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'We were scared all the time': teen's extraordinary tale of fleeing violence in Colombia

Growing up in Colombia, Miguel Nunez longed to walk the streets of his Cali neighbourhood on sleepless nights.

However, while the southwestern Colombian city is vibrant and fun, it was also dangerous, Nunez said. Cartel and gang violence was rife, and so was extortion.

So the young teen couldn't go out at night, and he slept with a knife under his pillow.

When Nunez’s uncle was killed after refusing to make a payment to a gang, the family was forced to go into hiding. Nunez dropped out of school, and hid at home.

“They wanted to come for us. We were scared all the time; these guys were always in the corners of the streets around where we lived. We couldn't go outside.”

Eventually, the family fled across the border to Ecuador, where they applied for refugee status.

Nunez, who appears with Nelson Giant Tom Ingham in an episode of Courageous Conversations, didn't think his story was all that extraordinary, he said.

“I was anxious, nervous. I didn't know if I should do it, didn't know if I had a story.”

The four-part miniseries created by Cultural Conversations and Innit Creative Films features well-known Nelsonians sitting down to hear remarkable stories.

“Being from Nelson, it’s hard to fathom the things [Nunez] had to go through,” said basketballer and teacher Tom Ingham, who heard Nunez's tale.

“The guy you meet and the guy you see; you wouldn't think he had been carrying all that behind him.”

The experience reinforced something Ingham has learned as a teacher: to approach interactions and relationships with an open mind, he said.


"You don’t know what people are bringing in terms of experiences; the battles they might be fighting.”

Despite their differences, the pair found common ground, Ingham said.

“A strong sense of family: always having your family behind you. [Nunez]'s family were always there for him – just like mine.”


When Nunez arrived in New Zealand four years ago with his parents, sister, uncle, aunt and cousins, he knew no English, and little about the country – other than its Lord of the Rings fame.

Now, he’s working two jobs and applying for the Navy – a process the Cultural Conversations team has helped him with, he said.


New Zealanders have made him feel welcome, he said.

“I was surprised how nice people are. I feel like in Colombia, everybody has stress. Here people are happy; people always make you feel comfortable.”

And he can walk the streets at night.

“When we got here my mum said, you can do that now. It's safe. To me that was beautiful.”

The four short films will screen outside the Refinery Artspace on Halifax St during May and June between 10am and 10pm each day. For more information see culturalconversations.co.nz.

Source: Stuff article dated 28 April 2022: Courageous Conversations

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