El Callao (Venezuela) – Barefoot and shirtless in the cavernous belly of an illegal gold mine, Ender doesn’t flinch when a piece of rock falls through the darkness and breaks the silence.

Working in the dangerous and violent underworld of illegal mining in eastern Venezuela, the skinny teenager is used to taking his life in his hands every day.

The narrow mine shaft is filled with puddled water and the smell of gases, and the handmade wood supports staving off a collapse look precarious at best.

But Ender Moreno is unfazed.At 18 years old, he has already been doing this job for eight years.

“I’m not afraid,” he said as he climbed through the pitch black, his headlamp lighting the way through the hazardous maze 30 meters (100 feet) underground.

© AFP JUAN BARRETO Although life in the mines of eastern Venezuela is hard and dangerous, tens of thousands of people like Ender Moreno, 18, head for the mines daily, pushed by the rise in gold prices and by the severe economic crisis affecting the country

© AFP JUAN BARRETO – Although life in the mines of eastern Venezuela is hard and dangerous, tens of thousands of people like Ender Moreno, 18, head for the mines daily, pushed by the rise in gold prices and by the severe economic crisis affecting the country