World Refugee Day

Photograph of refugees in Colombia
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"These are my brothers and sister: Jorge, Alonso, Alejandro, and Estella. We were all small, we left shoeless because where we left there was a potato patch and that's where we left our shoes because if we didn't leave theyd kill everyone...It scared me because we were leaving there with a lantern when they shone a light on us and were just about to arrive to kill us. If we had left a little later, they would have killed everyone. "
Vilma, age 9

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Civil war and the deepening economic crisis in Colombia have forced over two million people to become internally displaced. They leave war-torn regions to squat on the outskirts of cities only to experience more violence and poverty. In one such neighborhood, El Progreso on the outskirts of Bogotá, the majority of residents survive through the informal economy of recycling materials found in local garbage dumps and street vending. At night the streets are patrolled by gangs of masked teenagers supported by paramilitary and guerilla groups, keeping fearful residents indoors.

This work was the result of an AjA (Autosuficiencia Juntada con Apoyo—Supporting Self-Sufficiency) Project photography program. Founded in 2000, the AjA Project is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to providing innovative educational programs to refugee and displaced youth. The focus is on developing technological, vocational, creative, and critical thinking skills. Support of individual and community self-sufficiency is AjAs paramount objective. AjA has grown into a provider of unique educational programs for youth.
Photograph by Vilma
 
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