However, last Saturday, when the master of ceremonies mentioned her name to make her the first FARC ex-combatant to receive an academic title, Yuheni recognized to herself that the girl who decades ago finished her elementary school had always longed to see her knowledge certified by one of those ‘papers' given by the universities.
Rightly so, the red of her dress was the same that colored her face where happiness and nervousness appeared, like it tends to happen to all graduates. A sublime moment that she would have liked to share with the family that she had left in the mountains of the Quindio department of Colombia, but instead she enjoyed it with the 36 comrades who were also distinguished by the Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia.
For 16 of them, perhaps the honor was even greater, since the diploma they received graduated them as ‘Consultants in intercultural social dialogue, territorial planning and peace-building', a title that will enable them to help "build a new country and a new future for all". It was not an easy task at all: they had to dedicate to it 160 hours, especially on weekends, without abandoning the tasks assigned to them in the Transitional Zone of La Elvira.
To the steep hills of the the Cauca region of Colombia, the rector of the Javeriana University, Luis Felipe Gomez SJ, arrived months ago literally with the boots on to start this educational adventure led by teachers of the Institute of Intercultural Studies who, week after week, traveled this same route to share knowledge with those who have laid down their weapons for good.
A pioneering and historical experience that rightly broke the voice of the rector priest was when, during graduation, he invoked the Almighty to bless these "prodigal sons" who will have to translate the Havana Agreements into the pacification of the territories where the armed conflict once lived.
"The education program not only included the development of topics, concepts, and methodologies. We also witnessed a process of personal transformation”, said the rector before giving the floor to the mayor of Cali, Maurice Armitage, who unreservedly praised the graduates "because today you are saying: 'We are willing to change’”.
But before an audience that listened to him amid laughter and applause, the Mayor confessed an anguish: "The great question that I ask myself is the degree to which Colombians are willing to make peace, because one thing is the end of conflict and another is the implementation of peace".
The director of the Institute of Intercultural Studies of the Javeriana University, Manuel Ramiro Muñoz, highlighted the attendance of industrialists and members of the region's powerful families to the event.
However, in the end, with emotion of former prisoner of war and commitment of businessman, he said: "I have come to the conclusion that we are not going to kill anymore. We are entering a different stage, where we are going to dialogue, to have ideas, to culturize and to truly return to democracy".
Hopeful words that confirmed to Maria Cristina that, after being a guerrilla for a quarter of a century, she was absolutely right when, like the other graduates, she did all she could to go in search of an outfit that would accompany, in an visible way, the event.
"We dream about changes. We want another life. I want to study, I want to change and I want Colombia and the world to give us the opportunity to achieve what we believe in. We are human beings and we want to move forward”, she says while imagining herself as a graphic designer and a mother.
Father Francisco De Roux spoke of dreams and hope, and he also said to the FARC-EP members who were present: "We believe in you. We are sure that the steps you have taken are serious and that you are convinced that it is time to develop the struggle that you have made to change this country can continue within the framework of peace”.
His message, like the others, went deep into Tanja Nijmeijer, known as 'the Dutchwoman of the FARC’, who only erased the smile of satisfaction that accompanied her throughout the ceremony to say that "the country that we dream of does not yet exist".
Thus, between truths, dreams, claims and trusts, a pact seemed to be woven among the participants to contribute to the construction of peace, "which is going to be a huge task" and which includes "caring for these new citizens".
Towards the end of the ceremony, FARC Commander, Pablo Catatumbo, who, more cautious in his emotions, noted that this was a premonition of what will happen in the whole country: men and women, ex-combatants of the FARC, entereing the various fields of knowledge and ready to contribute to the construction of a new Colombia.
Once the protocol ended, there were photos, hugs, congratulations, makeup retouching, more photos and a well-deserved party that the Alma Mater had prepared for its first experts in intercultural social dialogue and peace-building.