The European Association of History Educators (EUROCLIO) chose Colombia to participate on the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”. The Project started on February 2016 and will end on April 2017 with the aim of enabling the exchange of experiences between education leaders from 8 different nationalities and from countries that are working towards education in history and historical memory.
Representatives from Bosnia Herzegovina and India came to Bogota from March 12th to March 16th. They visited the National Center for Historical Memory as well as other institutions, such as, public and private schools, the Ministry of Education and the Center of Memory, Peace and Reconciliation.
Meena Megha Malhotra from India, is one of the core members of the project. She is an artist and works directing the Peace Work Project of the Seagull Foundation. They promote social change through artistic expressions and workshops with children all over India. For her, one of the great challenges in her country is the “culture of silence” regarding the learning about the past, the recent conflicts in certain regions, and the ethnic and inter-caste conflicts.
Senada Jusic is a historian and history teacher from Bosnia Herzegovina. She works with EUROCLIO in her country and is working to rebuild the History syllabus for schools in Sarajevo. In Bosnia, the Inter-ethnic conflicts related to the internal armed conflict -prior to the independence from Yugoslavia-, have not been well managed. The stereotypes inside the country are growing a culture of indifference among the young people, who want to leave to other European countries rather than staying and working for the wellbeing of their own people.
The National Center for Historical Memory interviewed them, and here are their answers:
Why did you choose Colombia?
Meena: I must confess not having too much knowledge about your education system or the internal conflict, but I’ve heard from very solid references, people who worked with history, that there’s a lot of very valuable work happening here. In terms of incorporating the difficult past into schools and education. That was the trigger or interest for me, coming from where I do, where we don’t look at this at all.
Senada: For me it was the opposite. I knew a lot about conflict history in Colombia, guerrillas, internal conflict, kidnapping, raping. I knew about this, but I did not know anything about the education part, or the civil activism at all. But when I heard country per country, that here there is a connection between government and non-government organizations, even if it is from a very long level, I wanted to see how it works. Because one of the biggest issues for Bosnia Herzegovina is that we don’t have that connection. Because we have certain influence over certain people, but the government has influenced other part of the people. So combining those two powers and influences and knowledge, we would make great change. So that was my motivation to come here.
Did you confirm those ideas after your visit?
Meena: Absolutely. From what we have seen in the presentations, we are absolutely impressed by the work that’s going on. Very analytical and well planned.
Senada: I totally agree, I loved to see the realities of people who worked on the field who are making change. Besides, they are not in some kind of denial, they are very realistic about their work, what they can and cannot do at the moment.
Meena, what is the danger in the silence culture that you mentioned in your presentation?
The danger is that mindset. People are not talking about certain things, and the conditions and society are such that you are fixing mindsets and those mindsets are actually fuelling into divide. And divide is never good, is very dangerous. Is like a ticking bomb, you don’t know when or what’s going to be the trigger for it to explode and to become a conflict.
Senada, why is it important to talk about the past in a positive way, and not just in a negative way?
When you have a country that is struggling with economy, bad jobs, corruption, big number of immigration to other countries, unemployment, there is a very negative smell in the air. So people always talk about just negative stuff. But when you start taking out into light about what’s positive, what you can make or what you have, then you inspire hope for the future, but also encourage people to act more, to work more. For example, if you explain to new generations that their work in Bosnia is as good as their work in Germany, they can begin to see their future in their own country. Because of that negative influence for many years they just lose hope, they leave to other countries. But if they stay and work more, maybe we can transform society, in general.
For both, it is easy to lose hope when you don’t see change happening as fast as you would like to. Sometimes we feel that in Colombia after such a long armed conflict. In your own experiences, how do you keep on working without becoming desperate?
Meena: A big difference is that when it becomes a national agenda then the entire population outcomes become very different. Which is how I see it is in the case of Colombia. Where there are very strategic decisions that were taken for the peace building process, out in the public sphere. Whereas, in our case, it doesn’t exist. Is more of working with the intangible. When you work with the intangible, the responses are very different from what your expectations are. You want to see change in your lifetime, but you can’t afford to be impatient because your work is such, that is not going to happen overnight. But you cannot lose hope because it is worth it: peace and well-being for everybody. And, at least for now, you have some parts of the national institutions working towards it.
Senada: As a child I was taught that every day you had to do something nice, something beautiful. That is one thing; the other is to believe that there is something good in every human being. And that this, will empower them towards making them part of social change. You need to have that believe, otherwise there is no sense in doing anything.