“Why did they take away my mother?”

The day Willinton Leyder Ortiz turned 10, armed men came to his village, took away his mother and killed her. Now, at 15, he often wonders why humans are so violent.

Leyder is an Awá, an indigenous community living in the jungle and villages of Nariño, in western Colombia on the border with Ecuador. The Awás have traditionally lived in the jungle, subsisting on hunting and fishing. As the conflict drew closer to their homes, they became an easy prey for armed groups and criminal bands. Mines, sexual violence and insecurity forced many of them out of the jungle and into towns.

A young girl in class.
UNICEF/UN013297/LeMoyneSolanyi in her class at the El Diviso school in El Diviso, Narino, Colombia. Solanyi’s parents were both killed by armed groups in separate incidents.

Unlike most teenagers, Leyder doesn’t really go out much. He prefers to spend his time at home, perched up on a tree where he spends hours reading and thinking. Thinking about human beings. Why do they like to destroy things? Why do they treat nature the way they do?

His mother’s killing wasn’t the first time that Colombia’s war came knocking on his door. His father had been killed the year before and his grandmother disappeared a few years earlier.

But even those two tragic events didn’t prepare him for his mother’s loss.

For his sister Solanyi, two years his junior, the blow was even harder. She doesn’t remember much from her years back in the jungle and she struggles to hold back tears when she remembers the day life as she knew it came to an end.

Today Solanyi and Leyder live with their aunt Gladis and her four children. Leyder wishes he could turn back the time and dreams of getting a scholarship that will allow him to go to university. Solanyi dreams of becoming a teacher, a ballerina or both.

Najwa Mekki, is a Communication Specialist in the Media Section of UNICEF HQ

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