World Vision Peace Prize

celebrating international excellence in peacebuilding

Organisation's Name: Asociación Sembrando Semillas de Paz, ‘Sembrandopaz’

Organisation's Country: Colombia

Organisation's Website: www.sembrandopaz.org

 

Overview:

Sembrandopaz practices a strategy of openness to dialogue with institutional actors in the region. Each of the four communities with which Sembrandopaz works has been a victim of both individual and collective violence in the armed conflict in Colombia. The mission of Sembrandopaz is to facilitate the construction of a culture of peace through capacity-building of grassroots organisations, with the goal of supporting processes of integral sustainable human development within the populations of the Caribbean region in Colombia. Sembrandopaz has experience working in the areas of education, government and civil society, prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace and security, agricultural development and alternative agriculture, tourism, general protection of the environment, food security, humanitarian relief, support of grassroots organisations, generation of income for socio-economic integration, and the betterment of quality of life of vulnerable populations and those at social risk. 

Find out more in the PDF nomination form.

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Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBB) has worked for the past four years with the Asociacion Sembrando Semillas De Paz (Sembrandopaz) to develop sustainable conflict resolution and restorative justice capacity in the Caribbean coast area. In 2010, the Citizen’s Commission for Reconciliation of the Caribbean Region of Colombia and Sembrandopaz signed a Memorandum of Understanding with MBB to build a culture of peace and to promote reconciliation beginning with the community of Caño Berruguita, Macayepo, through 2013. In addition, MBB has responded to the community’s request for help in dealing with their collective trauma by recruiting an experienced Nicaraguan mediator and psychologist to engage in trauma healing activities.

I am Treasurer of MBB and a member of the MBB Colombia Project team. I have attached a wonderful story about MBB's work with Sembrandopaz, which appeared in one of MBB's newsletters. MBB's work is only as effective as the work of our local partner, and Sembrandopaz has been an outstanding peacebuilding partner. They richly deserve to be recognized in this way by World Vision. For more information about Sembrandopaz' work with MBB, visit http://mediatorsbeyondborders.org/projects/colombia/

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I have been privileged to visit Colombia on six occasions, and on three of those occasions have directly witnessed the work of Sembrandopaz. My visits were in conjunction with my responsibilities as a Conference Minister of the United Church of Christ.

On every visit, our whole delegation has come away deeply impressed with the integration of empowerment, peace building and development work. Examples include
*meeting an entire village of IDP, forced off their ancestral lands by armed actors just two days earlier. They had just learned that their temporary housing in an abandoned school would end in a few days. As Ricardo Esquivia worked with them and we watched (this was his first chance to get there), he informed them of their rights and then led them to think together about what they might do to secure themselves, and what steps they wanted to take to remain together as a village or not. He insisted that the women speak as well as the men, and the youth and children as well as adults. Once they had an initial plan in place, he spent time with those the group identified as leaders, helping them agree on who would do what. I've traveled all over the developing world and this was breath-taking work!
*visiting a displaced community in the mountains outside Cartagena where we met with a Roman Catholic priest who works among the people there and calls Mr. Esquivia his brother. While we were there, word came that a gang of armed boys was headed our way. Mr. Esquivia quickly conferred with the priest, concerned not only for our safety but for his and for the community center where we were gathered. An elderly woman of the community was called upon to lead us back to our van (she was chosen because Ricardo and the priest had been working together to identify natural leaders in the community and to raise them up.) the boys would not dare to take her on. This kind of collaborative relationship with people of other faith traditions is central to Sembrandopaz' work.
*meeting another displaced community in a low valley out in the countryside! hearing the story of their displacement and their decision to stay together. The women of the village were learning how to make embroidered banners (I can't remember the Colombian word for them). They were still learning and their work showed that. Ricardo arranged for a couple to come from the US to help this village and when I returned two years later, their work was now being purchased by art collectors and museums globally. I am so proud of the one they gave me! That village has been decimated again by flooding, and Sembrandopaz continues to work with them as they recover yet again.
*stopping in towns and villages throughout the Montes de Maria region and meeting evangelical pastors of many affiliations who, prior to Sembrandopaz, focused solely on their own church and who now have built relationships with each other in a deep ecumenism focused on the self-development of their communities, including the empowerment of women. I personally observed this dramatic change during visits between about 2004 and 2008.
*for a long period of time! and I suspect it's still true to perhaps a lesser degree, when word would come of an impending threat of violence, key Sembrandopaz leaders would drop everything to go to the village under threat, find those threatening and negotiate for the safety of the village. Their courage is stunning.
*Sembrandopaz raised the money to be able to purchase farms in key areas where the armed actors had moved on so that displaced communities could "return", have a source of life and also raise food for others of their village or network still in the city barrios of IDP's. These farms are productive, though greatly challenged by the cost of restoring the abandoned and shot-up buildings.
*every visit I and others have ever made to Sembrandopaz has included visits with a wide range of people, indigenous, Afro-Colombian, labor union and human rights workers, evangelical and Roman Catholic, elders and university students. Their way of engaging everyone and creating common ground among them is remarkable.

Of all the organizations I have witnessed in almost 50 years of immersion and mission visits around the globe, Sembrandopaz stands at the pinnacle of embodiment of the integration of empowerment, peace building, and self-development. This is a foretaste of the peaceable realm which we are all called to build, beloved communities facing difficult times with courage and fortitude and faith.

When I return to my computer, I will provide some additional documents. Thank you for your work and for your serious consideration of Sembrandopaz for this peace prize.

During my work as Mennonite Central Committee Representative in Colombia until 2012, and now as a regional director, I have had the privilege of relating closely with Sembrandopaz since its inception.  It began during a time of intense violence (massacres, assassinations and massive displacements) affecting the Montes de María region of Colombia.  Local communities were seeking ways to re-build their lives, either re-settling in new locations or returning to their land.  The Founding Director of Sembrandopaz had worked with communities in the region for decades already, and when he returned to live in the region, diverse church and civil society groups coalesced and urged the creation of an inter-church, inter-sectorial regional organization that could be a reference point for organizing and guiding local and regional efforts for breaking the cycles of violence and exploring the necessary conditions for true reconciliation and lasting peace with dignity.  Sembrandopaz has accompanied communities from the emergency phases post-displacement and also during crises caused by natural disaster (flooding) on through the work of community mobilizing, organizing and advocating to develop sustainable communities.  I have always been impressed by the way Sembrandopaz has combined relief, development, peace and advocacy strategies seamlessly, keeping in mind the long-term vision beyond specific strategies.  The community work has always combined strategies that bring together the whole community, while also focusing efforts on specific sectors.  There have been women’s groups focused on trauma healing, youth groups focused on generating hope for the future, and different sectorial groups (small farmers, women, youth) focused on appropriate income-generation strategies.  Sembrandopaz has had the capacity to connect local initiatives with broader national movements or dynamics (political, legal, social dynamics), and enable local leaders to then play a primary role in these connections.  During times of deep frustration, Sembrandopaz has also played a fundamental role in accompanying community discernment possible strategies for change using active nonviolence instead of any of the well-worn aggressive pressure tactics in Colombia.  Each situation is different, meaning that they need to constantly explore new ideas.  But creativity has led to at least some situations of real social change – reparations, active forgiveness and prophetic truth-telling. 

I have known Ricardo for many years, first through his work with Justapaz, then as he worked with others to launch Sembrando Paz. Our congregation (Hyattsville Mennonite Church) has a "sister church" in Sincelejo, where Sembrando Paz is headquartered, comprising folks who were displaced from the Montes de Maria area by the violence there. Through our relationship with that church, we were already aware of some of the isssues of violence and abuse of power that make life difficult for ordinary people in that area. Ricardo has visited our congregation on several occasions, keeping us informed of the struggles and accomplishments of Sembrando Paz and the context and issues faced by our sister church. He has spoken in adult education classes and preached in our church, and his commitment and passion for building peace and justice through grass-roots organizing has shown clearly. I highly commend the organization for its courageous work in a very difficult region.

I have the privilege to work with Sembrandopaz and see firsthand the important work it does with the displaced communities of the Caribbean coast of Colombia. However, not only does it work locally, it weaves its work into regional, national and even international networks because peace has to be built on many levels. I invite you to visit our new webpage (www.sembrandopaz.org) and our facebook page (Sembrandopaz) to get a glimpse of the different activities we are involved in.

From Paul Stucky (who for some reason could not access this webpage): I have known Ricardo Esquivia for many years, and Sembrandopaz since its inception.  In recent years I have collaborated with Sembrandopaz from my position as coordinator of a church-based project in Colombia called Coordinación Eclesial para la Acción Psicosocial – CEAS (Church Coordination for Psychosocial Action).  I agree with what the other respondents have said.  What to add?    I recently co-facilitated a gathering of leaders from different communities that make up the Alta Montaña (High Mountain) region on the Caribbean Coast.    They represent communities who have been variously victims of either paramilitary or guerrilla groups, and now seeking that the State fulfill it's promise of guaranteeing their rights so that they can take up their agricultural livelihood.  For years there have been divisions among them.  But now, inspired by the creative nonviolent process that Sembrandopaz helped another community adopt, the High Mountain communities have come together, bridging their differences for unified nonviolent action.   I tell this to highlight Sembrandopaz's creativity and ability to inspire and to support communities in envisioning that other ways of doing things, of building bridges across differences and ages—and all this translated from imagination into action.  At the gathering there were young and old, men and women, and among them young people—at most in their early 20' or perhaps late teens.    And we were hosted at a farm that Sembrandopaz is nurturing as a place to develop and model alternative agricultural methods, and is now being administered by a displaced family—whose gifts and abilities Sembrandopaz recognized and gave opportunity to flourish.

 

Another example is of Sembrandopaz's fostering of Citizen Reconciliation Commissions (CRC).  Again, it is an example of Sembrandopaz and Ricardo Esquivia's ability to take what is and see what can be.  It started as a participatory process to communicate citizen experiences and perspectives to State reparation and reconciliation processes.  Sembrandopaz and Ricardo planted the seed and helped it grow in the Colombian Caribbean region, but now  CRCs have sprung up in another region of the country and are contributing to fostering dialogue among community, state and corporations in areas highly affected by the armed conflict.

 

Finally, to tell of an earlier workshop in the Montes de María region, convened by Sembrandopaz and which brought together mostly women in leadership of different victims' organizations to address the trauma that they bear—their own and that of the communities they work with.  No sooner had it begun than one of the women begin to weep with heaving sighs in expression of the pain she carried.  It was a Sembrandopaz woman staff person who then stepped away from the group with her, and spent much of the morning listening and being with her in her grief, after which the woman returned with new energy to move forward.  Sembrandopaz showed its deep caring—not only by the action of this staff person, but the broader caring of recognizing the emotional load that these women were carrying and offering them the space and opportunity to share it and support each other.

 

 

 

 

When I was on staff with Mennonite Central Committee in Washington, DC I traveled to Colombia and visited Sembrandopaz and the communities that they work with. The work that they are doing is crucial ground-up peacebuidling and community development that is an absolute necessity in the Montes de Maria along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. These communities are very recovering from years of intense violence and war, and Sembrandopaz is there to meet their needs.

Sembrandopaz's work provides a vision and a tangible framework for a just peace for the whole of Colombia. I have had the privilege of getting to know Ricardo Esquivia (Director of Sembrandopaz) over the years on his many visits to Washington. His vision for both Montes de Maria as well as the whole of Colombia is solidly grounded in peace, justice, and dignity.

I wholeheartedly recommend Sembrandopaz for the World Vision Peace Prize.

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