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"Making the invisible, visible." - Weaving Hope Colombian Event:Toronto

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - 11:37
    By Duncan Garrow, Amnesty International Toronto (AITO) Board member, member of AI Toronto Speakers Bureau, member Church of the Redeemer Action Circle.

    By any account the evening had already been a great success. Upwards of 100 people braved the elements on a chilly Friday night to fill all of the available seats for Weaving Hope, a night in support of Indigenous people in Colombia. Many were attending their first Amnesty event, and enthusiastically joined in the many creative actions. Painted hand prints were made, photos of solidarity were taken, and petitions were signed. The audience listened attentively to the poetry of Ojibway writer Art Solomon and shared in the smudging and blessing ceremony conducted by Clayton Shirt. 

    And they kept arriving in groups of two and three as Ruben Esguerra performed his unique brand of Latin American music mixed with a healthy dose of hip hop. By the time Quique Escamilla performed his soulful set inspired by his home state of Chiapas, Mexico, extra chairs were needed to fill the nooks and crannies of the Steelworkers Union Hall.  Yes, the music, poetry, and large crowd made it a thumbs up evening all around.

    But the night wasn’t over, not by a long shot. Maria Patricia Tobon Yagari, an indigenous lawyer and Embera speaker from Colombia, stood up to address the audience.  She spoke through an interpreter and was visibly exhausted from four whirlwind days of meetings in Ottawa. Though choked with emotion, she slowly yet powerfully proceeded to describe the plight of her people.  And when she finished, she looked out to the crowd, and with a wry and slightly devilish smile, did something she admitted she had never done before in her life, at least not in the shower. She sang for us.

    In her native tongue and in a few short verses she sang of her people, her home, and all that it means to her. She sang of so much that has already been lost, and her hope of what still might be saved. And when she finished, Federico Guzman, the speaker scheduled to conclude the evening, was so moved that he did something just as remarkable. He asked not to speak. Guzman, a celebrated jurist and human rights champion in his own right, bowed out because he believed nothing he could add would have nearly as much impact as what we had just heard. 

    As they packed up to leave, Maria Patricia beamed with delight at the beautiful mural she was given in solidarity with all of us in Canada, and Federico thanked  the volunteers and staff of Amnesty for “helping  immensely with their struggle in Colombia, and for making the invisible, visible. ”

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