“Maria,” age 16, lives in a home for former combatants sponsored by the Colombian Family Welfare Institute. She was 13 when she joined the FARC ((Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia) guerrillas.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare, 2004
“I come from Casanare. I lived there with my mom and three sisters I worked for as long as I can remember, but what I hated most was working on the palm plantations. It was like being a slave, the pay is so little. I used to fight with my mother about it all the time.
My boyfriend was with the guerrillas. He said. “Come away with me it will be better.” My older sister went and so I followed her. Then my younger sisters followed me. My mother begged me not to go but I didn’t care. I wasn’t afraid of combat. You get used to it. I loved the guerrillas. We were fighting for a better life for people like my family.
I have a necklace. I don’t wear it much now but when I first got captured by the army and came here I wore it all the time. The necklace has a stone with a picture of Che Guevara. I wanted to return to the guerrillas and I wore it to show everyone that I didn’t want to be here. I still have it. It is like my memories of my sister and my comrades. They are good memories. But I don’t wear the necklace anymore.
I changed. I started going to school and I started to meet my mother. I realize how much we all broke her heart. At first I used to laugh at her. Now I think, “Why was I so mean to her?” We started getting closer. Then when my older sister was killed in combat six months ago I started really thinking about how my mother would feel if I went back to that. I started to think about how I could help my family and now I pray my other sisters can escape or get captured by the army and get out of all that.
I don’t believe anymore that war will make things better. Everyone has to make their own way, to struggle for their family and the people they love. I still believe in the things the guerrillas said we were fighting for. But I don’t believe the war will get us those things so I don’t want to go back. When I see my mom cry for my dead sister I just want to hug her and get a decent job so I can help us all.”