“We, the reincorporated women, contribute to peace every day”: Yarledys Olaya
Yarledys Olaya is indigenous. She is 38 years old. She joined the FARC when she was very young, and remained there for 21 years. Today she is the president of the Community Action Board of what is now the Tierra Grata village, in Manaure, Cesar. She is a mother and a proud leader. This is her testimony, which we highlight on International Women's Day.
“I am a native Barí, I grew up in a remote and mountainous region, where the population lived from agriculture. As I grew up in a very remote area, where several armed groups were present, including the FARC. I remember that many people sought help to solve problems of coexistence or family. That caught my attention.
Besides, I was born in a jungle, with no options for the future, not even to continue studying. My expectations were not higher than hoping for a sharp machete, a basket and some artisan gloves to work with. That's why I made the decision to join the FARC when I was only 13 years old. It was a difficult process because I was very young, but I insisted on entering until I could. Since that day my name is Yaquelin Yajure, as I like to be called.
In the organization, I learned many things. I learned to be strong, to value myself as a woman, to be independent, to fight, to maintain my culture as an indigenous person and to express what I feel, which is quite the opposite of what I can see today in this society.
Life has taught me that we can also say: “Wake up!” We women cannot exist just to take care of our children, you decide when to be a mother, and our children and our partners cannot be a limitation.
Life has taught me that we can also say: “Wake up!”
I have two girls, they represent my two stages of life, the time of war and the time of peace. When I was in the war I had my first girl, 'Yakana', who is now 13 years old. Then, in the time of peace, I had Jacqueline, who is three years old, and bears the name by which I've been called since I was 13 years old.
In 2016, with the Peace Agreement, another very different moment arrived. I was relocated to the state of Cesar. Those were times of sacrifice and harsh walks, until we finally arrived, alive. In my very personal case, I thought that we were going to continue fighting in another way, without fear. But, what I never thought was that peace was also going to cost us our lives. Peace cannot continue to cost us our lives.
In the war, we were organized, and in this new stage of peace, we felt the need to organize ourselves. When the former Territorial Space for Training and Reincorporation, TSTR, of Tierra Grata, was formalized and became a village in the municipality of Manaure, Cesar, the Community Action Board was created, this being the first created in an AETCR. And I was chosen to chair the JAC, which was my first round in this Peace Process.
In this role I feel good, because we not only interact with ex-combatants but also with people who are not ex-combatants and those from the surrounding communities, betting on reconciliation and peace.
One of the most important projects I have worked on is the work that allowed the arrival of water to Tierra Grata and El Mirador, which is a neighbouring community. This was a community project supported by the FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
I say it with pride, it was a very nice process carried out with the neighbouring community and us, the reincorporated. We made trails, built ditches, carried material, shared community pots, snacks, rotated tools, all with a single goal: to bring water to each of these communities. It has been my best experience and learning of reconciliation and coexistence.
I know that, to date, many leading processes have been accomplished and I have been part of them, thanks to the support of the community that has given me that opportunity. In the resistance, a leader without troops was nothing or vice versa. Today, in peace, I make that comparison a lot. A leader is nothing without the support of the community, and a community or any process without leadership is nothing either.
As a community, I am president of the JAC of Tierra Grata, but within the reincorporation process, I have played and have other roles. I worked for two years in the Territorial Reintegration Council. Today, I am part of the Ethnic Roundtable. I am a liaison for the AETCR of Tierra Grata in the local and regional ITPS mechanism, which is the Tripartite Protection and Security Instance, in which participates the Public Force and the UN.
I am an active member of COOPERPAZCE, a cooperative that works with a primary objective: to contribute to the social, economic and cultural improvement of its associates. We work on the largest project that integrates the reincorporated population: the housing project. I am from Comunes, a local political adviser of the territorial space, as well as an ethnic adviser in the departmental council. There are several roles that I have within the peace process, they strengthen my experience and learning.
We, the ex-combatant women, contribute to peace from different roles in the territories. At the moment we arrived at our new life, there was not a group that arrived without the presence of women. This means that in the war we also played a fundamental role, and now in this new moment, we are contributing and helping to build peace. We feel that this process is very much ours and that is why we are willing to contribute until the last drop of sweat. This process opens many challenges, today many of us are mothers, others are not, but we are still fighters.
In politics, I am glad that today there are many women as candidates and can participate in these spaces alongside our comrades. In any case, as a reincorporated woman, every day that passes I feel safety risks since currently there are many comrades murdered and no answer can be found.
We, women, have great challenges in this Peace Process, this is why we bet on it with all our strength. The most important thing is that we are full-time, long-term fighters, and not demotivating ourselves in the process. Above the difficulties, we must stay united alongside men and encourage each other collectively.
We, women, have great challenges in this Peace Process, this is why we bet on it with all our strength. The most important thing is that we are full-time, long-term fighters, and not demotivating ourselves in the process".
I like the gender issue when it comes to eradicating ‘machismo’, where we must demand equal opportunities as long as we have the capacity to do so. I say this because we also have to keep learning and training. Women play an important role, not only in the reincorporation process but also in any space in the implementation of the Peace Agreement.
The peace process has given me a great opportunity, having my home, my family, being able to see it, being able to share and interact with my family, is one of my strengths as a woman signatory to peace. In the future, I may not have a role as a leader, because I will not be in this role forever. But, I will continue to be the same woman, with the same desire to work, build relationships, and as far as I can, bet on peace.
I picture my future here in Tierra Grata. If they let me get to, I don't know how old, I picture myself getting old. I dream of a reincorporated community, and everyone with their homes, with the opportunity to live with dignity.
We have been here for five years, and living in a 6x4 room is not easy, because we are not the only ones who arrived in arms, but we already have our children and families, that is why the despair of each one of us is to have a worthy home. I am pleased and satisfied to see the processes that are being led here in the area of housing. To date, we can almost see two houses built by ourselves. In these tasks, we women contribute a large part of the work and I must highlight it, I am proud to know that I contribute a grain of sand working with my comrades.
As an ex-combatant mother who only arrived with a gun in her hand and a few things packed in a backpack, what else could be my happiness than being able to have my house and with it being able to offer my daughters more peace of mind, comfort, and happiness?
My thinking is to continue studying. I arrived in Tierra Grata as I left home, as a fifth-grader. Today, I am a high school graduate. In a couple of years, I dream of showing my sociologist diploma, soon I will start studying sociology at UNAD.
I don't think only of myself, I also encourage the rest of my comrades. I tell them: “if you haven't finished high school, go ahead and do it, and if you've already finished it, don't stay there, we have to continue as far as they let us go”. As a leader, I encourage people to participate in the different spaces where we get the opportunity. I think this is my grain of sand that I must contribute.”
Paola Pelletier, Yesika Santiago y Jorge Quintero
UN Verification Mission in Colombia