Back to School

Forrest Hylton

It couldn’t last. Having found a house removed from danger – for the time being, at least – thanks to childhood friends (and missionaries), Víctor Peña had, at the age of 41, begun university at the Colegio Mayor de Antioquia, to study planning, social development and community administration. Doctor Z’s orphaned daughter had begun high school near where she lives with Víctor in a rural area outside Medellín, with plans to go on to study medicine at the Universidad de Antioquia.

Víctor had become like a brother, she told me. When she contacted me from her new cell phone, however, her profile picture was from last Christmas, with her younger brother, murdered by paramilitaries who were after Víctor, whom Doctor Z protected at terrible cost to himself and his family.

Doctor Z’s daughter needed my help to buy food and school supplies. Last Tuesday, Víctor – on foot – was hit by a motorcyclist, who took off. There are more than 11 million motorcycles in Colombia: one for every five inhabitants (the UK has around a million). Reported traffic injuries in Medellín are up 23 per cent this year compared to last, with mostof the additional victims either motorcyclists (up 30 per cent) or pedestrians (up 17 per cent); 51 pedestrians have died this year and 69 motorcyclists (compared to three cyclists and one motorist).

Víctor needed leg surgery urgently: the hospital staff paid for half (520,000 pesos, around £100). The rector of Doctor Z’s daughter’s colegio chipped in with 150,000 pesos. He also gave her the week off school. On Thursday, she dropped out of contact: I was afraid she had pawned her cell phone, through which we kept in touch, and her brother’s computer, which she needed to do her homework, but she reappeared on Friday, sounding desperate. A friend of mine came up with the remaining 370,000 pesos and Victor’s surgery went fine, although he is still in hospital.

As ever, my fee from this piece will go to helping them. Doctor Z’s daughter wrote to me on Monday to say that she was back in school but had run out of food. When I didn’t hear from her for a couple of days I worried again that she might have pawned her phone; it turns out she tried but the sum offered was paltry. Though the surgeon has chipped in, they also need money to get Víctor out of hospital (700,000 pesos) and to pay for a taxi home (250,000 pesos). As before, anyone who wishes to help should email

Read Forrest Hylton’s first post about Víctor Peña here.