Photographing Colombia’s children of hope

Photographer Nyla Sammons documented underpriviledged children in Bogota, Colombia, where civil war and abject poverty has left thousands of orphans homeless

Rachael Pells
Tuesday 09 August 2016 17:32
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Colombia has been under the scourge of a 40-year civil war. This, along with the drug trade, has caused violence and consequently a rise in orphans in the country
Colombia has been under the scourge of a 40-year civil war. This, along with the drug trade, has caused violence and consequently a rise in orphans in the country

In June this year, the Colombian government and the FARC armed rebel group announced a “definitive” ceasefire, spreading hope for the end of the world’s longest running civil war.

But the nation’s problems remain rife – with decades of conflict, a thriving illegal drugs trade, human trafficking and extreme violence, the Latin American country is one of the most dangerous places for a child to be born today.

Fundacion Colombia Chiquita offers protection and care to children in danger or at risk of abandonment. Founder Mama Esperanza – or “Mother Hope” – started the charity 25 years ago, using her own home to shelter underprivileged children.

Girls in Colombia, especially orphans, are at risk of being abducted into child soldiery and sexual slavery, and are sometimes forced into armed service by their parents as a form of ‘tax payment’, The State of the World's Children reported

Despite suffering from her own serious physical impairment and losing her right leg after a road accident, Esperanza Lopez has cared for and supported more than 700 children with the help of her family and volunteers in Bogota.

British photographer Nyla Sammons went out to meet some of them.

“When I was told the story of Esperanza Lopez, I not only wanted to meet her but I wanted to meet the children that she had dedicated her life to helping,” says Sammons, 32.

Almost a third of people in Colombia are said to be living in poverty 

“I travelled to Suba in Bogota, a very underprivileged part of the city, but temporarily forgot my surroundings when I entered the building and was greeted with happiness and joy by the children, who ranged from 6 months to 15 years old.”

Some 577,000 child orphans were recorded in Colombia in 2010, many having lost their parents to street violence from FARC guerrilla groups. A high proportion of children are also given up by desperate parents who cannot afford to offer them safety.

Around 37 per cent of the country’s street children are said to be living in Bogota city.

Interpol estimates there are 35,000 women and girls trafficked out of Colombia every year for the sex trade, with estimated profits of $500 million, making Colombia second only to the Dominican Republic 

“During my time at the foundation, I was soon introduced to Ezperanza’s assistant,” says Sammons. “Prior to working for the charity, she was faced with the potential ordeal of aborting her unborn child, believing that this was the best and only real option.”

“Mama Hope encouraged her not to go through with the abortion and helped turn her life around, by taking the baby into her care, employing the young woman and giving her emotional support.”

“Now the young mother is able to see her child every day whilst working and earning a living through the charity.”

In Bogota, the street children are known as ‘gamines’ or ‘throwaway children’ 

“I was humbled by these children, who in despite of having very little, visibly displayed happiness in their eyes and contentment in their actions - something which I felt was in no small part down to the love and support from Mama Hope.”

“The charity takes on volunteers from all over the world throughout the year and it is through this time given, and donations, that the charity is able to continue.”

Mama Esperanza pictured (centre) with some of the children supported through Fundacion Colombia Chiquita 

Nyla Sammons - www.nylasammons.com

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