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Success is not always spectacular. It is often quiet, lacking in fanfare. It can also be slow in the making. These unspectacular successes are, however, the most important ones because they create lasting change. This is certainly the kind of success being enjoyed by the Colombian Red Cross as it addresses essential national problems and carves a place for itself in peacebuilding and national reconciliation. And with all due respect to its own quiet nature, it is a success that should be upheld as a role model both within and outside the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The internal strife and political chaos that mark this decade have simultaneously provoked a search for peace, and National Societies, operating on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and unity, are natural players in any peace process. The Cambodian Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent have demonstrated the increased understanding and confidence-building that unification brings with it. The Mozambique Red Cross has taken on sensitive tasks in conflict areas. In Rwanda, the National Society is asking itself how it can contribute to peace and reconciliation.

Colombia offers excellent lessons in this regard. First among them is the lesson of ingenuity: contributing to peace is by no means limited to the narrow confines of negotiation. In Colombia, peacebuilding means taking care of street children or advocating for the needs of poor communities. This is because the Colombian Red Cross consciously mapped out a strategy to apply its principles and goals to the current needs of the country. It breathed life into international humanitarian law and came up with innovative, long-term solutions to complex realities.

The second lesson has to do with the distinctly national character of the reconciliation process. Foreigners can’t do it. No matter that outsiders broker then institute peace accords, when it comes to age-old enemies having to work and live together day in and day out, it is national organisations and national cooperation that counts. The historic handshake may make it to television screens and newspaper headlines, but the real success lies in countless numbers of ordinary handshakes that follow.

Finally, the Colombian Red Cross has something truly universal to teach its counterparts around the world, something not at all related to peace or reconciliation processes. National Societies often complain that it is difficult to attract and maintain the interest of young people.

This is not the case in Colombia, though, and the reason is a simple matter of relevance. In trying to tackle its country’s many problems, the Colombian Red Cross has made sure its activities and aims are relevant; they captivate youth because they respond to their world.
This is not to say that the task the Colombian Red Cross has set itself is an easy one. On the contrary, in a context of such extremes, treading a middle road is both arduous and fraught with obstacles. But, with the inventiveness, courage and persistence that it has already demonstrated, the National Society possesses all the qualities required to build on its success.

Margareta Wahlström
Under Secretary General for Disaster Relief and Operations Coordination
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

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