FIELD BLOG DIARY - The Inspiring Smiles of Amina, Sara & Ariel: Central African Republic
11 March 2014 - I’ve met so many wonderful, inspiring children in the Central African Republic over the past few days.
I don’t mean children learning in schools with their teachers – barely any schools are open.
I don’t mean children living safely in their homes – so many now live in internally displaced persons camps.
I don’t mean children who are healthy and strong – I have met several with terrible, debilitating injuries.
I do mean children with beautiful smiles and big hopes and dreams for the future.
In spite of all the insecurity, uncertainty and challenges they face every moment of every day.
Amina defies all of that with a gentle smile. She’s about 8 years old and was shot in the upper thigh during an attack on her home village, hundreds of kilometres away from the capital, Bangui, where she was brought for treatment. Her mother and father were both killed in the attack. She lives with a family that has taken her in, but they are also in a desperate situation. Cut off in a neighbourhood surrounded by men who vow to hack them all to death if they don’t leave the country. Yet Amina can’t even walk without the help of some small plastic crutches. The raw scar on her thigh is about one and half inches long and isn’t pretty. But her smile is beautiful as she struggles and succeeds in hobbling along just a few steps more than yesterday. She knows how truly important it is to learn how to walk again.
Sara defies all of that with a determined smile. She’s 11 years old and lives in an internally displaced persons’ site, along with thousands of others who had to flee attacks on their villages and neighbourhoods. Her mom and dad try to make ends meet doing any menial task they can. Sara knows how bad their situation is and helps out every morning by sweeping around their small makeshift home, thrown together under an abandoned plane with old sheets. Then she collects wood and tends a small fire for her aunt to cook coffee to sell. She washes the family’s clothes in a plastic bucket and cares for her baby sister. She’s a serious girl and doesn’t have time to play. She just wants to go back to school to learn so that one day she can be a police-woman, “So I can protect my mom and dad.”
Ariel defies all of that with a bright smile. She’s 9 years old and when I met her at the only paediatric hospital in the country, she was sitting up in her bed under a white mosquito bed-net. I thought she was wearing an orange shirt until I got closer and saw that all that was orange was her flesh, burnt terribly across her chest and back. She’s been there several months and shares a room with other children injured by shootings or accidents. She knows well the hospital routines and the parents of the other injured kids call her the ‘chefe du village’. Ariel asks me to take her picture with my Iphone and smiles when I show it to her through the bed-net. I tell her she has the same name as the Disney princess Ariel. “Oh, I already know that,” she says. “She’s beautiful.” I tell her that I think she’s much more beautiful than the princess. Ariel looks far away for a few moments, then smiles shyly and whispers “Merci.”
Amina, Sara and Ariel are just three of the many wonderful, inspiring children in the Central African Republic I’ve met over the past few days. Children with beautiful smiles and big hopes and dreams for the future. In spite of all the insecurity, uncertainty and challenges they face every moment of every day.
They inspire us all to continue to do everything we can for them. UNICEF is working hard in the Central African Republic with other UN agencies, humanitarian partners and the interim government in the areas of health, nutrition, education, child protection, water and sanitation for all the affected children. There’s still a lot of work to be done: Amina, Sara and Ariel are just three of the 2.3 million children whose lives have been affected by the ongoing crisis and conflict in their country.
UNICEF CAR is urgently appealing for $62 million to carry out its life-saving humanitarian work for children in 2014.For more information on UNICEF’s work in the Central African Republic, please visit www.unicef.org, and follow us on Twitter: @UNICEF_CAR and @KentPage