Edson Mahecha envisions a country that is free of violence and political unrest where he can raise his children.
Mahecha grew up in Bogota, Colombia. Coming from a military family (his brother, father and uncle also served), he grew to love the Colombian Military at a young age.
But it wasn’t until the birth of his daughter that he realized the importance of such an institution.
“I want a better country for my daughter so she can grow up without violence,” said Mahecha, who has served in the army for the past 12 years and now works in Bogota’s military operations headquarters.
“For that reason, we try and make a change.”
In September, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleon Jimenez, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (a guerrilla group that has been fighting against the government and carrying out public attacks since 1964), announced the Transitional Justice Accord to put an end to the conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people in Colombia.
Mahecha is one of 67 officers from the Colombian Military who came to Canada in September to learn English as part of a partnership between the military and inlingua Victoria College of Languages, a college that hosts students from around the world who come to study English.
The goal was to improve officers’ English language skills enough to participate in peacekeeping missions with the United Nations and operations with other nations, as part of Colombia’s transition to becoming a peacekeeping country.
Officers were invited into the homes of homestay families in Greater Victoria for a 12-week period, where they were provided with food and a Canadian cultural experience.
This was Mahecha’s first visit to Canada.
“Victoria is a beautiful city, it’s very different from Colombia. All the time that I was with the homestay parents, the students from different countries — it’s a unique experience,” he said, adding he knew a bit of English before coming to Canada.
Craig Kelley, director of operations with the college, said the chance to learn English will help the officers move up the ranks in the military when they return to Colombia or allow them to continue on to masters or university programs.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity for the students to come here and have the opportunity to learn English that’s going to improve their quality of life when they go back home,” Kelley said, adding this is the first time the college has partnered with the military. “They work hard, they’re good people. It’s really added a lot to the school community.”
This was the first group of officers from Colombia to graduate and Kelley expects there will be more in the future.
As for Mahecha, after 12 weeks of talking to his five-year-old daughter via Skype, he’s excited to return home just in time for Christmas.
“It’s a surprise. We bought a big box (to surprise his daughter) in Colombia, so I’ll go inside,” he laughed.