The most striking thing about visiting the refugee camps is always the unmistakable bright spark of hope that lives in the children. Despite all the hardship and unbearable living circumstances, they find the ability to play, laugh and be children.
May all the children of the world run with joy and never from fear…
He followed our unicef SUV for more than 15 minutes in Goma’s streets giggling joyfully and I got to capture his beautiful smile 🙂
If I were to put one common word when describing children from any country, I would say ‘resilience’…
Children are developing beings, changing at a rapid speed, growing, absorbing, evolving and filled with energy that drives them through their process of becoming young adults. What I saw in a lot of the children in Congo was hope, strength, power, joy and possibility despite of and against all odds.
At the beginning of their life journey, their future is unpredictable, unknown and allowing for just anything to happen. It makes me wonder what will become of the these young bright faces that I met, where they are now and where they would be years from now.
photo taken: during a french lesson at the Cajed center for the care of ‘les enfants de la rue’ (the street children) in Kinshasa.
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.
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.
Childhood is the most sacred part of life. We as adults are entrusted with it to shield it, protect it and allow it its full potential…
And yet, in places like Congo, children are forcefully taken from their families by armed forces, sometimes as early as 7 years old, forced into military training, a life of crime, drugs, war and are shoved brutally into an ugly adulthood robbing them of their gift, their innocent childhood.
UNICEF and other NGOs have been actively struggling to save these children from the grips of war, offering them temporary sanctuary in an attempt to help them kickstart their childhood again and reunite with their families or other foster families in the Congolese society.
With arts, some of these children told me that they are able to escape into other places in their minds, places free of their memories of war, of killing, of brutality. They can dream of a normal life, of happiness and of recapturing the freedom that is an integral part of childhood.
Back in 2009, when I visited Congo, there were about 300,000 children roaming the streets of the country and categorized under the name “les enfants de la rue”~ children of the street.
I interviewed some of these children in the CAJED center in Kinshasa, a Congolese non-governmental organization created in 1992 to lodge, care for and support vulnerable children, including children separated from their families and those formerly associated with armed groups, before reunifying them with their families and/or reintegrating them into their home communities. CAJED has been a UNICEF partner since 2004.
This girl in the photo caught my eye as she was passing across the way. She had a haunting look to her and eyes so expressive, they took my breath away. She was not one of the children I interviewed, she was just watching from a distance and her story was kept to herself, so was her name. I call her ‘the beautiful girl in front of the yellow door’.
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.