Day 20~ April 20th~ Congo

in the game

One of the most precious gifts we humans receive upon our birth is the gift of choice and free will…

We have the faculties that allow us to think, evaluate, compare, investigate, evaluate and then based upon our findings make an informed decision. It is a the first and most important principle for our freedom.

But when this gift is stolen, taken away, then we are forced to live in oppression and to become the involuntary players in the games of others.

This boy was destined to become a player in a game of war, not by choice, he is far too young and far too vulnerable to make his way towards his freedom. He is a prisoner in one ugly scheme and it has drawn the old man out of the little boy.

And the game is till being played…

“May the odds be in his favor”… the quote that still haunts me from the recent movie “the hunger games”

Day 19~ April 19th~ Congo

adapting to a new life

A small boy, on the run from Rwanda, pausing in a medical center in Goma, hiding behind the folds of a UNICEF tent, his life will never be the same again…

While days before he was just a little boy, living in a village, part of a family, living a somewhat normal life, today he is labelled a refugee. He is another number added to a list, a surprisingly large list, that grows and grows each time a new war and a new conflict is born. This boy is a side of effect of the greed of humans, of their struggle to gain power and of their disregard to what misfortunes and casualties their games are producing in the lives of others.

 

Day 18~ April 18th~ Congo

Looking ahead

Being born into conflict, struggling to survive, finding themselves short of even the most basic of life’s necessities; what kind of future are these children looking forward to having?

If children are the hope for our future, if they will be the beacon for much needed change to come, then don’t they deserve much more than the world is giving them? It is so much easier to close one eye and just look at Africa as a lost cause that only rarely makes it to the front pages of our newspapers, but these issues are real, the children exist, their futures are hanging by a very thin thread.

Isn’t humanity dependent on humans feeling the need of other humans and doing something about it? Is enough being done?

These are some of the questions that haunt me as I go through this photo archive and as the memories these children begin to illuminate themselves in my mind again…

Day 17~ April 17th~ Congo

To smile fully

They say that only when you come so close to losing something do you value it the most…

That is definitely something I have witnessed in Congo and growing up in a Lebanon during the civil war. War can make you more sensitized to the value of life, so when you cry, you cry more deeply, and when you laugh, you laugh with all of your being.

Life is strange like that. It takes a shock to wake us up the wonder of it all. This boy’s smile in the streets of Goma speaks volumes to me about the richness of human existence, the power of our emotions and the joy of simply being alive.

Day 16~ April 16th~ Congo

depth

Some images print themselves in our minds and on our hearts because they affect us beyond the surface of visual impression. They go deep, they etch a mark on our soul…

If you were to ask me what moment in my journey to Congo was the most haunting, I would say this one when I took this photograph. This child was one of the youngest in the center for demobilized child soldiers. He never spoke, he just stood there and let his eyes that stared without blinking, the scar on his chin and his cloud of melancholy speak for him. His gaze was steady, his look far but near, his mind unreadable. It was a child who spent far too much time in the playground of the lords of war and cruelty.

Day 15~ April 15th~ Congo

piercing

When the streets of the city are your home, when you are solely responsible for your own safety while other children are tucked safely at home, when your survival is depending entirely on the kindness of others…

These piercing eyes belong to one of the 300, 000 children that call the streets of the cities in Congo their home. “les enfants de la rue” ~ the children of the street, wild eyed, witty, emotionally fragile, hard shelled, untrusting… the sad product of a humanity gone wrong. But still the strength in them and the hope in their eyes could not be missed.

I met these children in a center in Kinshasa that offers them lessons, food, daytime shelter and guidance where needed. They sang to me, drew messages on the blackboard for me to photograph and sang me their national anthem in a most rhythmic excellence which I filmed and will share in a future post.

Day 14~ April 14th~ Congo

the girl in Goma

There is a great power in Africa which throbs in the land like a drum beat and then spirals up through its people, radiating from every pore in their skin and fashioning a most complex range of human expression…

I look back at this photo of a girl in Goma and I see shyness, strength, pride, defiance, warmth, dignity, among so many other emotions that come at me from her face and her posture.

If you have been to Africa, you perhaps would have felt that it is a place that keeps beckoning you back, because you realize that you left a part of you there and took a small part that always tugs at you to take it back home.

 

 

Day 13~ April 13th~ Congo

"nous voulons la paix dans le monde"

“We want peace in the world”… Is that too much to ask?

Every child I spoke to in Congo told me the same thing, responded the same way when I asked them what their message to the world was, what was it they wished for the most…

” I want to live a peaceful life”

“I want to be able to go to school and not be kidnapped again”

“I want the war to stop”

“I want to find my parents again and live a happy peaceful life”

This boy in Kinshasa wanted to deliver his message in artform. He wanted to draw his message and asked me to pass it on, because maybe if everyone knew that the children in Congo do not want the war, then maybe, just maybe, the world can help to stop it.

Please share this message from a young boy in Congo, the country that has lost more than 5 million  people so far to a bloody conflict that spares no child, mother or old person.

Thank you.

message from Motombo Mabaka~ age 13~ Kinshasa

Day 12~ April 12th~ Congo

dancing the bad memories away

It was so clear to me the day I saw these children dancing for hours, that Africa, the land, radiates and infuses its people with rhythm. Moving seems to be the most natural thing to them and they move with a lightness and swiftness that are most beautiful to witness. These children are young demobilized child soldiers and dancing is part of their healing process.

I was able to take a couple of short videos and here is one to give an idea of the way it felt to be there and to witness this event in person.

Day 11~ April 11th~ Congo

recapturing childhood in Goma

When I knew I would be meeting child soldiers in Congo, I had no frame of reference as to what I would be meeting. I had seen some snapshots sent to me before my trip, I had read the statistics, the articles, seen photos, but all of that did not prepare me for my first meeting. It was a cloudy hot day in Goma, on the northern shores of lake Kivu in Congo, when I was escorted to the gates of what looked like a small prison with barbed wire, metal gates and armed security. But as I would later find out, the prison was not intended to hold the children in, but to keep the men who abducted them and want to find them again, out. It was a safe house for these demobilized child soldiers and a place where they were temporarily housed, medically attended to, given lessons, recreational activities and access to arts that are all meant to help them transition back to life after live in the military. I took this photo in the first few minutes that I was there, because I arrived at the time when the children were in the middle of recreational activities and the place was charged with so much energy, from football, tribal dance, weaving, singing, music playing, painting… and it went on and on for the few hours that I was there.

By the year 2009 when I visited Congo, about 30,000 child soldiers were demobilized by the United Nations and other national and  international organizations. The children were treated against shock, diseases and trauma before attempts to integrate them in their own villages and families or foster families in Congo.  Thousands of children still remain in the armed forces today.