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A day in the life of… a Peace Brigade International Observer

Dan Slee is a volunteer observer for Peace Brigade International (PBI) who work with Fair Trade organic cocoa butter suppliers, Communidad de Paz (Peace Community) de San José de Apartadó, Colombia.

For the last 17 years the community have been subject to attacks from the army, leftist guerilla fighters and right-wing paramilitary groups. Like many PBI volunteer observers, Dan lives within the community to bear witness to the threats they face on a daily basis. He tells us about working in Colombia: 

“Members of the community will wake up before the sun rises, to get the fire going in preparation for the working day. Early in the mornings and evenings, you can often see clouds of mist in the valleys, crowning the mountains and making the whole place seem mystical. I usually wake up slightly later and help to make breakfast. The first person I see is the other Peace Brigade field volunteer who will accompany me. Our security protocols mean that we always accompany in twos; we have to stay close together at all times so our hammocks are hung in the same room. I wake up, reach for my bottle of water (filled from the river and treated with purification tablets) and dress for breakfast. Breakfast is bananas, eggs, rice, fried plantain and arepa – a corn flour dough pancake. This is a heavy meal for me in the morning, but the farmers need a good energy base for the hours of physical labour that they have ahead of them.

There is no such thing as a 'typical day’ in a PBI field project. Sometimes we spend days on end travelling through rural parts of the country by mule, boat, Jeep, bus or on foot. We may accompany court proceedings, we may take part in meetings with authorities or spend the day in the office writing reports and answering emails.

The Peace Community spend the day hard at work on the land harvesting cocoa and plantain or taking care of farming business with other members of the community. The PBI have a strategy of non-interference. We believe that the Colombian people have the solution to the conflict and the role of PBI is to accompany them, helping to protect them and their human rights. Our role is not to get directly involved in the work that they carry out.

Harvesting cocoa pods

LUSH Buying presents: Colombian Peace Cocoa Butter - Short Version

New volunteers arrive in the PBI Colombia project every few months so we spend time running training workshops to help them learn their roles within the team. Continuous training is very important for field volunteers, so we'll also take part in regular training workshops.

After a long hard day's work, we join the farmers for the evening meal. They need a lot of sustenance to replenish their energy; often we'll eat rice, lentils, fried plantain and every now and then there will be meat.

After dinner, the rest of the evening will be spent talking, listening to a battery-powered radio or playing dominoes around a candle. In many of the Peace Community hamlets there is no power. We adapt to the farmers' routine and since their working day is from sunrise until sunset, we go to bed early in order to get enough sleep before the sun rises. Depending on the space available in the community, we will either pitch a tent or sleep in a hammock with a mosquito net. The air is fresh and cool and the only sound is crickets and the odd farm animal, except when there are military flights overhead. Reminding us of the armed conflict which threatens such a peaceful community.

The people that we accompany in Colombia are real life heroes. They are people who try to live in peace in the middle of an armed conflict, who stick up for the most vulnerable members of society and who take on cases of injustice despite the death threats, persecution and defamation that they receive.”

Find out how you can become a PBI volunteer

Listen to PBI talking on Radio 4 

Read an interview with the Peace Community 

This article was published in June 2014.

"There is no such thing as a 'typical day’ in a PBI field project. Sometimes we spend days on end travelling through rural parts of the country by mule, boat, Jeep, bus or on foot."

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