Las Espere: Group seeks to bring peace to victims of violence in Venezuela

If Rosa Orozco felt anger or resentment, it would be logical. Understandable. Natural. A soldier shot at her only daughter at point-blank range in the face. Her daughter lost an eye and 80% of her brain mass. After days of slow agony, she died.

Her name was Geraldine Moreno. She was 23-years-old, a university student who dreamed of a different country. That's why she started going out to protest against the government of Nicolás Maduro.

It would be understandable for Rosa Orozco to be angry. But four years after the murder of her daughter and after a long trial, the police responsible for her daughter’s death were condemned.

Now Orozco says she is able to raise the flag of forgiveness, thanks to the support of her fervently Catholic family and the School of Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

Supporters of Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles protest in front of riot policemen in Caracas on April 15, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/Geraldo CasoGERALDO CASO/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters of Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles protest in front of riot policemen in Caracas on April 15, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/Geraldo CasoGERALDO CASO/AFP/Getty Images)

The School of Forgiveness and Reconciliation (Las Espere) is a program developed by Colombian priest Leonel Narvaez. The school is more of a group workshop, consisting of 12 four-hour modules on forgiveness and reconciliation, guided by a facilitator.

In thorny matters such as forgiveness and reconciliation, what matters is emotion, not reason. The practice, not the theory. The School of Forgiveness and Reconciliation is an introspective and voluntary journey. A kind of therapy, confidential and intimate in which experiences are shared. A methodology to try to heal wounds and transform hatred and anger into something else.

It was his bet for the restoration of the social fabric.

"In the face of violence and its causes, Las Espere allows people living under violence to consolidate their emotions and develop cultural and psychological restoration,” explains the foundation's website.

The initiative was recognized in 2006 with the Unesco Prize for Education for Peace. Fifteen years after its creation, two million people have been trained and the model has been replicated or adapted in 20 countries.

In Venezuela, Las Espere came at the hand of Kenyan priest Josiah K'Okal, who has been working in remote and disadvantaged sectors since 1997. He implemented Las Espere in Caracas, as well as in Barquisimeto and Valencia  two of the most important cities in the country. Now, K'Okal is trying to bring the program to Barlovento, a rural area of Miranda state where there have been extrajudicial executions by security forces.

The School of Forgiveness and Reconciliation (Las Espere) is a program consisting of 12 four-hour modules on forgiveness and reconciliation, guided by a facilitator. (Photo Credits: Erick Lezema)

The School of Forgiveness and Reconciliation (Las Espere) is a program consisting of 12 four-hour modules on forgiveness and reconciliation, guided by a facilitator. (Photo Credits: Erick Lezema)

In 11 years, 1,200 Venezuelans have gone through the program, 201 of them during 2018. Many of the collaborators have migrated out of the country and the workshops have been done only a couple of times a year. K'Okal is currently in Ecuador, studying a master's degree in anthropology and memory. But he will come back. He wants this proposal to impact more and more people.

K’Okal is excited about some projects that are about to take shape in several Venezuelan universities. But his greatest desire at this moment is to bring it to politics.

"Being in the micro, but also in the macro. It is not that we leave the experience with communities, but it is necessary that we are present in the sphere of politics” said K'Okal

“[Politicians] are the ones who hold the reins, who make the decisions that affect us all. Forgiveness is not at odds with justice, but we have discovered that the bitterness of one who always wants revenge becomes suffering.”

This is what Yenny Rodríguez, secretary of Las Espere, who has worked from the beginning with K'Okal, also underlines.

"Until now, the implementation has been mostly community… our concern is how to make it sustainable, because we need financing," Rodríguez said.

In 11 years, 1,200 Venezuelans have gone through the program, 201 of them during 2018. (Photo Credits: Erick Lezema)

In 11 years, 1,200 Venezuelans have gone through the program, 201 of them during 2018. (Photo Credits: Erick Lezema)

It happened in Higuerote, a beach town two hours from Caracas. To get there they had to pass through several police stops. Rosa shuddered every time she saw the military on the road. They brought her bad memories.

In the place of the meeting, in which reconciliation worked, there were many officials. They were guarding the activity. At the end of the work sessions, the workshops’ facilitator proposed giving them a bag of candy to thank them for the good treatment. It was a courtesy, or perhaps a test.

“Who gives the candy?” he asked.

There was tension, a silent discomfort.

“I'm going to give it,” said Orozco.

And she got up. He gave her candy and a hug.

"Everyone was amazed," Orozco recalls. Some cried. It was a very significant moment. Because she felt liberated.



Erick Lezama