The drug trade and an ongoing conflict make certain neighbourhoods - or barrios - in the city of Bogota, Columbia very dangerous, especially for young girls. This is one girl’s story.
My name is Leidy, and I’m a 17-year-old Colombian girl. I had a rough start in life. My mother left when I was a baby. I wouldn’t even know her if I passed her on the street. My dad is in and out of the house, and my life. Once he hit my hand with a hammer to punish me for stealing. After that, I was blamed whenever things went missing at home.
I started spending a lot more time outside my house just to get away. School was never easy for me. I was teased for being chubby. All the bullying from my classmates really took its toll. I started skipping school every other day. Eventually I stopped going altogether. When I felt that tight dark loneliness creep over me, I’d go to a viewpoint and look out at all the poor people there struggling just like me. It made me feel better. I wasn’t the only one suffering.
One day I bumped into a group of young people who didn’t like school either. They invited me to hang out. I was drawn to them because they made me feel like I was one of them. Before long I was drinking and smoking with them. When my dad found out that I had tried marijuana, he flew into a rage and beat me. He beat me so badly that I left. My grandmother reported me as a runaway. I was picked up by the authorities and placed in a correctional home for teenagers.
At first, it was a place of sadness. I thought about escaping. But that was when my life began to turn around. At the home I met a man who played the piano. He was from an organisation called Ayara that helped girls like me – girls who were looking for somewhere to fit in and be accepted. The organisation taught me how to express myself through rap music and dance.
The first time I performed for the group I was embarrassed. I thought everyone was going to laugh at me. Instead, they whistled and clapped! Singing flows through my veins, but I discovered that dancing cheers me up. When I’m dancing, I forget all the problems and pressures in my life.
There are still bumps in my journey, but I’m determined. Instead of running away from my problems, now I come to Ayara and dance when the stress of life pushes me down. I still want to someday earn a living as an artist and I am breakdancing every chance I get. I work hard and rely on my people to make it happen.
Read more about Leidy’s story at grassrootsgirls.tumblr.com