I covered violence against women in Colombia, and now I'm trying to help them

I covered violence against women in Colombia. Now I'm trying to find ways to help them.
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Illustration by April Y. Kasulis

This essay is one of 35 selected by a panel of judges for “Ambitions Interrupted,” a series from The GroundTruth Project and YouthVoices, its storytelling platform.

Name: Débora Souza Silva

Age: 35

Dream Job: Documentary filmmaker and social entrepeneur

City, Country: Oakland, California

Current job/school: Independent journalist

Challenge: Funding reporting projects

Being from Brazil, I have always wondered why there is so much social inequality in the world. For me, the story doesn’t end once it’s published or read – that’s often just the start of my journey.

I recently reported from Colombia through a journalism fellowship, where there has been five decades of conflict between the government and guerrilla groups. One story never left me: there were two teenage siblings, age 16 and 14, who suffered unspeakable crimes.

They were sexually assaulted by a group of guerrilla fighters and gave birth to the children they conceived that night on the same day. As they became mothers, they had no choice but to drop out of school to make time for work and childcare. They eventually fled their homes in order to protect themselves.

They went from a calm, rural farm life where they were able to grow their own food to a lifestyle of near homelessness – everyday, finding something to eat was a struggle.

When I met them in March, they were living in a city thousands of miles away from their hometown. They felt hopeless. This family could barely afford their rent and lived in constant fear of eviction. The older sister sells lottery tickets on the streets and makes less than one dollar a day. The younger sister, now 16, works as a prostitute and recently gave birth to her second child.

Colombia has one of the highest rates of internally displaced people in the world – second only to Syria. Almost 6 million people are reported as displaced because of the ongoing armed conflict. Colombia is home to nearly 500,000 victims of sexual violence. Sadly, the sisters have gone through both.

I came back from this reporting trip knowing that something more than just a story needed to be done. My goal is to use journalism to raise awareness and funds for helping victims of rape and displacement in Colombia.

It took me near 15 years to figure out a career path that would make my heart race. I always knew I wanted to be a journalist, but it wasn’t until the reporting process revealed widespread social disparity that I discovered my true mission.

But my biggest challenge is funding these projects. Most of the time, I end up using my own financial resources to report on these issues.

This story was originally submitted to YouthVoices, a platform powered by The GroundTruth Project that encourages young people to share stories about the issues affecting their generation. Submit your own essays and answer new questions here, or learn more about global youth unemployment with this interactive map.

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