“Tomas,” age 15, lives in a home for former combatants sponsored by the Colombian Family Welfare Institute. He joined the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) paramilitary forces when he was 11 years old.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare, 2003
“I left my house because of my mother. She and my father argued a lot. One day she was screaming at him. She kept screaming. It scared me and I ran to hide. But I saw it. She lit my father with fire. The flame caught on his clothes. He was burning and he died. After that when she was angry she told me she would do the same to me. I was eight I think. I don’t remember. Do I have to remember?
The main thing is I was scared and I hated her. Sometimes I went home but I stayed away a lot. I was afraid. That is when I met the paramilitaries. They were kind. Even though I was little they said I could stay with them and I didn’t have to do anything. I was the favorite. They bought me nice clothes everything I needed gifts and food. I was so happy with them. I loved them. They told me not to think about my mother. They told me they would always protect me.
Later bad things happened. I saw them kill people, a lot of people. They told me they had to. I didn’t like it. Sometimes I felt so angry I wanted to kill someone, but then I would feel afraid. They told me not to worry I didn’t have to do any of that. I would close my eyes.
They were my family. I would never have left them. But one day the army came. They saw how small I was and they captured me and brought me here. I begged them to let me go back. At first they kept us locked in here. I wanted to escape and return to the paramilitaries.
Now that I have been here for almost a year I think I want to stay. School is hard. I don’t understand things. At first I didn’t like to be around so many women, but there is one girl I like. I met her when we took a trip to a farm. She was very kind and pretty too. I would like to see her again. They tell me if I stay here maybe I can see her again.”