The people of Colombia were once persecuted under the guise of combating “communism” and later the “war on drugs and terrorism.” But the real reason for the violence has to do with acquiring and maintaining control of a plethora of resources in the region, such as gold, silver and copper, as well as the great expanses of oil, farm and grazing land, and the highly desired trees of the rainforest.

Known for its majestic beauty, abundant biodiversity and extensive rainforests indigenous leaders coined the region the "lungs of the world." Adding to these visual splendors is what lies below the surface. In addition to its acclaimed mineral deposits, Colombia has one of the largest oil reserves in our hemisphere and is among the top suppliers of oil to the United States. Belying what would appear to be paradise, is Colombia's infamous designation as one of the most violent countries in the world with about three million internal refugees — second only to Syria, with the indigenous population bearing a disproportionate share of the suffering.

A young boy struggles with a high fever. The nearest hospital is an eight-hour commute by boat, depending on river conditions.

Located in the jungles of Colombia, in the Darien region bordering Panama, this community has been violently and relentlessly persecuted by the Colombian security forces. The Darien region has some of greatest biodiversity of plant and animal life in the world and corporations are literally killing to get their hands on it. This particular community was forced to flee after nearly 100 members were massacred by a joint military and paramilitary operation. Though threatened with annihilation, hundreds of community members returned to the region to reclaim their land and way of life. They believe it is their duty to protect the biodiversity from being exploited and possibly obliterated. 

They community recycles their sewage and cultivate beautiful plots of native vegetation to support their sustainable farming initiatives. The Idyllic and majestic surroundings shroud the reality of the daily threats of violence that affect this community. As one indigenous leader remarked: “They are not only killing us, but they are killing themselves by destroying the ‘lungs’ of the world.” 

On constant guard while collecting food in the jungle, a mother’s attention is drawn away.

Young girl along the riverbank: This was one of many communities living and subsisting along the river that we passed during our daylong trek deep into the jungle in a carved out 12-foot canoe.

Chocó: The final rays of sunlight fall on these children as they head to their huts to avoid an impending storm.

Kids at play -- Whether it’s the jungles of Colombia or the streets of Philadelphia, children seem to be able to find joy and laughter even amidst the most violent and impoverished settings.

A mother relaxes while looking after her young children.