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.
Another innocent face, another curious gaze, another little life that was forced to shift course because of tribal conflict.
In a region that has seen the loss of over 5 million people to genocide, poverty and conflict related casualties, this boy could be considered one of the lucky ones. He will receive medication, food, shelter and as much protection as the international agencies and NGOs can offer.
On we go with the story in Congo, thank you all so much for the kind comments you have been leaving. Today this site reached 50k views! Thank you also for your kind reward nominations which I have had so little time to respond to. Writing today while in transit in Los Angeles on the way back to Shanghai.
The first thing that gets sacrificed is the trust…
With the innocence of children comes a great trust, the gift of expecting only the best of others towards them because they are not yet capable of processing hypocrisy. War changes the rule of the game. Suddenly children are worried, untrusting, distressed, hungry, and filled with doubt in all the places where innocence used to live.
Sometimes the mental assault is even more destructive than the physical one.
This little refugee girl eventually relaxed and smiled, but not at first and not right away.
Images can tell stories so much better than words. When I look back at an image like this of a refugee child, I feel so much more than what can be put into words. So I will leave the words to you this time, to form your own.
Until I went to Africa and saw the children face to face, the issues resided in my head as statistics, facts and numbers…
This child is no longer a number. This little girl has a unique story, she has a name, she has parents, a favorite game she liked to play back in her home in Rwanda and maybe a favorite color. I met her in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, where she was taking refuge in a medical center with her mother after crossing the border and receiving milk and medication with groups of other refugees, mostly women and children. She is one of millions affected by the conflict in the area and her future is unknown, unsafe and uncertain.
Another powerless victim in a war waged for no other purpose than the attainment of power.
Each time I hear parents trying to convince their children in our western world to eat more, to drink more milk, to eat just another bite; my mind goes back to the children I met in Congo. A glass of milk can have the power to transform a desperate little face into a bright smiling one, the milk she drank out of utter need, no room for luxury in her world of fighting for survival.
I find myself showing my 7 year old daughter these photographs repeatedly while telling her stories to put more perspective into her life in my attempt to tip the scales away from materialism and towards a consciousness and humanity about other less fortunate humans we share this planet with.
I can only hope that this awareness will make a difference in her future life. The first step to actively helping is consciously knowing.
I am starting this series with faces of children because this is what impacted me the most. The innocence, the vulnerability, the undying hope in their eyes and the strong will to survive is where this story begins.
“The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed more than five million lives – making it the planet’s deadliest conflict since World War II.
But despite the horrific levels of sexual violence and millions of people displaced from their homes and schools, it remains Africa’s forgotten war and rarely makes the headlines of the world’s media.
Although the conflict has officially finished, much of the country remains desperately poor and the continuing violence in the eastern regions make it one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a woman.” war child
The statistics are staggering and the reality is even more difficult to face. Being in Congo and seeing the faces of its children while knowing the fate most of them may face adds another dimension to our responsibility as humans to try to make a change. And there are so many that do offer their time and dedicate their lives to help, but it never seems to be enough.
The journey into Congo will not be easy or comfortable, it is facing and unsettling. But our planet is filled with injustice, with poverty, hunger,wars and I always find the need to remind myself that so much is needed still to be done and to give thanks to those who do and keep on doing to make the world a better place.
In this post, I want to give a special thanks to Mr Ross Mountain, an amazing humanitarian who helped facilitate my trip in Congo and without whom it never would have been possible. Mr Mountain was running MONUC in Congo when I travelled there in 2009 and after his 26 years of amazing service in the UN, he is now working as director general of Dara in Madrid.
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.