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?”
“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!