Day 28~ April 28th~ Congo

boys at work~ Goma

Working children is a concept that is becoming more and more foreign to us in the western world, but in developing countries, young children are often forced to join the work force. I find myself showing these images to my daughter on several occasions when a reality check and a need for the right perspective on life is needed.

These boys were paused near one of the wall murals that UNICEF paints on the city streets to educate children through art. It seems to be the right way to deliver a message, as I saw the children totally absorbed in deciphering the message until they saw me and diverted their attention to act playful for the camera.

Day 22~ April 22nd~ Congo

The hope that never dies

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.

 

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 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 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 9~ April 9th~ Congo

hope in music

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.

Day 8~ April 8th~ Congo

street child in Kinshasa

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’.

 

Day 7~ April 7th~ Congo

He wanted to see my camera

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.