I wish to emulate Mariella’s Colombian Peace Community


I hope you’ll enjoy the photo-essay below! I also put the photos together in a video clip with a song by Victor Jara, called ‘Manifesto’, which was the last song Victor wrote before he was murdered in Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973, whose beautiful lyrics are printed at the end of this post.

7th July 2017

Dr Hakim

In March 2015, I travelled with Buddy Bell of Voices for Creative Nonviolence U.S. to visit the San Jose De Apartado Peace Community in Colombia. In this post, I share how the experience and my friendship with ‘Profesora’ Mariella and her students continue to challenge and inspire me.

The context in which the community formed and grew is relevant to all of us; when the status quo in society is one of chronic exploitation and warfare, they are choosing to live, learn and relate differently.

There is a price to pay for choosing to live out their ideals, but relative to the price of remaining entrenched in ‘business-as-usual’, Mariella’s Colombian Peace Community is showing us a viable option.

The members of San Jose De Apartado Peace Community whom I met are not ‘fringe weirdoes’. They are passionate and grounded and think and feel deeply about how they wish ‘to be’ in an unequal world. A May 2017 Al Jazeera article on the community’s background and struggle can be found here.

Profesora, as her students fondly call her,

teared up when I commented on the obvious,

that she loves her students.

She spoke like a mother, a daughter, a philosopher and a practitioner

in saying, “When you learn with affection,

you learn to live with affection,

and it’s a nutrient that teaches you how to live with other people.

When you’re living with affection,

You’re making life.”

 02 Drawing and making beaded wristbands together

Orinco ( left ) painting a banner with Profesora,

in preparation for the community’s 18th birthday celebration

I asked Orinco what the purpose of school was.

“It is to continue learning,

and to learn about being a carpenter.

I want to know everything about carpentry

to be able to build things with wood.

I learn to resist the ( outside ) ‘ways of the road’

and keep the ways of the community.”


 03 Part of schooling is making beaded wristbands

Part of schooling for Orinco is making beaded wristbands

 04 Coloured beads left to Orinco's imagination to design and weave, learning Math at the same time

Coloured beads are left to Orinco’s imagination to design and weave,

who learns Math and Geometry  at the same time

 05 Art, beauty, patience, love

Art, beauty, patience, love

 06 Orinco at the hut, wearing a wristband

Orinco at the community assembly hut; he usually wears a wristband

So the community members make their own houses, toilets and furniture.

They grow their own cacao beans

which they process into organic chocolate

with their community-owned machines.

They fashion their own house gardens to be as pretty

as the natural, verdant land they were born in.

Their horses are their companions,

the birds their flutes and clarinets.

 07 making their own houses and toilets

Constructing their own houses and toilets

 08 the carpentry shed

The community carpentry shed

 09 cacao beans

Home grown cacao beans

 10 the chocolate inside

 The chocolate inside

 11 getting into tasty shape

Getting into tasty shape

 12 the community owned chocolate processing machines

The community-owned chocolate processing machines

 13 rainbows on earth

Rainbows on earth

 14 community set in greenery

The community village grounds set in greenery

 15 surrounded by design

Surrounded by Nature’s design

 16 their steady friends

Their steady friends

 17 member of their orchestra

A member of their orchestra

 18 why would you not sing along

Why would we not sing along?

They grapple with mixed emotions

each time they see the memorial stones

of more than 200 community members

killed in the conflict,

aware that grief is past and future love,

a mortal mystery invested in the children.

The children have a sobriety and curiosity

which elders can affirm tenderly,

saying with candles that

‘we are family’.

 19 every war victim of the community is remembered

Every war victim of the community is remembered

 20 solidarity is memory

Solidarity is memory

 21 the new generation

The new generation

 22 the adults can affirm the young

The adults affirm the young

 23 Happy 18th birthday, San Jose De Apartado Communidad de Paz

Orinco and other children celebrating

 the 18th birthday ( in 2015 ) of San Jose De Apartado Comunidad de Paz

Each person I spoke with or interviewed

refreshed my confidence in humanity.

Gentleness, forgiveness and bravery

are effervescent alternatives.

They cared for my questions,

nursing universal values in their personal stories,

their reflections like meditations.

Though I hear that they have squabbles

hurts, trauma and frailties,

they sit and they sing with one another.

They embrace each other fiercely

by their covenant to

‘bear no arms, consume no liquor,

tolerate no impunity,

and participate in no fighting’.

 24 I saw each person's humanity Emerson's

I saw each person’s humanity – Emerson’s

 24 I saw Emilio's humanity

I saw Emilio’s humanity

 24 I saw Julio David's humanity

I saw Julio David’s humanity

 24 I saw Luis and Wakin's humanity

I saw Luis and Wakin ‘s humanity

 24 I saw Maria's humanity

I saw Maria ‘s humanity

 24 I saw Mariella's humanity

I saw Mariella ‘s humanity

 24 I saw Orinco's humanity

I saw Orinco ‘s humanity

24 I saw Yudi's humanity 

I saw Yudi ‘s humanity

 25 playing together

I saw them playing together.

 26 relaxing together

Relaxing together

 27 singing together

Singing together

 28 community's open gate and covenant

I was welcomed into the community’s open gate and covenant


“Yes, we’re sad when we say goodbye to families

who want their children to go to mainstream schools.

When students have to go to school, they suffer.

All the students here want to come to school,

and if the teacher isn’t giving them love in the curriculum,

then they suffer in their learning,” Profesora explained.

“We don’t want to risk the next generation

becoming greedy, exploitative or violent.”

 29 Raising the new generation with nonviolent options (1)

Raising the new generation with nonviolent options

 29 Raising the new generation with nonviolent options (2)

Kindergarten and elementary class doing exercises

 29 Raising the new generation with nonviolent options (3)

Relating healthily

 29 Raising the new generation with nonviolent options (4)

Figuring out how they wish to live in present-day Colombia  

I attended their annual ‘University of Resistance’

where young and old huddled in the community’s assembly hut,

and everyone was a student-teacher

offering testimonies, lyrics and meanings.

They were really asking,

“Why not?

Why would we choose stagnation or regression?”

Profesora was an unassuming root of commitment,

a tree, a friend and a lover to her young charges.

She laid out another value in education:

“Nobody knows nothing,

and nobody knows everything.

Everyone has something to teach.”

 30 University of Resistance Program

‘University of Resistance’ program

 31 Help yourself to bananas while you learn

Help yourself to bananas or balloons while you learn

 32 Everyone is a student teacher (1)

Everyone is a student-teacher – Orinco and Emerson with their schoolmates

32 Everyone is a student teacher (2)

Everyone is a student-teacher – Profesora with Yudi

 32 Everyone is a student teacher (3)

Everyone is a student- teacher – adding the finishing touches


Why do I miss them so?

Why do I see the same flowering spirit in the Afghan street kids

and volunteer teachers in Kabul?

Why do I wish

that there are more and more

friends and communities like them,

who offer mindfulness and care

to the world?

 33 Wearing the Afghan Peace Volunteers' Borderfree Scarves

Wearing the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ Borderfree Scarves

 34 I hope to see them again someday

I hope to see them again someday

Victor Jara’s ‘Manifesto’

Yo no canto por cantar
ni por tener buena voz,
canto porque la guitarra
tiene sentido y razón.
Tiene corazón de tierra
y alas de palomita.
Es como el agua bendita,
santigua glorias y penas.
Aquí se encajó mi canto
como dijera Violeta;
guitarra trabajadora
con olor a primavera,
Que no es guitarra de ricos,
ni cosa que se parezca,
mi canto es de los andamios
para alcanzar las estrellas.

Que el canto tiene sentido
cuando palpita en las venas
del que morirá cantando
las verdades verdaderas.
No las lisonjas fugaces
ni las famas extranjeras,
sino el canto de una lonja
hasta el fondo de la tierra.
Ahí donde llega todo
y donde todo comienza,
canto que a sido valiente
siempre será canción nueva.

English translation of lyrics

I don’t sing for love of singing
or to show off my voice
but for the statements
made by my honest guitar
for its heart is of the earth
and like the dove it goes flying….
endlessly as holy water
blessing the brave and the dying
so my song has found a purpose
as Violet Parra would say.

Yes, my guitar is a worker
shining and smelling of spring
my guitar is not for killers
greedy for money and power
but for the people who labour
so that the future may flower.
For a song takes on a meaning
when its own heart beat is strong
sung by a man who will die singing
truthfully singing his song.

I don’t care for adulation
or so that strangers may weep.
I sing for a far strip of country
narrow but endlessly deep.

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