VOCES COLECTIVAS

Communities United For Peace

Public Engagement

Sustained engagement and participatory culture Promote a culture of participation with programs and institutions that support ongoing quality public engagement

Photo by Jillian White 

Photo by Jillian White 

Public engagement through the exhibition

It is our final week in Pácora and we are thrilled that everything came together for our final execution. Our photo and testimony exhibition was a successful event. We are very happy that the mayor's office contributed for the transportation and food. Community members from the outskirts of the town were able to come to our event. They also saw each other for the first time and many children have not visited the Cultural House before. Everyone was so happy to see photos of themselves and/or photos of the town. Many children did not believe it was photos of Pácora's scenery. They thought it was another country. The children also participated and were the center of the event. They sang songs and recited poems to the audience. Finally, we gave thanks to community members for all their support. We were very sad to leave the next day. 


Photo and Testimony Exhibition at the Casa de Cultura

Impact and action: Ensure each participatory effort has real potential to make a difference, and that participants are aware of that potential.

Preparing for the photo and testimony exhibition at the Casa de Cultura

After weeks of preparation, we finally are coming to an end. Jillian and I are super nervous and anxious for our final execution of our project, a photo and testimony exhibition. Our project is finally coming together and it is almost ready for display!!! I wanted to give a special shoutout to some of the kids that have been with us along the way and they have helped us prepare for our exhibition. The children always want to help. 


Transparency and Trust

After visiting different events in town, community members were finally realizing who we were. I don’t remember whom, but someone grabbed Jillian and I and told us to go on stage to talk in both English and Spanish. At first, I thought it was funny, but then I got really nervous when we walked on stage. Jillian and I took this opportunity to thank community members for giving us the opportunity to conduct our project. They were especially intrigued when they heard Jillian speak in English. This can also be seen as another example of transparency and trust. We always wanted everyone to know about our project. 

           Giving thanks to the community at a "Reinado" | August 5, 2014    

           Giving thanks to the community at a "Reinado" | August 5, 2014

 

 

Mr. Over

Transparency and trust: Be clear and open about the process, and provide a public record of the organizers, sponsors, outcomes, and range of views and ideas expressed.

Transparency and trust with Mr. Over

Mr. Over was displaced from Urabá about 15 years ago. He moved to Pácora with his wife, oldest child, and mother to escape the violence from his hometown.

An example of transparency and trust is when we visited Mr. Over and his family to conduct oral history interview. Before we interviewed him, we had already met with him a couple of times before and spoke to him about the project. He also met Jillian last year when she was part of the International Field Program in Colombia. Having some insight about his family’s history, we spent a whole day with Over and his family. We talked to Over about his job while he was showing us the process of picking out coffee beans. Jillian and I also played with his youngest children while eating breakfast and lunch. Having taken the whole day to learn about the family before interviewing the participant, we made sure that Mr. Over felt comfortable enough to share his story. There was transparency throughout the interview because Mr. Over knew the ethical process beforehand. 

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   Meeting with Over’s family: "  Nuestra recompensa se encuentra en el esfuerzo y no en el resultado. Un esfuerzo total es una victoria completa." –Mahatma Gandhi (Jackie’s post on Facebook) |   August 1, 2014

Meeting with Over’s family: "Nuestra recompensa se encuentra en el esfuerzo y no en el resultado. Un esfuerzo total es una victoria completa." –Mahatma Gandhi (Jackie’s post on Facebook) | August 1, 2014

Engaging Community Members in Every Process

Openness and learning: Help all involved listen to each other, explore new ideas unconstrained by predetermined outcomes, learn and apply information in ways that generate new options, and rigorously evaluate public engagement activities for effectiveness.

Engaging community members in every process

On July 31, 2014, we met with la vereda leader from Las Coles. Our mission for this meeting was to ask permission in order to have our second photo project in Las Coles. Our overall goal was to have several photo projects in different parts of Pácora, but because we were strained with our budget, we were only able to do the photo project in two locations; one of them was Las Coles. Before we conducted our photo project however, we had to visit Las Coles a couple of days prior. We had the opportunity to meet people and hand them our flyers with the exact date of the photo project. 

Having some of the best days of my life here in Pácora. I may be broke, I may not have a job waiting for me in New York, and Sallie Mae wants her money ASAP— but my heart and mind are bursting at the seams. I’m so happy. Truly happy. Community building is everything and I’m so thankful to everyone here that’s let me be a part of theirs. (A post from Jillian’s Facebook page).

Oral History and Ethics

Steps we considered before, during and after an oral history interview:

1.   Explain the interview

2.   What consent and copyright mean. We used verbal consent as it best fit in the context of Caldas, Colombia. We also asked participants where we can show their videos and where we cannot. 

3.   Where the interview take place is very important. Often we visited the homes of participants a few days before interviewing the participant. This was important for us because by going to their homes without cameras and video recorders, participants felt comfortable with us and it also gave us a space where we explained in detail the process of oral history. Most of the interviews were taken place at the comfort of their home.

4.   The relationship during the interview. Both interviewee and interviewer were in constant communication with each other. For example, we told participants that they could stop the interview whenever they wanted to.

5.   Maintaining confidentiality. Some participants asked us to not share their stories in Pácora, but that we could use their stories in other parts of the country, and in the U.S. 

6.   Clarifying rights after the interview: Our initial thought was to leave the archives in the Cultural House, but after getting feedback from community members, we are thinking of another place to store the archives. We are still working on that.

7.   Finalizing the Recording Agreement. We are still in the process of editing each recording. We will be in contact with each participant after finalizing the videos.

8.   Preparing for preservation. We are still working on this.  

There are other steps for oral history, but for the context of Pácora, these steps best fit the criteria for oral history. 

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   "It took us literally one year of preparation and finally we are able to implement our project...here’s a sneak peek of our work here in Colombia. I feel very blessed to be part of this."   (A post made on Jackie’s Facebook) 

"It took us literally one year of preparation and finally we are able to implement our project...here’s a sneak peek of our work here in Colombia. I feel very blessed to be part of this." (A post made on Jackie’s Facebook) 

Photo Project

Collaboration and shared purpose: Support and encourage participants, government and community institutions, and others to work together to advance the common good.

Community engagement through a photo project

Because it was our first time implementing our project, Voces Colectivas, we wanted to try different storytelling methodologies with an emphasis on ethics and community engagement.

Therefore, to support and encourage participants into the process of the project we decided to use photovoice methodology by creating a photo project. A photo project was first initiated in the town center of Pácora and in cooperation with the ‘Casa de Cultura’ or the Cultural House (a building where cultural artifacts of the community were stored). It was important to get the collaboration of the ‘Casa de Cultura’ representatives because we needed this place for their final execution, which was going to be a photo and testimony exhibition. We incorporated a photo project, which involved a camera, photo paper and a portable photo printer so that people can come take a free photo by themselves or with family members. Our main objective for the photo project, however was to tell community members about our project, get potential participants and most importantly contribute to the community. Having this small project in mind (back in New York), we used some of the funds to buy equipment, such as a portable photo printer, photo paper and other necessary equipment for a successful implementation of a photo project. This method was used for trust building and community engagement, keeping in mind that a free portrait is not an agreement to participate in the project and that all participation is voluntary. This also adds a special contribution to giving back to community members.

Like any rural municipality of Colombia, each rural municipality has its town’s center also called, the “urban” region of the town. Likewise, there is the peripheral areas that surrounds the urban area, called the “rural” regions or in Spanish called vereda. Jilliand I decided to take our photo project to other parts of Pácora. With the support of a vereda leader, we conducted a photo project #2.

Our experience for both photo projects were different—we will explain in detail on a final report that is in process at the moment. Our objective for both photo projects was to inform community members about Voces Colectivas and also to find participants for the individual oral history interviews that would be conducted throughout the following weeks.

At the end, both photo projects were successful, but before starting individual oral history interviews, we had to talk to community members and get feedback from them.

We met with Mr. Eliecer (local farmer) and Doña Zocorro (an elderly woman who had lived in Pácora all her life).  Both of them were well-informed of the objective of Voces Colectivas. Intrigued at what oral history was, we saw this as an opportunity to conduct a pilot oral history interview with these two individuals before conducting oral history interviews with other victims from town. We spoke to Eliecer to find out the best methods for engaging with direct victims of the conflict. After a long 3-hour talk with Mr. Eliecer and visiting his family at his farm, we visited Doña Zocorro to pilot our first oral history interview. It was also the first time that I was conducting oral history, so this was great practice for both interviewer and interviewee. 

Oral history interview with Doña Zocorro | July 22, 2014

Oral history interview with Doña Zocorro | July 22, 2014

     Doña Zocorro the back of a painting that her brother left her

     Doña Zocorro the back of a painting that her brother left her

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                Oral history interview with Mr. Eliecer (a local farmer) | July 22, 2014

             Oral history interview with Mr. Eliecer (a local farmer) | July 22, 2014

Mr. Eliecer and his family

Mr. Eliecer and his family

Go to the people:live with them, learn from them,
love them
start with what they know
build with what they have. But the best of leaders,
when the job is done,
the task accomplished,
the people will say:
“We have done it ourselves.”
-Lao Tzu

On July 28, 2014, after talking to Doña Zocorro and Mr. Eliecer we planned our first photo project in the town's center. 

Meeting with the Mayor of Pácora

Another principle of community engagement is: Inclusion and demographic diversity, which is defined as “equitably incorporate diverse people, voices, ideas, and information to lay the groundwork for quality outcomes and democratic legitimacy.”

 Meeting with the mayor and getting permission by community leaders

After the New Challenge announced the finalist for the reward, the amount of $2,500 for the project Voces Colectiva, Jillian and I decided to pick one municipality to begin our work. Jillian had previously worked in Pácora and after having learned that victim’s associations were better formed there, we decided that Pácora would be the best choice. After careful planning and getting all necessary equipment ready, on July 8th 2014, we traveled for our third time to Colombia. On July 10th, we were arriving to Pácora and officially began our project as directors of Voces Colectivas.

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Even though most Pácoreños knew about the project Voces Colectivas before the we arrived to Pácora (because we were in constant communication with them through social media), we knew that to formally get permission to work in the community, we had to speak to the mayor and get his full support and permission. We met with the mayor, Oscar Luiz Henao Castaño, who was excited to hear about the project and fully support it. He told us that he could get the Municipal government leaders and some point people that we can interview. The following days a meeting was held where everyone present, heard the mission and objectives of Voces Colectivas. We introduced ourselves and we began to explore ideas for the project. The key to this meeting was to get feedback from community members themselves, which we did. The mayor noted, this was an important step to collecting the stories from the victims and that Pácoreños should be well informed of this process so that when the Colombian government is ready to implement reparations process to the department of Caldas, the community would know the process already. Voces Colectivas would be a great practice for collecting testimonies. After final approval by all governmental leaders, the project was ready to begin. 


Principles of Community Engagement

From the beginning, all the way to the final execution of our project, ethics and community engagement have played an important part of our work. This summer after winning the New Challenge price of $2500, Jillian and I traveled to Caldas, Colombia, to work with victims from the Colombian armed conflict in a community called Pácora.

While we were preparing for the execution of the project in Pácora, I decided to read about steps that are taken when working on community projects. I identified several principles of community engagement found on this website, http://sustainingcommunity.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/ethics-and-community-engagement/ which are:

Careful planning and preparation

Inclusion and demographic diversity

Collaboration and shared purpose

Oral History and Ethics

Openness and learning

Transparency and trust

Impact and action

Sustained engagement and participatory culture

Other principles of community engagement:

1.     Courage

2.     Inclusiveness

3.     Commitment

4.     Respect & honesty

5.     Flexibility

6.     Practicability

7.     Mutual obligation

I will show how some of these principles were incorporated throughout the implementation of our Voces Colectivas project.

Jillian and I have always said that our greatest accomplishment for our Voces Colectiva project was that we planned and design our project one-year prior. The first principle of community engagement is always careful planning and preparation, which should be “through adequate and inclusive planning, ensure that the design, organization, and convening of the process serve both a clearly defined purpose and the needs of the participants.” https://sustainingcommunity.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/ethics-and-community-engagement/

In preparation for the International Field Program Colombia, Jillian and I enrolled in “Rural and Regional Development in the Americas” at the New School, where we studied the economic history of Colombia’s coffee region and also learned about Colombia’s armed conflict, which has been ongoing for more than 50 years. Our greatest learning experience, however, was our time spent living in Colombia and working with people who have lived these realities. 

In 2013, Jillian and I traveled to Colombia as part of the International Field Program. In collaboration with students from La Universidad Autónoma de Manizales, the IFP group developed plans that were going to take place in four municipalities of the department of Caldas, which were Supía, La Merced, Rio Sucio and Pácora.  In Pácora and La Merced, the IFP group found that it is not uncommon for neighbors to still be divided by the conflict, which first arrived at their doorsteps nearly 14 years ago and remained active until roughly 5 years ago.  Those that have experienced forced displacement or have been victims of the violence face unique challenges within these towns. Working with community members in Pácora, Jillian found that victims’ associations were formed to better help them advocate for themselves and to ensure government representation but within these groups there is a lack of cohesion and collective identity; people see themselves as individuals and not as members of a community.

COLOMBIA.jpg

While I worked on my capstone thesis in La Merced, I found that a combination of factors due to the conflict and Colombian trade agreements have resulted in economic stagnation. After the coffee crisis in the 1990s, the tendency of the municipality to concentrate its resources in agriculture has limited economic growth, and thus opportunities for job creation. In addition, the tension and distrust that was born out of the conflict in Colombia has created an unwillingness to collaborate, which has also contributed to the lack of economic growth in the town. The residual effects of the local violence have continued to shape a variety of negative social dynamics that undermine communication and strain community relationships. Distrust and resentment have disempowered the community keeping it from effectively addressing existing social and economic obstacles necessary for growth, including food security despite the abundance and variety of food grown locally.

In addition, while Jillian and I were studying how the conflict had affected  communities in Caldas, we found that there was a gap in literature about the history of the conflict. I sought professional help from a journalist who covered the conflict in Caldas. In an interview with Oscar Veiman Mejía, Regional Editor of Caldas from the newspaper, La Patria, he explained that the greatest battled for victims in Caldas are the displaced population. He stated, 

The post-conflict work in Caldas can be found from the psychological point of view, in the [compensation to the victims] is not only about giving material things and especially with the people that could not stay [in their communities]...but that the biggest psychological conflict for me was about the people that had to come to Caldas. We worked with those people [the displaced population from other parts of Colombia] and to see the face of an elderly that was brutally and forcefully thrown from his town, that to me is a human tragedy, because the man that grew up in his town with his land and who felt free there was forced to leave it all and come to another part of Colombia, that was also in misery and he was nothing there, he was a stranger.

After careful planning and preparation, Jillian and I were ready to travel to Colombia.  

 

 

PIA Team Visits La Merced, Caldas, Colombia

On March 23rd, 2014 I had the privilege to travel to Caldas, Colombia to conduct fieldwork as part of my Practicum in International Affairs (PIA), which is the last project requirement before graduating.

I started my PIA in the fall of 2013 with a project that was created by a fellow classmate of mine, Jessica Wohlander, who also came with me to Colombia this past summer as part of the International Field Program at the New School. The project is in the community of La Merced, which is potentially one of the towns that Jillian and I might work with for our oral history curriculum. My PIA is not closely related to our oral history project because the theme is creating a local market system, however, my part of the PIA project is to learn more thoroughly about the conflict in Caldas.

In an academic context, little has been written about how the conflict has impacted the coffee region of Colombia —perhaps because there is a literature gap or because more of the public’s focus has been on harder hit regions. Nonetheless, my PIA group and I decided that we were missing a lot of information about the La Merced that we needed to gather in order to create our final report.

The International Affairs program was nice enough to give us money for our travel expense in order to accomplish this. Jessica and I, quickly gathered all of the resources needed in order to accomplish our fieldwork in one week. Yikes! I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I also knew it would be well worth it.

Arriving in Colombia was in itself one the greatest feelings ever - smelling the fresh air, hearing the people talk with their wonderful Colombian accent, the smell of the plants and overall the happy atmosphere of the people! We immediately settled in and started preparing for the upcoming days.

As I could go on about each moment during my trip there but the most important part was meeting with the townspeople and contemplating how it is that these people faced so much hardship during the conflict and can still be so friendly to a stranger? Talking to them and learning about their life experiences reassured me that coming back during the summer will be the greatest experience ever.

Although, I did not go to La Merced to talk explicitly about the conflict, I did have the opportunity to do so with Oscar Veiman Mejía, the regional editor of Caldas from the newspaper La Patria. I interviewed him about the conflict in Caldas because this is something I could not find in secondary literature. The interview was so intense and emotional at the same time. I am still in the process of gathering the information and hope to share it with you all when the final PIA report is done. I do however, want to share a line Mejía said that touched me in many ways and is aligned to what the purpose of Ni La Historia Ni La Paz Se Debe Olvidar is all about. When I asked Mejía what the government was doing in order to help the victims psychologically of the conflict in the department of Caldas, he said, “The post-conflict work in Caldas can be found from the psychological point of view, in that [compensation to the victims] is not only giving material things and especially with the people that could not stay…but the biggest psychological conflict for me was the people that had to come to Caldas. We would work with those people [that were displaced from their towns and would migrate to Caldas] and to see the face of an elderly that was brutally and forcefully thrown out of his town, that to me is a human tragedy, because the man that grew up in his town with his land and who felt free there was forced to leave it all and come to another part of Colombia that was also in misery and he was nothing there, he was a stranger.”

My hope for Jillian and I this summer is that we are able to gain more knowledge about the current ‘post-conflict’ situation in Caldas, which we believe has not been fully reported on. At the same time, we hope to create space for victims to comfortably express themselves and tell their own stories.

The full interview with the Regional Editor of La Patria will be posted soon.

I want to give a special thank you to the International Affairs program for funding our travel and for making this experience possible. 

Thank you for the support everyone!

No Dull Moments

community vote1.jpg

Time has been moving at warp speed for Jackie and me. After placing third in the community vote, we had a long weekend of waiting and worrying about whether or not we would advance to the next round of tThe New Challenge. Finally, around 3pm on March 3rd, we found out that we had been voted through to the semi-finals!

Imagine Jackie and I both trying to celebrate demurely at our respective places of work. Lots of exclamation points were exchanged between us using text messages and Facebook. We feel incredibly blessed to have received so much support from our friends in the US and Colombia and so we were quick to let everyone know just how much their clicks and shares meant to us. But our moment to rejoice was brief because advancing to the next round also meant that we had to prepare very quickly for our panel interview that was going to be held later that same week.

Our nights were a bit sleepless and I had a permanent stomach ache the entire week but our interview ended up being one of the real high points of this entire process. Everything really gelled for us and we even shocked ourselves slightly with our own passion and dedication to the project. Our judges must have been moved as well because on Monday, March 17th, Jackie called me to tell me she had just received an email from the organizers and we were officially finalists in the New Challenge! This time, I couldn't contain my excitement and had to do a happy dance right there in my office. 

Over a year of research and project design paid off and we tried to really sit still and appreciate what we had achieved with the support of our communities and partners in Colombia. But sitting still isn’t really in either of our natures and so we were right back to work. We filmed our pitch video and Jackie left for Colombia the next day for a research trip.

There have been no dull moments in this journey and I don’t see any on the horizon.