27 July 2017, Morroa Municipality, Cambimba village, Colombia - Portrait of Orlando Ruiz Mendes.
Orlando is a farmer, living in Pertenencia region, Sucre department, northern Colombia with his wife and eight children. He was born in the area and is proud of his ancestry.
Even contemplating leaving proved difficult. But a number of factors - worsening conflict, losing his father to violence, finding his children at risk of being recruited by armed forces, having to sleep in the mountains as it was not safe at home at night - pushed him to leave. "The violence was so intense that I could not bear the situation anymore,' says Orlando.
For eleven years, Orlando and his family lived in Los Palmitos, in Sucre department, northern Colombia.
Life in town was different from what he was used to, from what he knew and loved. He only knew a few people. Back on his farm, he was used to working all the time. He had a sense of purpose. Sitting idle or having to resort to begging was inconceivable. "I had two sisters who were taking care of a farm so I went there every day to help them milk the cows and they gave me some milk in exchange. Some days, by mid-morning, I wouldn't have had anything to eat. I remember one day Dr. Mansola (an acquaintance) came to see me. It was around 10 a.m. and I told him, I'm sorry, I cannot even offer you some coffee. We don't have any. Can you believe it? 10 am and my children hadn't eaten anything. I started crying. That was the most difficult period for me,' he says. In 2013, as land restitutions started, Orlando and his family returned. A peace deal was signed in 2016, with more and more displaced farmers returning.
It took time, patience and perseverance to get back on his feet. "Right there where you see the house, it was just jungle. I had to work hard to get things done. Little by little,' he explains pointing to his house.
At the beginning, he came back alone so that he can establish a base before bringing his family. The farmers helped one another. They would work on one plot of land for a week; next week, on another.
Though they work more independently now, they set up an association, and continue to help one another. Orlando got five cows and a young calf. They now have 19 cows. "Things are much better now, he says. After all the suffering, I'm happy and live in peace on my land, with my children. They have all they need to succeed. If I die tomorrow, my children will have something to remember me for,' adds Orlando.
Together with the other farmers, he is aiming to sell the milk and yam to companies. "We got some equipment for mechanical milking, and we are already thinking how we could become better entrepreneurs. We already have some companies interested in buying our milk - CODASUCRE - and our yam,' he explains.
Orlando set up the farmers' association with other farmers, and support from FAO, so that he can help other returning farmers re-establish themselves, and find also ways f