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In Sudan, a photo contest offers children an opportunity to document daily life

© UNAMID/Gonzalez Farran
First session of the 'Eyes of Darfur' project at the Youth Committee Center in El Fasher with 50 Girls and Boy Scouts.

By Simon Ingram

KHARTOUM, Sudan, 12 October, 2011 -  A line of children walk to school; a group of men take shelter under a truck in order to escape the hot African sun; a child reads the Koran on a brightly-coloured prayer mat; a man leads a camel through the dust. These are just a handful of scenes from daily life in the Sudanese state of North Darfur captured by child photographers as part of an unusual photography project.

Eyes of Darfur

Devised by the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) with support from UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and other partners, the project was designed to give Darfuri children the opportunity to express how they see their lives by providing them with cameras and the absolute minimum of supervision.

Nearly 700 boys and girls from 20 primary and secondary schools and youth organizations in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, participated in the ‘Eyes of Darfur’ photo contest. In all, they produced some 15,000 pictures featuring their schools, neighborhoods, friends, families and a multitude of fragments of their daily lives.

© UNAMID/ A. Yousef
Photo taken by Abdalah Yousef, 12, from Shouba School and member of the Girls and Boy Scouts of El Fasher. He titled this photograph 'Rope game', because it shows a traditional child game played by his friends in his area.

“What really impressed us was the simple honesty of the images the children produced,” said Mr. Albert González Farran of the UNAMID photo unit, who oversaw the project. “It’s not that they thought much about the composition or the colours of each photo before they pressed the shutter, as a professional might. Rather you can sense the spontaneity, their desire to show us what they see, to give us a glimpse of their lives as they experience it.”

Scenes of daily life

Aged 10-18, the novice photographers were given disposable digital cameras with just 24 frames in each. Some stayed close to the schools, where teachers played an important part in ensuring each child understood the aim of the project. Others brought their cameras into their communities and homes, like 12-year-old Ittidal Musa, who took a picture of her friend, Mariam, carrying a jerrycan full of water in the Internally Displaced Persons camp where they both live.

Scenes of daily life were a favourite topic. 15-year old Sarra Hassan ventured to the main market in El Fasher, to snap a portrait of a tailor working at his sewing machine. Malik Mohamed, 17, chose an image of boys playing football near the construction site of a new mosque. Some images were more introspective, underlining the importance of nature and religion in the very traditional society of Darfur.

© UNAMID/ A. Yousef
Photo taken by Khadiya Ahmad Yousuf from Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced persons (IDP), in El Fasher. She took a photo of her friends playing at the IDP camp.

Selecting the finalists

“Having collected all the images taken by the children, judging them on their particular merits was no easy task,” said Mr. Farran. “Of course the quality was very mixed, but there were at least 500 that had real artistic merit, and narrowing them down to just 30 was very hard indeed.”

Those 30 final photographs can be viewed on the UNAMID Facebook page. Visitors to the site are asked to select their favourite 12 photographs which will be used in UNAMID’s 2012 calendar. The deadline to vote is 31 October 2011.

“The aim is to extend the Eyes of Darfur project to reach other parts of the region,” explained Mr. Farran, “thereby giving other children the opportunity to explore and develop their photographic talent.



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