Thursday, May 8, 2008

What am I doing going to Colombia?

I am about to leave a great life in San Francisco to spend a year in a country most people associate with drugs or guns. I imagine you might have a few questions about that, so below are answers to a few of those:

What will I be doing, and what’s the point?
To begin, a definition: I'll be volunteering as an "International Human Rights Accompanier." There's a good bit of scholarly theory on the purpose of accompaniment, but, in short, international accompaniment reduces risk of attack both because of the immediate shaming and intimidating effects of the presence of a “high-status” outsider and because of the political pressure that the volunteer, connected to an international network, can bring to bear against the aggressor. Accompaniment is also an encouragement and a show of solidarity with the community.

I’ll be working with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an interfaith, multi-issue, pacifist organization. Its Colombia Peace Presence project has two teams in Colombia. The first consists of three volunteers living in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartad√≥, a community actively working for peace. Volunteers are witnesses to their life in the village and through their presence deter the armed groups in Colombia’s civil war from violating the human rights of the community members. There is also a team of two volunteers in Bogota, from where FOR reports to the international community about the Peace Community, as well as works with other Colombian efforts to achieve peace, such as peasant and conscientious objection movements.

I fully acknowledge that accompaniment presents a bit of a paradox: my privilege, based on a system of racial and cultural hierarchy that I disavow, helps keep me safe, even while I am taking on a role of solidarity. I do wrestle with this contradiction, and will like write more about it as I carry out my work in Colombia. For the time being, I will say that the role of the accompanier is not to enter people’s lives with an agenda – a way to change, educate, or “help” the community. We come with humility; the community members are the ones who are doing something amazing and we are there simply to support them in their project.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Moira's leaving - let's party!

I'm leaving San Francisco on May 31st to spend (at least) a year in Colombia as a Human Rights Accompanier with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. (That's Colombia the country, not the university. And they are spelled differently, too!)

There will be three - count em, three! - going-away events for your (and my) enjoyment. A lot of partying, you might think? Perhaps, but they're all a bit different and spaced throughout the month of May, so I'm hoping you can come to more than one! If you can only make one, though, I hope it's the one on May 12th, because that will give you the best sense of what exactly it is I'll be doing in Colombia and why I'm going.

And without further ado, the details:

May 12 - Film screening and bar hangout
@ Make-Out Room
3225 22nd St. (between Mission & Valencia), SF
I'll be screening "Hasta la ultima piedra," a great film about the community where I'll be spending a good bit of my time in Colombia (don't worry, there are English subtitles), and then answering questions/talking a bit more about my work. I'll also be asking for donations to FOR and the work I'll be doing.
There'll be a bit of food, plus happy hour specials 'til 8! This is open to the public, so if you have folks you think might be interested (or just want a drink at the MakeOut room), bring 'em!

May 17 - East Bay BBQ
@ the Blue House
3208 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley
The typical backyard bbq thing. Please bring items for grilling and brews for drinking. Kids, dogs, etc. welcome!

May 30 - Final Night Bash (and garage sale - see below for details)
@ my house (at least until the next day!)
1578 Treat Ave, SF
sale: 6pm
party: 8pm-?? (though you know me, I'm not great at staying up until the wee hours)
I leave the next day, so this is the final deal, folks.
About the garage sale: I have to fit all the stuff I'm not bringing to Colombia in a few boxes, so lots of things (clothing, bike stuff, etc.) have got to go! Prices will be low, with proceeds going to Fellowship of Reconciliation, the organization I'll be working with in Colombia. Come early if you want the good stuff!