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Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines

Katie Batchelor (2013, MML (French and Spanish))

With the generous help of the THA, I was able to volunteer with the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines (CCBL) in the Columbian capital Bogota for six weeks.

CCBL was founded in 2000 to work to ensure that the Colombian Government ratified the Ottawa Treaty, which aims to eliminate the use and production of anti-personnel mines around the world. After Cambodia and Afghanistan, Colombia is the third worst affected country by landmines due to the civil conflict that has lasted over 50 years.

Bogota and Lost City in Santa Marta
(l-r) Bogota and Lost City in Santa Marta

I worked with CCBL for six weeks at their headquarters in Bogota, working on translations from Spanish and putting together reports of their programs in mine risk education, victim assistance, advocacy and demining projects. The largest project I took on was the translation of the company’s manual of operating procedures for their demining projects. They have only recently begun taking part in the physical labour of thorough demining (no, I didn’t get close to any actual landmines) and they will be working with other international companies and branches of the UN to do so, for which they need an English translation of their manual. The main challenge for me was my previous lack of landmine-related knowledge, as this is a very technical field that requires rigorous safety procedures and specific equipment. The level-of-detail was confusing for me in English, let alone in another language. However, over the weeks, the knowledge that the two other volunteers and I picked up while doing a lot of research for project reports prepared me for the task.

While volunteering for CCBL I was also able to explore some of Colombia, flying off to Medellin and Santa Marta. Though the stereotypical image that foreigners have of Colombia – drug lords, violence and guerrilla warfare – still creates suspicion and worry among some, the country has changed a lot since Pablo Escobar’s day. Tourism is surging now, especially on the Caribbean coast, and local people are continuingly surprised and grateful when foreigners see through the warnings and visit their country.

The whole experience was really rewarding: being able to help, even in a small way, an organisation that does such important work for Colombia, while also improving my Spanish and knowledge of the work that NGOs do.

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