For the past 50 years, Colombia has been in the midst of a conflict between armed groups and government forces. Despite the decrease in the amount of harassment, attacks, and fighting, people living in villages in the Cauca mountains, in the South of the country, continue to suffer. This is one of the areas with the most armed activity and home to some 450,000 people, according to the last official census.
At first glance, life in these villages seems tranquil. The houses are simple and are scattered across the mountains, surrounded by cultivated fields. The people work in their fields cultivating corn, coffee, or beans, and breeding their chickens while their children go to the nearest school and play football. But when that tranquility is broken by the sound of bullets and the buzzing of helicopters, the people run to hide in their houses or are forced to move to other areas with their families until the violence stops and they can return.
Psychologists from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) do both individual and group therapy sessions in the municipal hospitals and villages in the Cauca mountains and work with the community leaders, health promoters, midwives, and teachers in the area on prevention issues.
There are plenty of stories that show the magnitude of the fear, the pain, and the silence that affect these communities. These stories also reveal the desperate need for continued access to mental and trauma-related health care, to help those affected by the violence close the open wounds and face their lives.
Ana Silvia Muñoz
Ana Silvia Muñoz has been displaced several times by the armed conflict. One year ago, her husband was hit by a bullet while he was at home. She escaped the bullets but suffers post-traumatic stress.
Carlos was hit by a bullet while he was sowing coffee in his field. The bullet entered through his face and exited through his ribs, splitting his collarbone and leaving his arm disabled for life. He can no longer work or do things by himself. “Life changes from one moment to the next.”
Elvia Pardo’s husband was killed in 2005. There was a rumor that they were going kill her too, that they were following her. She was scared to death. She feared for her life and for her son’s life, too. After eight years, she started to see a psychologist. It has helped her overcome her fears.
“Here, one is prepared to be bombed anytime. We are resigned to it.” María Rujéis was widowed after her husband was murdered. Her daughter was one year old. “My life changed dramatically.” Her daughter is living with her grandparents as she was too affected and unable to raise her child alone.
Rosa Inés Pisso
Rosa Inés Pisso’s son disappeared nine years ago. She saw him for the last time in their home before he left to take an exam to join the army after he had been threatened. She hopes to see him again. “The silence, not knowing where he is, that is what kills me.”
A relative tried to sexually abuse her when she was 13 years old. She never told anyone as she thought the pain and fear would fade away with time. But it didn´t happen. And she has decided to talk to a psychologist. “It has helped me not to think about it, to feel relaxed and calmer.”
Read more about MSF and mental health.