Los Amigos de la Casa de la Memoria
Tumaco is the Colombian municipality most affected by coca cultivation : it is also known as « the world capital of cocaine ». Today, the situation in Tumaco is worse than ever. In addition to the consequences of the internal conflict, the area also goes through a humanitarian crisis, with half of the population living with unsatisfied basics needs ! This context inevitably facilitates the exercise of illegal activities.
In 2017, the war between armed groups that fight for the control of the area killed 222 persons , around 46% more than the previous year. Within the first two weeks of this year, 14 persons have already been killed in Tumaco. Structural issues are at the core of the problem. In addition, the military response is inadequate and an effecient governmental intervention is urgently necessary.
During the 3 months that I have spent in Tumaco, I have had the opportunity to meet some of the victims in the areas most affected. Among them are survivors who have been directly affected by the conflict with the loss of loved one(s). All people interviewed have different stories, but share the same dream of a peaceful life. Through their testimonies and their collaboration of the memory, they directly participate in forging peace in the area
This series is dedicated to the women of Tumaco who participate in the memorial factory by offering their testimonies at the Casa de la Memoria (House of Memory) in Tumaco.
This institution is based on the community museum system. It is a social and educational space, a meeting place for victims who wish to speak out.
Among these victims, Los Amigos de la Casa de la Memoria of the meet every two weeks to discuss the management of the space, upcoming activities and events, and to tell each other about their sorrows and joys outside of everyday concerns.
It is these women, who decide to speak out in times of war, who are the subject of this photographic project. Their portraits and their stories contribute to giving visibility to this violence in the background.
Olga was like my grandmother in Tumaco. She invited me many times to her house, always with a large table full of delicious dishes. Olga has a very active life. She often says, "God gave us the intelligence to be able to think about what we want in life. I choose to live busy, that way I don't have to think about sad things."
Olguita lost her first child in 1979 in a tsunami that hit Colombia's Pacific coast. At the time, the family was living in San Juan, a small island near Tumaco that disappeared that day.
Her little boy was six years old. After the disaster, his family started a new life in Tumaco. Shortly afterwards, her husband was shot in the head and she had to look after him for five years until he died from the injury.
After this tragic episode, Olguita struggled to work to survive with her three children. In 1998, one of her sons disappeared without explanation. She is still looking for him today. She has been waiting for his return for "18 years, 3 months and 11 days" and refuses to believe that he is no longer alive. Olga lives in a beautiful little blue house in the troubled Union Victoria neighbourhood. She gives massages, makes creams, jewellery, dances, cooks and looks after her garden every day.
Dona Aura lost her daughter in 2002.
She was a journalist and mother of a two-year-old daughter. She was murdered in her home in front of her child by armed groups. According to Dona Aura, it was her daughter's husband who ordered the murder.
Today Dona Aura takes care of her other children and her little girl, who is now an orphan. She works in her clothing shop and dedicates the rest of her time to la Casa de la Memoria
Bella lives in the del Pindo district.
She was born in Tumaco. At the age of 14, looking for work opportunities, she left the municipality. Until 2009, she lived in Cali with her three children, but they had to leave the city when the eldest was incarcerated. She returned to Tumaco with her two other children. Soon, her younger child was contacted by armed groups and had to flee Tumaco. He left his little girl in Bella's care because the mother of the child could no longer take care of her.
In July 2016, Bella's son was killed in a fight in Cali prison. Ten days after this tragedy, his daughter was murdered along with two other girls. The media across the country re-enacted the tragedy; they were 14 and 15 years old.
Today Bella still lives in the neighbourhood del Pindo with her grantdaughter girl. She started legal proceedings against the "family welfare", which did not respond to her call for help while her daughter was still alive. She is fighting for the truth and to prevent such tragedies from happening to other mothers.
Nicolasa was born in Tumaco. She had 15 children there. In 2000, she had to flee her village because her eldest son was approached by armed groups, so she decided to come to Tumaco.
Her 19-year-old son was killed in one of Tumaco's main squares because he refused to pay an extortion charge. Out of fear of the armed groups who were harassing them, his daughters left school. Two of the sons were approached by a coca producer. The family, without money, finally agreed to let them go. In 2003, after a shooting in the rural area, someone told her that her two sons had died.
Following this tragedy, Nicolasa finally left for the Nuevo Milenio neighbourhood in Tumaco to start a new life. In 2007, another one of her sons was killed during a military action; ten of them died that day.
Nicolasa has lost another son and a father to the conflict.
Two weeks before this portrait was taken, her granddaughter was born: she was 18 years old. Because of the threat, the parents and their sons fled Tumaco the same day.
Nicolasa still wants to believe in a peaceful future "so that little children can live in peace, so that their mothers don't have to suffer as I suffered," she says.
I couldn't do the interview in her neighbourhood as originally planned, because the situation was too complicated that day...
Dona Mercedes had 15 children. She was 14 years old when she met the father of her children and gave birth to the first one the following year. Her husband died of cancer in 2004 and life became more complicated for Doña Mercedes and her fa- thousand. Six months later, one of her sons was killed in Barbacoa, a town near Tumaco.
She now lives in Tumaco with another disabled son, who was the victim of a stray bullet in a shooting in the village where the family previously lived. Injured in the spine, he is now paralysed and is entirely dependent on his mother. The son Doña Mercedes has been crying for since 2009 was killed because he no longer wanted to pay the extortion of armed groups. In the neighbourhood, he was known as a social leader, but also as a major drug trafficker. A status that gave him both mistrust and respect.
Today, Doña Mercedes has dedicated her life to her disabled son. She tries to survive by knitting traditional bags and selling small dishes to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood.
Maria lives in the problematic neighbourhood of del Pindo, one of the areas most affected by the violence in Tumaco. Armed groups confront each other there on a daily basis. 5-year-old Maria is 23 years old and was murdered when the car that brought her and her husband back from the prison from which her husband had just been released hit her. That day three people died, leaving two orphans behind.
Maria was pregnant 13 times, but raised only 8 children who are still alive today. She prides herself on having had many relationships in her life. Some have been beautiful stories, others darker; one of her partners killed her sister and another was killed in the conflict.
Today Maria has a dream of a better life for her children and grandchildren who all live with her in a small fisherman's hut.
Luz Estela lives in the Pin-do neighbourhood with two of her children and her grandson. She lost two boys in the armed conflict. The first was killed in 2013 in Tumaco at the age of 17. The second was killed in Cali at the age of 22.
Luz had her first child at 16, like many girls in Tumaco. On the Pacific coast, in the Nariño district, four out of ten teenage girls are pregnant or have a child between the ages of 15 and 19. In addition, many women in Tumaco are raising their children alone.
Luz has had "8 children and more than 20 boyfriends," she likes to ironise. Today she prefers to be alone; it's harder but she prefers to be independent. Years ago, she went back to school to set an example for her children, all of whom had left school. Today she sells lottery tickets and hopes to save enough money to complete her education.
Reina lives in the Ciudadela district. Her husband died a few years ago following a heart attack, an incident that must be blamed on the violence of the quarter. From her porch, she describes the shooting scenes that took place in the street. With great emotion, she also recounts the murder of her son two years ago, who was killed during a football game alongside his nephew.
She joined the Casa de la Memoria to receive psychological help. Today she supports her daughters who are both studying. To earn some money, Reina makes empanadas and other "rellenas" dads that she sells to people in the neighborhood.