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woman, migration, Refugee, Venezuela, Peru, Lima, Tumbes, human rights (c) Bart Coolen

Exodus Venezuela

Inflation in Venezuela is likely to reach the million percent this year. The IMF expects that this will rise to no less than 10 million percent in 2019. Salaries and savings are therefore no longer worth anything. Food and medicine are barely available, if at all, and in the streets of Caracas the right of the strongest applies. The result is that millions of Venezuelans flee to countries in Central and South America. Meanwhile, the crisis in Venezuela begins to work disruptive in countries like Peru. The end of the exodus seems far from in sight.

A bridge over a stinking open sewer to the north of the city of Tumbes forms the border between Peru and Ecuador. The smell of rotting meat in the burning sun is terrible. Every day thousands of refugees from Venezuela arrive in Peru. Five young men who have just crossed the border walk behind each other, the gaze tightly focused on the endless asphalt. In a backpack and some plastic bags they wear some clothes and a toilet roll. They have been on their way for 15 days and are dead. The dream of setting up their own company in a new country and building a new life with them, keeps them going.

This is the place where countless refugees come from Venezuela Peru every day. Until recently, most had a good job as a teacher, dentist, nurse or lawyer, but due to the hyperinflation even basic things are no longer available. There are no medicines and supermarkets are empty. Armed robberies, kidnappings and murders are the order of the day. The government reacts by suppressing protests with violence and by arresting critical people. There is no democracy anymore. The result is that more than 3 million Venezuelans have been fleeing.

In november 2018 Bart Coolen and Nienke Monnee traveled to Peru and Ecuador to see with their own eyes what the effect of the refugee crisis is. Peru has already received more than 500,000 Venezuelans. The expectation is that this number will at least double in the coming year. The country is creaking under these numbers and is a ticking time bomb. They spoke to refugees and saw how they try to build up a life in a new country, far from family and friends, by trial and error. They also spoke with local and international aid organizations and visited a first reception location of the United Nations and the Red Cross on the border with Ecuador.


ISAF Mission, The Netherlands, Nederland, Uruzgan, Kamp Holland, Opiumfields-Afghanistan (c) Bart Coolen

Opiumfields Afghanistan

Reconstruction mission Uruzgan, Afghanistan

“Gentlemen, we are entering a combat zone!”, the pilot of the Canadian Airforce calls over the radio on board of the Herculesplane. He also reports that a day before half of the Canadian troops had a hangover while landing which, to put it mildly, goes quite violently. In order to minimize the chance of attacks, the plane drops almost vertical out of the sky just before landing. A few minutes later, we arrive in Uruzgan, a province in centre of Afghanistan. The tent where visitors and soldiers are registered reports “the beginning of the end” for moral support. Welcome to Kamp Holland.

In addition to the Dutch, Australian troops and American special forces have been stationed on the enormous army camp. Two soldiers from a logistic company are looking for shelter from the merciless burning sun in the shadow of an army truck. “Fuel is very expensive, we use 25,000 liters per day”, they say. “Afghanistan has no harbors, so everything has to be transported by ship and truck through Pakistan. Recently there was a driver who left on january 10 and arrived in mid-april. Along the way he had been under fire a few times. This was for him once but never again”.

Sergeant Joost runs his service at the watchtower on the edge of the camp. All Afghans working at the camp are searched at entry and departure. Joost shows the harvest of the day: “Look, jammed knives, a radio antenna and about ten bags of drugs”. The guard posts are also the first to deal with wounded Afghans at the gate. “Last week there was a five-year-old girl with wounds from gunshots. Locals dropped her a the gate of Kamp Holland. She survived thanks to the camp hospital”.

It soon turns out that there are major concerns among the troops about the destruction of the poppy fields by the Afghan government, which is being assisted and advised by the Americans. “The timing of this operation is very unfortunate. We have just accumulated a little bit of confidence. This drives poor farmers who are completely dependent on poppy towards the Taliban”, Captain Twan of the Provincial Reconstruction Team says. According to Minister of Anti-Drug Affairs Khodaided, the Dutch do not have to be afraid: “We have all the support of the people”. That turns out to be somewhat euphemistic. When we take a look at the destruction of the opium fields with American marines the next day, we walk into an ambush of angry Taliban and farmers who empty their AK-47 rifles at us and shoot with rocketgrenades on the helicopters. One of the helicopters is hit and we can barely get away. The evening after the shooting I notice that I see the camp with a different feeling. More then before, I realize how dangerous the work can be at just a few miles outside from the camp. A soldier of a combat unit came across the same: “After my first fight, I was nervously leaving the gate, suspicious of the people on the streets”.

A week later, the campaign to destroy the puppy field is demolished after new Taliban-attacks. Of the planned 2000 ha, only 140 ha has been destroyed. The commander of the Dutch reconstruction team, does not want to speak of a failure. “The message has arrived with the population, they have now been warned. There are even farmers who have informed about alternative forms of agriculture. That is the profit. We must give people alternative ways of life. Many people here happen to be Taliban-minded, sometimes out of opportunism, sometimes because they are forced”.

The fact that poppy cultivation is playing right now is not a coincidence because it is full of harvest time. This is mainly experienced by the inhabitants of the city of Chora, located on a strategic junction of roads in the north of Uruzgan. The Taliban uses the poppy to buy weapons and is committed to getting the city of Chora in its hands. A few days there is heavy fighting around the city, with the Dutch to prevent the city falls into the hands of the Taliban. I travel to Chora with a logistics convoy. The policy of the Dutch is to gain confidence from the local people. Smile & wave is the motto. But with the risks of roadside bombs and suicide attacks that is easier said than done. When a car arrives on the convoy in the capital Tarin Kowt and ignores all stop signs, there is panic in the bushmaster that we use to transport the convoy. Only at the last minute does the car stop.

Like all men, we sleep in armored containers, transformed by some into complete living rooms. The American former Marine Jay stays in our accommodation for a few days. He tells how hard it is to be away from home for a long time. “I was in Iraq for six months and was back in time for my son’s delivery. Still, it took three months before I became part of the family again. It was as if I was looking from the outside to my family “. Dutch troops who have been away from home for a long time have the same experience. “At home, life goes on without you. When you come back, you have to find your place in the family again. That is sometimes difficult, “says Major Eric. “In the beginning everyone is interested in your story, but after a few weeks they say: there you have it again”.

Bart Coolen is a freelance photojournalist and member of the International Federation of Journalists. He stayed with the Dutch troops in Uruzgan for four weeks. At the request of the dutch Ministry of Defense, the troops are only designated with their first name. The text has been checked in advance by the Dutch Ministry of Defense. No changes have been made. Photos can be seen on

india, solidair met india, aid, poverty, family, nederland, india, netherlands, bart coolen

Hope for thousands of families

If you browse through a photo book about India you will likely to see colorful people in beautiful robes, Hindus who bathe in the Ganges or huge crowds in the streets of Mumbai and New Dehli. That there was a big contradiction between rich and poor, I had also factored it in. But that it would be so distressing, I did not expect that either. In March and April, I spent four weeks crossing India, looking for the other side of India. That means visiting the slums and traveling across the extensive countryside. I have mixed feelings about my journey through the slums. On the one hand it was distressing to see how people live together, sometimes with ten people in a space of 3×3 meters. Devoid of electricity, running water and sanitary. Many people are infected with HIV/AIDS and almost everyone unemployed. In some places it was more like a rubbish tip. During my first visit to the slums, a man committed suicide by setting himself on fire. On the other hand …  Children play hide and seek, the parents try to make something out of nothing, the elderly drink tea and make a game of cards. There was more fun than I have ever seen in the Netherlands.

The Dutch foundation “Solidarity with India” works with dozens of projects to improve the living conditions of poor children, young people and the sick in India. With good education they try to reduce the growing gap between rich and poor. I was able to visit the slums of Bombay a few times through the contacts of Solidair with India. Without escorts you can not show yourself as a Westerner, too dangerous and also embarrassing to walk around with photo cameras without explanation as a wealthy Westerner. For example, the money from the organization “Solidarity with India” is used for education. “Good education is crucial for these children. Without training they can never find a job later. If we manage to have at least one child study in each family, he or she can later maintain the whole family and no longer depend on third-party help “, says a street worker in Bombay.

Good education. The idea is simple, but in an overpopulated country like India with age-old traditions such as the caste system and belief in reincarnation, nothing happens automatically. Bernard Kersten (61) coordinates the projects and is committed to the fate of the poor Indians. “I saw the terrible poverty and that made me sad and rebellious. Something must be done about this, I thought to myself “. The organization is now active with more than 100 projects. Kersten: “Our approach is focused on bundling different projects in one place. When we build a school somewhere, we also make sure that there is a doctor’s post or a small hospital and we try to start small businesses with microcredits, for example. Through this combination of projects we can work very effectively and we give thousands of families a good future perspective. So never say that our work is just a drop in the ocean. ”

In de centraal Indiase stad Indore ontmoet ik Sunita Goshwami. De 24-jarige vrouw is infected with HIV and lives with her three small children in a slum dwelling on the outskirts of the city. Her husband died of AIDS three years ago. To save their honor, the in-laws accused her of an extra-marital affair and put her on the streets with the children. Thanks to the Vishwash (trust) program, which is supported by Solidair with India, she has taken the thread of life again. “I now get medication that makes me feel good again. Sometimes I even forget that I am infected with HIV. Thanks to the Vishwash project, my children are going to school again. Their future will be good “.

The facts

  • With 1.1 billion people, India is the country with the highest number of inhabitants after China. More than 350 million people live below the poverty line. In addition, there are over 5.6 million AIDS and HIV patients in India.
  • The “Solidarity with India” helps underprivileged children, young people, the sick and disadvantaged groups, irrespective of caste or religion;
  • The organization cooperates with various other organizations and donors. They have a joint budget of more than 1.4 million euros. This means that more than 100 projects are carried out. The money is used for concrete, small-scale projects in the field of education, health, labor and housing;
  • The projects are visited twice a year to check the results and the accounts and to set out new projects;
  • More info:

Journalist and photographer Bart Coolen traveled through India for four weeks to make a report about the work of the Dutch foundation ‘Solidarity with India’. He is member of the International Federation of Journalists. Photo’s can be seen on 

Turkana, Medical, Air Support, Terre des Hommes, Netherlands, Nederland, Kenia, Kenya (c) Bart Coolen

Bushpilot makes the difference in Africa

Theo Rammelkamp is a pilot for children’s aid organization Terre des Hommes. In the province Turkana in the rugged north of Kenya, he flies medical personnel to tribes who are deprived of any kind of care. He also picks up wounded people from conflicts about cattle and takes patients to clinics. Photojournalist Bart Coolen visited the dutch pilot for two weeks, who has lived with his wife in Kenya since 2008.

The problems in this part of Africa are overwhelming. A four year-old girl who is crying from pain when urinating because she has been raped by her drunken grandfather. Mothers who give their babies a home-brewed beverage with 45 percent alcohol “because then they sleep well and do not cry from hunger”. A smart girl who sees her chances of a follow-up study vanish because her friend has infected her with HIV. Emaciated bodies of tuberculosis. Children living on the streets after their parents have died of AIDS and the rest of the family is drinking. Tribal wars where cattle are robbed because it increases the status of young men and is very suitable as dowry. Add to that the drought, poor roads, bad state of education and the disinterest of politicians for this part of the country and you hardly know where to start.

“Camels on the airstrip!” pilot Theo Rammelkamp (29) yells above the noise of the engine. At the last moment, the landing is cancelled. In an attempt to expel the herd, the plane makes a dive, just over the heads of the camels who slowly walk away from the airstrip. Moments later, the Cessna-206 lands on the ultra-short runway, in the middle of the inhospitable northern part of Kenya. No wonder the Kenyans call this the “badlands”. The area, roughly twice the size of the Netherlands, consists of endless sandy plains and dry riverbeds. Only a few days a year the river is filled with water. This is the country of the Turkanas, tough nomads who live with their goats and camels.

Terre des Hommes supports a medical program in Turkana by flying nurses and medicines to the remote and inaccessible areas by air. Boxes full of medicines and vaccinations appear from the abdomen of the plane. Two local nurses flew in a table under one of the few trees, right next to the runway. There is nobody. “Wait,” says Theo. “It will be busy within an hour”. And indeed, warned by the sound of the plane, people arrive from all directions just a little later. Women with chains from neck to chin, children in rumpled rags or even naked. They sit on the ground, where a tree gives some shelter against the heat. The nurses weigh the babies, put the vaccines with a venomous prick and distribute medicines. The sisters accept the fact that part of the penicillin provided is used for the sick goats. In the meantime it is a lot of fun. Also in nomadic tribes there is a need to exchange the latest gossip. A quarter of the children show serious malnutrition. Some women undergo an AIDS / HIV test on site that is not favorable for most people.

Flying in this uncontrolled airspace requires special skills from the pilot. There is no air traffic control, no weather information, no windsock to indicate the wind direction. Clear navigation points are missing, below everything looks alike. Theo: “The runways are very short. Moreover, you never know what you find. I have already experienced that the tribes had dug a channel across the strip. If you end up in it, the propeller will hit the ground and the whole engine can fail. ” The fact that flying is not entirely without risk turned out a few years ago when a former pilot from Terre des Hommes came back from an evacuation at night. Due to a power outage, all lights at Lodwar airport had failed. Mobile communication was also not possible. In an attempt to find the lane, the plane came too close to the ground, a pole that hit a hole in the wing hit. The plane hit the head and landed in the river. The pilot brought it off perfectly unscathed. This time too, our accidents and tribal wars continue to be saved. At the end of the afternoon we land safely in the dusty and sweltering town of Lodwar. “Welcome to Lodwar”, Theo laughs when we have a beer in the evening at the Miami Neighborhood Club. “You have to love the African atmosphere. First and foremost, I have a good time and I also do good work for others. If you only come here to do a good job, but the rest of the circumstances are not good, it will not work. It makes a huge difference that I live here with my wife Kaby and daughter Caitlin. They are my outlet. I also love the freedom of flying. That is very different from civil aviation where everything is bound by rules. Here, as a pilot, you are completely dependent on yourself. Working in this part of Africa can be hard. Especially the medical evacuations stay with you. I once picked up a 12-year-old boy who was in bad shape. In such cases you really make the difference between life and death “.

To organizations like Terre des Hommes the challenge to improve this. It does so with the support of projects set up by local organizations for children, with the emphasis on education and health. “The situation of children is often poignant,” Monique Janssens of Terre des Hommes in Nairobi says. “In the end people will have to do it themselves, but the country is not yet that far. From a kind of survival strategy there is a every-for-mentality here. It takes a while before a culture change is reached to the shoulders underneath “.

The facts:
– Terre des Hommes focuses on helping children in 14 developing countries;
– In Africa, the organization with 92 projects is active in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya;
– The projects are carried out by local partners;
– Some 187,000 children receive direct help in the form of education, medical care and care in the event of exploitation and (sexual) abuse;
– The flight project in Turkana has been running since 2005;
– The aircraft is used for medical clinics and for evacuations of the sick and wounded, to the district hospital in Lodwar.

Bart Coolen is a freelance journalist and photographer and member of the International Federation of Journalists.


Turkana, Medical, Air Support, Terre des Hommes, Netherlands, Nederland, Kenia, Kenya (c) Bart Coolen

Rebuilding bombed bridges in Sudan

Troubles and bad luck do not stop Dutch veterans from rebuilding bombed bridges in South-Sudan

‘Mission impossible’ for Dutch veterans

Extreme temperatures, heavy rains, pirates, ambushes and a car accident. The two veterans of a Dutch Engineering Compagny were facing severe problems while repairing bridges in the war-torn South Sudan. The last project, the construction of a 100 feet long bridge, was almost ‘a bridge too far’. Journalist Bart Coolen followed the ‘veterans with a mission’ for dutch newspapers during their work in Africa.

“Put your hands out of your pockets and help us!”, Harrie Brekelmans shouts in a mixture of English and Dutch to a few Sudanese boys. They stand with their hands in their pockets, watching how the veteran tries to fix the damaged bridge. Overloaded trucks created deep holes in the deck of the bridge and regularly trucks stick with their wheels through the road surface. The sun burns mercilessly above the African savannah. Although the afternoon is already coming to an end, it is still above fifty degrees (120F). “It is your bridge, not mine!”, the veteran yells angry. After that admonition, there will finally be movement in the Sudanese group. The broken-down deck girders are put back in place. Yet this is only a foretaste, because the real challenge lies with a settlement further on, about 30 miles north of the southern Sudanese capital Juba. There, Harrie Brekelmans (58) and Henk Schuurs (59), veterans of the Regiment of Engineers, are rebuilding a 100 feet-long bridge. Since 1999 they have already built fifteen bridges, but this is the first project in which they are responsible for logistical matters such as transport. The bridge dating from 1944 is a gift from the Dutch Ministry of Defense and must ensure that the transport of people and goods can continue in the rainy season. But no matter how eagerly the former military personnel come into action, the trucks with the parts of the bridge are missing. The last message is that they are 400 kilometers away on the border with Kenya.

Luck is not on their side. Pirates off the coast of Somalia have hijacked a ship that also has the two Dutch containers on board. The captain finds the threat too great and makes a right turn to Jeddah, a port in Saudi Arabia. There the containers are loaded onto a small ship. With a two-week delay, the vessel finally lands in Kenya’s port Mombasa in mid-October. Meanwhile, the financial crisis around the world has gripped. Due to the weakening of the euro against the dollar, there is suddenly a gap of 11,000 dollars in the budget of the project (a small 8,000 euros). Costs for increased fuel prices, import duties and the use of armed convoys must be paid by the veterans from their own pocket. “Two years ago, Sudan was still urgent. The war in the province of Darfur was engraved with everyone. Due to the financial crisis, the money for reconstruction has evaporated from one day to the next. Machines stand still and the people are fired”, Schuurs says.

It is only after Brekelmans himself has started to take pole position in the port of Mombasa, that there is a shot. The 33 ton heavy containers are loaded on two trucks. “A day or four, then they are there,” the transporter estimates. That turns out to be too optimistic for a week or two. Delays at the border, a sprung suspension, broken gearbox and a series of broken tires are still among the normal obstacles. It only gets really intense when the convoy drives an ambush of an armed band. One of the Kenyan drivers is shot dead after which the fiercely shocked drivers refuse to drive a meter. Only when an armed escort has been arranged, there will be movement again in the convoy. The setbacks and changing schedules do not take the veterans a moment out of their actions. Schuurs: “As soldiers, we are used to dealing with unexpected circumstances. We are dependent on each other and we come up with a solution for every problem “.

The journey to the destination is an severe journey. From Nairobi we fly towards the Sudan border. Under the guidance of the Kenyan army, we go by car through no man’s land. A few years ago, the bridge builders were still overtaken by the Turkana tribe. Now it remains quiet. For two days we follow a wide sand and gravel path across the dry and hot African plains. Some pieces are so bad that we can drive at most walking pace. We pass countless minefields, wrecked vehicles, army camps and settlements with wooden huts. Children with bow and arrow guard a herd of goats and women carry heavy piles of firewood on their heads. We spend the night in a British encampment from which land mines are cleaned up. We also encounter various bridges that the veterans have built since 1999. There is always an inspection which shows that there is a lot of suspicion of the maintenance of the bridges. The idea of ​​the veterans to set up a bridge school where Sudanese people are trained has not yet started on the government.

Almost a week after leaving the Netherlands we reach the Juba, the poor and dirty capital of South Sudan. Just outside the city is a camp of the German aid organization GTZ. On behalf of the United Nations and the World Food Program, this organization sets up roads and dikes. Here the former engineers are camped in a pale green army tent, which stands in groups of three under the sparse trees. We share the tent with mosquitoes, a frog, a path and a walking branch. Unlike during the day it is cold at night. “Sudan has a harsh desert climate. The rain and heat are our worst enemy, “says Henk Schuurs. “In the rainy season the roads change into mud pools and the country is impassable while in the dry period women sometimes have to walk kilometers with jugs of water on their heads”.

Two days later, the bridge builders are guests at the Dutch embassy in Juba. Ambassador Norbert Braakhuis hears the stories on a terrace on the Nile. “Fantastic work. The veterans jump into the gap that international aid organizations leave behind. They are not designed for a country that is in a transition from war to peace. The work is also immediately visible to the people in Sudan “. The fact that the former soldiers pay for a large part of the costs and even have to pay their own airline ticket is going too far. “We will have to find a solution, otherwise no veteran will do this work”. The bridge builders are also convinced: “If we had anticipated this, we would never have started the pilot project” veterans with a mission “. In addition to financial sacrifices, the veterans are also away from home for weeks. Harrie Brekelmans: “You can only do this work if the home front is 100 percent behind you. They are not completed projects for a week or two”.  Four weeks later than planned, the containers arrive with the components of the bridge. The next morning at 6 a.m. the building is started immediately. Schuurs and Brekelmans get help from a platoon of soldiers and clearly feel like it. “Finally we are building! The preparations swallowed 95 percent of the time. Compared to this, the construction of the bridge is only a piece of cake. This is for our routine work “, says Brekelmans.

Just as everything seems to be going well, the two former soldiers are involved in a car accident. The car of the veterans collides with another car that suddenly shoots the road. In no time they are surrounded by a crowd of angry Sudanese. “I thought for a moment that it was over. There were more than a hundred people around us with fire-breathing eyes. Everything I love is flashing past me”, Schuurs says. Only when a tribal elder with the help of what soldiers intervenes, the peace returns and the work can be continued. The panels are put together on the side and are ready within days. A shovel pulls the monster over the water to the right place and applies sand for the ramps and exits. At the official opening, the military attaché is left without notice, a disappointment for the veterans. Schuurs: “It is important that defense supports our work. Not only with equipment, but also with permits and contacts with local authorities. Moreover, the defense must plan the projects more tightly and have an eye for financial setbacks. These are hard conditions to make the ‘veterans with a mission’ project a success “. The Sudanese villagers quickly discovered the bridge. “In the past, cars drove here and waded women through the water up to their waist. Now they can go through like that. That is what we ultimately do for it “, the veterans observe with satisfaction.

The facts
• The Ministry of Defense has set up the ‘veterans with a mission’ project in collaboration with the Veterans Institute and the National Commission for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development.
• The intention is to deploy former military personnel for humanitarian missions in former staffing areas.
• The veterans Henk Schuurs and Harrie Brekelmans are carrying out a pilot project to gain experience for project “veterans with a mission”.
• The project consists of the construction of an army bridge in the south of Sudan.
• Since 1999 the veterans have built sixteen bridges and four have been restored.
• The veterans now organize the logistics themselves for the first time. Previously it ran through the diocese of Torit, a city in southern Sudan.
• The Ministry of Defense donates the 33 meter long bailey (army) bridge. The National Commission for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development pays the transport of the material to Sudan.
• There are also projects in Bosnia, Korea, Cambodia and Iraq.

Bart Coolen is a freelance journalist and photographer and member of the International Federation of Journalists.

Filipijnen, philippines, girl, terre des hommes, human rights, nederland, netherlands, bart coolen

Girls of Cebu

Thousands of children in the Philippines are employed in prostitution, with cybersex becoming increasingly popular via webcams. Terre des Hommes focuses on this form of child exploitation through education, information, care, legal and psychological support for the children.

With massively dumped second-hand computers from the west, a new trend has emerged in the Philippines: cybersex. Young children are forced to perform sexual acts on behalf of a webcam for men from the west. Whole districts benefit from the girls’ proceeds, so everyone looks in a different direction.

CEBU – Barely thirteen years old, Jean-Ann gets a job offered by a nephew from a nearby slum. She will have to sell candles on the market in the Philippine city of Cebu, an opportunity that the girl takes with both hands. Her father is unemployed and mother earns too little to feed her nine children. Already on the first working day the side job is totally different. Instead of selling candles the young girl is placed in front of a webcam. She has to chat with unknown naked men who ask her to take off her shirt. “The more willing the customer was to pay, the further we had to go. I had to touch my breasts while masturbating “, the now 17-year-old Jean-Ann looks back ashamed. “I felt sad and small. When I think back, I feel guilty. “She shows the internet café where it all happened. In a small stuffy space at the edge of a slum, there are two rows of five computers. Two girls are just working. While on the computer next to it a couple of little boys unperturbedly spell a game, the girls chat simultaneously with different men. They log into a chat room, type a few sentences with words like “horny” and “very young” and in no time, several customers sign up. The webcam also goes for the highest bidder. A white man in his mid-fifties appears completely naked on the screen. The girl speaks to him as Sugardaddy (sugar cream), for young men “boyfriend” is the fixed title. In every sentence there is at least one “ooh baby, yes baby”. This time, the clothes stay on and it stays with inflammatory language.

A chat session delivers between 20 and 200 euros depending on the customer’s wishes. The following applies: the younger, the more expensive. Above twenty euros, the blouse goes out, the fifty euros also the pants. Special wishes are even more expensive. Parents do not shy away from using very young children, sometimes even under ten years of age. The majority of the proceeds disappears into the hands of others: the policeman who looks the other way, the cousin who acts as an intermediary, the owner of the internet café and the neighborhood who is silent. In the end, for the girl, 1 or 2 euros per day remains, just enough to buy a kilo of bad rice or to pay the school fees of a brother or sister.
“The problem is that cybersex is not considered harmful by the Philippines because there is no physical contact with the customer,” said social worker Sheila Baylosis. “Parents even encourage their children to sit in front of the camera. Sometimes younger brothers, sisters or neighborhood children are also involved. It provides relatively easy money and is easy to organize. The family buys a second-hand computer with an internet connection from the west for a few tenner’s. Payments are made via anonymous international money agencies such as Western Union.
Once the payment is received, the girl receives a signal that “the show”, as a chat session is called, can begin. “With the money that the girl earns, a whole family and sometimes even a whole neighborhood can be maintained. For parents of large and poor families it is therefore a tempting way to earn money. They do not stop or ignore the psychological damage that a child can incur with the chat sessions. In general, the longer the period in which the child was abused, the greater the consequences. These may consist of depression, anxiety and guilt, concentration problems and a negative self-image. Children can also have problems in later sexual relationships “.

There are severe penalties for the sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines. Adults who force a child into sexual acts before a webcam risk 20 years in prison. Physical sexual contact with a child is even lifelong. At the end of last year, the police in the Philippines picked up two women who had abused two very young children. Flóvin O, one of the suspects in the Amsterdam sexual abuse case, would have watched live via a webcam. On 12 June, it is precisely the international day against child labor, his lawsuit begins.
Whether it comes to a condemnation of Filipino women is still the question. “Processes take years, courts are not child-friendly and there is not enough knowledge in collecting evidence,” says Noemi Truya of the Childrens Legal Bureau in Cebu that assists abused children. “The chat sessions are usually not recorded. Once the computer is turned off, the evidence is gone. The government has recently hired specialists from the United States for the first time to gather technical evidence. It also investigates whether criminal organizations are behind. The number of lawsuits involving cybersex can still be counted on one hand. The best method is to catch the people in the act of forcing the children into the webcam sex. But the chance of an act is extremely small. Moreover, this form of child labor does not have any priority for the police “.
With the support of children’s aid organization Terre des Hommes, the Philippine organization Forge is taking abused children. Forge estimates that in the city of Cebu alone (with 900,000 inhabitants the fourth city in the Philippines) about 1000 children work in the sex industry, both boys and girls. How many children should sit behind a webcam is difficult to estimate because this type of abuse usually takes place behind closed doors. Since 2008, Forge has taken 300 children out of the business. That is often a process of years. Social worker Sheila Baylosis: “We speak to the children on the streets and try to win their trust. We have built a shelter where the children can live until they have finished high school. In the meantime, we support the parents financially because they have lost an important source of income. In addition, we provide psychological support. Many children are traumatized, feel guilty or are depressed. We try to give the children a new direction in their lives with targeted training and training. It is also important to re-learn them what is good and what is bad behavior. Good behavior is rewarded with certain privileges such as an afternoon of shopping “.

Jean-Ann and Stephany have put their lives on the rails again. Stephany uses her own experiences to guide girls from the sex industry. Jean-Ann no longer dreams of marrying a rich Western man, but sees her future in her own country. “I try to leave this period behind me and am now working hard to finish my high school. My dream is to become a social worker. Then I can still use my own experiences for something good. ”

Jean Ann (17), trapped by a cousin
Barely thirteen years old, Jean-Ann is offering her a job as a nephew from a nearby slum, an opportunity that the girl seizes with both hands. Her father is unemployed and mother earns too little to feed her nine children. Already on the first working day the side job is very different, because instead of selling candles the Filipino girl is placed in front of a webcam. She has to chat with unknown naked men who ask her to take off her blouse. “The more willing the customer was to pay, the further we had to go. I had to touch my breasts while masturbating “, the now 17-year-old Jean-Ann looks back ashamed. “I felt sad and small. When I think back, I feel guilty. ” She shows the internet café where it all happened. In a small stuffy space at the edge of a slum, there are two rows of five computers. Two girls are working and chatting simultaneously with different men. They log into a chat room, type a few sentences with words like “horny” and “very young” and in no time, several customers sign up. The webcam also goes for the highest bidder. A white man in his mid-fifties appears completely naked on the screen. The girl speaks to him as Sugardaddy (sugar cream), for young men “boyfriend” is the fixed title. Jean-Ann worked almost daily in the internet cafe for two years. Through the Forge organization, a project partner of Terre des Hommes, she was able to leave the world. Meanwhile, Jean-Ann lives in the Teen Dreamershome and wants to study after secondary school to become a social worker.

Stephany (18) ended up in street prostitution through cybersex
The danger of cybersex is that the step to real physical contact is small for some children. That happened to Stephany. From her twelfth she was chatting almost daily, including with men from her own city. One of her chat friends wanted real sex after a while. “In the end, I agreed for an amount of $ 100. I took Shabu, a cheap variant of cocaine, to make sex easier. We went to a hotel where I was deflowered. I was just 14 years old then. Afterwards, he asked me if I wanted to buy new condoms. When I returned, he was gone, without paying. Later he turned out to have recorded everything on video. That film is now circulating somewhere on the internet. After that I worked as a prostitute on the street for a few years. I worked from ten o’clock in the evening until five o’clock in the morning. Sometimes I let myself pay in call credit. I also had politicians, teachers and policemen as clients. You had to be constantly on guard against the police. It could happen that you first had an agent as a client and then afterwards arrested by that same agent. We distributed gossip about girls who earned too much to make her less attractive. I slept during the day, so going to school was not possible “.

Bart Coolen is a freelance journalist and photographer and member of the International Federation of Journalists.

Adriaan-burundi (c) Bart Coolen

The art of integration

Adriën Rugambarara (Bujambara, 1975) grew up with three sisters and five brothers in a wealthy family in a big house in the middle of the capital city of the African Burundi. At home there were servants and the family was driven around by a private driver. Father Rugambarara, as chairman of the Supreme Court, had a top position. A military coup made in the mid nineties that luxury life an abrupt end. Adriën was seen by the army as dangerous and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was in prison for two years in harsh conditions. He was beaten and barely fed. During a visit to a hospital, he escaped his guards. He eventually fled to the Netherlands, where he arrived alone in the winter of 2000 without spending a dime. Since 2003 he lives with his wife Doris Kamikazi and son Ricky (10) in the  Netherlands. Adriën is youth coach at the local football club. (meer…)