand chief, Lana Kooshet.

            Later we went to the Kenora Sexual Assault Center (KSAC) where we were able to see Stephanie and Maria again and meet other members of their staff:  Mercedes Alarcon (director), Jen Beilner and Katelyn Kelly.  We learned that violence affects the lives of nearly all First Nations women.  Aboriginal women between the ages of 25-44 are five times more likely to die from violence than non-Aboriginal women.  Every year KSAC staff has clients with whom they are working die of unnatural causes.   In response to this reality, they have started a girls' group for teenage daughters of women who have been murdered. KSAC's stated goal is to eradicate the social conditions that contribute to violence against women and children.  Towards this end, they lead workshops, provide group and individual counseling, support family and friends of victims, advocate for clients and accompany them when necessary.  They maintain a 24-hour crisis line which is often the entry point for women to learn of the other resources available to them.  Another important aspect of their work is outreach to First Nations communities, often with youth in schools on the surrounding reserves.

 

Grassy Narrows, Asubpeeschoseewagong , Friday, October 1 – Sunday, October 3

            When we arrived at Grassy Narrows reserve, we went directly to the general store run by Joe Fobister and met with him in his home down the road.  He described events leading up to the impasse the community is at in their mediated conversation with the Ministry of Natural Resources.  In the past, the blockade has been an effective and peaceful way to halt logging in a specific area.  Unfortunately, the pause in logging is not yet permanent and Weyerhauser is likely to resume logging soon to meet the needs of the local mill.  Unsustainable clear-cut logging continues in other areas of their traditional territories without community consent.  Many members of the Grassy Narrows community would support sustainable logging practices provided that they leave intact habitat where medicinal plants can flourish and animals native to that region can thrive.  Joe reiterated the possibility that the community will once again have to resort to direct action.  In that case CPT would be called on to observe and bear witness as the community members pursue justice through resistance to the unethical actions of MNR.

            Lorna and Andy “Shoon” Keewatin showed us to the Trapper's Lodge where we were staying.  Shoon introduced us to the traditional way of processing wild rice.  In late August, he uses sticks to gather rice in a canoe, then roasts it and grinds it.  He invited us to help in the grinding process.  He placed a canvas over a  hole in the ground and put a portion of the rice on the canvas in the hole.  Some of the men put on moccasins and danced on the rice to loosen the husks.  This was not traditionally a woman's role, so Shoon set up a giant rustic mortar and pestle he had carved from a tree trunk that everyone could use to accomplish the same goal.  Traditionally people wait for a windy day to toss the the rice in the wind and let the chaff blow away.  We used a fan for lack of wind, then repeated the grinding and winnowing steps until most of the grains of rice were bare.  Finally, we picked through it by hand, removing any remaining husks.  As we were processing the rice, we were also preparing a huge stew for a community meal that evening that we were hosting at the Trapper's Lodge.  We used vegetables from the Grassy Narrows community garden, venison that had been donated to the Trapper's Lodge and made bannock to serve with the stew. About ten community members joined us at picnic tables outside as we watched the sun set over the lake at the bottom of the hill. 

            Before leaving the reserve on Sunday we were able to meet with Judy da Silva at the blockade site.  She has been part of resisting logging on the reserve since before the blockade, at least 20 years.  The community was shocked when the logging roads were built so close to the heart of the reserve and after pursuing the regular avenues available to them, were left with no alternative but direct resistance.  She observed that the Anishinabe name for the lake at the blockade site aptly means “Where the road ends.”  Although there has been no violence at the site of the blockade, Judy's sister Roberta along with Chrissy Swain were brutally arrested for camping alongside another logging road a few hours from the blockade site.  There were children present to witness the arrest and Chrissy has suffered permanent damage to her arms from being handcuffed excessively.   Judy expressed a sense of abandonment at the many organizations that were supporters but have moved on to become involved in other areas and issues, often without processing that decision with the Grassy Narrows community or even communicating their intentions.  She hopes that CPT will continue to send delegations to Grassy Narrows and Kenora, not only to support the blockade when necessary but especially to work on undoing racism in Kenora. 

 

Final Days in Kenora, Monday, October 4 – Tuesday, October 5

            Monday morning we visited MNR and met with Shawn Stevenson, the Supervisor of the English River Area and a forestry intern, Josh Millar.  One goal of meeting with MNR was to serve as a reminder that international eyes are on the community, particularly regarding the issue of continued logging in the Whiskey Jack Forest despite calls to halt until there is informed consent to resume.  When we asked about the clear-cutting method that we have seen in photos and video footage, Shawn clarified that the method they use now is no longer technically clear-cutting because a certain amount of residual trees and brush is left behind.  He said that he is not aware of any negative consequences to this large-swath cutting and re-seeding method of forestry  except possibly that animals could more easily be hunted and killed with less forest standing.  This seemed to be in stark contrast to our concerns for the loss of diverse,  medicinal plant life and the flight of native animal populations that follows the type of logging they continue to employ in the Whiskey Jack Forest.  We asked what happens when a third party logging company does not abide by regulations and Shawn assured us that there were fines, penalties and trips to court in store for any company not following regulations.  When questioned further it became clear, however, that these fines would be paid to the Crown and that are no established means of making restitution to the First Nations communities that also have treaty rights over these lands.  The Whiskey Jack Forest is currently being managed directly by the Crown since Abitibi gave up its license, so the duties of overseeing all logging in the forest falls back to MNR, which Shawn described as overtaxed and only able to handle the extra workload because of the decrease in logging since  the economic downturn. 

            The delegation decided our direct action would be to attend and support the Sisters in Spirit Vigil being held in Kenora Monday night to remember the more than 500 Aboriginal women who are missing or known to have been murdered, half of them since 2000.  Their photos, along with descriptions of what is known of their cases, covered one wall.  Those in attendance sat in rows of circles surrounding the Grassy Narrows girls' drum circle seated in the middle with Judy da Silva and her sister Roberta.  They sang and drummed between speaking and performances by elder Joe Morrison and artist Alice Sabourin.  As the girls took turns singing loudly over the drumming, we recalled Judy saying, “I try to never tell my daughter to shut up or even to be quiet.  I want her to be confident to speak her mind.  I don't want any more of these young girls' voices to be silenced.”  

___________

Aboriginal Justice delegation to Treaty #3 Territory - April 2011

Aboriginal Justice Delegation to Treaty #3 Territory, March 31-April 11, 2011

Trip report

By Tawd Bell

 On Friday, April 1, 2011 the six members of this CPT Aboriginal Justice delegation met at the home of Stephanie Landon, a local indigenous person and friend of CPT.  There were introductions, briefings and logistical matters to consider.  How could this bright-eyed band of activists suspect the heart wrenching sights, sounds and stories that lay ahead of us over the next 11 days? As we drove to Grassy Narrows that afternoon, we fed each other with the newness of our relationships and the excitement of what lay ahead. Discussing our hopes and fears of the delegation we drove out to Grassy with hopeful hearts and bridled enthusiasm.  Once in Grassy, events unfolded that began to reveal the true nature of the plight of the Anishinabe in the Treaty 3 area.  Between the film, ‘The Scars of Mercury’, and a visit from community member and activist, Judy De Silva, we were slowly becoming aware of the weight of hundreds of years of genocidal policies and attitudes.

Day 2 at Grassy Narrows afforded an even larger peek behind the curtain of oppression of native peoples in the Treaty 3 area.  After a morning of delegation organizing and administrative tasks, the group set out with Judy to the site of the logging blockade that was active until last year.  This was exciting in that the blockade site is almost mythological. It has been the focus of so much Anishinabe and CPT energy and direct action over the last several years.  Upon arriving, however, the site of the abandoned blockade and vandalized cabin seemed to be a haunting metaphor for the current dip in hope and activist energy among the Anishinabe people.  Judy herself seemed to represent the hope of the future breaking back through theJudy da Silva with the Delegation dark clouds of stagnation that seemed to linger on the reserve.  So there was the ever-present paradox that accompanied us during our delegation: the evidence of the crushing weight of years of genocide and the inextinguishable hope and power of the Anishinabe themselves.   Their light has never gone out and it was clear that they weren’t about to let it go out with out a struggle.

The third day of our delegation was a Sunday.  Some of us decided to attend the church service at Grassy Narrows that was provided by a Korean missionary and his family.  A few of us respectfully declined to attend as we had trepidations regarding the ongoing colonial implications of a mission of that mode located on the reserve.  As it turned out, that hunch was correct.  The church service seemed contextually and culturally anachronistic and out of place.  We must always remember that Christian missions have always been a part of the colonialization of indigenous populations globally and the suspicion and mistrust of that spiritual program has deep historical implications.   The day turned out to be very redemptive.  Christine Swaine and her family stopped by for dinner and shared about the origins of the blockade.  We were especially honored when she and her daughter blessed us with a beautiful traditional song.  It was haunting and mystical.  It was definitely a “thin place”, a place where the Divine and the human meet and intermingle. 

Most of us have long suspected the deep systemic racism inherent in U.S. and Canadian colonialism.  However, Monday proved to be an intensive on the subject.  We drove from Grassy to Kenora to meet with Sallie Hunt from the Northwest Community Legal Clinic.  The clinic offers free legal services to the marginalized in the Kenora Community.  The Aboriginal community is the most marginalized and therefore utilizes the services of the clinic more than other groups in Kenora.  Sallie explained with bright clarity the plight of the Indian community of Kenora.  In particular, she told stories about categorical racist treatment of the native population by both the white community as well as the police.  These stories were confirmed and reiterated in different forms throughout our trip.  Everything from reports of mysterious incidents of natives being found in the frozen lakes without any knowledge as to how they got there to outright refusal to let natives into places of business.  The reality of the situation was slowly becoming clear, and it was deeply troubling.  An afternoon visit to the courthouse was all it took to confirm our deepest fears.  Every person working for the courts, from the judge to the bailiff to the lawyers were white.  And every defendant that we saw come up for arraignment was aboriginal.  When we walked though the waiting area, again, all those waiting for a hearing were native.  The contrast was stark, and it was shocking.  The painful reminders continued as we met with the staff of the Kenora Sexual Assault Centre.  90% of their clients are aboriginal.  Hearing the stories of abuse and violence was sobering and drove us deeper into contemplation of the deep generational pain of this once numerous and culturally powerful people.  Colonial devastation at “ground zero” was beginning to feel visceral and painfully obvious.

April 5th brought a day of knowledge very different then that of the previous day.  Shoon, the director of the trapper’s center, gave us lessons in the old knowledge of hide tanning and snowshoe making. He explained how the trapper’s center on the Grassy Narrow reserve served the community as a resource to keep the old ways alive.  One of the side benefits to staying at the trapper’s center was the fact that members of the community would randomly stop by.  These moments were definitely some of our richest while staying in Grassy. 

The next day, our last in Grassy, we visited various people in the community including a high school class on Anishinabe Traditions taught by Charles Wasagase.  We primarily answered questions posed by Charles about the mission of CPT as well as our perspective on the blockade and occupation of the park.   As we left Grassy that afternoon we were filled with grief, joy and hope.  Our thoughts turned to what new knowledge and experiences awaited us in Kenora. 

As the 7th of April dawned none of us knew just how emotionally significant the day would be.  Our Undoing Racism Workshop was scheduled for that day led by Stephanie Landon and Julián Gutiérrez Castaño.  Stephanie was already there and waiting for us with bells on as we were just waking up, blurry eyed and groggy.  By  this point in the trip a strong camaraderie had developed between all of us.  Finding such a valuable friend in Stephanie was an unexpected blessing and we were eager to hear what she had to say about racism and prejudice from her perspective.  In the first half of the workshop we did a “privilege walk” in which all the participants start at the same place, a starting line of sorts, and through a series of questions concerning social opportunity the participants take a step for every “yes” that they are able to answer.  Examples of questions might be “Are you surrounded by people who speak your native language as a first language?” or “Is your skin color the predominant color in your social environment?”.   By the time the questions had all been asked it was deeply apparent who had privilege and advantage and who didn’t. Stephanie hadn’t even left the starting line and Julián, the only other person of color in the delegation, was only a couple steps ahead of her.  The rest of us, all white, were at least half a dozen steps ahead of both of them.  Most were a dozen of more steps ahead.  We would highly recommend this exercise to any group who would like to demonstrate the realities of white privilege in our society.  It was immensely powerful.  Emotions were beginning to run high.  Most of us at this point were experiencing moments of weeping and deep pain as the realities being demonstrated began to sink in.  The next exercise, however, was the one that would cause most of us to lose control completely.  Stephanie had us bring items of significance into a circle; we began talking about why they were significant and placed them in the middle of our group.  At this point she arranged us in concentric circles symbolizing the members of the tribe.  The children were the first circle around the sacred objects for they are the future of the tribe and need teaching and protection. The elders were in the next circle. As teachers of knowledge and keepers of wisdom they are highly cherished in the community. Mothers were in the third circle. As nurturers they cared for the spirituality and vitality of the tribe.  In the outer circle were the men who provided for and protected all those that were of significance to them; the whole of the tribe.  Then white man came. First he took the children.  They were spirited away to foster homes and residential schools where they were stripped of their culture, language and tribal identity.  Beaten, raped and murdered they disappeared into the shadow of the white man almost completely.  The elders were then decimated by disease, grief and systematic eradication.  The wisdom of the tribe and the old ways were now deeply endangered.  The women, too, were hunted down and destroyed.  Some men remained.  But what purpose did they live for? The people they belong to had been systematically taken from them.  Their way of life, knowledge, and future was simply gone.  Only hopelessness remained.  By the end of this exercise, we were torn apart.  Empathy was the overwhelming emotion.  We were all forever impacted by this powerful teaching tool and will be always indebted to Stephanie for the painful epiphany. 

On the 8th we had a meeting with the local director of the MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources).  The morning was taking up by preparation and research.  There was a lot of trepidation concerning this meeting.  MNR has not been nor does it continue to be very accommodating to the Anishinabe position concerning the Treaty 3 land use area.  During the meeting we kept it professional as possible and asked very direct questions.  A line of questioning concerning the different understandings of what land management could mean threatened to spin off course.  There seemed to a duality to the approach of MNR that we were having a hard time justifying.  They, by their own admission, were both in negotiations with the Anishinabe concerning logging on the land and at the same time continuing to allow logging on the land because “the land has to managed”.  They had a hard time understanding that a moratorium on logging is a legitimate form of land management.  But Julián was there to keep us on track and civil.  Overall the meeting with MNR was frustrating and disappointing.  The colonizing mindset held by the MNR is deeply biased toward White Domination of resources and land as well as non-whites.  There seemed to be no serious understanding of the Anishinabe as a legitimate nation of peoples having long standing claims to the land and resources.  MNR is “managing” stolen land. Getting them to admit that truth is simply not possible.

The next day saw us with a lighter schedule. We spent the morning catching up with our loved ones back home and getting to know each other more deeply.  In the afternoon we met with Kelvin Chicago, an Anishinabe who is running for the Ontario Parliament as an independent.  He stated that he wasn’t expecting to win but was hopping to spread the message of the plight of the Treaty 3 Indians.  One of the messages that I took from our meeting with him is that the tribal chief system wasn’t working for the people of the reserves.  And that the Chiefs were making deals with the MNR that primarily benefited themselves and their families. Ironically, one of those deals happened while we were there.  The Chiefs signed an agreement with MNR to reopen certain areas of Treaty 3 to logging, disappointing many people on the reserve.  This may be a move by both the Chiefs and the MNR that push the Anishinabe to reinstitute the blockade.  That night we watched “unrepentant” a documentary about the mid-century residential schools in the area.  It felt like we were unable to get a break from the wave after wave of reminders of the plight of the Anishinabe.  Late that night, we joined Stephanie in a human rights action outside of a bar frequented by the locals.  She had told us of an all-indigenous hockey tournament that was being hosted in Kenora that weekend and know that the teams and fans would be out celebrating that night.  The police in Kenora have been implicated in some human rights abuses over the last several years and we were at the bar to film and document the police and their treatment of the Indians.  I personally had never seen such a police presence outside a local bar at closing time before.  You would have thought that someone had reported a riot.  There were 8 police vehicles and upwards of 16 officers present at any one time.  Stephanie told us afterward that the police acted completely different than usual, presumably because we were there watching them.  This was stated early on in the evening when one of the officers asked what we were doing there with our red CPT hats and video cameras.  “Making sure the police stay within their legal mandate, and don’t abuse their authority,” was our answer.  The police barely left their cars and stayed well away from the entrance to the bar.  There were no instances of fighting or illegal activity as people left the bar and found taxis and other rides home.  The crowd dispersed themselves and didn’t need prodding from law enforcement.  We knew from stories that we had heard that the police would normally forcibly disperse the crowd at a certain point in the evening.  So clearly, they were restraining the activity that they normally would have engaged in.  It was a good feeling to know that our presence did some real and immediate good. This was ominously reinforced as we drove back to the church to put our weary bodies to bed and realized that a police cruiser was following us and stopped a half a block away as Stephanie dropped us off at the door to the sanctuary.  We were staring down the dark street in disbelief when the officer suddenly and almost aggressively sped off past us.  Our eyes chased the red taillights as they raced off into the distance.  Mission accomplished, message sent, time for bed.

April 10th was another Sunday and we joined the congregation of the church that was allowing us to stay in their building for worship.  Sharing our experiences with them and spending the afternoon reflecting on the trip was a good exercise to help up understand the things we did and people and places we saw during our stay in Grassy Narrows and Kenora.  We also spent more time with Stephanie that day just continuing to envision how CPT can continue to stand in solidarity with the Anishinabe in the future.  That night we were joined by Judy De Silva and her family for a last meal of sorts.  She expressed her frustration with the Chief and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding.  There was a lot of discussion about reinstituting the blockade in earnest.  All in all it was a touching and productive last gathering for us before heading out the next afternoon. 

It would misleading to not mention our last day and the tears and sad goodbyes that were handed out with the hugs as we parted ways.  There is a deep bond that forms when people come together to help lift the weight oppression. It was reassuring to know that at least in our hearts, the dehumanization of colonialism could be undone by the commitment to come together and just experience one another, whites and first nations alike.  We had become sisters and brothers then, and the solidarity remains.  Most of us hope to return to Kenora and continue to work with the Anishinabe to help undo the atrocities of our white ancestors.  There is much to repent of, and much to do.

[Members  of the delegation were Michael (Tawd) Bell (Columbus, Ohio, USA), Julián Gutiérrez Castaño (Risaralda, Colombia), Ann Heinrichs (Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada), Tim Nafziger (Chicago, Illinois, USA), Gerhard Neufeld (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) and Mark Van Steenwyk (Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA).]

 

Colombia: January 2008 (Micoahumado)

Report of CPT Delegation to Colombia, January 16- 29, 2008

Una voz para las mujeres, Una voz para Colombia
A Voice for women, a voice for Colombia
By Mary Benson and Doris Braley, Delegates


Our Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) delegation arrived in Bogotá January 16, 2008. Six of us met in Atlanta and flew to Bogotá together. We enjoyed meeting each other and discussed our apprehension about going through Customs in Bogotá and receiving the correct visas. Fortunately there were no serious problems and we walked out of the airport to find Rachel and Jonathan – the in-country CPT coordinators - waiting for us. The next morning we met our seventh teammate from the UK. Our delegation included one person from Canada, one from the UK and five from the US in addition to Rachel and Jonathan. We would be traveling companions on an exciting journey for the next two weeks.
The delegation began in Bogotá with three days of meetings with a variety of organizations. We learned about the history of the country; how an average of three people die every day from land mines; the tragic consequences of a forty-year war; the stories of demobilized guerrillas and paramilitaries; the effects of Plan Colombia and how the Free Trade Agreement has affected the rich and poor in very different ways. We heard of continuing violence, displacements of entire communities, torture and assassinations. We learned about the suffering of women and children and how few rights women have. It was striking to hear how many women were putting there lives on the line to improve the future for their families and we wondered if we would ever be able to act so courageously in the face of such overwhelming odds.
We visited Rincón del lago in Cazuca, a new community on the south side of Bogotá, made up of displaced families. The community is growing rapidly as more displaced individuals and families arrive all the time. Here we visited Creciendo Juntos, a program started by the Mennonites that works with families in crisis. Over 100 families including 250 children are involved. The area is controlled by the paramilitary and a Colombian military base sits on a hill over looking the community. We talked with Marta, the social coordinator, and Yamile, who tutors in English as well as reading for dyslexic children. Marta spoke of the problems in the area: young men have a 6 pm curfew so they won’t be abducted by the paramilitary, children are being murdered, there is forced recruitment of youth by the paramilitary, there is sexual abuse and incest involving young girls, and they are forced to pay the paramilitary for security.
The community has challenges in dealing with poverty, lack of clean water and sewage disposal, education and living in a paramilitary controlled area. Yet with all of this we could feel how much the children in the community meant to them. The center tutors children in all subjects, has a variety of workshops, and teaches nonviolence conscientious objector classes. They continue to hope that some if not all of the children involved can be changed forever through the work of this organization. What an impact these two women have made in their community.
Next we flew to Barrancabermeja, (Barranca) where CPT is located. Barranca is a large city located on the Magdalena River and is the center of oil production in an oil rich country. On the first morning we met with a women’s rights group – the Organización Femenina Popular (Popular Women’s Organization) or OFP Northeast. Yolanda Becerra, President of OFP, was assaulted in her home the night of November 4, 2007 and members of her family have been harassed and threatened. Yolanda has left the city but the women of OFP are as determined as ever to work for women’s rights.
We spent a lot of time with OFP exploring their programs and their objectives. Their stated mission is as follows: "We are looking for the whole development of the community through the organization, social economy, education, health and culture and to defend life and women’s rights through our participative social process.”
They also stated their vision: "We hope that the reconstruction of the social fabric in the working classes can be a reality.”
OFP has nine areas of work – administration and organizational, social economy, nutrition program, decent housing conditions, holistic health, legal, youth movement, communication, researching education and forced displacement.
The Nutrition Program feeds a large number of people every day at several locations. We shared a meal with people of all ages during our visit.
Many of the social problems stem from the priorities of the Colombian government as expressed in their budget: military spending receives 65% while humanitarian assistance gets only 5%. Among the many problems faced by the country are privatization of resources, closing of medical facilities, lack of education, malnutrition, continued violence and the reconstitution of the illegal paramilitaries as the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles) in Barrancabermeja.
We listened as the women of OFP spoke: “We didn’t raise our children for war”; “Walk away from violence and death”; ”Let’s make love to fear” and “We put our fears together and turned them into strength”. These are very strong committed women and they are dedicating their lives to brighten the future of their families and their country.
We visited with Maria Socorro, who is displaced with her children. She is the president of ASODESAMUBA, a 19-year-old association for displaced persons settled in Barrancabermeja. There have been 30 members of the organization assassinated. She said officially there are three million displaced persons in Colombia but since many do not register as displaced, the actual number could be up to eight million. The people are primarily displaced by military and paramilitary violence. According to Socorro there are an estimated 20,000 displaced families in Barranca. They receive no help from the National government because many Human Rights organizations are no longer recognized. “We must get all of our help from the International Community. Our strong efforts allow us to work with many other Organizations of Resistance. We meet every week and offer solidarity to our community and we know that we CAN say No to Violence.”
Socorro talked about Plan Colombia and how the fumigation of coca is contaminating their land, water and people. “Then the government sends the army to kill us. This is causing more social inequality and that is what is destroying us. Free Trade is impoverishing the already poor and only helps the capitalist. Small and middle size business people are not helped at all and the peasant farmers can’t compete. We will live hungrier and in more misery in the future than we do now.” Because of her views Socorro has a bodyguard during the day but lives in fear at night.
Each delegation takes a trip outside of Barrancabermeja. We took a three-hour ride in a water taxi on the Rio Magdalena to Morales. Next we rode in the back of a truck for two hours on a bumpy, winding road until we reached the gold mining community of Micoahumado. We listened to the people tell us about the years of fighting and displacement. Through solidarity within the local community and International Community, including CPT, the roads are now de-mined so they can travel again. Also, the guerrillas, paramilitary and military are not allowed in their community. We walked through their community including a hospital, a school and a cooperative that sells beans and coffee. The community wanted our delegation to have a fiesta to celebrate the four years CPT has been accompanying them. The next morning families and our delegation climbed in the back of a truck for another very winding bumpy road. We traveled to a river where the families can have outings. We had a great day playing in the river, listening to the leaders and enjoying a meal of sancocho, a Colombian soup. These were all activities they could not have done without the combined efforts of local and international organizations. We were told they had heard over the radio that the area would be fumigated in February or March. This last happened in October 2007. Now back home when we hear a plane fly over we wonder, “Is this their day”. Will their crops be destroyed, water contaminated and our new friends made sick? We are asking the US to stop the fumigation started with Plan Colombia.
An important aspect of each CPT delegation is the planning and performance of a public action. As we traveled and spent time listening to various speakers, we began to reflect on a possible issue for this event. After much discussion, it was a consensus of the group to focus on women in Colombia, with specific support of the Popular Women’s Organization. Using the theme “Una Voz para las Mujeres, Una Voz para Colombia,” (A Voice for women, a voice for Colombia) we gathered in a central park in Barranca for our action. The delegation members, team leaders, and long-term CPT members worked together to convey this theme to those gathered. We walked and sang, circling the perimeter of the park, carrying a cloth banner with the words of our theme painted on it, as well as other signs conveying our message of solidarity and support for the women of Colombia and the OFP. While members of our delegation sang and juggled, those gathered were encouraged to sign the banner with a note of support and encouragement. It was exciting to see how many stepped forward, accepted a marker, and knelt down to write on the banner. (This banner was later given to the OFP). As this was happening, other members of our delegation walked through the park and into the intersections to distribute bookmarks we had made that indicated that we, as members of the international community, stood in solidarity with women of Colombia and with the work of the OFP. The public action ended with a speech by the vice president of OFP, Jacqueline Rojas. While we know that those in the park witnessed our action, we are pleased that the message was further spread through a radio interview and television coverage.
Our delegation flew back to Bogóta and then on to our homes. We bring with us many voices and their stories. We also realized our media and our governments are not telling the citizens of the world what is happening in Colombia. We believe the voice of the women will be heard around the world. A voice for the women is a voice for Colombia.

Colombia: July 2009 (San Pablo)

CPT Delegation Report

San Pablo, Colombia (July 14-27th, 2009)

 

Background: Christian Peacemaker delegation members provide encouragement for individuals and communities experiencing violence, challenge violations of human rights and promote active nonviolence as a means of settling disputes. Christian Peacemaker Teams was invited to work in Colombia in 2000 by the Mennonite Church of Colombia; the main reasons for CPT involvement in Colombia being the high levels of human rights abuses perpetrated within the country as well as the nature of US and Canadian military and economic involvement in the country.

 

Delegation Members: John Volkening (CPT Delegation Leader), Roberta Bender, Gaven Betzelberger, Cornelius Deppe, Catherine Gutjahr, Helen Reed, Nicholas Swenson, James Thomas, Nathan Toews, Marta Santanilla (Interpreter), Laura Ciaghi (CPT Team Member), Chris Knestrick (CPT Team Member)

 

Bogota: July 14-15th

The team arrived in Bogota on July 14th and settled into a hostel for the night. The following morning the team began to meet with various organizations in Bogota connected with the work of CPT. The first meeting was with Felix Posado of CEPALC (Latin American Center for Popular Communication). Felix gave us a brief but comprehensive view of the population, resources, politics and essentially opened our eyes to the realities of Colombia. Some of the topics covered included militarization, illegal armed groups, presidential politics and elections, trade agreements and multinationals, narcotrafficking and the control and extraction of resources. Felix mentioned the importance of both “globalized solidarity” and “historic patience” with respect to understanding Colombia; Globalized solidarity essentially meaning the importance of international advocacy, and historic patience describing that the movement for peace and development in Colombia will require endurance and time. Felix emphasized three main points for us to take away from the meeting: stop US military aid, pressure Uribe’s removal and trial, and globalize advocacy.

We then met with Justapaz, an organization from within the Mennonite Church which has been focused on peacebuilding, reconciliation, and human rights since 1989. Justapaz works to equip churches to be sanctuaries of peace within their communites, and has also been foundational in the development of a legal right to conscientious objection for Colombian youth, who are obligatorily recruited for military service.

Before leaving Bogota, the delegation spent time dedicated to a discussion on undoing racism. CPT acknowledges that undoing racism and other isms is vital to the success of peacemaking work. CPT strives not simply to meet a quota of diversity, but rather to undo the underlying attitudes of power and privilege and therefore create a safe and open environment for all people.

 

Barrancabermeja: July 16-18th

The morning after our arrival in Barrancabermeja, the long-term team oriented us to Colombia, particularly the displacements and violence which resulted in CPT locating its base in Barrancabermeja. We discussed the processes of denouncements and “visibilizing” human rights abuses witnessed firsthand. Also we spoke that the economic, political, and military realities are linked intimately with the policies of the global north.

The team spent time meeting with  Francisco Campo, who filled us in on the history of the Magdalena Medio and the 2005 demobilization of the paramilitaries, as well as the recent resurgence of paramilitary activity in the area for primarily economic gain. When asked how he was able to sustain his work in the region, he left us with the following quote: “We don’t think [about the realities of Colombia]; if we did, we would leave.”

We spent the afternoon with the ACVC (Asociacion Campesino del Valle Cimitarra). The ACVC is an organization of campesino leaders which mobilizes campesino communities to demand their rights to peace and stability as small farmers. The ACVC educated us on the history of campesino mobilization in the area, including a pattern of persecution and broken agreements with the government. Small farmers who resist multinational development and displacement are unfairly labeled as guerillas and associated with the FARC or other guerilla groups.

 

San Pablo: July 18th-19th

An early morning ride on a Chalupa (motorized canoe) via the Magdalena brought us to San Pablo, where we quickly settled into the Programa (Programa de Desarrollo y Paz del Magdalena Medio) office. The Programa motto is “primera la vida” (“first, life”), and the leadership considers development to be the first step towards peace in the region of the Magdalena Medio. As one facet of their program for rural development, Programa works with traditional Coca farmers to encourage and support small farmers who seek to grow alternative and economically viable crops, such as cacao (chocolate).

We hustled off to a meeting with the OFP (Womeńs Popular Organization) on the outskirts of San Pablo, and were introduced to the women of the barrio (most of whom are displaced, and many of whom are heads of households). The OFP is a group of women that rejects violence in their communities and empowers vulnerable women to develop vocational skills and advocate for human rights. Since its foundation in 1972 in Barrancabermeja, the leadership and members of the organization have been heavily persecuted, and many of the leaders have been assassinated or disappeared.

Later we met with several organizations, including Youth Network, Women’s Network, Agrominero Federation of the South of Bolivar, Humanitarian Space of the South of Bolivar, Jesuit Refugee Services, the OFP, Programa, and Neighborhood Links. We gathered together to hear the roles of the various organizations within the community. During the five hour span of the meeting, we brainstormed ideas and heard feedback from the community about what sort of public action that CPT could plan that would be of benefit to their goals. Hearing from the leaders of the community was invaluable to CPT́s continued accompaniment of San Pablo.

 

El Campo (Cerro Azul, San Juan Medio, San Juan Alto): July 19th-20th

On the back of a crowded truck, the delegation made its way from San Pablo to a small farming community known as San Juan Medio. The community is supported in their cultivation of alternative food crops by Programa. The community leaders opened our eyes to their struggle to break the cycle of coca growing within a coca culture of the region. They were deeply discouraged by the frequent fumigations (three in the past year!) which deprived them of their food crops and their hope for becoming economically sustainable through cacao cultivation. The “venom” sprayed from US-funded airplanes leaves the landscape bare of vegetation and biodiversity, poisons the water supply, and is severely detrimental to human health. The fumigations are largely ineffective against coca production (only 20% of sprayed coca plants are destroyed), while vital food crops are devastated. Farmers who grow alternative crops are also denied reparations for sprayed food crops due to an overly complicated system for reporting inaccurate fumigations. The overwhelming message we received from the campesinos of San Juan Medio was that the fumigations are NOT used as a method for controlling the cultivation of coca, but rather as a tool for the displacement of small farmers.

In the nearby community of San Juan Alto, we met with the local Junta (council). The Junta told of their nine year history of displacements and their ever looming fear of being forced from their village. The small farmers can not gain deeds to the land that they farm, and are neglected by the provincial and national governments.

Arriving in Cerro Azul, many displaced members of the community met with us in the grade school. We heard a similar story from this community of frequent displacements. They also expressed their constant subjection to the injustices of military abuses of civilians (extortion, confiscation of personal property, etc.).

Following the meeting, Padre Rafael led us in a Catholic mass where we were invited to take communion.

 

San Pablo: July 21st-22nd

Following our processing time, we embarked on a truck ride back to San Pablo. We arrived safely to the OFP community kitchen, where the team split into two parts. The first section of the delegation attended a meeting with the Evangelical Association of the Magdalena Medio. It seemed clear that the focus of the evangelical pastors was on development in the region, and Laura was careful to clarify CPT́s mission of peacemaking in Colombia, not monetary assistance for development programs. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to hear from the evangelical leadership of the region. The other half of the delegation worked to prepare for the action.

The delegation reunited and rehearsed the public action. The focus of the action was sweeping away the violence and corruption of the area, while affirming their hopes for the region and giving thanks for the recent diminishment of violence. The action was attended by many of the community organizations and drew many onlookers as well. Although there was a lack of time for the delegation to discuss and prepare for the action, the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive, and action proved successful in many ways.

 

Barrancabermeja: July 22nd-23rd

The group took an early Chalupa ride to the Programa offices in Barrancabermeja, where we met with two leaders of a recently displaced community called Las Pavas. The leaders shared with us that their community had been illegally displaced by armed police, and that they were in great need of urgent action and support. They expressed lament for the loss of the land which they had cared for and cultivated for generations, as well as the devastating environmental impact of the large palm farming company which had bulldozed their lands. The delegation struggle to articulate a response, but we offered our support in the form of prayer, apology for our association with the global north, our names and addresses, physical embraces, and our commitment to advocate on their behalf.

The next morning we attended an action put on by the CocaCola employees on the Global Day Against the Politics of Multinational Corporations. The Juanistas (more on them below) and the CPT jointly accompanied the event, which consisted of burning abuses and injustices of CocaCola and asserting their desire for positive changes and their claim to human rights.

The delegation then met with Asodesamuba, which works with and advocates for displaced people. The organization has four main focuses: prevention and protection, humanitarian aid after displacement, health, food, education, and jobs, and the strengthening of the organization.

We then toured Barrancabermeja with anthropologist David Lopez, learning about the history of the Magdalena Medio region, its strategic importance, the Spanish, indigenous and afrocolombian histories, and the history of persecution of organized labor.

In the evening, we met with the Juanistas, a lively catholic order of nuns dedicated to supporting young workers and women. They believe that in order to accompany the poor in their struggle, they also must live in poverty.

The delegation spent the next morning with Sinaltrainal (International Union of Food Industry Workers), the leadership of which is primarily composed of CocaCola employees. This union is seeking to change the anti-worker policies of CocaCola and other multinational food companies. The union seeks to hold these businesses accountable to treating their employees with dignity by boycotting their products, negotiating reparations, and gaining international advocacy. Colombia has the highest percentage of union leader assassinations in the world, and Sinaltrainal has also suffered persecution and the deaths of many union leaders.

A leader of Pan, Paz y Vida (bread, peace, and life) cooked lunch for the delegation at the CPT team house, and shared with us the organizatiońs work of supporting women who are heads of their households, and often displaced. The program includes microloans and vocational training.

Before leaving Barrancabermeja, the delegation also visited the Legion de Afecto (Legion of Affection). The Legion de Afecto provides an environment for youth to express themselves via “alternative languages”. This expression takes the form of art, dance, and music, all of which are alternatives to the violence which grips the region.

 

Bogota: July 24th – 27th

Back in Bogota, the team met with Jennifer Henderson of the Canadian embassy. She was cordial and interested in our work and concerns. She explained how the Canadian embassy is understaffed and relies on information from NGOs who are active on the ground in Colombia. She also described a disconnect between the “silos” of the political section of the embassy and the “trade section”, and mentioned that as the FTA was being considered, the trade section would have to take greater responsibility for being accountable to human rights.

After entering the U.S. Embassy through several layers of checkpoints and security, we met with Carolyn Cooley. We were told that the embassy is the second largest in the world with 4,000 employees, second only to the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. The delegation shared with Carolyn the displacement of the Las Pavas community, our concerns regarding fumigations and “drug war” policy in Colombia, as well as our dismay over the assassinations of union leaders and paramilitary assassinations of community leaders. We also lamented the increase in displaced persons in Colombia and the continued increase in US military presence. Carolyn asserted that the US considers Colombia to be the “best foreign policy success wéve seen in the last ten years”. She further stated that the US did not acknowledge the presence of paramilitaries in Colombia today, but considers the recent violence to be perpetrated by armed criminal groups. We invited her to travel to meet the organizations and community members we had heard from, and she asked us to be proactive in contacting her if we had news of announced displacement s or illegal actions. She did seem willing to make calls on behalf of communities that are accompanied by CPT and at risk of displacement.

The delegation spent the next two days meeting together to both process the experiences that we had throughout the trip, and also to discuss our plans to share our experiences with our communities and elected government officials in the global north and advocate on behalf of the voices we heard in Colombia. During these days, we had the opportunity to share a mass and dinner with the Basilians, a catholic order located near the Candelaria region of Bogota that works throughout Colombia. We also heard from Javier and Johanna (our hosts in Bogota) about the extraction of Colombian resources by multinational corporations in a detailed presentation.

After saying our goodbyes, the delegation parted ways on Monday, July 27th.

Colombia: September 2009 (Las Pavas)

Campesinos and Trees Uprooted in Colombia 

Report of Christian Peacemaker Teams Delegation

September 22-October 5, 2009 

By George Meek, delegation member

 

“Please tell our story to the world,” pleaded Pedro*, a leader of the Campesinos’ Association of Buenos Aires (ASOCAB). He spoke to our CPT delegation in the displaced persons’ encampment in that remote and dusty town in the Middle Magdalena region of Colombia. This is the story: 123 families—about 500 people, including scores of children—had been working nearby farms in Las Pavas for many years, and were in the process of legalizing ownership, when they were driven off the land by court order on July 14, 2009. Since then they have no means of support.

 

Who seized the land? Subsidiaries of the Daabon firm, which is planting vast areas in oil palm trees, to be used in production of cosmetics and biodiesel (or agrodiesel as Colombian environmentalists prefer to call it, because they say it is not really eco-friendly). Since July 14, the companies have razed the homes of the Las Pavas farmers and turned the area into a wasteland.

 

Our seven-member CPT delegation to Colombia ranged in age from 27 to 73, and brought a breadth of faith perspectives and life experiences to the mission. We were well briefed in Bogotá and Barrancabermeja before we arrived in Buenos Aires. Pablo* of CEPALC (the Latin American Center for Popular Communication) told us that land concentration is increasing: 3,200 landowners have 53% of the land, while eight million campesinos do not own any at all. Pablo says peasants have been expelled from more than 7 million hectares of land since 1986, and the current government of President Alvaro Uribe—despite many promises—has not restored even 1% of the lands taken.

 

Victor* of the Mennonite Church in Colombia said that “under the current government, the doors are closed to reparations for human rights violations.” Representatives of the land rights group Sembrar (to plant) told us that farmers have been pushed off their land in Colombia since colonial times, and that currently 300,000 famers have less than one hectare. While the rich view land as a source of wealth, the poor see it as life itself. Under Colombian law, campesinos who work land that has been abandoned for a period of years can claim legal title to it, but that is often difficult to obtain, as the farmers in Las Pavas painfully discovered.

 

In torrid Barrancabermeja—a 10-hour bus ride down from chilly Bogotá—we learned from the CPT team that although killings and disappearances have declined, economic violence has intensified. They told us our visit to Las Pavas could be “the spark to light the pilot.” Representatives of the Program for Peace and Development of the Middle Magdalena (PDPMM) said 160,000 people in that region had been displaced in the last seven years, and 70,000 moved in from other areas. They said that mining companies and hydroelectric projects as well as the palm oil plantations are responsible for the forced displacement. 

 

PDPMM lawyer Ester* said campesinos began occupying Las Pavas in 1993. A decade later right-wing paramilitaries threatened them, but they remained on the land and in 2006 applied to the Colombian Rural Development Institute (INCODER) for eminent domain to confirm their legal ownership. [We later learned from INCODER that it was undergoing reorganization at the time, and the case was sidelined until 2008, when it filed the motion for the campesinos to get title.]

 

At the end of 2006, according to Ester, paramilitaries forced the peasants out of Las Pavas, threatening them: “We’ll kill you if you don’t go.” In 2007, the palm oil companies bought the property from the former landowner. In January 2009, the peasants, impatient for legal redress of their land claim, returned to farm Las Pavas until they were evicted by a judge’s order on July 14. The municipal police inspector executed the order, although Ester said it was illegal under Colombian law. Now, she said, motions for protection (tutela) are pending in the Constitutional Court. 

 

Susana* of the Women’s Popular Organization told us that women are threatened with forced displacement and murder of their leaders, who are accused of being guerrilla supporters. She criticized the government policy of giving land to multinational companies, which disrupts subsistence farming necessary for survival.

 

On September 26, after a five-hour boat ride down the Magdalena and a one-hour truck ride over a rutted track and pastureland, we reached the quiet (except for blasting stereos) town of Buenos Aires, on a branch of the Papayal River. It felt like the end of the world, with its dirt streets occupied by mules, pigs, and chickens—no trucks or cars, just a few motorbikes.

 

We met with the community in a campground of thatched roof and plastic tarp shelters on the edge of Buenos Aires. We learned that most of the families that had farmed Las Pavas lived in Buenos Aires and traveled to the fields from there, although about 15 or so had built houses or shelters on Las Pavas, which were destroyed after the eviction on July 14. One community member, Teodoro*, described the eviction in song upon our arrival. We saw a few family groups cooking meals at the campground and spending the night in hammocks, while most of the people were living in the town.

 

The leader of the Campesinos’ Association of Buenos Aires (ASOCAB), Pedro, says when they returned to Las Pavas in January of this year, they reported to the proper authorities, so they would not be considered invaders. They planted squash and plantain, and brought back their animals. When evicted in July, they were not allowed to harvest their crops. Pedro said their resistance has been peaceful, and “Buenos Aires is a laboratory for peace in the region.” He said it was ironic to see on television that President Uribe told the United Nations that Colombia is committed to protecting the environment, when the palm oil companies are clearly destroying it in Las Pavas.

 

Pedro’s daughter Maria*, a leader of the community women’s association, described the events of July 14: “They knocked down our water and food and made us leave.” Others said the police forced locks and put poison in the houses, and the families were offered a bribe to drop their legal action to prevent eviction. Sara* said: “We felt unprotected. The authorities should have protected us, but they protected the palm oil companies. They only let us drink from a contaminated pond.”

 

At dawn on September 28, the CPT delegation and members of the community hiked through the forest for 55 minutes to the site of Las Pavas. For many of them, it was their first visit back since the expulsion on July 14. We found a ranch house that was left standing; it is being used by the palm oil company, except for one room reserved for three women who filed a successful protection suit to be allowed to remain. (Legal efforts to extend that authorization to the rest of the community had proved unsuccessful.) The delegation presented the community with a flag it had made, with the legend “The miracle: returning to the promised land,” and depiction of the fish and crops that had been lost to the bulldozers.

 

Nearby, community members showed the delegation where every vestige of their homes had been destroyed, and huge trees—some perhaps 100 years old—had been felled to make way for the oil palm fields. We bushwhacked in the boiling sun through uncut areas near wetlands that were drying up, and could see the sharp contrast with the areas that had been leveled.

 

The displaced residents said authorities used the pretext of the lack of a census of pregnant women and mothers to evict them. In their words, “200 riot police came in. They burned and destroyed everything, even fish we had caught. They surrounded us and forced us into the house. They hoped we’d be aggressive, but we didn’t fall into that trap.”

 

Just beyond Las Pavas, some members of the delegation traveled on motorbikes to see more advanced environmental devastation, with loss of habitat for fish and animals that used to be hunted for food by the residents. A lake (Ciénaga La Escondida) was drained to make room for more palm. Government land officials were unable to explain how public land was sold.

 

On September 29, the CPT delegation traveled three hours by boat to the municipal seat, El Peñón, on the Magdalena River. We had expected to travel with a group of Las Pavas youth who were going to dramatize the community’s plight in the demonstration, but the larger boat needed to bring them was unavailable. In El Peñon, we met with the mayor who said 70% of the municipality’s land has been taken over by oil palm companies, and small farmers have to move to the cities. He said he is attentive to the situation in Las Pavas, and if INCODER and the court resolve it, the municipality will help re-establish the farmers.

 

After the meeting with the mayor, the delegation and Las Pavas leaders paraded through El Peñón singing “We Are Marching in the Light of God” and carrying posters such as “Give the land back to the peasants!” and “Woe to you who … add field to field (Isaiah 5:8).” In the main square we told the Las Pavas story in a litany, and illustrated it by three delegation members falling to the ground to symbolize dead fish, cattle, and cacao trees. The ceremony concluded with distribution of “seeds to symbolize hope” to the spectators, including municipal officials.   

 

Back in Barrancabermeja, the delegation heard from Lorenzo* of the Process of Black Communities that oil palm production has doubled in the last four years in the Middle Magdalena region, and a biodiesel refinery planned for Barrancabermeja will require 100,000 tons of palm oil per day. He said studies have shown that palm oil production can still be profitable while protecting farmers’ rights and the environment, but unfortunately corporate greed predominates.

 

German* of the Cimitarra River Valley Campesinos’ Association—who with other leaders had been jailed in an attempt to muzzle the group--said that in 2002 the government had approved a law for a campesino forest reserve of small plots, protected from consolidation and takeover, but suspended it the following year under pressure from the business sector and large landowners.

 

One might think that displaced peasants could make a decent living working for the palm oil companies. Not so, said Sister Tatiana of the Juanist Sisters: “They treat people like things.” The companies impose disadvantageous non-negotiable contracts with fines and penalties, and make workers pay for their own social security and tools. There is much hunger, poisoning by agricultural chemicals, and no training in occupational safety.

 

The CPT delegation managed to talk their way into the INCODER office and unexpectedly cornered its legal advisor. He said the agency is very aware of the Las Pavas case and tried to arrange a dialogue in August of the peasants and Daabon, but both parties declined to participate. The delegation gave him an advocacy letter, reporting on its visit to Las Pavas and urging INCODER to ensure that the peasants receive due process without further delay, and that there be full restitution and reparations if the case is decided in their favor.

 

In its final hours in Colombia, the CPT delegation drafted a similar letter to Daabon, calling upon the company to show its good faith by returning the land of Las Pavas to the peasants, and to cease large-scale palm oil exploitation on the site, restoring the damaged woods and wetlands insofar as possible.

 

The delegation left Colombia shocked to see how corporate greed and inadequate government protection had combined to uproot the people and trees of Las Pavas. These two problems cry out for correction.

 

*Names changed to protect the security of the people that spoke with the delegation.

Iraq: November 2009

Christian Peacemaker Teams - Iraq

Delegation Report - 7-21 November 2009

 

Table of Contents
1.  Introduction
 

2.  Amman

2.1.  Delegation Orientation
2.2.  CPT‘s Former Landlord  
2.3.  Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

3.  CPT-Iraq Team Orientation  

4.  The Prison Museum and Kurdistan Human Rights Watch

4.1.  Prison Museum in Silêmanî
4.2.  Kurdistan Human Rights Watch

5.  Barzan Cemetery
6.  Turkish Border Region
7.  Nature Iraq and the PCDK

7.1.  Nature Iraq
7.2.  PCDK

8.  Irani Border Region  
9.  Halabja
Appendix A  

 
1.  Introduction

We travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan to gain a perspective on the challenges facing people in
northern Iraq by meeting with representatives of NGOs and human rights groups, displaced
persons, and government officials. When the security situation in southern and central Iraq
deteriorated as a result of the 2003 US-led invasion, thousands of people who had been
displaced by the fighting fled to the KRG-controlled area in the north. More recently,
northern border villages have been attacked by Turkey and Iran’s armed forces. We also
participated in the work of CPT-Iraq‘s longer-term project of networking and human rights
reporting.
 
The delegation participants were Kathleen O’Malley (delegation leader), Mabel Brunk and
Harmeet Sooden.

2.  Amman
Dates: 8 and 9 November 2009

2.1.  Delegation Orientation
The day following our arrival in Amman, we held an orientation session. The topics covered
included our backgrounds, the delegation schedule (see Appendix A), security protocols,
understanding trauma, the process observer role, the important role of the UN in the conflict,
CPT‘s “undoing racism” programme and the delegation report.


2.2.  CPT’s Former Landlord
We then visited the home of CPT‘s former Baghdadi landlord, an affluent Christian
businessman. He told us of his near-abduction in 2004. The following year, his wife and
daughter were victims of an armed robbery. They relocated to Jordan soon afterwards. Now
his wife says, “I have no home.” They both believe that the US military has exacerbated pre-
existing sectarian divisions in Iraq and that living conditions in Baghdad are worse now than
under the despised Saddam regime. In 2005 he said, “Iraqi common sense will prevail in the
end.” He remains optimistic. He introduced to us a friend who was abducted by insurgents as
she was being evacuated from Fallujah and held for 18 hours in November 2004, just before
US bombing destroyed much of the city. She was working for a foreign embassy. While her
face showed no emotion, her clenched hands told of her untreated trauma.

2.3.  Iraqi Refugees in Jordan
We met with Ms F of the Women’s Federation of World Peace, an NGO that provides
development assistance to refugees. She introduced us to Iraqi families who have fled to
Jordan. They mostly represent Iraqis from central and southern Iraq, and are from diverse  
backgrounds: some well-to-do, some poor, some highly educated, some artisans and of
various religious affiliations. All agreed that the UN could do more for them. Unfortunately,
this delegation tried to arrange a meeting with a representative of the UNHCR as part of
CPT’s ongoing effort to influence UN policy—unfortunately we were unsuccessful this time.
 
The families’ tales are harrowing. We were told of a family that was forced to watch the
father being murdered, not by a gunshot to the head but with hammers and an electric drill.
Three of his sons were taken away and have not been heard from since. This is still
happening in Iraq (though security conditions have improved since the height of the
internecine conflict in 2006-7).  
 
We met a young man, Mr A, who is married with two small children. He survived a bomb
blast in a market in 2007. His wounds requiring nearly 20 operations are hideous: chunks of
muscle and tissue missing, so is his right eye. His “past” and health problems, however, are
not his main concern; he is more worried about food and security for his family. They are
struggling in Jordan where, like many Iraqis, they do not have refugee status.
 
We met a Shi'a family of academics originally from Basra. Ms Y has a PhD in Physics but no
job prospects. Her thesis is dedicated to her brothers, two killed during the Saddam era, two
in the post-invasion period. Referring to her current situation, she said: “We have suffered
from Iraq too much. This is slow die. This is only for my children—there is nothing for me.”
She truly believes that they were better off under Saddam.

3.  CPT-Iraq Team Orientation

Date: 10 November 2009
 
We arrived in Silêmanî in the afternoon. We were introduced to the Team, given a brief
overview of the Team‘s work in Iraqi Kurdistan and discussed the delegation schedule.
 
After the CPT hostage crisis was resolved in 2006, CPT-Iraq left Baghdad and soon
thereafter relocated to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Team is currently involved in documenting
human rights violations against civilian populations and advocating for the rights of displaced
persons. CPT recently published their findings in a report entitled “Cross-border bombings
and shellings of villages in the Kurdish region of Iraq by the nations of Turkey and Iran”.  
 
4.  The Prison Museum and Kurdistan Human Rights Watch
Date: 11 November 2009

4.1.  Prison Museum in Silêmanî

We visited the Prison Museum in Silêmanî, originally a prison where the Saddam regime
incarcerated and tortured the Kurds. These crimes are uncannily similar to those being
committed at prisons like Abu Ghraib and Guantànamo. We were also joined by a woman
whose son was tortured and killed here. All she received in the end were her son’s torn
clothes. At the end of the tour we were told that the husband of our translator, Ms P, was
interned in this very prison. We were invited to her home for dinner later that evening.
 
Western governments were aware of these atrocities and continued to support the government
that committed them.

4.2.  Kurdistan Human Rights Watch

We met with Ms V of Kurdistan Human Rights Watch. This organisation provides an wide
range of services: women’s prison vocational training, a legal aid centre, a protection
assistance centre in Kirkuk, health clinics, rebuilding homes, water projects, awareness-
raising about women’s rights. The commitment of the KHRW staff is inspiring. We in the
West could learn much about anti-patriarchal strategies from women’s groups in Iraq.

5.  Barzan Cemetery

Date: 12 November 2009
 
We visited the Barzan Cemetery. The remains of several hundred of the Barzani clan who
were executed by the Saddam regime were exhumed and reburied here. Bodies are still being
relocated to their homeland from other parts of Iraq. The cemetery is not only a memorial to
the suffering of the Kurdish people but also a commemoration of the resilience of this
Kurdish clan that came under especially harsh treatment at the hands of the Saddam regime.
The cemetery has a wider significance for us: it symbolises the futility and horror of war.

6.  Turkish Border Region
 
Dates: 13 and 14 November 2009
 
We visited two Kurdish villages, Bamarnê and Trwanish, near the Turkish border that have
been affected by Turkish artillery barrages and aerial bombardment, and the activities of the
Turkish military operating from bases inside Iraqi Kurdistan. This trip was part of CPT’s  
ongoing project of documenting the human rights situation in Kurdistan. The villagers want
the KRG to facilitate the removal of all Turkish bases from their lands and press all foreign
countries to stop interfering in their affairs. Turkey is a key US ally.

7.  Nature Iraq and the PCDK

Date: 15 November 2009

7.1.  Nature Iraq
We visited Nature Iraq in Silêmanî. Their mandate is to improve the capacity of Iraq‘s
institutions to protect the environment by providing scientific expertise and raising
environmental awareness in general. Nature Iraq believes that Iraq is facing an environmental
crisis of proportions far greater than that of the security situation: while the world‘s focus is
on security in Iraq, more deaths are caused by environmental factors. The environmental
concerns are double: natural and political. Firstly, Iraq is currently affected by drought.
Secondly, Turkey, Syria, Iran and even different regions within Iraq are engaged in a “war on
water”, all vying for control over water resources.  

7.2.  PCDK
The team invited to the CPT apartment two women who are members of PCDK
(Reconciliation Democratic Party of Kurdistan), a legal party in Iraqi Kurdistan that speaks
on behalf of the Kurds of Turkey. They explained that the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party)
continues to be outlawed in Turkey even though it now advocates a peaceful resolution to the
problems between the Turkish Government and the Kurds of Turkey. It demands that the
Kurdish identity be recognised in the Turkish constitution: the right to speak their language in
public institutions and full civil rights as Turkish citizens. It is listed as a terrorist
organisation by a number of states and organisations, including the US, UN, NATO and EU.
They claimed that while many Turks wish to resolve the “Kurdish question”, there is no such
will in the Turkish Government. When asked what the US could do for the Kurdish people of
Turkey, they answered with a proverb: “Don‘t make trouble for us, and we won‘t need any
help.”

8.  Irani Border Region

Dates: 16 and 17 November 2009
 
We travelled to the Irani border region to investigate how Irani military activity is affecting
villagers in the area. The area was heavily mined during the Iran-Iraq war. We visited an
Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Zharawa set up by UNHCR. The villagers have
fled their villages as a result of shelling (rocket fire) from Iran. Their living conditions are
very poor. We then went to one such village, Kani Spi, which has been attacked as recently as  
August of this year. Some say that Turkey provides aerial surveillance intelligence to Iran.
Iran‘s attacks are sometimes immediately preceded by over-flights by Turkish planes.
 
The mayor of Choman, founder of the Soran Association Care for the Handicapped
(SACH), hinted that Turkey and Iran are trying to handle the PKK in much the same way as
the Saddam regime tried to with the Peshmerga: instead of addressing the genuine concerns
of the Kurds, the regime attempted to destroy the popular base for the Peshmerga,
culminating in the al-Anfal Campaign. The Peshmerga sustained by the productive and
mountainous terrain continued to fight.
 
The villagers are asking the KRG for compensation to cover damages, investment in
infrastructure and services, and to bring about the end of Turkish and Irani military activity.
The Kurds fear the withdrawal of US troops from central and southern Iraq and also the
Syria-Turkey-Iran alliance against the Kurds.

9.  Halabja
Date: 18 November 2009
 
The delegation visited Halabja, a town that was attacked with chemical weapons by
Saddam‘s regime in 1988. Thousands of people were killed instantly, their bodies disfigured
to the point of being unrecognisable. We heard the testimonies of several survivors. The
stories and images of the incident are affecting. Irani soldiers (Iran was at war with Iraq)
saved the lives of many Halabja residents.
 
All the people we spoke with mentioned that the Saddam regime produced and used chemical
weapons with US support and approval. A further insult to them was the US government‘s
attempt to use the Halabja tragedy to justify its illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Nevertheless,
they were grateful that the US had ousted the Ba'athist regime. Their future is precarious and
they are under no illusions about US designs in the region.  


Appendix A
Table 1:  CPT Iraq Delegation November 2009
Tentative Schedule – Draft 3

Tues 10 Nov

Afternoon - arrive Suli 4pm; orientation to house; settle in

Evening - worship; review schedule; meet with team

 

Wed 11 Nov

Morning - Bazaar; change money; prison museum

Afternoon - vist Kurdistan Human Rights Watch

Evening - worship; debrief; prepare for trip

 

Thurs 12 Nov

Morning - travel to Barzan

Afternoon - visit cemetery

Evening - motel in Amedi

 

Fri 13 Nov

Morning - travel to Kane Mase via Bamarne and Turkish military base

Afternoon - visit Merkegia; meet with Muktar and families

Evening  - motel in Amedi

 

Sat 14 Nov

Morning - travel to Erbil/Hawler

Afternoon - vist Citadel; return to Suli

Evening - worship; debrief trip

 

Sun 15 Nov

Morning - visit Nature Iraq

Afternoon - meet with mountain folk

Evening - worship; debrief; prepare for trip

 

Mon 16 Nov

Morning - travel to Zharawa

Afternoon - visit IDP camp; hear stories of refugees

Evening - motel in Rawandez

 

Tues 17 Nov

Morning - travel to Kani Spi, meet with Muktar and villagers

Afternoon - return to Suli

Evening - worship; debrief trip

 

Wed 18 Nov

Morning - travel to Halabja, visit memorial

Afternoon - hear stories of chemical attack; return to Suli

Evening - worship; debrief trip

 

Thurs 19 Nov

Morning - worship; debrief delegation

Afternoon - depart Suli 1 pm

 


Iraq: October 2011

Iraq Delegation Report October 12-25, 2011

 

CONTENTS

I.  Introduction

II. Istanbul Orientation

III. Southeastern Turkey

a. Diyarbakir

b. Cizre

IV. Iraq-Turkey Border Regions

a. Zakho

b. Grebye

c. Merkegia

V. Barzani Graveyard

VI. Iraq-Iran Border Region

a. Kani Spi

b. Ranya/Sunnah/Zherawa IDP Camp

VII. Suleimaniyeh

a. Shanidar Cave

b. Nature Iraq meeting

  c. The Suleimaniyeh Protests

d. Suleimaniyeh – Old and New

e. Amna Suraka tour

VIII. Istanbul Final Debriefing

 ***************

I. Introduction

 Between the dates of October 12-25, Christian Peacemaker Teams delegates Gerald Paoli, John Beal, Rachel Stacy, and Patrick Maxwell traveled through Turkey and Iraq in an effort to understand and record the difficulties faced by the Kurdish peoples of that region. Throughout the delegation opportunities were also presented to understand the present plight of the Kurdish people in context with the past; in particular with the oppression of the Kurds in Saddam Hussein’s Al-Anfal campaign in the late 1980s.

With members of the CPT-Iraq team, delegates interviewed village leaders, met with representatives of local and international NGOs, and toured notable museums and landmarks. Roles were divided among group members, with John as Media Coordinator, Rachel as Worship Leader, Patrick as Writing/Log Coordinator, and Gerald as Team Leader. The role of Process Observer was shared among all delegates.

II. Istanbul Orientation (October 13-14) 

With the exception of Gerald, who’d arrived two days previously, the delegates flew into Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on the afternoon of October 13th. After convening at the airport, we took a taxi to a hostel in the Sultanahmet district, where we would stay for the next two nights. Over dinner, we held a beginning orientation session and took some time to get to know each other, focusing on our respective backgrounds in peacebuilding and our motivations for working with CPT.

The next morning (Oct. 14th) we had time available for sightseeing, and we took the opportunity to visit the Hagia Sophia and Istanbul’s tourist quarter. Back at the hostel, we discussed cultural norms in Iraq and Turkey and assigned group roles (listed above). After a short break, we continued our orientation with a worship session, a discussion of CPT’s sexual harassment policy, an intro into CPT’s past and present work against oppression, and a brief discussion of the delegation schedule.

 On the morning of October 15th we boarded a plane out of Istanbul’s Gokcen Airport to Diyarbakir, where we would meet up with CPT-Iraq team members Lukasz Firla and Stefan Warner.

III. Southeastern Turkey (October 15-16)

To gain a wide-ranging perspective on the problems faced by the Kurds, it was necessary to experience the situation in southeast Turkey. The Kurdish language was banned in Turkey until 1991, and Turkish law continues to outlaw the use of Kurdish in public places and schools. The government refuses to recognize the existence of Kurds as an ethnic minority.

a. Diyarbakir

After meeting Lukasz and Stefan at the Diyarbakir airport, we traveled by bus to our hotel. We walked around the city to get a sense of the massive encampments of Kurdish refugees and the working poor. 

Later, we met with a human rights activist who is affiliated with Amnesty International. She shared her own struggles with the Turkish government and with poverty and social issues among the Kurdish population of Diyarbakir. She was arrested in 2009 and was accused of being a member of an armed terrorist group, despite the fact that her work is entirely non-political. She faces a possible sentence of 18 years. She believes that the government is targeting her for her work with the Kurdish population, and told us that such arrests are commonplace.

b. Cizre

The next morning (Oct. 16th) we awoke early and boarded a bus to Cizre (pronounced JEEZ-reh), another Turkish city close to the Iraqi border.

While the CPT team had arranged for us to meet with the director of the Kurdish cultural center, when we arrived in Cizre, our friend was visiting his sick mother in another town. He arranged for a friend of his who spoke English to meet up with us at the cultural center and translate for us while the director traveled back to Cizre. This friend of the director was a pharmacist nearby and spoke of his nervousness carrying out the request of the director. He feared that he would lose his job if he was observed by the government as being in support of the cultural center.

While we waited for the director to arrive, we were entertained by the youth of the cultural center. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the children sang joyous songs of Kurdish nationalism which was illegal and could cause trouble for the children and for the center.

Once our friend the director arrived we were able to learn about the struggles of the Kurdish people in south eastern Turkey. He emphasized that, in Cizre, armed groups such as the PKK (The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a pro-Kurdish militia currently on the US and EU terrorist lists) are often hailed as freedom fighters opposing the repressive Turkish government. As children reach their teenage years they are in danger of arrest if suspected to be supportive of Kurdish culture. Over 200 children between the ages of 11 and 18 were estimated to be currently in jail for acts of Kurdish nationalism such as speaking Kurdish in public, singing Kurdish songs, or writing the Kurdish language in school. In response to this oppression, many children choose to join groups like the PKK. Approximately 15-20 youths are estimated to leave the city of Cizre each day to join the PKK fighters in the surrounding mountains.

IV. Turkey-Iraq Border Region (October 17-18)

Cizre was our last stop within the borders of Turkey. Next, we crossed the border into Iraq, met up with the rest of the CPT-Iraq team and visited several villages close to the Turkey-Iraq border that have experienced cross-border shelling and bombing in the past several years.

 a. Zakho

After meeting up with the rest of the CPT-Iraq team, we found a hotel in the Iraqi town of Zakho where we spent the night. The morning of October 17th was spent debriefing our experiences in Turkey and orienting ourselves to the Iraq situation. We discovered that as a delegation we felt a sense of relief being in Iraq after the tense situation in Turkey.

b. Grebye

The first border village we visited was Grebye, a small town situated around a Turkish military base. We spoke to the mukhtar (mayor) of Grebye; and another family of the village. Both the mukhtar, the mukhtar’s wife and the village family informed us that, although the village itself has not been bombed, Turkish forces in the area have been targeting the surrounding mountains where PKK members are suspected to operate. People in the village are afraid and unhappy with the presence of the military base. Children in the village heard the sounds of military activity throughout most nights.

c. Merkegia

Another friend of CPT, agreed to host us in his home in his village of Merkegia. Merkegia is an Assyrian Christian village situated in a predominantly Muslim country. Our friend expressed his desire to welcome all his neighbors in to his house: Muslim, Christian, Kurdish, Iraqi.

We stayed there for two nights (October 17th and 18th).  During our stay, we heard our friend’s perspective on the history of the region including his experiences with the Turkish government and with Saddam Hussein. We were also blessed with a tour around his beautiful fruit orchard that displayed century-old grape vines/trees that had miraculously escaped the decades of shelling. Our friend showed us the village spring and the vast orchards of the village that were heavy with apples, grapes, and quiche. We learned from our friend that there is not a market for these fruits. These economic realities paired with the regular shelling of the region keep the village children away. Our friend’s wife and family lived in another town as he stayed to tend the land.

In our explorations we also unexpectedly came across a local graveyard for members of a local armed group.

 V. Barzani Graveyard (October 19)

On our way from the Turkish-Kurdish border to the Iranian-Kurdish border, we stopped at a graveyard where anonymous Kurdish people are buried. In the Al-Anfal, Saddam evicted between 8,000 and 10,000 Kurdish men and boys from the surrounding region, marched them to the south of Iraq, and tortured them,  executed them, and buried them in mass graves.  This event was part of a larger campaign that cost the lives of over 180,000 people and destroyed nearly 5,000 villages. Some remains of those killed were eventually exhumed and brought back to this graveyard, where they were re-buried. We held a short worship service in commemoration of those killed by Saddam Hussein and for those who survived the terror and live to pass on the memories.

 VI. Iran-Iraq Border Region (October 19-20)

While the Iran-Kurdish border villages face similar conditions as the border villages along the Turkey-Kurdish border, remnants of the Iraq-Iran war add the complications of landmines and current political upheaval complicate the U.S.’s involvement in this area.

a. Kani Spi

On the evening of the 19th, we stopped for a few hours in the village of Kani Spi near the Iranian border. We had planned on spending the night there but security concerns expressed by our hosts prompted us to leave early.

In Kani Spi, our friends described for us their lives; they intertwined their longing for a productive harvest and good education for their children with reports of Iranian shelling and the deactivating of landmines. The father of the family with which we shared a meal had lost a leg to a landmine and expressed his frustrations with the constant fighting between Iran and Iraq.

We shared a beautiful meal with our friends made from delicious simple food of the village. At one point during our visit we shared  moments of common humanity by exchanging heirloom seeds from the U.S.A. with our friends and receiving traditional Kurdish seeds to bring back home.

b. Ranya/Sunnah/Zherawa IDP Camp

We had planned on spending the night of the 19th in the town of Rayat, but our contact's wife was having a baby, so we instead spent two nights in Ranya at the Rayal Cultural Center . We were hosted by friends of CPT.

During these two days, we visited Sunnah, another village that had been the target of Iranian shelling. The village of Sunnah had recently returned from an IDP camp and were working on bringing in the harvest and repairing the village. We witnessed the damage of the shelling on the village and we spoke to members of the local school who had picked up where the last year’s lessons had left off.

We also visited the Zherawa IDP Camp. Since the inhabitants of Zherawa had been prohibited from building permanent structures, most had returned to the dangers of their mountain border villages or sought housing from relatives in the cities. Two elderly families had refused to leave and when they were the only two families left, the government had granted them permission to build permanent homes. We visited with one of these families and listened to their continual challenge to get support for water and power amenities.

 Back in Ranya, we were invited to dinner at the Rayal Cultural Center with the mayor of Ranya. At this dinner we were able to persuade the major to support the two families at the Zherawa IDP Camp and we were also invited for lunch at the major’s house near Dukan the next day.

VII. Suleimaniyeh (October 21-22)

We spent the final two nights of our delegation, before our flight back to Istanbul, at the CPT house in Suleimaniyeh. We were blessed with the opportunity to visit several historical landmarks in the area and speak with individuals who had participated in the protests in Suleimaniyeh between February and April of 2011.

 a. Jasena Cave

On our way to Suleimaniyeh we stopped at Jasena Cave, the home of the first non-state-controlled newspaper during the Kurdish revolts against the British occupation of the 1920s. After exploring the cave and the surrounding mountains, we held a short worship service.

b. Nature Iraq meeting

Anna Bachman, an employee of the environmental NGO Nature Iraq, agreed to meet with us to give us a portrait of the environmental situation in Iraq. She emphasized a lack of water treatment plants, dearth of environmental education, and environmental damage caused by war as the most grave threats to Iraq's ecology.

 c. The Suleimaniyeh Protests

A friend of CPT and lawyer in Suleimaniyeh, spoke with us on the afternoon of the 22nd about the protests in Suleimaniyeh between February and April of 2011. He shared with us his suspicions that the few violent moments of the otherwise-peaceful protests were instigated by members of the KDP political party as a ploy to destabilize Suleimaniyeh and allow them to assert military control over the district. The Suleimaniyeh governorate is currently controlled by the PUK party, a rival of the KDP.

This man, who was very active in the demonstrations and represented several of those arrested in the protests in court, received several threats from KRG security forces, who instructed him to cease his activities. Despite the threat, he remained active, and was shot in the foot two months later by an unidentified hitman. A friend of his, along with a bystander, were hit with bullet fragments in the same incident. Since the shooting, he has received several more threats and has attempted to keep a low profile for the safety of himself and his family.

d. Suleimaniyeh – Old and New

We walked around Suleimaniyeh to see the square where the protests had taken place and to get a sense of the city. Parts of Suleimaniyeh represent an older time where torture and terror was imparted by Saddam’s Regime onto the Kurdish people. Other parts of Suleimaniyeh represent the hopes of the people; the hopes to become an autonomous Kurdish nation, the hopes for freedom of expression and speech and the hopes to be a city known internationally for its ideas and beauty. While the protests were shut down in June, small initiatives by politically active students continue. For example the Cultural Café, which was under renovation when we visited, hosts the emergence of ideas and discussions that represent the future of Suleimaniyeh.

e. Amna Suraka Tour

As our final outing in Suleimaniyeh, we visited the Amna Suraka museum, a former prison that has since been converted to a commemoration of the 180,000 Kurds killed under Saddam Hussein. During our tour, we met a man who had been imprisoned there thirty years ago, who walked the prison with us and offered us a uniquely personal account of the horrors that the prison held.

VII.    Istanbul Final Debriefing

At 3:00 on the morning of October 24th, the four delegation members took a plane from Suleimaniyeh International Airport back to Istanbul, where we stayed until our flight back to the States. While in Istanbul we held a final debriefing session, talked about the things we most appreciated about each other, and caught up on sleep.

 

Palestine: March 2008

Report of CPT’s Israel-Palestine Delegation, March 4-17,2008

by Michael Kochowiec

Flags are flying everywhere. It is a joyful celebration of 60 years of the founding of the state of Israel and it is an extraordinary accomplishment. The economy is thriving, the construction boom continues, the experiment in democracy in a Jewish state is working (sort of). It is admirable that such diverse people from far flung corners of the world have created a functioning, well-run nation. But our delegation experience also exposed an underbelly of this creation, a flip side that we understand not many Israelis experience, know about or want to know about: the debilitating consequences of the occupation of the West Bank since 1967.

It is also 60 years of survival in the Deheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. It is Bedouins being uprooted, unrecognized, having their homes demolished. It is the exercise of power run amuck: of declaring the Bedouin villages illegal and bulldozers coming every six months to demolish several homes at random, only to have the villagers promptly rebuilt them. Does this serve the security of Israel? Four Palestinians who were on a wanted list were summarily executed by the Israeli army on a street in Bethlehem while we were there in Deheisha refugee camp. It is the military taking over a house, herding everyone into one or two rooms and using the rest as a lookout and a military outpost.

An Israeli soldier of 17 or 18 has immense power over the day to day life of the occupied Palestinians. He can order a grandparent of 70 or 80 to stand and wait for an hour or eight, or whatever his pleasure. He can declare an area a “closed military zone” and keep people out. The army blocked a road to At Tuwani, in south Hebron hills, to stop all vehicular traffic to and from the villages. Just a few days before we arrived there, the villagers managed to clear the block and now enter and exit until the soldiers block it again. People told us of being imprisoned for years without any charges or trials.

In Hebron a settler child age 10 -12, eyes full of hate, pushed over a 70 year old man in our delegation and then picked up a rock to throw at us. On another occasion, a settler boy kicked a CPT woman and then threw a rock at her with a soldier standing by taking no action. A Palestinian child throwing a rock or kicking would be arrested and imprisoned, and most likely labeled a terrorist.

There are 700 checkpoints between Palestinian villages which can be bypassed on roundabout roads which wind around hillsides and are in terrible shape How does this serve as security for Israel? Our trip from Hebron to a nearby suburb, which should have taken 15 minutes in a public bus, ended up taking 1 hour in a private taxi and almost three times longer in distance because the army that morning decided to close one road leading to the village. When settlers attack Palestinians, a “closed military” zone is declared and Palestinians are not allowed in, but the settlers can continue as before.

When his house was demolished for a second time, our host Atta, handed his baby to a soldier saying, “I now no longer have a home, you take care of him”. For this he was arrested and imprisoned. Much of his brother’s and father’s land was taken over by the settlers, who are even now trying to drive him totally out. A settler who shot and injured his son was punished with three days in prison.

Of course there is the wall, the cursed wall snaking into Palestinian territory dividing families, communities, land from workers, children from parents, encircling or dividing villages. It is creating hardships which are difficult to imagine. Palestinian society is based on close family ties which stretch out to a large extended family. The wall is making it most difficult to maintain these ties. It has nothing to do with security, but everything with grabbing land and extending the settlements.

Hebron has 500 Jewish settlers scattered in a half dozen settlements being guarded by 3000 soldiers. The main street in the old city is closed to Palestinians, essentially cutting the city in two. This is so that the settlers can move freely among the settlements and to the synagogue.

At At Tuwani, soldiers are escorting Palestinian children to school in a convoy to keep them safe from the settlers who in the past have hit them and thrown stones at them. They also attacked and beat international observers. I have just learned that a few days ago, soldiers failed to escort the children and the settlers stopped them and beat up the international observers.

I was moved by the hospitality of the Palestinians. They welcomed us, shared their food and their homes with us. The Deheisha refugee camp family, having suffered so much, expressed hope for the future. One of our host’s brothers was killed in the siege of the Church of the Nativity, another was deported to Gaza; still, he expressed hope that one day the nightmare will end.

There are two parallel road systems in the West Bank: paved, well maintained roads for the Israeli settlers only and pot-holed, winding, not maintained roads for the Palestinians. The Palestinian roads are blocked at intervals so that the cargo and people have to change vehicles. How does this serve to secure the nation of Israel?

An Israeli woman who was scheduled to give us a settler perspective, living in the Ephrat settlement in the area of east Jerusalem, had just lost her son in the killing of the 8 students in West Jerusalem. We joined her in mourning. What a senseless loss of life, a 16 year old that held such promise, a good, moral, kind, decent person. But what did not come out was that in the last few days over a hundred were killed in Gaza, many of them children. Likewise good, moral and kind people. When will revenge stop and sanity begin?

We met many decent, moral and kind Israelis who are voicing their concerns about the occupation and taking part in actions of various kind. But it is not enough. Too many choose not to know. A reminder found at the entrance to Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum in Jerusalem), “A country is not just what it does, it is also what it tolerates” is a saying that contemporary Israel should heed.

The last day of our delegation was Palm Sunday. A small group of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals with banners painted with the wall and the words,”where could Jesus go”, gathered in Bethany (which is on the Palestinian side of the wall) and following in the footsteps of Christ, walked toward Jerusalem and up to the check point by the wall. Immediately a military jeep with several soldiers drove up to the wall and an officer came out to warn us to disperse. We ignored him and he finally said that we had to leave or he would tear gas us. We continued for a while but eventually left and regrouped in a nearby church yard only to be followed and carefully watched by the machine-gun toting soldiers and again we were told to leave. Christ walked from Bethany to Jerusalem, but today the way is blocked by a 26-foot wall. One last act, we carried that same sign in a Palm Sunday procession from the Mount of Olives to the old city in Jerusalem.

[Members of CPT's March 4-17 Palestine/Israel delegation are Karen Anderson (Garfield, MN), Lowell Anderson (Garfield, MN), Dennis Becker (Garfield, MN), Steve Bontrager (Dundee, OH), Bruce Borland (Lake Forest, IL), Loretta Kaufman (Freeman, SD), Roy Kaufman (Freeman, SD), Michael Kochowiec (Walnut Creek, CA), Sarah MacDonald (Iowa City, IA), Destinee Parris (Raymore, MO), Marilyn Tisserand (Garfield, MN) and Sari Vilen (Dundee, OH).]

Palestine: March 2009

Christian Peacemaker Teams

Delegation to Israel and Palestine - March 17-30, 2009

Daily Log


Delegation members: Naifeh Aljebrin (London, Ontario), Julia Bridges (Kankakee, Illinois), Stephanie Epp (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), Sarah F (Portland, Oregon), Karen Hernandez-Anderson (Sudbury, Massachusetts), Aart Hoogcarspel (Zwolle, Netherlands), David Maher (Brookfield, Massachusetts), Catherine Rabenstine (Chicago, Illinois), Caitlin Robertson (Eugene, Oregon), Maarten van der Werf (Zwolle, Netherlands), Joseph Wyse (Columbus, Ohio). Leader: Char Smith (Gibson City, Illinois).

Wednesday, March 18
Day One


Arrival in Jerusalem, travel to guest house in Beit Sahour, introductions and begin orientation

Thursday, March 19
Day Two


Bethlehem area.

Wi’am: Name means “cordial relationship”, similar to “agape” or “harmony.” Christian, community-oriented, seeking to understand and meet current needs to improve life during Occupation. Work with families, women and children. Perspectives on how ongoing trauma affects children (e.g., the story of the boy and the marbles), and how women are affected by and deal with the Occupation (the women’s co-op). Seek to “Empower the weak, bring the strong to their senses.”

Holy Land Trust: Nonviolence training for any/all, regardless of religion or age. (Volunteer/Intern opportunities.) Peaceful Muslim-Christian neighbor relations. Peace-building program, including projects in schools and demonstrations. Emphasis on cultural identity, theory and practice.

Badil: Common misconception that the situation is "complicated" (there are lots of details, but it is very straightforward). Root cause is Zionism (the idea that one people exclusively belong to the land). Refugees. Negev. Israel’s approach is what must change.

Deheisha Refugee Camp:
Event – memorial-type service for people killed 60 years ago. Walked through camp. Stayed as guests overnight and heard family’s story over dinner. Purchased embroidery handmade by women living in the camp.

Friday, March 20
Day Three


Morning: return from Deheisha, meet to check-in and debrief, plan for action.

Rapprochement Center/IMEMC: George gave us history and overview of organization. Twenty years old and includes 3 departments: Community organizing, Alternative travel, Media. Presented detailed maps showing how much land is left for Palestinian people over the years, and the wall’s effects (e.g., village of Qalqilya).

Action: Joined women and families in Mothers Day march against the wall. Various observations of and interactions with Palestinians and IDF members.

Afternoon: Free time.
Evening: Debriefing, life stories (Karen, Julia)

Saturday, March 21
Day Four


Morning: Aheeb’s school (Mothers Day celebration).

ARIJ: The Israeli Civil Administration is a branch of the military. Two kinds of settlements: strategic, and bargaining chips. Nonstop settlement expansion since 1993, and noncompliance with the Annapolis agreement in Nov. 2007 to stop settlement activity. The E-1 Plan (Jerusalem) - one neighborhood would break geographic contiguity of the West Bank.  Gaza - 62 sq. km, 71.5 million people (about 12,000 people every sq. km).

Afternoon: Traveled to Hebron and toured the town. Visited Il-Ibrahimi Mosque, went through checkpoints and the souq, all surrounded by settlers’ houses. Souq is lined with netting above to prevent shoppers from being hit by objects thrown from settlers above (bottles, cement blocks, etc).

Evening: Dinner with Zleeka, team process discussions, worship.

Sunday, March 22
Day Five


Morning: Abdulhadi Hantash of the Land Defense Committee. Four steps: 1898 (Bell Conference, Switzerland), 1948, 1967 and now. Israel's goal of expansion. Bypass roads called "clean roads." 22-25% of housing units in most settlements are empty. 475,000 settlers on West Bank aquifers (while his family pays $100/month for water).

Afternoon: Travel to At-Tuwani, orientation to the area by CPT full-timers, stay with Hafaz, hear his perspectives on violence and nonviolence.

Monday, March 23
Day Six


Morning: School patrol (no extra problems this time), breakfast at Hafez’s, team meeting and scheduling with Sarah (full-timer), tour of Tuwani with Sean (full-timer), life stories (Char, Aart).

Afternoon: Hear from Keefa about women’s co-op, shop, hang out with full-time team.
Six delegates (and three full-timers) travel to Tuba and Maghear Al-Abeed.

Afternoon school patrol: soldiers failed to complete escort, settlers were present and visible to the children, who then ran home a different way.

Tuesday, March 24
Day Seven


School patrol and going with shepherds.

Back to Hebron.

Hospital: Funded by zakat (Muslim practice of giving to charity). One-third of the Hebron population is in this southern area, where there is 1 government hospital and 2 private hospitals (but a greater need). For 200,000 people this is the only Emergency Room available.

Check-in and process time

Wednesday, March 25
Day Eight


Morning: Worship, visit Zleeka’s kindergarten.

Hebron Rehabilitation Committee: Renovations - 850 apartments (resulting in 4,500 coming back to live here). Rebuilding is done traditionally, according to international restoration standards. Job creation (preparing for rehab, labor).
Visit buildings, park near mosque.

Afternoon: Free time.

Spend the night with Jamal's family in Beit Umar and Atta Jabar's family outside Hebron.

Thursday, March 26
Day Nine


Lunch with Abdulhadi, visit his office.
Travel to Bethlehem (House of Bread), free time.
Dinner, Sarah's life story, worship.

Friday, March 27
Day Ten


Jerusalem.

ICAHD Tour:
80% of checkpoints are not border checkpoints, they are within the West Bank. 95% of house demolitions have nothing to do with terrorist or anti-occupation threats. Israel's idea of "security" is not about physical security, but the security of a Jewish State of Israel. Palestinians are one-third of the population of Jerusalem; only 5-8% of the municipal budget goes toward them. Two-thirds of Palestinians in Jerusalem live below poverty level; 50% don't go to public schools (and of those who do, 50% drop out).

Sabeel (“The Way”)
: One must combine religion and activism, cannot separate this from policy and structural injustice in order to peacefully affect change.

Dinner BBQ at Naifeh’s home.

Saturday, March 28
Day Eleven

Tent of Nations:
Non-violently resisting by farming on family land. Family has papers from Ottoman Empire proving ownership of land (not common). Tent of Nations is proud to be an organization that works directly with the land, rather than simply lecturing. They conduct youth camps as well.

Through another checkpoint to Jerusalem (Golden Gate Inn)

Women in Black:
part of delegation attended demonstration

Breaking the Silence:
Presented in 2005 an exhibition in Tel Aviv of photography by Israeli soldiers in Hebron, "the story of the occupation through the eyes of the occupier". Discussed desire to force a public debate through personal testimony.

Sunday, March 29
Day Twelve

Free time in Jerusalem.

Palestine: May 2008

HOLY SITES, CULTURE AND HOPE IN THE HOLY LAND

Report of the May 31-June 9, 2008 Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Palestine/Israel

by Cherice Bock

“I'm here to visit holy sites and learn about the culture,” we said upon arrival in the Holy Land. And visit sites we did. The fourteen members of our delegation — individuals from Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Italy — have visited more areas of Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories of the West Bank than most living Palestinians. It is ironic that our foreign passports allow us to travel almost freely in the West Bank, while those with Palestinian IDs must receive special permission to travel outside their village or town.

 

We traveled to holy sites. We visited the Al Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, passing through three checkpoints with armed soldiers and metal detectors to see the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs. (Since the 1994 massacre of dozens of worshiping Muslims by a Jewish settler, this mosque is half-synagogue.) We saw Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the most holy Muslim sites outside Mecca, in which most Palestinians under 40 years old and living outside Jerusalem have never been able to worship because they can rarely obtain permission to visit Jerusalem. We also visited Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, where tourists unload by the busload in this West Bank town just long enough to light a candle, then are swept back onto the bus to stop for souvenirs at an Israeli-run gift shop. Tourism used to be a thriving Palestinian economy in Manger Square, but now most shops struggle to survive. We saw the Wailing Wall on a holy day, Jewish families dressed up to pray together for the restoration of the Temple. We walked on paving stones dug up from the streets Jesus walked. We visited the Mount of Olives and the place where Jesus wept for Jerusalem, and many times we wanted to weep for Jerusalem and all her children.

 

We also learned about the cultures. Some of our most cherished memories are of the families we met and stayed with, their hospitality, their joy and hope in the midst of despair. We stayed with families in At-Tuwani and villages nearby, some of them in caves inhabited by their families since well into the Ottoman Empire. These caves are in danger of demolition by the Israeli army because they were not built with a building permit! One family's outhouse was demolished for lack of a permit. Permits cost $1500 (US), and Palestinian requests are routinely denied. We stayed with a family in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron whose home is overshadowed by an Israeli settlement. On many holy days, settlers amass outside Palestinian homes and attack them, destroying property. Video footage can be seen on B'Tselem's website (http://www.btselem.org/english/Video). Settlers also throw stones at their Palestinian Tel Rumeida neighbors and threaten them verbally and physically. Tel Rumeida is the area where Abraham is said to have lived in Hebron. Soldiers stand by watching settler violence, unless Palestinians fight back. We stayed with a refugee family in Deheisha, a refugee “camp” since 1948. Palestinians fled their homes when violence erupted, taking their house keys and very little else. They have not been allowed to return, violating international law's declaration that refugees have the right to return to their homes. Sixty-year-olds have been refugees their entire lives.

 

Along with visiting holy sites and learning about the culture, we participated in actions. We went to Um Salomona, a village outside Bethlehem, to participate in a weekly demonstration against the Wall with the Holy Land Trust (http://www.holylandtrust.org). Demonstrators used to go to the site where the Wall will be built, but weekly the Israeli army has pushed back the demonstration site farther and farther from the actual building site, preventing many from attending the demonstration as well as destroying its symbolism. Internationals and Israelis stood in solidarity with Palestinians, but it is the Palestinians who should receive the badge of bravery: internationals and Israelis risk very little being there because Israel does not want the bad press their injury would cause. Internationals and Israelis can return home to safe places after the demonstration. Palestinians, however, must live in this situation day in and day out.

 

An impromptu action occurred when we came upon a checkpoint one day where a normal roadblock to traffic was elevated to a blockage of even pedestrian traffic due to an Israeli bicycle trip. We happened on the scene in our red CPT hats, trying to figure out what was going on. We asked a few questions of the soldiers, and before we knew it an armored vehicle forced people to move back, soldiers waved guns, and a member of the delegation was detained for 20 minutes or so. Now, at home, we might have roadblocks erected due to a bike race, but there would be major differences: the roadblocks would be advertised ahead of time, detour signs would clearly mark ways around the race, pedestrian traffic would not be totally blocked, and the people in uniform would not be soldiers and would not carry automatic weapons. They would answer in a friendly manner questions about the bike race, when the road would be open, and so forth. Our presence in this situation made the soldiers nervous so they backed people up farther than before and called in more soldiers. Our presence showed up the injustice and complete silliness of the situation so that the soldiers felt they had to make an even stronger show of power.

 

We also witnessed an incredible amount of hope. We returned home from this delegation with anger and frustration at the unjust ways people are treating other people, but we also have hope for a peaceful resolution to this conflict. The Palestinians we met are ready and eager to work in nonviolent ways to show up the injustice of the situation in which they live. They have hope and determination to work for a resolution to this conflict, although they do not have overly optimistic expectations: one man we met said he expects peace, but he does not expect it in his lifetime. He thinks it will come in his grandchildren's lifetime. And yet he still works tirelessly for nonviolent change. We also met Israelis who are working on behalf of the Palestinians, to effect change in their own government so that human rights are observed. Two such organizations with whom we met are Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolition (http://icahd.org/eng/) and the Bereaved Families Circle (http://www.theparentscircle.com/). Another organization with whom we did not get to meet is Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers who speak out about the way soldiers are asked to act toward Palestinians during their service (http://www.breakingthesilence.org).

 

International cooperation is perhaps not completely necessary in this situation—the Palestinians are quite capable of taking care of themselves. And yet international solidarity with the Palestinians brings them hope to continue working in nonviolent ways, and helps the nonviolent actions to be effective by getting stories and pictures out to the rest of the world. Internationals and Israelis can also work in ways within the country that Palestinians cannot, such as accompanying people past illegal settlements in relative safety. Palestinians have requested CPT's presence in Hebron and At-Tuwani, and other places would love to have teams in their area. The work CPT does in Hebron and At-Tuwani is incredible and appreciated and is only limited by the number of team members available.

 

As people of faith, those of us on the delegation felt called to take a first step to put our belief in peacemaking in action in a conflict zone. Jesus calls us to “the least of these” (Mt 25:40), to those marginalized by their societies, to stand up for the oppressed, to take good news to the poor and bring hope to the world (Lk 4:18-19), to overcome evil by remaining firmly fixed in the good (Ro 12:21). Many of us from the delegation hope to continue working with CPT in the future in order to answer this call. Do you feel that same nudge? What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?

[Members of the delegation were Anthony Antoniades (Corning, New York), John David Ashworth (Newmarket, Ontario), Cherice Bock (Newberg, Oregon), Henry Dick (Bloomington, Illinois), RolfeEvans (Saffron Walden, United Kingdom), Jeanette Hernandez (Chicago, Illinois), Wendy Love (West Bath, Maine), Vaughn Miller (Hesston, Kansas), Samuel Nichols (San Diego, California), Pieter Niemeyer (Stouffville, Ontario), M. Brooke Robertshaw (Logan, Utah), Ross Weaver (Bloomington, Illinois) and Courtnay Wilson (Dundas, Ontario).]

Frequent Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Delegations 

  1. What is the purpose of CPT delegations?
  2. What will we be doing?
  3. Who joins CPT delegations?
  4. How risky is a CPT delegation?
  5. Does a CPT delegation require special training?
  6. Does the delegation meet beforehand and travel together?
  7. What kind of qualifications do I need to join a delegation?
  8. Do I have to be a Christian to join a CPT delegation?
  9. What is nonviolent direct action and what role does this play in a CPT delegation?
  10. Why do you ask for a media support person on the delegation application, and what does that person do?
  11. Why do you ask for a congregational contact, and what does that person do?
  12. How do I raise funds for a CPT delegation?
  13. What happens if I have to withdraw from the delegation, or if CPT cancels a delegation?

 

1. What is the purpose of CPT delegations?

As part of CPT's ongoing experiment in faith-based, active peacemaking, delegation members provide encouragement for individuals and communities experiencing violence, challenge violations of human rights, and promote active nonviolence as a means of settling disputes.

Delegation participants seek to:

  • gain a sound understanding of the situation through visits and discussions with grassroots leaders, community members, church and human rights workers, legislators and officials;
  • support movement towards nonviolent change through listening, dialogue and public actions (as appropriate);
  • reduce violence by providing an international presence in affected communities/areas;
  • identify ways in which CPT or churches/organizations with whom participants are affiliated may support the work of nonviolence.

Delegation members are expected to participate fully in the activities of the delegation including daily worship and reflection times, assist with a variety of leadership roles within the team, give a voice to the concerns expressed by local people, and report back to churches and/or community groups upon return.

Participation in a CPT delegation also serves as the first step for individuals who would like to pursue the process of becoming a member of the Christian Peacemaker Corps. A delegation experience allows both the prospective Corps member and CPT to test whether there is a mutual "fit", and it provides context for reflection during training.

 

2. What will we be doing?

The delegation is both education- and action-oriented. You will attend a number of meetings with human rights workers and others impacted by the violence to get perspective on the current situation. If CPT has a long-term team in the area (e.g. Palestine, Colombia) part of the time will be spent with them, and you may have an opportunity to join in the team’s accompaniment work. In most cases you will plan and carry out a nonviolent action. For more details, look at past delegation reports.

 

3. Who joins CPT delegations?

Carpenters, farmers, college students, health care professionals, community organizers, religious sisters and brothers, college professors, seminarians, pastors, teachers, peace activists, church members, and people from many other walks of life. The minimum age is 18, and no upper age limit exists – we have included individuals into their 80s. Because of certain physical rigors in most project locations and intense schedules, you have to have good health and stamina. You don’t have to be Christian to join a delegation.

 

4. How risky is a CPT delegation?

CPT’s mission is to go into places of conflict around the world. Most of CPT’s delegations are to places where an active conflict is taking place, as in the Middle East and Colombia. The U.S. State department warns travelers away from these areas. Therefore, we want you to take the risks seriously, and you are asked to sign a statement of responsibility. In part this reads:

"I am aware that I am entering a situation that may be tense at the present time and that there may be danger of war or other violent conflict occurring while I am there. ... I understand that I could be imprisoned, taken hostage, injured or even killed. I understand that in cases of hostage-taking or kidnapping it is CPT’s policy not to pay ransom and to reject military or violent approaches to resolving the matter. I also understand that access to health care facilities, adequate shelter and food may be difficult on occasion. ... I assume and accept full responsibility for any risks of personal injury, illness, damage, imprisonment or other deprivation that may occur as a result of my participation in this program including, but not limited to, the risks described above."

In CPT’s history we have had a delegation in Iraq kidnapped, and one long-term CPTer who was with the delegation was subsequently killed. We have had members of CPT in Palestine beaten by settlers. Delegates have been hit by stones or spit at. While we have not had delegation members in Palestine or Colombia seriously injured, no one can predict the future. Conditions change on the ground and we listen to the counsel of our on-the-ground teams. If our long term team advises that the security situation has deteriorated to such an extent that it would be unwise to send a delegation, we would cancel the delegation. More common, however, is that the delegation would take place but the itinerary would be adjusted to safely accommodate the changing situation

 

5. Does a CPT delegation require special training?

No, we do not require special training before you participate in a delegation. Delegates are briefed by the leader or long-term team members on security concerns before going into tense situations (e.g. the countryside in Colombia, school patrol in Hebron, a nonviolent action). CPT’s month-long training is specifically for those who have applied to join the Christian Peacemaker Corps as full-time or part-time (Reserve) members. A delegation is the first step in joining the Peacemaker Corps; training is the next step. Corps members commit to a 3-year term of service.

 

6. Does the delegation meet beforehand and travel together?

No. We usually arrange tickets from the departure point that is most convenient for you. Our announcements for international delegations say that travel from a designated North American city is included in the amount you are asked to raise. Chicago and Toronto are often the “designated cities” on which we base those costs. If your departure city requires a connecting flight above the range of our “designated city” we will ask you for extra funds to cover the connecting flight. Usually delegates are on several different flights that arrive in the destination city within a few hours of one another, and you meet up with the rest of the delegation in the airport (e.g. in Bogotá or Tel Aviv.) If you are coming from countries other than Canada or the U.S., you will make and pay for your own flight arrangements, and we deduct the round-trip airfare from the amount we ask you to raise. For delegations that travel to projects and locations within the U.S. or Canada, you are usually asked to make your own travel arrangements.

 

7. What kind of qualifications do I need to join a delegation?

There is no specific checklist of credentials that we use to screen applicants. A person’s strength of commitment is considered as much as experience. In addition, we look for interest and/or experience in:

  • cross-cultural work and human rights
  • commitment to and/or experience with nonviolent action
  • commitment to undoing racism
  • and willingness to engage in public witness and team worship.

Usually a delegation includes people with range of experiences, from college students to persons with decades of experience in nonviolent action. As a delegate, you should begin making plans to share about the trip upon return to your home community and congregation. Minimum age is 18; there is no upper age limit. Usually, some physical rigors are involved as well as a very full agenda, so general good health and a certain level of physical stamina are required.

 

8. Do I have to be a Christian to join a CPT delegation?

Christians and non-Christians join CPT delegations. Worship/reflection times will normally be part of a delegation’s routine and are led by delegation members that are willing to take this role. These times can vary from structured liturgies with scripture readings, songs, etc., to reflection on readings from many sources either sacred or secular, to silent meditation. Delegates should be aware that some team members will choose to lead a worship that is outside their own tradition. CPT encourages delegates to be open to receiving the gifts of every member of the team! Those who take the next step in CPT involvement and join the Peacemaker Corps include those who identify as Christian as well as associate members who adhere to other faiths/spiritualities. 

9. What is nonviolent direct action and what role does this play in a CPT delegation?

This term covers a range of symbolic public witness events that may include prayer vigils, street theater, processions or other kind s of "demonstrations." In the West Bank, CPT delegations have planted olive trees, harvested wheat and removed roadblocks. In the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, they have painted crosses on the border wall and participated in a 6-day walk along a major migrant route. All of these are nonviolent public witnesses or actions that challenge violence or structural injustice. Sometimes participants in nonviolent actions plan to engage in acts of civil disobedience (purposefully breaking the law to intensify the witness.) Most CPT delegations do not plan civil disobedience actions – although some may include this option. Almost all actions contain some risk of confrontation. Prior to an action, delegation members talk together and with the local team about risks involved and choosing their roles. Almost all CPT delegations plan some kind of nonviolent action; however sometimes it is not possible to fit one in, or a planned event may not be carried out if, in consultation with local partners, it seems that an action would be more harmful than helpful to the local community.

 

10. Why do you ask for a media support person on the delegation application, and what does that person do?

We ask delegation members to list a "media support person" on their applications because spreading the word about what you see and hear on the trip is a very important part of peacemaking. We want you to take media work seriously and we give you some ideas on how to do this with orientation materials. The media support person can help you make appointments with media or set up presentations both before and after the trip. That person will also be on the list to receive any e-mail articles that come from the delegation during the course of the trip. She or he can then forward the articles to local media, ideally adding a line or two that draws attention to the fact you are participating. It’s helpful if you have also given your media support person biographical information and perhaps photos that can be sent to media. Although many delegates take on the task of setting up their own interviews and presentations, it is really helpful to have someone else who can be the media contact while you are away. Occasionally, when big news happens, the media support person can be very important in fielding media calls. The media support person does not need to be a journalist or media professional, just someone who is a bit resourceful, committed to dedicating some energy to the task, and willing to send a news release to a few of your local media outlets.

 

11. Why do you ask for a congregational contact, and what does that person do?

We do not require that you be a member of a particular church or religious community. However, since CPT works through various church connections to get the word out about what we do – including the connections that delegation members provide – it is helpful for us to know when you are part of a congregation. It’s also a piece of information, like your summary of experience, that helps us to know you better. Your congregational contact will be on an e-mail list to get articles during the course of the delegation, and ideally she or he can then pass along news to other interested members of the group. In the case of major news, someone from the CPT office will communicate with your contact by phone, and then he or she can inform others in the congregation or group of need for prayers, etc. If you don’t belong to a church or other faith community, you may list a contact for another group in your home community that you are a part of (local peace group, etc.).

 

12. How do I raise funds for a CPT delegation?

CPT depends on the contributions of many supporters to carry out our common peacemaking ministry. Each person who joins a delegation is part of extending that circle of support, so we encourage delegates to try to raise funds from supporters to cover the cost of their participation. People are often happy to contribute toward your participation in the delegation when they know they aren’t in a position to go themselves, yet they believe in the cause. Donations are tax-deductible in the U.S. and Canada.
CPT has a limited amount of financial assistance available to include participants of diverse backgrounds in our delegations. Preference is given to individuals whose communities also lack financial resources to support them in this work. Contact CPT for details.

Here are some ideas for fundraising:

  • Home Congregations: Individuals have received significant financial aid from their home congregations. CPT participants have helped interpret their experiences upon return to their home congregations and have served as resource people. Prior to their participation with CPT, they’ve kept churches updated and have spoken to the congregation about their plans. Participants have had their CPT ministry added to the church budget, have received financial help from individual members, or have taken up an offering for the peacemaking work.
  • Fund-raising Letters: Nearly everyone who has worked with CPT has sent fund-raising letters out to family and friends requesting prayer and financial support. This strengthens the CPTer’s emotional and prayer support.
  • Fund-raising Concerts: One CPTer discovered that a couple local musicians were interested in donating their musical abilities and time to help raise funds. She planned a coffeehouse with them, providing donated drinks, coffee, and cookies. After the musicians sang, she presented a slide show and told about her work in Hebron. She raised around $750 in this event. Another two CPTers got in touch with a singing group that was willing to donate their time. Again, after the group sang, the CPTers talked about their work in Haiti. They raised about $1000. These events can be publicized through contacting local churches and asking them to put information in their bulletins, as well as through distributing fliers, contacting local media, etc.
  • Matching Funds: Families have offered "family matching funds" where they agree to match every dollar that comes in for their relative's support. One CPTer's family owns a small business which sent out fund-raising letters with their business catalogs. For every dollar that comes in, the business matches it up to $10,000.
  • Fund-raising Sales: Bake sales have worked well. Another CPT member makes pottery. He produced and sold "peace pottery" for $50. Each piece included a slip of paper that said what the "peace bowl" or "peace cup" symbolized.
  • Fund-raising Walks: One participant organized a peace walk. He mapped out a three-mile course at a local park, made a sponsor sheet on his computer, then asked people to either walk with or sponsor him. He made over $1000, and suspects that more could be made with further promotion.
  • Fund-raising Dinners: Put on a fund-raising meal featuring food typical of the area you're traveling to. You may include a short presentation about the situation that CPT is addressing there. Invite a CPTer or former delegation participant to speak at your event.
  • Pledges of Support: Some people wish to support a CPTer's work but they don't have the funds immediately available, so they commit to pay a certain amount on the CPTer's return.
  • Denominational Funds: Certain church denominations, district or conference level committees or special programs offer funds for volunteers doing peace work. Check with your local congregation about these possibilities.

 

13. What happens if I have to withdraw from the delegation, or if CPT cancels a delegation?

Various situations may arise that lead a delegation member to withdraw from a delegation before it takes off.  On the other hand,  CPT may cancel a delegation because lack of applicants or due to security or other concerns regarding the situation on the ground.  The points below cover CPT’s practices regarding fundraising expectations and allocation of raised funds. It is generally CPT’s preference to encourage the applicant to consider a later delegation and to use the funds raised to support a later delegation.



a. Processing and cancellation fees. When the delegate withdraws less than three months before the delegation, $50 of the raised funds will be allocated to program overhead costs and are not available for re-allocation for a later delegation. If tickets have already been purchased the applicant is expected to raise funds to cover the cost of the ticket or the ticket cancellation fee (as determined by the airline) and these funds are not available for re-allocation.  If CPT cancels the delegation, all the funds will be available for re-allocation. 

b. Delegates’ own donations. In the event that the applicant has contributed his or her own funds in support of the delegation costs and is not able to join a later delegation, he or she should consult with CPT staff about the allocation of raised funds. Unless otherwise specified, the funds will be considered undesignated CPT program funds. 

c. Donations from supporters. When a delegate raises funds among supporters, it is the delegate’s responsibility to inform donors that he or she has cancelled out of the delegation or that the delegation has been cancelled by CPT, and that the funds will either be applied to a support future delegation or go to support CPT’s general program (as the applicant specifies.)

d. If the delegation has already entered the country and delegate(s) are expelled during the course of the delegation, or if for any other reason the delegation experience is cut short (illness, unsuitability of the delegate, etc.), no funds will be reallocated.  An exception will be made if the delegation leader has determined that the delegate is unsuitable within the first two days of the delegation.  In this case, half of the funds for on-ground expenses will be available for reallocation. The delegate should consult with CPT staff on this point.  CPT (in the person of the on-ground delegation leader, preferably in consultation with the CPT Delegations Coordinator or other CPT Support Team members), reserves the right to determine the suitability of the delegate for delegation activities at any time during the course of the delegation.

e. Funds raised in excess of the suggested goal will either be applied to a future delegation or go to support CPT’s general program (as the applicant specifies). No return of excess funds will be made to the delegate or any other donors.

Special Delegations

 Guidelines on Special Delegations


Christian Peacemaker Teams regularly schedules delegations to areas where we have long-term projects and to selected other areas as the situation demands.  From time to time we get requests from groups or individuals who would like to organize a “special” delegation in conjunction with CPT.  These special delegations can attract  people who might not otherwise have considered a CPT delegation, plant seeds for a CPT regional group or denominational sponsorship, and put CPT’s message before a new audience.  These guidelines outline under what conditions CPT will consider facilitating these delegations.

1.  A proposal is invited 6 to 12 months  in advance of the anticipated delegation date. CPT’s delegation coordinator will consult with the on-ground team regarding the scheduling of special delegations.  Some delegation time slots (e.g. summer) may not be available for special delegations.
The proposal may include:
A. A description of the organization or person submitting the request.
B. Reasons that support why a special delegation is desired (i.e. why it would be preferable to members joining regularly scheduled delegations.)
C.  Naming a  “point person” to be responsible for recruiting and pre-screening applicants and one who can serve as delegation leader or co-leader on the ground (may be different persons.)  Consultation with CPT will be helpful regarding expectations when appointing these individuals.

2.  The facilitating organization/person will submit a tentative list of participants 4 months in advance of the proposed delegation date.  Except in special situations, a minimum of 8 firm applications, each accompanied by a $250 deposit, should be in hand at least 3 months in advance of the proposed delegation date.  $50 of the deposit is a non-refundable processing fee. Later applications will be accepted as space is available.  If there are fewer than the specified number of applications in hand (normally 8) at this time, plans for the special delegation will be cancelled. The delegation may then be opened to others (as a regular delegation), or applicants will be encouraged to consider a regularly scheduled delegation instead.

3.  The proposing organization and participants are expected to have serious interest in the issues related to the delegation.  Delegates should be clear that active nonviolent peacemaking, as well as education, is the goal of the trip. They should have plans to communicate about the experience with local congregations, groups and the media upon return.

4.  CPT’s delegation coordinator (staff) will be responsible for the final screening and acceptance of delegation members.  In the event an applicant is not accepted, his or her application deposit will be returned in its entirety, and he or she will not be counted among the minimum number of delegates. As with other delegations, CPT’s on-ground delegation leader (in consultation with CPT staff) reserves the right to determine the fitness of delegates for delegation activities during the course of a delegation, and may ask a delegate to leave at any time if his or her behavior is considered seriously detrimental to the delegation or poses a security concern.

5.  The cost of special delegations will be the same as a regular CPT delegation.  The organization will collect initial deposits, forwarding them with the applications to  the CPT office.  CPT will order airline tickets and provide a cash advance to the delegation leader for covering on-ground expenses.

6.  In general, the special delegation will be similar to “regular” CPT delegations in terms of orientation materials, support from the CPT office, the role of the CPT team in set-up, etc.  If the proposing organization/person has suggestions of special groups or sites to include in the delegation itinerary, they may be suggested to those responsible for doing set-up;  however the delegation agenda will not normally differ radically from that of a “regular” CPT delegation,  including a nonviolent action component. The CPT delegation coordinator (staff)  will work with the person named by organization/person as on-ground leader or co-leader to clarify leadership expectations.

Why do a delegation?

 

A Delegation's impact continues long after the delegation ends....

 

A young Colombian conscientious objector who worked closely with a CPT Colombia delegation:

To Our Friends in CPT: We are the young people of the earth who go through the world with hands united. We do not want another war to poison the night and darken the days.
...
We want to recognize the work of men and women in other parts of the world that with your support contribute to the building of a better world. To our CPT friends who visited us in the first week of October we want to say thank you for getting to know our work and for spreading it to the world, thank you for strengthening our faith and hope and showing us that we are not the only ones who are struggling. Thank you for the bonds of friendship that we have created and that foster learning and create ideas for change. As Sister Teresa of Calcutta said: At times we believe that we are doing is only a drop of water in the ocean but the ocean would be less without it. To everyone a thousand thanks! May God bless us and strengthen us to continue building the kingdom of justice and peace that God has promised us.
...
Fondly, A Youth of Barrancabermeja

 

From a Colombia delegation participant:

I've spent a lot of my life like an ostrich, burying my head in the sand, not wanting to see or get involved in what was going on in the world. I thought it would be too much for me to bear so I blocked it out.

In Luke 6 there's a story of Jesus in the synagogue on the sabbath teaching, and there is a man whose right hand is withered. Jesus tells the man, "Come and stand here." This guy probably thinks, what can I do, I've got a withered hand. But Jesus tells him to stand up and draw attention to himself in this intensely political situation. Then Jesus says to the crowd, "I ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" That story keeps coming into my head since my participation in the Colombia delegation. There is no third option. The personal is political. What am I doing every day, with every decision--am I doing good or harm?

In Colombia a decision to start a soup kitchen could cost you your life. Because it is a political decision. And then even in Colombia there are people who are trying to mind their own business and have nothing to do with politics, but often they have no choice. Their son is shot for no reason, dressed up like a guerrilla and photographed by the army who needs to make its quota that month.

I don't believe we have a choice either. Over and over again we were told this is your war too. As consumers we perpetuate the violence of starvation and displacement in much of the underdeveloped world with what and how much we buy. When I tell myself I'm not political I lie to myself but I don't lie to God or even the rest of the world. After seeing what I've seen I can no longer be silent or complacent. I've seen their faces, I've heard their stories: the children in the soup kitchen, the campesinos struggling to rebuild their lives after two displacements, the youth who don't want to be forced to fight in the war that has already hurt their families so much.

In a community assembly we attended, a campesino asked us what we were doing there and how we were going to help. It is not a question that is going to go away. I pray that together we can answer it.

 

A member of an Arizona Borderlands delegation wrote six months after her experience:

I really thought that the trip was mostly over when I left Tucson. Some processing, some increased interest in the issues, maybe some speaking. I was unprepared that the Borderlands issues would take on a life of their own within my life. I have been invited to speak at a variety of venues, mostly church-related, and have addressed people of all ages, genders, mostly white, but some diversity of ethnic backgrounds. I have spoken at peace vigils, [men's and women's] groups in a variety of churches. I have spoken to my district board of ordained ministry.

I had to learn to use powerpoint. I had to learn to address these issues to groups with different viewpoints, some unknown. I had to learn how to adapt the issues for different settings and timeframes. ... I have a lot to learn, but I have also learned alot.

Thank you [to the delegation leader] for making these issues accessible and intelligible to me and the rest of our group. I have done a few small things, and I am sure that you have no idea how important or far-reaching that the work you did with our delegation is. I have speaking engagements scheduled [for the next two months]. The challenge now is to figure out how to integrate the experience with the rest of my life!