School of Nonviolent Action: “an ethical resistance to evil”


Interview produced in collaboration between ESAN-DIPAZ and ALC News.

We spoke with the pastor and professor Milciades Pua, coordinator of DIPAZ-Interchurch Dialog for Peace’s pedagogic area, through the School of Nonviolent Action-ESAN.

How does ESAN come about?

The idea of Dipaz having a pedagogical component, and specially of making a training school, goes back to the beginnings of the platform because there was a deep conviction that this peace process we had transited, that we had accompanied national and internationally, needed a pedagogical component which could explain to christian people the scope of this agreement that was taking place in Habana and also to explain from a christian viewpoint because we were accompanying the peace process. That’s where it comes about, taking into account that many of Dipaz’s organizations do educational work, be it in churches, training for community leadership and the universities it is made up of. This is the School’s seed.

How do you assume the challenge of making a lifestyle out of nonviolence in the middle of a peace process while there’s still such violence in the territories?

I tell you, these are processes that break in a personal sese. I come from the reformed tradition that in some moments in history revindicates the resistance against injustice, and a resistance that even in some moments of history had concrete political actions in European countries and other places, as was seen even in the United States’ independance. A bit of it was the breaking that comes with knowing that resistance is possible through nonviolence, it invites us to think that there are nonviolent paths. We live in a country that’s continuously ravished, that has reached unthinkable limits, like the way in which life lost its value, the way in which conflicts got solved, etc. We are a violent society, given that this not only took place in the context of war and the state’s counteroffensive, but also in the day to day life that got affected, which is why we reached levels of intolerance that led to the deaths during the conflict and the day to day, in the civic security.

We reflect that the church, being a place where different visions- even political ones- and different appreciations for the interpretations of the Bible can agglutinate, can be a place of coexistence among the differences. From this point we start: the church can not reproduce the same patterns of violence that society on its whole is reproducing. The church would have to turn into a space of nonviolence. That’s why we opt for NON violence as an ethical resistance against evil.

Who and how many are the people that have trained in the School?

This is a selection process we made inside Dipaz’s organizations, which work in different communities. When we did this we said “This has to be something very open because it has to be a gamble from Dipaz in service of the faith-based organizations and churches, independently of them being members of the Platform or not”. We opened a call on which more than 200 people registered, and of those 200 we put as criteria that they were compromised with faith-based

communities, working in territories and that they had communal experience to go down a long training process- between 12 and 18 months- theoretical and practical, where growth happens as reflections are made. 198 people were chosen to begin with. Now there are 168 people who finished the training process, with a low amount of dropouts, given by work or transfer reasons, not by the contents.

How is this training observed in the territories, specially in zones with a lot of violence, like Cauca and others?

The people have given testimony of what the school meant (there will be written material about this), they say there’s a before and a now with this process. With respect to personal matters, many of them were in relationships highly marked by violences, and there things started to change and many of them turned into mediatory agents in conflicts, in many orders, from the familiar, communal, even participating in peace processes, denouncing human rights violations, accompanying victims, accompanying reincorporation processes, following the peace treaties, things they didn’t do before. They even found themselves participating in protests, identifying as school of nonviolent action, and many people say: “I never thought christians should go to the streets, to protest peacefully in favour of the rights of the vulnerable, of the killed social leadership”; as you see, changes keep happening.

Another case, we have a priest who directs a communal radio and who has replayed the contents of the ESAN as if it were a radio school ad the community organized itself conducting an activity for the 25th of November, day of nonviolence towards women. You see things like that: changes in attitudes and practices.

What are the school’s current challenges, how to reorient in times of pandemic, but also of war?

This changes what we had in mind. We had another setting to finish it and a smoother follow-up, that’s not the landscape. The same members themselves said “what’s going to happen after, how will we follow”, etc. And from the get go we prepared a deepening seminar with the National School of Communitarian Justice to give more practical tools to 50 members of the group. That’s how they met, because we have five different territorial modules, with people coming from different religions and levels of education and age. This created a great empathy within the group and it got systematised by making a multiplicative process for the contents. We already have “little ESANs” in the territories with materials from Dipaz, like the pamflet for Coronavirus times shared a few days ago.

Now we’re going to end the three modules we have: Barranquilla, Montería and Cali, and given we can’t have meetings we’re going to use the virtual platforms so they can make the presentations of their works and through those same virtual tools we’ll be accompanying the following of each one’s projects. We hope that around November and January (depending on how the sanitary situation evolves) we’ll be able to have face-to-face meetings to strengthen and evaluate the tools. We are each day in contact with the school’s student body, even when Apartado and Medellin already had their learning.

Translation: Massimiliano Tron, Freelance Translator. To contact him:

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