By Sophia Dow
Olga, with her boyfriend Emerson, after graduating from Healing Colombia program.
Olga stood out right from the start. She was 14 when we first met her and although she dressed like all the others, in old jeans and a thin sweater with her dark curly hair forced into a thick braid, one could sense that she was a born leader. She came to our very first series of workshops with her boyfriend and younger sister. The three of them sat shyly on the floor, cross-legged, listening attentively with bright faces. She hadn't missed a meeting, so we were worried when she stopped coming. One afternoon Emerson, her boyfriend, stood outside the community center and timidly approached my husband (and coworker) Mario. “Olga was almost three months pregnant and has had a miscarriage! Can you help us?”
From then on our house became Olga's second home. Brought up in the terrorist region of Colombia, she tells of the constant fear she felt as a little girl since guerillas controlled the whole area and everyone was under their surveillance. People would be punished for any semblance of rebellion against their cause.
Olga's mother had seven children from three different men. Olga's father left when she was eight, she thinks he's dead. Her older brother murdered a man in a barroom brawl and her mother had to leave Olga in charge of the younger ones for a time in order to save him from being murdered by the victim's relatives. On her return, her mother fell into a deep depression and became compulsively suicidal. Olga tried her best to hold the family together but it was too much for her. It was then that she met Emerson and came to live with him in Bogotá.
Despite her past life, she has that inner strength that comes from having to fight to survive. Because of her natural pose and boldness she became the spokesman for Healing Colombia's Youth Program. She tells her story without shame and now, at the age of 17, is training for full-time work in leading workshops and activities for other kids who are the victims of violence.
Olga stands as a testimony that Colombia's youth can, and must, be rescued.
Sophia Dow is the Project Manager of Healing Colombia, a FCF Project in Bogotá, Colombia