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
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
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