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Maria

27 Years Old. 
From El Cesar
Demobilized in 2008 from the ELN

Maria does not tell many people about her past in the ELN for the all too common fear of stigmatization present among many ex-combatants. Now 27 years of age, she tries to forget that past, focus on her education, her husband and son, and leave her seven years in the armed group far behind. 

The eldest sibling of six and born into a campesino family, Maria was raised in the countryside near that town of Chimila in El Cesar. Her parent’s economical situation meant that money for school was shared between her and her siblings — eventually causing Maria to drop her studies completely in the 3rd grade to take on a cleaning job at a coffee farm.

When she was 14, members of the ELN stormed Maria’s family finca and threatened to recruit her father. To stop this, Maria and her sister offered themselves as recruits, a decision that saw her lose contact with her entire family for nearly a decade. On her 21st birthday, under the cover of darkness, she fled her group alongside a fellow combatant and handed herself into the police station of a nearby town.

Since demobilization, Maria has focused entirely on reconnecting with her family and completing her education in the hope of becoming a nurse.

There are people who single you out and say ‘you were a guerrilla’, they judge you without knowing why things happened or how. One should never talk like that, because you never know what that person has been through, why they were there, and if it was because they wanted to or had to. There are a lot of reasons.