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children children's rights CONGO Travel

They have totally made my day!!

Today was my last day in the DRC, and I had planned to visit some child artists and some centers for children of the streets. For the first time since I got here things seemed to be all going wrong. Cars coming late, information miscommunicated, child not at appointment… you name it.

By the end of it, I almost gave up and asked the UNICEF person helping me to go back and call it a day. But being as sweet as he is (a very warm and wonderful Congolese named Florent), he insisted on making some calls asking desperately for child artists for me to meet in the last 2 hours I have in Kinshasa.

So, finally we ended up in one of the REEJER centers in a slum part of Kinshasa. I could not believe my eyes entering this place. It was a small courtyard with children playing soccer with a self made little ball of paper and tape, other children asleep on the dirt floor, a few dingy offices, someone asleep in a little hole in the wall, and a small classroom with a dozen children who were told to expect my visit.

It was incredible walking in there. Piercing little eyes stared at me hesitating between a smile and a defying look at first, until their “teacher” asked them who would like to show me how they can draw?

Immediately 3 eager hands flew up and 3 of the boys went up to the board to draw what they called their message to the world, my camera being the messenger that will take their message with me on the plane to the big wide world outside Congo.

They drew with chalk, a message of peace, they said they want the guns to be turned away from the children of Congo. They want to live in peace and to grow in peace.

It was very moving to hear them and to watch those children, totally abandoned by parents, step parents, orphaned, or demobilized child soldiers, who are taken in by centers like this for lack of any other facility.

They then asked me what I would like for them to show me, so I said how about a song? Can you sing something. One volunteered to sing the Congolese national anthem, and was joined instantly by a deep chorus of voices repeating “Congo” rhythmically. It was simply beautiful.

Then I was about to thank them and give them a small present for their willingness to share their time with me when they totally threw me one off left field!!

They said, “hey, how about you sing us YOUR national anthem?”

“what??? ME??”

“yes” they all echoed. And they stared at me and waited. I felt pretty helpless and in all fairness I had to stand there in front of their beautiful faces and sing with my totally non melodic voice the Lebanese national anthem!

When I was done, they just cheered so enthusiastically and we all laughed so much that an unforgettable moment was etched in the story of my life.

I am so grateful for the chance to be with children like these, who in the end of the day, and after all the brutality they go through and witness, are just children. They are funny, innocent, warm, naughty, full of mischief and just plain beautiful!

Categories
children children's rights CONGO refugees

They have seen too much!

Children at the “Centre Nutritionnel Therapeutique” in Goma, arrive in a state of malnutrition and illness to receive basic nutrients and medical attention. That helps them get rehabilitated to be able to move on with their journey. Most are part of the thousands of refugees that come through the area or are affected children from Goma and surroundings.

They looked more like old men to me than children, old men who have seen too much. They may be missing the grey hair and the wrinkles, but they eyes tell their story very clearly. It is very difficult to look at them without examining my values, life on this planet and the state of affairs of the human race…

It would be much easier to look away when you see photos like these, and many of us do. I feel so grateful for the existence of people who do do something about this and who dedicate their time and efforts to bring help where it is needed. May there be more of them and less of these children.

Categories
children children's rights CONGO Travel

When the eyes open a door to the soul..

It was so moving being in the CAJED center for demobilized child soldiers. Just the idea of being with a child who has experienced trauma of that level and can yet be so resilient to want to be a child again is mind boggling. Most of these children spoke only Swahili, so when I interviewed them all had to be translated. But the moments that they just watched me with piercing looks and just held their gaze, I felt my breathing stop. Their eyes searched, questioned, told, sought, defied, but never wavered.

I will never forget these eyes that disarmed me completely and transmitted stories too horrible to be told with words.

Categories
children children's rights CONGO Travel

Pure power

Pure power was what met me when I walked into the CAJED center in Goma. Power of youth and children exploding right in my face, incredible force emanating in their dance, movement, facial expressions and eyes. Maybe it is Africa or maybe it is the fact that the force of these children was imprisoned during their stay with the armed forces and then suddenly let free, but it was overpowering and incredible to be in the presence of it.

In these centers, the children are taken in and allowed to be children again. They dance, they play, they create, and most important of all, they are so eager to learn. Most of the children dream about being a student again, and of being simply children.

On this day, the children danced the whole time I was at the center, close to 2 and half hours of unrelenting force moving through their bodies. It was exhilarating to witness.

Categories
children children's rights CONGO Travel

Let the world know about us..

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This was the resounding message in the faces and words of the children I met today in Kinshasa. They want the world to know what is happening to them. The girl above attends an embroidery class for “les enfants de la rue”, the children of the street. There is an incredible number of children living on the streets of Kinshasa, being abused in so many ways including the basic lack of a normal home and family life. Thanks to centers like the one I visited today, some of these children are offered a routine of normality that they so desperately need.

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a girl in front of the “hope” center in Kinshasa

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Children find a place to be children in centers like these, where they are protected from life on the streets.

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Uncategorized

Kinshasa (first impressions)… what makes the African an African?

I guess that the time that you arrive to a new place, the way you arrive to it and the general circumstances are what print that first impression in your mind about the place.

For me, I started arriving when I first got on the plane in Paris. Having lived in China for the last 3 years, my mind immediately started to draw comparisons between the Chinese and Congolese (worlds apart).

I always found that Chinese people are often in your space with very little consciousness of privacy, they may push you gently away, touch you, pass you in a line or sit right next to you in a public place…but with the Congolese, well they kind of SIT ON YOU.

I am not exaggerating, there was a beautiful “mama” sitting next to, on me on the plane. She was huge, loud, knew most passenger on the plane and was very very sure of herself (something you rarely ever notice in a Chinese woman). She very casually and repeatedly placed her bags ON ME while she fished inside them for things, laid her arms on me to rest them, and her head too occasionally. I was too fascinated to even think of complaining. At some point she was speaking to someone and gesturing wildly, so without a side glance she knocked my table and my tea about 50 cm up in the air (my first tea shower). She giggled apologizing in a very charming way that I had to smile.

So, yes, they are in your face in a very intense way, not shy at all.

The eyes too look you straight on, no wavering like the Chinese.

What makes the African an Africa, and the Chinese a Chinese? A mystery that always boggles, is the magic of how different humans exist together on this ball, so close and yet so different.

More soon,

Categories
children parenting Travel

So hard to leave you behind…

It is so exciting to be going on a trip like this.. going to an unknown place armed with my cameras, my dreams, my wish to try and make a difference. It is what I have always dreamt of doing, and what I promised myself I would do.

But a big part of my heart stays at home with you Lea. I don’t know how traveling mothers can do that again and again, and I don’t know if it ever gets easier.I had to get creative and work out a way for her to be excited about the process of waiting for me to come back. So I made a calendar of sorts, with bags dated for each day that I am away. She will open her surprise bags daily and count down till the day I am back. She just loved the idea and it gave her such a safety to know exactly how many days she had to wait and that each day held a small surprise inside a closed bag with a number on it.

And still when I think of where I am going in a few hours, Congo, where I will meet with children who were robbed of their right to innocence and whose childhood was hijacked by those who have motives that do not consider the rights of children; I think that my little 5 year old Lea is very lucky. One day I hope she will fully understand it.

Categories
faces old people Travel

A haunting look


When I took this photo I was walking in the long corridor of the temple of heaven in Beijing, a place always on my priority list while here because of the state it forces me into. Every time I ever visited the temple of Heaven, I was met with a contagious state of well being, a relaxed place in myself where time was not worried about taking a break and stopping. People sang there, played cards, acted out Beijing Operas, played with their children, slept or simply just sat there alone enjoying the serenity.

This old man had the “haunting look” I often search for in a stranger’s face. The look that makes you stop, lock eyes, and find peace.

Categories
celebrations CHINA Travel

Xīn nián kuài lè

The fireworks in Shanghai on Chinese New Year’s eve are the strangest I have ever seen. I took a walk over midnight around the streets and witnessed a frenzy of fireworks lit up by people in every corner of the city. It is not the usual big fireworks show I saw 2 years ago in Hong Kong during the same holiday. Here everyone lights up these big fireworks in front of their buildings and homes. The louder and bigger the better. The loud noise is meant to scare the bad spirits away and welcome the new year with its clean slate. It is just what everyone is doing that night and the city is taken over by it. Incredible to watch and be part of.

Categories
children Travel

Shanghai Sculpture Space

A very cool art destination in Shanghai is on 570 Huai Hai xi Lu in Puxi. It is a large complex of art galleries and a large and odd sculpture garden. Great place to watch buzzing little children interact with stiff statues and sculpture pieces. Very much worth going back to again and again.