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Farnham man fights for peace this Christian Aid Week (11-17 May)

Date: 13 May 2014
Christian Aid Week’s focus on tackling violence and building peace around the world is close to the heart of a young Farnham man who travelled to Colombia to learn for himself about the hard journey from war to peace.

Twenty-three year old Ben Palmer, who grew up as a member of St James’ Church, Rowledge, and is currently a volunteer intern in Christian Aid’s Southampton office, spent two weeks in the country which has suffered brutal violence for half a century and has 5.7 million displaced people, the highest in the world behind Syria.

Ben spent time with families supported by Christian Aid partner organisation, the Inter-church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP). which campaigns for the rights of rural communities to reclaim land stolen from them by armed gangs, and supports them as they rebuild their lives.

He picks up his story: “Packing my bags ahead of a 36-hour journey into the heart of Colombian jungle, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. All I really knew of Colombia was about drugs. But the scourges on the landscape I saw were mass-produced bananas and vast plantations of African palm for as far as the eye can see.

“In 1996, when I was busy playing football in the playground of Rowledge Primary School, a man called Uriel and the other campesinos (peasant farmers) were being violently evicted from their land by the military and paramilitary. It was harrowing to hear of the loved ones they lost in brutal ways and the threats they faced: ‘give us your land for next to nothing or your widow will for half that price!’ So they fled.

“The armed groups were selling this extremely fertile land that they’d stolen to big companies, so that they could make easy money exporting their goods for me to unsuspectingly enjoy as part of my packed lunch.

“For these campesino communities, the land is life; it provides their water, their home, and their crops. So losing it was unimaginable. This is where Justice and Peace come into the story.

"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.”

Ben continued: “My faith motivates me to work for Christian Aid because almost every time I pick up my Bible I encounter one of those 2,000 verses calling for justice for the poor and the oppressed. For me there is an inseparable link between faith and justice. I hope and pray that people across the diocese and all churches this Christian Aid Week and beyond will stand in solidarity with oppressed and powerless people like those I met and learned of during my trip.

“Their stories of hardship, loss and bravery will always live with me. Their decision to be peacemakers in a country ravaged by war will always challenge me to live counter-culturally.”

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