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Volunteers chronicle the lives of murdered Colombian activists in words and drawings

Postales para Memoria is a project run by volunteers. Hashtag says: they're killing us. Used with permission.

Colombia is experiencing a spike in violence since President Juan Manuel Santos signed a historic peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), with one person being killed every four days since 2016.

As the FARC demobilizes in the countryside, it also opens a vacuum for other groups — including other guerrilla, successors of right-wing paramilitary groups, and dissidents of the FARC itself — to fight for control over the abandoned lands. In turn, community leaders and activists are caught in the crossfire and the government has been slow to address the problem.

While solutions eludes the government, activists are setting up initiatives to preserve the memories of the victims. Among them is “Postales para la memoria” (postcards for memory), a collaborative project in which volunteer illustrators and writers draw portraits or write short biographies of the assassinated activists.

For the project's creators, the victims’ stories end up lost in the background of the media's coverage of the peace process. The website says:

La postal es un vehículo de comunicación poderoso, con el potencial de capturar lo esencial de cada historia y de ser compartida digital y físicamente a cualquier parte del mundo, dándonos a todos el poder de contribuir, comunicar y contarle al mundo sobre nuestros líderes.

The postcard is a powerful medium, capable of capturing the essentials of each story and send that message digitally or physically around the world, giving us all the power of contributing, communicating and telling the world about our leaders.

No professional experience is required — anyone who wants to participate can get started by getting in touch through email and proposing to either write a story or draw any of the leaders.

Human rights defenders, educators, environmentalists

Sandra Viviana Cuéllar was a community leader in Cali, Valle de Cauca. She defended the natural resources of her community's land from the palm oil industry. She was murdered in 2011, at age 26. Here's her postcard:

Sandra Viviana Cuéllar's postcard. Illustrated by Ana María Lagos Gallego. Used with permission.

Ella vivía y sufría por todo lo que tuviera vida: una planta, un animal abandonado […] A mí me impresionaba su capacidad de dinamizar, de movilizar, de relacionarse de una manera alegre y sencilla con la gente. […] A Sandra la desaparecieron un jueves hacia mediodía en un sector conocido como El Terminalito. Iba rumbo a Palmira a dictar su primera clase de cultura y medio ambiente en la Universidad Nacional. Vestía un jean azul y una camisa negra. Su celular y su billetera fueron encontrados dos días después cerca al paradero de buses, intactos. Esa fue la única y la última noticia que tuvieron de ella.

She lived and suffered for all that lived: a plant, an abandoned animal […] It impressed me her capacity to dynamize, to mobilize, to relate to others in a happy and simple way. […] Sandra was disappeared one Thursday around noon, in an area known as El Terminalito. She was on her way to Palmira to give her first class on culture and environment at the National University. She was wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt. Her phone and her purse were found two days later by the bus stop, intact. That was the last and only news they've heard from her.

Yolanda Maturana lived in the town of Pueblo Rico, in the department of Risaralda. She had found the community-based environmental organisation “Asociación de Amigos de la Fauna y La Flora” (The Association of Friends of Fauna and Flora). She was murdered in her home on February 2018, at age 59.

Se destaca de Yolanda, su preocupación genuina por la sostenibilidad de los recursos naturales que abastecían a su comunidad, razón por la cual apoyó el proceso que derivó en la reglamentación de la cacería de sustento del territorio colectivo de Santa Cecilia.

Remarkable in Yolanda was her preoccupation for the sustainability of the resources that nourished her community, which is the reason why she supported the legalisation of subsistence hunting in the collective territory of Santa Cecilia.

Yolanda Maturana's postcard. Illustrated by Catalina Uribe and used with permission.

There are many more postcards of indigenous leaders, educators, activists against anti-personnel mines and human rights activists.

Liliana Astrid Martínez Ramírez, educator and mother of two children. Illustrated by Helena Melo. Used with permission.

Eliécer Carvajal, attorney who participated in the peace agreements in his district. Illustrated by Juandacoco. Used with permission.

Many more stories like Liliana's and Eliécer's, whose postcards can be seen above, await their own volunteer storyteller, just like other stories await their own illustrator.

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