Colombia is a country that has long-been synonymous with drug-cartels and narcotrafficking and, despite recent peace negotiations, continues to be plagued by a civil war that has seen the death of hundreds of thousands of Colombians as well as the kidnapping and torture of thousands of others during its 50-year period. Power struggles between the FARC, ELN and paramilitary groups over coca plantations and established drug-routes consistently receive both national and international coverage but lesser-known are the wider consequences that these high levels of drug-production are having on the Colombian population.
Colombia has for decades been the single largest exporter of coca in the world but in 2014 ‘Colombia Reports’ revealed that one-fifth of the cocaine produced in Colombia is being consumed domestically. This figure has increased dramatically since 2008 with drug-use rising by 38% overall, and even greater amongst Colombia’s youth, with a 50% increase amongst 18-24 year olds.
Fundación Hogares Claret, an organisation set up in the 1980's by a Claretian Priest, provides rehabilitation for children and teenagers up to 18-years-old suffering from drug and alcohol addiction across Colombia. The program takes an abstinence-based approach with a core part of the treatment given through twice-daily meditation and yoga as well as group and individual therapy sessions.
When I came across the home for minors on the outskirts of Cali it felt like an important story that told of another side to Colombia - a story that gave hope despite the tragedy of drug-addiction amongst the young. The profound self-reflection and transformation these boys were experiencing as a result of regular yoga, meditation and group therapy sessions revealed a method that was progressive not just by national but by international standards. Children aged between 5 and 18 were entering the program heavily addicted to substances - including solvents, heroine and cocaine - and were going through a journey of emotional and spiritual growth over a period of 9 months - 2 years.