Notes from Colombia

As teachers around the globe celebrate World Teachers’ Day, the CoDevelopment Canada Educator’s delegation, including BCTF President Jim Iker and BC Fed President Irene Lanzinger, are showing solidarity in the world’s most dangerous place in the world for teachers, Colombia. The visit to Columbia comes at a crucial moment in the history of Columbia’s 50-year civil war, with a peace accord on transitional justice having just been signed by President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the FARC, Timoleon Jimenez.

Colombian studentAccording to FECODE, the Columbian teachers union representing 300,000 teachers from pre-school to post-secondary, between 1985 and 2015, 1,100 teachers have been killed with an even greater number threatened by or made victims of violence.

The delegation includes representatives of CoDevelopment Canada, the BCTF, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, and the Centrale des Syndicats du Quebec. All four organizations are jointly funding a union project promoting schools as “territories of peace.”

Called the Pedagogical Project for the Post-Conflict Period (PEPA), the project creates study circles around the country, where teachers gather to reflect on how public education can support the peace process to cultivate a durable peace. The project recognizes the key role of teachers in mentoring students to be peaceful citizens in a reimagined society that is democratic and respects human rights.

Among the biggest challenges to establishing schools as “territories of peace” is the fact that many students’ parents have been combatants on opposing sides of the civil war.
Teachers are confronting these challenges with tremendous energy and commitment, emphasizing their “pedagogy of hope and love,” which they say is profoundly needed by traumatized children who have known nothing but war throughout their young lives.

The delegation members met with students and teachers from an elementary school located in an active-conflict zone in the southern Colombian province of Pasto. The teachers have given their school the slogan “a paradise in the middle of the conflict.” Their courage, despite the assassination of two members of the school staff and the abduction of another teacher, was inspirational and humbling for the Canadian visitors.

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