Pupils in Finchley, north London, recently received a very special visit from a group of land and human rights defenders who travelled from Colombia to speak to the students about the importance of environmental protection.
Known locally in Colombia as The Guardians of Atrato River, Euma Pedroza, a female indigenous leader, Fausto Palacios, a youth coordinator and advisor, and lawyer Oscar Salinas, visited Finchley Catholic High to spend the day with the pupils.
During their visit, which coincided with the school's International Day, the Guardians spoke about their experiences of protecting, defending and preserving their land - especially the local Atrato River.
Chocó in Colombia, where the Atrato River is located, is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, but as a result of illegal mining activities and the armed conflict, the land is being destroyed.
In a landmark ruling in 2017, Colombia's Constitutional Court recognised the Atrato River as itself having rights - to "protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration" - yet, two years later, many community members trying to protect the river and the surrounding lands from pollution and destruction still face discrimination and threats of violence.
The three Colombian visitors spoke to Finchley Catholic High pupils about the daily dangers faced by many Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities living locally to the river as they try to protect the environment.
They were also given a tour of the school by three Spanish language students who were able to help with translation and later joined students for their 'International Lunch'.
Gerrard Crosby, Assistant Head Teacher and Director of the Sixth Form at the school, said: "I felt extremely privileged to have the Guardians of the Atrato River visit our school. Whilst we take for granted our home, our environment, our safety, these people have barriers forced upon them, whereas our environmental issues are self-inflicted.
"Human rights is a priority for all of us and in our country and they are an expectation, so to see these people actively defending their rights was inspirational. I felt like it was a renewed call to social responsibility.
"The Guardians enabled me to see charitable work in action and the attachment of people to the land; it empowered me to spread the word, to continue to support and we will do all we can as a school community to support such causes".
CAFOD has worked in Colombia for over 50 years and is currently working alongside the community that protects the Atrato River to make sure their voices are heard.
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