A Southampton charity worker who saw the affects of brutal oppression faced by a South American country has pleaded for backing for fundraising to help the stricken communities.
Ben Palmer, an intern with Southampton’s Christian Aid branch, flew thousands of miles to the rich green jungle of Colombia to witness the work organisations are carrying out to rebuild communities in the war-ravaged country.
Tomorrow marks the start of Christian Aid Week, which asks the public to support communities in countries trying to live a life free from fear.
The 23-year-old, who will be collecting funds for the charity throughout the week, heard stories of hardship, loss and bravery, from a handful of Colombia’s 5.7million displaced people after 50 years of war.
The figure is the second highest of any country in the world b e h i n d Syria.
He saw the work of partner organisation Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP), which has fought long and complex legal battles to reclaim community land and create Humanitarian Zones.
Mr Palmer said: “Ahead of the 36-hour journey into the heart of Colombian jungle, I didn’t know what to expect.
All I really knew of Colombia was about drugs.
But the scour-ges I saw on the landscape were massproduced bananas and vast plantations of A f r i c a n palm.
“ I n 1 9 9 6 , when I w a s b u s y p l a y i n g football in the school playground, campesinos (peasant farmers) were being violently evicted from their land by the military and paramilitaries. Loved ones were summarily murdered as they were told ‘give us your land for next to nothing or your widow will for half that price,’ so they fled.
“The armed groups sold this extremely fertile stolen land to big companies, so that they could make easy money exporting their goods for me to unsuspectingly enjoy as part of my packed lunch.
“The land was their life, so losing it was unimaginable.
This is where a Christian Aid partner organisation, the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP) comes in.
“Returning to their stolen land was not easy or safe for these communities. But CIJP stood in solidarity with them, fighting long and complex legal battles to reclaim community land and create places called Humanitarian Zones.
“These internationally recognised zones have enabled them to return to their land, as long as they live by simple community rules.
“One rule stands out like a sore thumb in a country that has been at war for so long: no weapon is allowed in these few hectares of Colombia. In the midst of war, I met and lived with true peacemakers.”
Mr Palmer added: “My hope this Christian Aid Week is that our communities here in Hampshire will stand in solidarity with oppressed and powerless people like those I met and millions of others across the world who living in fear and uncertainty.”
n Christian Aid Week runs from 11-17 May. To make a donation call 08080 006006 or donate at caweek.org.