School for Afro-Colombians is a refuge from conflict Reply

When Kevin O’Dowd set out to make a documentary film about an unusual education project in Colombia, he didn’t expect to get caught up in the country’s decades-long conflict himself.

Courtesy of Kevin O'Dowd

Courtesy of Kevin O’Dowd

Working with the Norwegian Refugee Council and the local Afro-Colombian group RECOMPAS, O’Dowd planned to film in jungle villages around the Pacific port city of Tumaco, in the southwestern corner of the country.

But the message didn’t reach the main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC. The film crew retreated nervously when they learned that rebels encircled the village they had hoped to visit. The next day, the rebels exploded three bombs in the city; O’Dowd and his colleagues were not the targets, but they were close enough to feel the impact.

Those events framed the filmmaking but did not deter it. They gave O’Dowd a clear sense of his central theme: the need to provide education during emergencies, especially conflicts that continue for many years. His documentary, “Stopping the Shakiro,” focuses on the Ethno-High School built to serve one of Colombia’s most marginalized populations – Afro-Colombians.

Diana Patricia Quinones and Gina Germania Aguino, two young Afro-Colombian women from the fishing village of Chajal who had dropped out of school, tell the story of their second chance at education. They describe how getting a diploma from the Ethno-High School has transformed how they see themselves and how they raise their children.

View the documentary here.

The school principal and other officials describe the dangers that students and educators face in an area with multiple armed groups. They say that students are often displaced from their homes by the violence and that an education tailored to their needs plays a vital role in their protection and development.

Ethno-High School supporters include the Canadian International Development Agency, the Norwegian Refugee Council, which financed the documentary, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation and the Norwegian National Telethon.

For O’Dowd, the documentary was not just a master’s thesis project but also a chance to bring attention to an important issue, and an experience he’ll never forget.

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