Project Update: Mi Voz, Nuestra Historia

From the U.S. Alumni TIES seminar “Education for All: Inclusion and Access as Pathways to Peace,” Fulbright ETA alumna Sarah Cohen works to amplify the voices of marginalized populations in Colombia. Her project, “Mi Voz, Nuestra Historia” (“My Voice, Our Story”), combines reconciliation and storytelling to make education in Colombia more inclusive and diverse across classrooms.

You can follow more about Sarah’s project and other U.S. Alumni Small Grant recipients from our Portland, Oregon seminar here.

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Mi voz, nuestra historia es un proyecto audiovisual que promueve inclusión y conciencia en la educación popular colombiana || Mi Voz, Nuestra Historia is an audiovisual storytelling and teacher training project that promotes inclusion and awareness in Colombian popular education.

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Mi Voz, Nuestra Historia (My Voice, Our Story):

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What is the role of the educator in building equity and inclusion in a new era of peace? How can I apply digital storytelling and principles of popular education to build a more inclusive classroom environment?

These questions anchor the Mi Voz, Nuestra Historia project as it seeks to explore ways to build more inclusive classrooms in post-conflict Colombia — classrooms that acknowledge the diverse experiences of all students. The project aims to show how a tool like digital storytelling and the principles of popular education can be used to balance a traditionally one-sided narrative.

In August 2017, “Mi Voz, Nuestra Historia” officially launched with a week of filming in Cali and Buenaventura, Colombia. This digital storytelling project explores how three Afro-Colombian leaders’ experiences as participants in the Fundacion Escuela Ciudadana (Citizens’ School) program in Cali, Colombia grew their capacity as activists and developed them into the leaders they are today. In 2013, Julieth (age 28), Neris (age 70), and Angela (age 21) all met in this community activism organization based in Cali’s Aguablanca neighborhood. This area is home to a large population of residents displaced from their native regions. The weekly gathering at Escuela Ciudadana brought together Afro-Colombians of all ages who have been displaced to Cali to advocate for inclusion and political organizing using the principles of popular education.

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Colombia’s internal armed conflict has forcibly displaced more than 6.8 million Colombians, a disproportionate number of them Afro-Colombian and other historically marginalized communities. The film focuses on the Pacific Region of Cali and Buenaventura because of its significant population of internally-displaced residents.

Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and philosopher of critical pedagogy, defined popular education as “an educational approach that collectively and critically examines everyday experiences and raises consciousness for organizing and movement building, acting on injustices with a political vision in the interests of the most marginalized.” The philosophy encourages all participants to teach and learn from one another as they critically reflect on their community’s issues. As Neris said, “popular education is a practical space for togetherness, dialogue, and reflection on our society, forging our ancestral history with modern technology.” Many former participants in the Escuela Ciudadana attribute their current activism efforts to the knowledge collaboratively generated in that setting.

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Director Leonardo Rua and Sarah interview Julieth in Buenaventura.

The film highlights these three leaders’ experiences and gives a voice to their stories. We do this through digital storytelling, which uses technology to share everyday stories with a broader audience. I have also been collaborating with UNICA staff and students to plan the full-day “My Voice, Our Story” workshop on October 20th, 2017. Julieth, Angela, and Neris will reunite for the first time since their days in the Escuela Ciudadana alongside the entire university community of 180+ students and staff in Bogotá. The event will feature the official debut of the film, a student-led workshop on the role popular education and digital storytelling can play in building inclusive communities, and a panel discussion with the film’s three featured activists.

Meet the Activists

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Julieth is a lawyer for the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), which advocates against racial discrimination and for the rights of people who have been displaced by the armed conflict.
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Neris, who was displaced to Cali by the armed conflict in 2007, reflects on his experience in the Escuela Ciudadana, where shared learning and consciousness-raising formed the basis for community activism. A rural public health systems worker in his native region of Charco Nariño for over 20 years, he currently works as a customer service agent in the public bus system in Cali.
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Angela is a student at the Universidad del Valle in Cali and works with children at a community center. Her motto is, “We believe in utopian ideas because our current reality seems impossible to us. I work for my community because we must strive to create a different way of thinking where knowledge can be shared.”

Written and contribute by Sarah Cohen.

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Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.

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