For more than fifty years Colombia has been ravaged by an armed conflict that has impacted the lives of millions of people. Despite a peace deal with the FARC guerrillas, there has been an alarming increase in attacks against human rights defenders. CAFOD’s Laura Ouseley meets Liney Contreras, one the women who is speaking out.
“When I was younger I wanted to be a teacher” says Liney. “But that all changed. After the attack I wanted to be more dead than alive. My dreams went out the window.”
Liney Contreras, from Colombia, is telling me about the moment her life changed forever when she was just 16 years old. She was in Medellin to register for university, walking with two friends when a car bomb went off. “I lost my right arm and broke my leg in the explosion. I spent 6 months in hospital.”
Olwen Maynard is a member of the Asia and Middle East team. She tells us how bringing young people together in Lebanon is helping to build trust among local people and Syrian refugees.
There’s been a lot of heart-searching in this country about taking in Syrian refugees, and how many would be our ‘fair share’. Something we tend to forget is that most displaced Syrians are still in the Middle East region. Lebanon, a small country with a population of about four million (half that of Greater London), has taken in over a million. Just stop and think about that for a minute.
Mary Lucas, our representative for the Middle East, describes what life is like for one young boy living in Gaza.
Mohammed was just nine when he and his sister, Doha, were orphaned. It was a hot summer in 2014 and the people of Gaza were struggling to survive an extreme military bombardment. Apartment blocks were falling in clouds of dust throughout the territory. Some nights, entire neighbourhoods were given a few minutes’ warning to leave – fleeing their homes to find safety wherever they could.
Mohammed’s family had to leave their home as it wasn’t safe. They were evacuated to a nearby school and like so many caught up in the conflict, struggled to get the essentials. Water pipes were damaged and food was expensive and running low in shops because of the bombing.
To ensure the family could survive, Mohammed’s parents would wait until there was a ceasefire and run to collect water and food.
That day, they decided to check on the house that they had spent years investing in for their family. As they approached the house, an explosion killed them both instantly. Shortly afterwards, another bomb reduced the house to rubble. Continue reading “Christmas in Gaza”
Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao, Director of Caritas Colombia, is a long-standing partner of CAFOD. For years he has been close to efforts by the Catholic Church to negotiate peace with all parties involved in the conflict in Colombia.
Here he reflects on the news that the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrilla have signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement; the first time both parties have agreed to put down their arms in over 50 years of conflict.
News that the Colombian Government and FARC guerrillas have agreed a bilateral ceasefire could herald a fresh start for a country that has witnessed the longest-running internal conflict in the western hemisphere.
Gemma Salter is on our schools team and produces resources for primary schools.
When I read the papers or the news online, I often find myself looking out for stories from places I’ve visited, or countries that CAFOD partners work in. This happened to me recently, when I came across an article from El Salvador. This one was a striking one – it spoke of the high rates of murder and gang conflict in the country, describing it as the ‘homicide capital of the world’.
Whilst I know gangs and violence are a significant challenge in the country, and I saw this for myself when I visited El Salvador, the article still shocked me. It made me think back to my own trip to El Salvador, where I met eight-year-old Diego and spent time getting to know him and his family.
Denise is Diocesan Manager in Brentwood. She visited El Salvador in 2004 for the 15th Anniversary of the Martyrs of El Salvador. To mark the beatification of Blessed Oscar Romero, she tells us how his legacy lives on in the people of El Salvador.
When I first knew I would be visiting El Salvador I read a few books about the country – most recalling the conflict and the work of Romero and the Jesuit priests. I felt I was concentrating on the past and not finding out about the country now. It soon became clear that the conflict and Romero is still so entwined in daily life, that you couldn’t split the past from the present or the future.
Liam Finn is CAFOD’s Regional Media Officer. His personal Lent journal today focuses on World Day of Social Justice.
“Why do you want this job?”
“I don’t really. I don’t want CAFOD to exist.”
That was how I started to answer the question from my boss in my CAFOD interview. It might seem a mad response to someone in the hope that they would offer me the job. But I meant it. CAFOD exists because social injustices exist. I really wanted my job, and – *spoiler alert* – I was offered it. Yet I would much rather live in a world where people don’t go hungry or lack access to clean water, where people don’t have to flee from wars or oppression, and where people have the same means as others in richer countries to withstand disasters and rebuild their lives afterwards. We at CAFOD work to achieve that world and make ourselves unnecessary in the future: we work for social justice.
By John Ashworth, adviser to the Sudan and South Sudan churches
South Sudan sank into civil war in December 2013, less than three years after gaining independence. This latest civil war is often described as a political power struggle which soon morphed into ethnic conflict.
However, it might be more accurate to say ‘revenge-driven’ rather than ‘ethnic’. The lack of a reconciliation process to address the hurts of earlier conflicts has only exacerbated the thirst for revenge. The peace talks led by the regional grouping IGAD in Ethiopia’s capital Addis are attempting to address the political component; but who will address the cycle of revenge?
‘People to People’ – bringing communities together
In the 1990s, during an earlier conflict which also exhibited ethnic revenge dynamics, the churches created an innovative People to People Peace Process which brought warring communities together again. Aid agencies such as CAFOD played a major role as partners in supporting the original People to People Peace process, working with and through the Church at the grassroots to build peace at a local level in communities. The lessons learnt from this process can contribute to resolving the current conflict.
These days the term ‘People to People’ seems to be bandied about by anyone who wants to raise funds for their own particular peace and reconciliation conference. However, People to People was not primarily about conferences; it was about months and indeed years of patient preparation, mobilisation, awareness-raising, consultation and trust-building on the ground before the high-profile conferences took place. Bringing a few chiefs and elders together for a highly-visible quick-fix conference is not ‘People to People’. Continue reading “Forging peace in South Sudan”