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.
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.
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.