Helena Christensen

gets to know Maribeth, a mother, cook, and dancer

Danish photographer, Helena Christensen visited UNHCR’s work in Colombia and met with women who show great strength and courage in one of the world’s most protracted conflict-ridden hot spots.

Helena met and photographed Maribeth who lives in the slums outside of Bogota, Colombia. Maribeth has been forced to flee her home many times. However Maribeth, like all other refugees and internally displaced people is not defined by her displacement – she describes herself as a mother, a cook and a dancer.

Helena said: “We traveled to the barrio of Soacha, a settlement crammed on top of a sand quarry about an hour outside of Bogota, where we met the incredible Maribeth, 41, who lives in the barrio of Altos de la Florida and works as a cook and traditional dancer. She has four children aged 19, 8, 8 and 6, and she cooks  and sells incredibly good tasting dishes made with rice, meat and lots of spices, wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. She loves to dance the traditional “choco” dance and teaches it in the barrios, something she says makes her happy ‘my spirit is free when I dance and am in another world’.”


Maribeth dances outside her house in Soacha, Colombia. She says “my spirit is free when I dance and am in another world”. (c) UNHCR/ Helena Christensen/ 2015


Helena Christensen photographs Maribeth dancing outside her house. (c) UNHCR/ Helena Christensen/ 2015


Maribeth's daughter Marilyn (8) studies in the local school. She also helps her mum cooking of traditional Choco food. (c) UNHCR/ Helena Christensen/ 2015


Maribeth and her children in their home (c) UNHCR/ Helena Christensen/ 2015


Maribeth in her kitchen. "She sells incredible tasting dishes made with rice, meat and lots of spices, wrapped and steamed in banana leaves," tells Helena .(c) UNHCR/ Helena Christensen/ 2015


Maribeth and the family look at Marilyn's homework with Helena. (c) UNHCR/ Helena Christensen/ 2015

Maribeth was displaced from the department of Choco on the pacific coast when she was seven years old, when armed guards shot and killed her mother and sister. She fled and has never returned to her home town – “I am too afraid and it has been too long.” Maribeth has a dream of opening her own traditional choco restaurant in Bogota and running more dance classes for the local children.

“I was so moved getting to know this remarkable woman and many others,” Helena said. “World Refugee Day is about highlighting the fact that these are ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Sadly, their accounts of their displacement were horrific and disturbing and yet they face these horrors with great courage and resilience. I have come away inspired and motivated by these women. I hope their stories and my portraits will reach as many people as possible.”

To learn more about the women, Helena met, please visit www.unhcr.org/helena


Refugees. Ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Share their stories.

Over 5.7 million people are internally displaced in Colombia, a country that has been ravaged by decades-long violent conflict involving outlawed armed groups, drug cartels and gross violations of human rights. With a vast population of internally displaced persons, Colombia sees a particularly high rate of sexual violence among IDPs and is therefore a focus of UNHCR’s efforts to combat sexual gender based violence.

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