Angola

Real lives

In Angola, survivors show Mia Farrow hope, friendship

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Mia Farrow reads from an exercise book with Fernando, 11, in an outdoor class in the Ganga Sol camp for former rebel soldiers, near the northern town of Malanje. More than 3,100 of the 5,000 people in this camp are children.

16 August 2002, LUANDA - The town of Kuito in central Angola, is an odd abstraction of incinerated houses, decaying colonial Portuguese houses, and burned neighbourhoods of warehouses that once stored the prosperity of this rich farming land. Now Kuito stores a wealth of stories, one for each person who still lives here, or has come to live as a displaced person from the ravaged countryside.

Kuito underwent the longest siege of the 30 year Angolan civil war, surrounded and bombarded for 18 months in 1993. Thousands of people died from battle and, with the airport closed to aid flights, thousands starved to death in their homes. More than 3,000 bodies are interred in the gardens of the city's houses, including two in the back yard of the UNICEF office. Thousands of orphaned children survive with extended families and in displaced persons camps.

Last week, American actress and UNICEF Special Representative, Mia Farrow, sat surrounded by Kuito survivors with a child on her lap. Some children broke away from their football game to meet her, sing for her and talk with Farrow's 14 year-old son Seamus. Each child was without parents, either orphaned or separated as a result of the conflict.

Evangelista, who manages the shelter and family tracing programme that UNICEF supports, told her own story of survival in a quiet voice. "Nothing could have prepared me for what I have seen and heard here," said Farrow afterwards. "Evangelista lost seven members of her family, including her own children, and her response was to take in 18 orphans. Instead of saying, 'This is overwhelming, I call it quits,' her response was to take in even more children. She's been responsible for more than a 1,000 children being re-united with [their] families."

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Oracio Izaias, 39, holding his injured three-year-old son, speaks with Mia Farrow at a health post in the Ganga Sol camp. Oracio, who left the rebel army only a month ago, has a wife and five children, all of whom now live at the camp.

"This is typical of these people. Everywhere I have seen examples of devotion, dedication, ingenuity, and commitment," said Farrow. "…I could see that with just a little help in this country, these talented, warm-hearted, good people will make huge steps towards self-sufficiency."

From Kuito, Farrow travelled to the northern town of Malanje, to one of the 35 new camps around the country that house former UNITA fighters and their families, where UNICEF is supporting birth registration, education, and immunization.

"Just five months ago this man who we saw today in a UNITA camp, was in battle," said Farrow. "Today he was registering the birth of his child and immunizing him, and is living and working in a civilian community. The will is there to change, and to make the necessary steps. And I know from speaking with a journalist there that three months ago people in that camp were virtually starving. Today, as the camp leader told me, and as I saw, every single one of the thousands of camp children are registered, sheltered, fed, and in school."

Farrow travelled to four of the most war-affected provinces. Speaking from the southern town of Lubango she said that she had been consistently impressed by the fortitude and warmth of the people.

"I've met many interesting people in my travels, but I've never met kinder or more dedicated people this week," she said. "I saw the triumph of the human spirit. People with an abiding idea of how to love, how to care for each other. I met people who in the course of their difficult day were able to tell me of their lives, their difficulties."

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Accompanied by two girls, Seamus and Mia Farrow accompanied by children, walk through the ruins of a Catholic church destroyed during the war, in Kuito. The town saw some of the heaviest fighting of the nearly 30-year conflict.

"I'm moved and impressed by the commitment of UNICEF's non-governmental organization partners, individuals and groups," said Farrow, who met with a variety of UNICEF partners. "I hope that there will be an equal sense of commitment from the government to allocate funds freed-up by the advent of peace, to social programmes. Because this is a country that despite the wreckage has abundant natural resources."

Her son Seamus, a vocal advocate of children's rights in the United States, added, "What struck me was how the children of Angola have paid for the mistakes of their elders, and yet how much their spirit shines through. They have a commitment to making a life for themselves, getting an education. Looking at the children here I think that there's great hope for this country."

At a wrap-up press conference in Luanda on Saturday, Farrow said, "With knowledge comes responsibility, and as an American, I will carry this message back with me: Under the most negative circumstances, Angola has preserved its soul, integrity, and identity. Yes, there has been terrible destruction, but I see all the elements to make a peaceful, productive, Angola. I think that the people of the US would hope to see the leadership of Angola, a government now focused on its people, rather than war, and with a serious commitment to social programmes, to health, to education, to restoration."


 

 

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