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 Apartadó, 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.