“They’re regular kids. My role in the house was like an auxiliary, so I helped with every task : getting them to school, do homework, I used to take them to mass all the time, all types of stuff. There were no different from any high school kids. They just happened to have been born in a war zone. But they were regular kids. They wanted to be on Instagram, and have girlfriends and all types of stuff.
But they were child soldiers. They have killed people with their bare hands before. So, we had a whole lot of safety protocols and things. One, to keep us safe. Because they also had anger problems, and post-traumatic stress syndrome are common. I had a year contract but it took about 4 months to do what they call “acompañamiento”. You had to build up a certain level of trust. It was one of the guiding things for us. The power of presence, I think it was called. Basically just being around them all the time. Sometimes I would go to work and just sit there around them and listen to them. And I had to learn their Spanish, which is not the Spanish that we speak in New York. It’s like super-duper rural Columbian guerillero Spanish. I had to learn to listen to them, talk and get a certain level of proximity.
And I remember I’m just sitting one day with the kids on a Saturday, just listening to vallenato, and one of the kids started retelling a story. There was a member that tried to desert and they caught him. The commander came and they watched him… they made everybody watch… they pushed a boulder on top of the guy. And it splattered everywhere. Imagine watching that when you’re 14 years old. Imagine seeing that. How do you go on being a regular kid after that ?”
(Les Grottes | original English)