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Colombia celebrates rescue of missing Indigenous children

The siblings survived 40 days in the rainforest

The soldiers and Indigenous men with the four children in the Solano jungle on June 9 Associated Press/Colombia's Armed Force Press Office, File

Colombia celebrates rescue of missing Indigenous children

Four Colombian children survived weeks alone in the jungle thanks to skills they learned from their Indigenous community, relatives and acquaintances say. One week after the children’s dramatic rescue, authorities and Indigenous leaders are helping them work through their experience and resettle with a family member.

On Friday, June 9, Colombian soldiers descended on ropes into the dense Amazon rainforest, picked up the children, and pulled them to safety. The siblings, ages 13, 9, 4, and 1, had been missing for 40 days.

The widely watched operation marked the end of a weekslong search that began after a deadly plane crash on May 1. The children’s mother, the pilot, and a guide died when their single-engine propeller plane crashed.

Authorities found the bodies of the adults two weeks after the crash. A makeshift shelter, footprints, and other signs gave authorities hope that the children were still alive.

The Colombian army deployed about 150 soldiers with dogs to scout through the forest. Airplanes ignited flares to guide ground crews working at night while rescuers played a recording from the children’s grandmother asking them to stay in one place. Volunteers from Indigenous tribes also joined the search. Authorities said they found the children three miles from the crash site in a small forest clearing.

“They wanted to eat rice pudding, they wanted to eat bread,” Henry Guerrero, an Indigenous man who joined the search efforts, told the Associated Press.

The children are receiving physical and psychological care at a military hospital in Bogota but have started to reveal more about their experience. Manuel Ranoque, the father of the two youngest children, said the oldest told him their mother was alive for about four days after the plane crashed.

Indigenous leaders said the children from the Huitoto tribe survived on some cassava flour they had on the plane before they began foraging for fruits and seeds. Family members said the children initially hid from the helicopters out of fear.

John Moreno, leader of an Indigenous group in southeastern Colombia, told the BBC the children were raised by their grandmother, a respected Indigenous elder. “They used what they learned in the community, relied on their ancestral knowledge in order to survive,” he said.

Colombian Defense Minister Iván Velásquez, who visited the children at the military hospital over the weekend, lauded the leadership and bravery of the eldest daughter, 13-year-old Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy.

“We can say that it was because of her that her three younger siblings could survive by her side, thanks to her care and her knowledge of the jungle,” he said.

Colombia’s child protection agency is speaking with family members to decide whether the children’s maternal grandparents or the father of the two youngest will take custody of the children.

Astrid Cáceres, who heads the Colombian Family Welfare Institute, told the Bogota-based BLU Radio that the institute assigned a caseworker to their case.

“The most important thing at this moment is the children’s health, which is not only physical but also emotional,” she said.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


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