Former PBI Volunteers Share their Experiences at First Meeting of PBI Alumni Network

Tense encounters with paramilitaries in the Colombian jungle, 10-hour meetings, exhumations and festivities in remote Guatemalan villages, the stresses and joys of communal life, emergency evacuations of threatened human rights defenders, the meaning of solidarity, and a constant emotional rollercoaster between frustration and hope.

These were among the memories and reflections shared at the first meeting of the new PBI alumni network, held on 30 January. The session brought together UK-resident volunteers from the PBI field teams from a span of over 15 years. It was a space for recent and not-so-recent volunteers to exchange notes about the pasts and presents of their chosen countries, share stories with members of different field teams, and reflect on what makes every PBI year unique, but with a core of common experience. The group comprised current human rights workers, analysts, academics, lawyers and more. Some remain closely connected to PBI’s work; for others, the reunion offered a chance to reconnect after many years. Despite the variety of experiences and future paths, the shared memories of working under PBI’s principles and philosophy of consensus produced many moments of warm recognition. Above all, the group connected over the huge inspiration each had drawn from working closely with human rights defenders facing the most difficult of circumstances.

The session was guided by documentary filmmaker Helen Selka, with a view to producing a short film on the PBI experience. We hope the alumni network will continue to grow, and would love to hear from other former PBI volunteers on what their time in the field meant to them, and how it has influenced their lives.