Colombia's social woes are as well-known as its exquisite natural beauty: rampant drug trade, political corruption, and endemic violence that has plagued the South American nation throughout a civl war spanning more than six decades. Perhaps less known is another phenomenon of pandemic proportions: young single mothers. An astronomical 84% of Colombian children are born to single mothers, one of highest percentages in the world, and nearly 1 in 5 adolescents will get pregnant before turning 20.
The causes are complex and multiple, filtered through the central paradox of a society that is simultaneously hyper-sexualized (on average adolescents begin their sexual lives at 13) and staunchly Catholic (abortion is not considered an acceptable option). The guerrilla warfare has certainly played a contributing role, shattering the traditional family structure with murders, rapes and abductions and displacing tens of thousands of people. This, in turn, compounds the poverty and lack of educational opportunities that are are common refrains among young mothers: only 8.4% of these have a professional level of education, and nearly a third live in conditions of extreme poverty.
Yet despite the bleak statistics motherhood in Colombia is praised, cherished, and aspired to. The traditional union of man, woman and child is replaced by networks of mothers, aunts and grandmothers, girls become women after giving birth and shower affection on their bright-eyed newborns. Many women choose to become mothers, whether or not they count on the moral or financial support of a partner, and provide richly for their children. The following images offer a glimpse inside some of these stories, focusing on the city of Medellín in the department of Antioquia.
(Left to right) Angie, 17, with her son Samuel, 11 months, Alejandra, 15, with her son Juan José, 3 months, and Dominica wait for class to begin. The girls are studying computer systems in the hopes of having some professional skills to find work.
A neighborhood in Bello, a town of 359,000 people to the north of Medellín where Angie, Alejandra and Dominica live.
An article in the national newspaper El Tiempo from Sunday, February 21st 2016. The title asks "When Should Sexual Education Begin? Despite objections from the Attorney General, experts defend this course for children from the first years. It would avoid abuse and adolescent pregnancies."
Two girls, one of them pregnant, spend an afternoon with friends in the city center of Medellín. Pregnant or baby-toting teenagers is a common sight in the busy metropolis.
A street in Bello, Antioquia.
Shirley, 16, and her son Alejandro, 2, listen to the director of a local community foundation. She has come to ask for money to buy Alejandro's baptism outfit which costs 250,000 pesos ($79). She doesn't have the money to pay for the outfit, which is eight times the amount of her monthly rent, but Alejandro cannot be baptized without it. If she doesn't baptize him the government will take him away and put him up for adoption.
Shirley and her sister Angie used to live with their mother and her boyfriend in Bello. The boyfriend started to sexually assault the girls and when Shirley became pregnant with his child the mother kicked them out to live on the street. Both are mothers now and live with an aunt in Bello.
Angie, Shirley's sister, with her son Samuel, 11 months. Neither of the girls have steady work and rely on family and the aid of a private philanthropist to keep them off the streets.
Samuel cries as his diaper is changed.
A sign at a bus stop in Bogotá reads: "A Bogotá that prevents an adolescent pregnancy is a better Bogotá for everyone."
A shop of children's clothing in downtown Medellín.
Andrea, 22, in Bello. At the age of 15 she decided to get pregnant with her boyfriend, at the time 31. After she lost the first child they tried again and at 16 she gave birth to her daughter, Sofía. She had uterine complications and was confined to bed rest for three months in the hospital, during which time she did not speak with either of her parents. A couple of years after Sofía's birth Andrea and her boyfriend separated.
Sofía is now six and lives with her father, an hour bus ride away from Bello. Andrea can only afford to visit once a month. When asked why she wanted to have a child she responded "I always felt alone, and I thought with a baby I wouldn't."
Children play at a community center in Bello.
A mother rests on the metro in Medellín.
Maria, 28, with her son Abraham, 9 months. Maria did not plan on having a child, and at first the news was the end of her world, but now she calls him "the love her of life." She had to sacrifice dreams of work and travel, but she says wouldn't go back and change a thing.
Though she is no longer with Abraham's father the two get along well and contribute equally and enthusiastically to his upbringing. Though the birth of her child has drastically changed her life and future plans, Maria says that motherhood is the most wonderful thing that can happen to a woman: "You become more beautiful, you understand more, you have created a life."
In the many-layered universe that is Brooklyn's music scene, there is a dedicated pocket of DIYers carving out a sonic niche. They practice in old walk-in freezers, record in their bedrooms, eat nachos before playing Wednesday night shows in dimly lit venues. They call themselves Slushies, Penrose, Lean, Ghost Stations and Doubting Thomas Cruise Control, and they are doing it themselves.
Tom Barnes of Slush & Lean practices in a repurposed walk-in freezer in the Pfizer buildling, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Slush takes a break during practice in the Pfizer buillding, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Pat Murphy of Penrose takes a break while recording at Silent Barn, a DIY studio and artist collective in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Alex Boehm of Slush.
Bobby Cardos of Doubting Thomas Cruise Control during a music video taping at Downtown Community Television Center in Manhattan.
The kitchen table at Dad Zone, an apartment shared by members of Slush and Lean in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The apartment got its name from the original name of Lean: The Stay-at-Home Dads.
Slush waits for a car service to transport gear to a show in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Abhay Singh of Ghost Stations.
Slush record in the Pfizer building, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Slush records in Joe's bedroom in Dad Zone, where Joe will later mix and master the tracks himself.
Sean Patrick Kelly of Doubting Thomas Cruise Control descends to the subway on the way to a show.
Doubting Thomas Cruise Control carries their instruments and gear to a venue in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Tom Barnes of Slush & Lean carries instruments and gear to a show on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Bobby Cardos of Doubting Thomas Cruise Control.
Doubting Thomas Cruise Control eats a pre-show meal at the Bushwick Pita Palace in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Abhay Singh of Ghost Stations has makeup applied before a band portrait in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Brothers Pat, Tom and Dan Murphy of Penrose show off their matching tattoos, the symbol of the band.
Karna Ray of Ghost Stations.
Sean Patrick Kelly of Ghost Stations practices in the Pfizer building, Bed-Stuy.
Lean prepares before a show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Abhay Singh performs with Ghost Stations at a show in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Slush performs at Arlene's Grocery on the Lower East side of Manhattan.
Tom Barnes and Joe Dahlstrom of Lean congratulate Abhay Signh of Ghost Stations after a show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Members of Doubting Thomas Cruise Control hang out with friends on a rooftop in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn after a show.
The Promised Land
Palestine is complicated. There are political tensions, religious tensions, military and social stress in every city and street and household. But amid the strife there are people falling in love, children doing homework, mothers cooking dinner and teenagers on Facebook. The land is scarred and the history is the present, laughter mixing with tears and pleasure inside of pain.
Barbed wire in Hebron.
Music students, Ahmed and Zolfa, in Nablus.
Ramadan in Nablus.
A market in Nablus.
A checkpoint for Palestinians in Hebron.
Kindergarten students in Nablus.
A member of the press prepares for a protest.
Boys cover their heads and faces with keffiyehs before a protest.
Protesters retreat as teargas grenades explode around them.
A woman is treated for severe teargas inhalation in an ambulance.
Posters of "martyrs," those killed in the occupation, hang on the buildings in Nablus.
Samer, recently liberated, greets his neighbor. He served a nine year prison sentence for participating in a protest.
Young girls at Askar Refugee Camp.
Special education students sit in a courtyard in Askar Refugee camp with Fadwa, a local volunteer. There are not enough funds for them to have an educational program, or even pay for a full sized bus to bring them between school and home. Instead, one smaller bus takes two trips.
A wedding in Nablus.
The Bethlehem checkpoint.
A man walks through the designated passageway for Palestinians at the Bethlehem checkpoint.
An ongoing street project documenting the Satmar Jewish community in my Brooklyn neighborhood.