Former combatant sweeps the floor before lunch at a refuge.
Colombia, March 2, 2001.
From Medellin I've come here to a refuge run
by a non-governmental organization but under the direction of the Colombian
government division for Family Welfare. Here children who have been
involved as combatants in the armed conflict find safety and help adjusting
to civilan life.
The rules for visitors are very strict--no
photos showing recognizable faces. No stories that will reveal the identity
of the children or the location of the place they are staying. "We've
had threats," the staff psychologist tells me. "And we're
afraid they could be kidnapped and taken back to the war zone."
Some of these children and teens turned themselves in voluntarily, others
were captured by the Colombian army and miss their comrades in arms
and the only life they've known.
The kids, shy at first, love seeing their pictures on the screen of
my small digital camera. They want me to photograph their faces to show
their whole body, to pose with their friends. The staff also look over
my shoulder and remind me about the dangers of revealing too much. "You
can't use this one. Now that one, that's the best,"
I'm told about an image I would normally delete.
The classes here consist mainly of drawing and very simple exercises.
Most of the children have had little or no formal
schooling. But one boy looking at the address tag on my camera bag
pronounces my name Do-na De Ce-sar.
I ask him how many grades he finished at school. "Hasta quinto
(fifth grade)," he responds shyly. "And my name is Cesar too,"
he adds smiling.
Guatemala, March 8