Zero is a study of the lives and stories of los desplazados (the displaced) in Colombia. Latin America’s oldest democracy is now home to more than 6 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) – second in the world only to Syria in numbers of refugees/migrants. Los desplazados are a long-standing phenomenon in Colombia, resulting from decades of armed civil conflict that has afflicted the country for more than 50 years. Rooted in a combination of causes stemming from economic, political and social inequalities, the impact of Colombia’s war is enormous, with more than a quarter of a million lives lost, many of whom have disappeared.
Zero in many ways is an outgrowth of NO PLACE LIKE HOME, where I documented the ongoing refugee migration in Europe during Summer 2015. Despite being thematically similar to NO PLACE LIKE HOME (loss of home and the fight for survival) the Colombian project is different in both scope and sensibility. Zero is intended to be an intimate and evocative study; a comprehensive exploration of what it is to be desplazada. After spending several weeks conducting preliminary work in Colombia during the latter part of 2015, I will be returning to Colombia to examine the lives of the displaced in Buenaventura, Chocó and the community of Altos de la Florida in the municipality of Soacha near Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá.
Los desplazados are comprised of mainly indigenous, afro-Colombians and campesinos (farmers) who have been forced from their rural homes by left wing guerillas and paramilitary factions wanting control and use of their land. Los desplazados then migrate to Colombia’s large cities with the hope of finding security and services. In most cases they are destined to a life of poverty, living in crime-ridden barrios that lack basic services. Over time they have been largely – and sadly – forgotten.
Wealth inequality is greater in Latin America than anywhere else in the world and Colombia has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth worldwide – 34% of the people live below the poverty level. Since the 16th century, Colombian society has been highly stratified, with social classes generally linked to race or wealth. Estratos (strata) is a ranking system introduced in the 1980’s as a way to identify and provide essential services such as water and electricity at affordable rates to the poor. The system ranked people from one (the lowest) to six (the highest). Over the years a system once designed to help poor communities has instead marginalized an entire class of Colombians. The stigma could not be greater for los desplazados, whose unofficial ranking is zero.
Please join me in supporting Zero – A study of the desplazados of Colombia. To get to the heart of the story it is necessary to spend time with them, to build relationships and gain their trust. My intention is to live with the desplazados, to better understand their lives and, ultimately, to illuminate their story. I will need to travel to remote areas in Colombia with a fixer. A fixer is a person who offers assistance to foreign journalists/photographers and uses their local experience to help them get the story. I am very fortunate to be working with Adrian, a desplazado himself, Ana, a sociologist and Bryann, an ecologist. In this next phase, Zero will extend to the following locations: Buenaventura, Chocó and Altos de la Florida. I am responsible for all expenses for my colleagues and myself, which includes all transportation, food and lodging.
Any contributions you can make, large or small, not only help to support this project, but also serve to increase interest and generate awareness about the struggle of the internally displaced in Colombia. Your support is greatly appreciated.
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