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The Peace Presence

Drawing attention to international conflict

Pendle Marshall-Hallmark ’14 arrived in Colombia two months after the signing of the 2016 peace accords that ended the country’s 50-year civil conflict. She joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation Peace Presence, working as an “accompanier.”

“It’s a technique that’s used in conflicts all over the world,” she says. “Foreigners are invited by activists in the country to physically go with them while they do their activist work. The idea is that we are harnessing our passport, racial, and language privilege to try to draw attention to the conflict, dissuade violence from happening, and de-escalate conflict with our presence.”

Local officials wouldn’t listen to the campesinos living out in the jungle who wanted protection from paramilitary groups that were moving into their areas. But they couldn’t dismiss a white woman from Rochester, N.Y., Marshall-Hallmark says.

One day while living in the northern part of the country, she and another accompanier heard gunfire and bombs in the distance. Early the next morning, a paramilitary soldier showed up.

“He was dressed in fatigues and carrying an AK-47 on his shoulder,” Marshall-Hallmark says. “We were two young women, still in our pajamas because it was 6 in the morning. But we confronted him and told him he had to leave.” It was a tense standoff, she says, but he finally agreed to be escorted off the property and disappeared into the jungle.

Raised as a Quaker, Marshall-Hallmark originally chose Swarthmore for its peace and conflict studies program, but she ended up majoring in sociology and anthropology. A class with Assistant Professor of Sociology Nina Johnson on “Race and Place” got her thinking about nongovernmental organizations and how they operate, after she volunteered at a Mexican cultural center in South Philadelphia as part of the course. After graduation, Marshall-Hallmark wanted to do work that created lasting social change. She served as a resource coordinator at a refugee resettlement agency and as a community organizer at advocacy nonprofits in Philadelphia before moving to Bogotá.

But after 18 months in Colombia, the NGO she was working for closed because of funding problems.

“My last day in Colombia, we had lunch with campesino activists who happened to be in Bogotá for a meeting,” she says. “The waiter turned on the TV news, and we learned that a number of human rights activists had just been killed. It was demoralizing.”

Marshall-Hallmark had come to believe that the “charity model” for nonprofits was rife with problems, such as organizations drifting from their missions just to stay funded. So she decided to explore for-profit models to fund social justice work. As a Fulbright binational internship recipient, she has been taking business classes at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México in Mexico City and worked at an entrepreneurship center, learning how to pitch ideas and get investors on board.

Next for Marshall-Hallmark will be a semester back in the U.S., studying radio journalism at the SALT Institute for Democracy Studies in Maine; a natural storyteller, she plans on using multimedia as a tool for community organizing. She credits her liberal arts education with inspiring her to go outside her field--—and her comfort zone—to forge a path that combines her passions, values, and beliefs into a career that will promote long-term, positive social change. “It sometimes seemed like I had a disparate path,” she says, “but now I see a through-line in all that I’ve done.”