Ciederpaz: Churches and Ethno-Territorial Organizations Build Peace, Development, and Reconciliation in Southern Chocó

My partner here in Chocó, the Mennonite Brethren Church, is part of the Interethnic and Ecumenical Corporation for Development, Reconciliation and Peace (Ciederpaz). Ciederpaz is an initiative of churches, ethno-territorial organizations and other local and national entities “with the objective of creating a space for articulation in order to unite efforts relating to ethno-development, reconciliation and territorial peace in southern Chocó, making visible the distinct problems in the region and advocating before the State institutions.”

Ciederpaz unites the sub-regions of San Juan, Baudó, San José del Palmar and the Pacific Coast, and it has six lines of work: Victims’ rights, pedagogy for peace, guaranteeing citizen participation, productivity focused on ethno-development and caring for the environment, reconciliation, and communication from the territory.

I have participated in some roundtables with Ciederpaz, and to me it seems like a very important initiative for peacebuilding here in the region. In order to learn a bit more about the work they do, I spoke with two people who have participated in Ciederpaz since its formation in 2016: Gloria Gómez, who works with the Chamber of Commerce in Istmina and Pastor Rutilio Rivas, the director of Fagrotes, the Weaving Hope Agricultural Foundation, of the Mennonite Brethren Church which I accompany as a Seeder.

Pastor Rutilio considers Ciederpaz to be “a marvelous experience of peace. Beyond our differences, it’s possible to sit down together and dream together.” Gloria also expressed that she feels motivated to participate in Ciederpaz because she believes that “it is possible to build a country in peace. It isn’t easy, but if we all work together in unity it’s possible for us to improve.”

Ciederpaz has organized different workshops and roundtables focused on the six lines of work. Gloria explained that one of the goals is “to empower leaders to promote development in their own communities and to strengthen their capacity for social dialogue and the political participation of local institutions with ethno-territorial and grassroots organizations.”

With the support of MCC, Ciederpaz also participated in a humanitarian visit in August to communities in Alto Baudó, a region of Chocó that has been very affected by violence. “We met with the community, we sat down together to eat rice, to serve everyone soup, and to be with the people despite our differences,” said Pastor Rutilio.

Ciederpaz also serves as a social platform in order to inform people about the peace process, the implementation of the accords with the FARC, and the dialogue with the ELN. And they have gained recognition on a national level as a PDP (Peace and Development Program).

Both Gloria and Rutilio expressed that one of the strengths of Ciederpaz is that each institution and organization involved is autonomous. As Gloria says, “Ciederpaz brings together many ways of thinking. Hand in hand, we can build strategies for peacebuilding and continue reconciling ourselves with one another. We should not forget the war, but we can advance with the theme of reconciliation. Ciederpaz allows organizations to advance and to grow in their social development.”

The fact that an evangelical church, the Catholic church, Indigenous and Afro groups and other local and national entities, each with very different perspectives and experiences, can sit down together and work together to build a better society inspires me and shows me that peace is possible.

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