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    Colombia

October 13, 2012

Art as a Social Force for Change – a Folklorist for Peace Relates the Stories of Life

What were you doing this summer? It was by complete chance that I ended up living in Washington, DC, and met Mike Synder. Mike, it just so happened, is a past American Rotary Ambassadorial Fellow who studied in my home of Scotland a few years back. When he returned to the US, Mike started his own filmmaking company to highlight environmental issues within Appalachian communities. He is a talented, passionate filmmaker dedicated to his art and to making the world a better place. Mike and I found a connection in our passion for the arts, so it seemed natural to combine a folklorist’s interest in the stories of life with film. Together we produced a slam poetry film that explores art as a social force for change.

“No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine” features a slam poem I wrote a few years ago while working with people affected by conflict in Colombia. While in Colombia, I met people living in refugee camps, internally displaced by a conflict that has plagued the country for years. According to the UN refugee agency, Colombia has around three million internally displaced persons (IDPs)—the second highest number in the world after Sudan.


There is No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine – Kiran Sirah

On my return to Scotland, many people, I among them, attended music festivals regularly such as Glastonbury. At one of these music festivals, set in a lush green field covered by a sea of multicolored tents, I saw people sipping fair trade tea and coffee. They talked about the greatness of our nation with a population so supportive of the “fair trade” concept as a way to help producers around the world—they chatted about fair trade even as many did lines of cocaine. People seemed oblivious to the fact they were fueling a war thousands of miles away.

Although I had not thought of the connections before, after being in Colombia and making so many friends there, I was inspired to write the poem “No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine.” The theme of the poem is the idea that each line of cocaine connects to stories of destruction in another part of the world. Despite worldwide perceptions of Colombia as a country of violence, I found it to be a place of beauty and determination with a passion for life. Colombia is a country where, regardless of their living situations, people take you into their hearts. Nowhere in the world have I been and felt more accepted and welcomed than in Colombia.

This poem is a response to the unfair ways Colombians have been blamed for the trade in cocaine. My poem emphasizes the idea that we embrace fair trade while remaining ignorant about how some of our other choices negatively impact social justice. Today, the primary demand for cocaine continues to come from the UK and the US. Through this film, we hope to raise awareness about how western cocaine consumption continues to fuel conflicts, destroy families, and ruin lives.

What I discovered this summer is that when we look for and listen more closely to the stories of life, we find artistic connections, new friendships, and inspiration for powerful artistic ventures that can make the world a better place for all.