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Bonding in the Jungle

The Expedition starts at the Capacity-building and Reincorporation Spaces (ETCR) in Anorí, La Plancha district, where the 36th front of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Army of the People (FARC-EP) guerilla is living. Since they handed in their arms in 2016 and can call themselves a political party today, the name changed to the Alternative Revolutionary Force of the Common people (FARC). The Government provides all ex-combatants with a place to live. These small communities of houses are located in rural districts of the country and the inhabitants are waiting there to hear from the government in order to start their reintegration process into society. Perspectives are difficult to perceive and the political progress of the peace accords is slow, which leaves the ex-combatants waiting there without knowing what the future will bring for them. Despite this situation, there are a number of small projects in different fields that are approaching the ex-combatants and include them into co-learning processes with students and other groups of people.Ex-Commandant Anderson (Ovidio Mesa) is speaking on behalf of the ex-combatants who participate in the project during the official opening of the Bio Anorí Expedition. For the ex-combatants, the expedition presents an opportunity to go back to the territories they have been occupying for many years. It is a new birth, going back with a different purpose, which is to accompany the scientists and teach them how to properly explore and survive in the forest while learning about the species that inhabit this area, and how to work there from a scientific perspective. It is a return that means getting to know the same place, but differently. For Anderson and his companions, it is a return without the fear and stress they lived through during the war, where the forest served as protection and place to hide. After the opening the project team takes a bus to La Tirana district. When arriving there, they find out that another armed group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), took control of the territory. Commandant Anderson and the international organizations involved negotiate a deal with the ELN to get access to the territory, which takes them three days. After that, the journey continues. The route is not easy and it is necessary to cross bridges and the Anorí river, which requires courage and strength. In total, the walk takes the team six to seven hours until they reach their base camp, where they conduct their searches for different species of plants and animals who inhabit the Antioquian rainforest.The group arrives at the camp (coordinates 7°21’14.85’’N 75°5’24.68’’0) which has been prepared by the ex-combatants. On the biological map, this area forms part of the Chocó rainforest, and politically and geographically, it forms part of the Antioquia region. Scientists, ex-combatants and the community work into the night, because the PNUD provided three hours of electricity and internet during these hours. The investigators used this time to evaluate and prepare the material they collected throughout the day to take it to the laboratory at the end of the expedition.The scientists, professor and students, measure a snake they caught in the forest and prepare it for the laboratory. Two ex-combatants observe the process and learn about these kind of processes that are conducted when scientifically researching species. The students and ex-combatants participate in all activities and combine their knowledge in order to execute the project. Here, we see them building traps for marsupials. Sometimes the scientists go for a walk and look for animals, which they attract by imitating their sounds. The binoculars and the camera are their steady companions. During a break, the scientists and ex-combatants play “Tricky”, a game with the goal to have three playing stones in one row. Passing the days living and working together allows them to relate to each other on many different levels, strengthens their bond and the sense of companionship during the expedition. Arley, an ex-combatant, becomes fully skilled in the preparation of animals, enjoys the opportunity to develop new skills and learn about the process from catching an animal, preparing it and taking it to the laboratory.The team built up a bird station half an hour away from the base camp. The scientists collect birds, weigh and measure them. They are accompanied by ex-combatants, who help out with looking up characteristics in specialized books. In doing this, they learn about the existence of different species and how to distinguish one from the other.One special achievement of the expedition is that the scientists discovered a new species of palm trees. It has recently been baptized with the name Cheliocarpus_sp.nov. The participants of the excursion like to call the new type of palm tree the "Peace Palm Tree".

A group of ex-guerilla combatants and academics conducted a common research project in the Colombian jungle which is part of the reintegration process of former FARC-fighters into the Colombian society. Robinson Henao accompanied them with his camera.

With the following pictures, you will be taken on a journey to the Colombian jungle while being introduced to a group of young people: ex-guerilla fighters, students and professors of three Medellín based universities. These 50 people participated in the reconciliation expedition “Bio Anorí 2018”, a project aimed at reintegrating former fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC-fighters were opposing the government in a civil war for more than fifty years, from the 1960s until they signed a peace agreement in 2016 and surrendered their weapons. In alignment with the agreement, they shall now be reintegrated in society. The project was executed by the EAFIT University of Mendellín, and sponsored by the Public Enterprises of Medellín (EPM) and the Development Program of the United Nations in Colombia (PNUD).

Photographer Robinson Henao accompanied the team of scientists and ex-combatants on a 12-day expedition to the Antioquian rainforest  and shares his perspective on the expedition on the following pages. What he witnessed is a magical encounter between two groups of people, whom at first, do not have much in common. However, through their common expedition to an area that was formerly inaccessible to the public and controlled by the FARC, they started a process of co-learning and getting to know each other. What connects them today is not only the experience of participating in a mission to collect material and discover new species in a hardly accessible area, but the realization that they share a special human connection beyond the limits of their identity and history, beyond fear and conflict.