Leprosy Exhibition in London

Documentary, Leprosy, Photojournalism

Very excited to announce that I’m going to have an exhibition of the leprosy project at the Art Gallery in St Paul’s School in London on 30th September. If you’re able, I’d love you to come and see how six years work looks on the wall of a gallery. Some of the stuff you will have seen on the blog and my website (www.tom-bradley.com) and some has been newly shot this year.

Do RSVP (info@tom-bradley.com) if you’d like to make it. Many thanks

Here is the Press Release…

Tom Bradley Leprosy SPS Exhibition Press Release-page-001

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St Briavel’s Bread and Cheese Dole

Photojournalism, street photography

Cheese and Bread Festival

Yesterday, in my local village of St Briavel’s was the annual Bread and Cheese Dole. This is a tradition that dates back to the 12th century. I did a little digging on the St Briavel’s website:

Each year on Whit Sunday bread & cheese is thrown from the wall of the castle to local ‘Dole Claimers’ dressed in medieval costume! ‘Dole claimers’ could be anyone who paid a penny to the Earl of Hereford entitling them to gather firewood from the nearby Hudnalls wood.

Some believe in the power of these small cubes of bread and cheese and preserve them for good luck. Apparently miners originally used them as charms to protect them against accidents. Today some people choose to place them in matchboxes and rest them under their pillow to inspire dreams of the future.

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The above family are the Creswicks. Apparently it is them, who for almost 900 years have the been the ones to dole out the bread and cheese. Apparently.

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Each year a guest vicar gives a sermon just before the doling. He is paid the sum of something like one and sixpence (in old money) but only if the crowd cheer at the end of it. There was a cheer this time… of sorts.

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Not sure there was anyone that actually kept the bread and cheese as a lucky charm.

Don Tiger: Freetown’s Kung-Fu Master

Africa, General comment, Photojournalism, portrait

OK, so I’m not sure he’s a Kung-Fu master. I have no idea what sort of status he is, but from my amateur eye (although I have watched a lot of Jackie Chan) he was very good. Don Tiger (probably not his real name unless he has kick-ass parents) is a Nigerian martial artist who I met in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He’s also shot a few amateur Kung-Fu movies in Nigeria and South Africa during his time; that’s right, in my book I’m mates with a Kung-Fu Movie Star.

When I met him he was head of security at Dubai’s, a watering hole I frequented every now and then, and a club that used to have one of the worst reputations on Freetown’s Eastside in terms of drugs and stabbings. There was a huge gang culture there. That is until Don ‘The Super Don’ Tiger arrived.

Within a year or so he had kicked out (quite literally at times according to the barman) a number of troublemakers and slowly the place lost it’s rep as the bad boy bar it once was. Back in April I went along with a mate of mine, Lewis Swann to one of Don’s workout sessions.

“You should have seen him the first time I came,” said Lewis in his slurred Texas twang, “he spent like half an hour making sure his ‘fro was perfect before training”. Lewis was taking part. I wasn’t. I got a bit of exercise from dodging out of the way from his kicks, twirls and unannounced roundhouses. He was fashionably late (preening his locks possibly) so I photographed Lewis warming up with couple of Don’s budding pupils.

My neck certainly doesn’t look like that…

Don then arrived to show them how a warm-up is done by a Kung-Fu movie star.

That’s Don, in the foreground with a really serious looking face. If there’s one thing Don is, it’s serious. I think the painting of him at the back of his work-out spot particularly picks up on this fact too. The artist really nailed the serious look.

Don demonstrates his flexibility. He can go further to touch his face on the ground.

Serious.

Flying knee-kick (apologies if this is the incorrect term – they tend not to mention what moves are in the movies, they just do them).

He really is the Super Don.

Don held this position perfectly still for about a minute. Apparently it’s really hard.

That punch bag is in for a treat…

Don knocks Lewis’ gloved hand aside with a roundhouse about 7 foot high.

Lewis’ rather scared face is because Don managed to roundhouse kick his sparring glove off his raised hand. I didn’t even realise it had gone until it landed on my head. True story.

Unfortunately this mini-character photo essay from a brief sparring session doesn’t have a fairytale ending. I saw Don a number of times, had a few beers with him and a few chats about where he came from and where he wanted to go. Perhaps he had the potential to become a kung-fu movie star… he certainly had the moves and the look, but when I came back to Freetown after three months away Don was no longer at Dubai’s. He’d beaten up the bar owner with a metal pole after an argument (I should say Don was always in a good mood each time I saw him). The bar owner survived without permanent damage, but Don was arrested. As far as I know, he’s still in prison. I imagine he’ll survive ok in there, better than anyone that crosses him at least, but Freetown’s prisons are certainly the wrong place to start if you want to kick ass on the silver screen.

The Public (Sector workers) Pensions Procession

General comment, Photojournalism

By London’s recent riotous behaviour (the September smash up and the student protests), yesterday’s strikes seemed pretty tame. Naturally, in a rare opportunity for actually being in London when something exciting happens, I went along for the ride. I think the most that happened during the actually procession (like it or not, it was certainly calm and organised enough to be called a procession – maybe a protest procession if you prefer), was a couple of suspiciously hippy-looking characters (I’m not one to talk) argue with the police about wanting to march down to Parliament. Unfortunately the three or four of them would have been hard pressed to knock down the large metal barriers and 100 or so police no doubt waiting at hand. It would have been slightly futile as the unions had set up their tent on the Victoria embankment, in the direction the rest of the tens of thousands were headed.

There was certainly support from a huge variety of people there… students perhaps making up the loudest population (possibly the arts students, as a former science student the only  good reason I had to miss my 26 hours of lectures and practicals a week was one of those terrible bouts of food poisoning that would appear after a night out). There were a good deal of children, most of them having great fun flashing their banners – some brought along to help those watching on TV shed a tear at their defiance for their teachers and parents (or perhaps they’re still crying from the John Lewis ad. Apparently), and some brought along because their parents couldn’t leave them at home. Either way, no harm was done bringing them…

I apologise if you’re one of those facing the public sector pension cuts and don’t think I’m taking it seriously anymore… I’m still on the fence on this one. Perhaps I’m already a stereotypically weary traveller, but to be honest I’ve spent the last nine months in countries that European have reaped/raped the benefits from since pre-colonialisation. We are living in a world where the largest superpower denies climate change and seems to be happy to live in ultra-consumerist mode (11 more earths with it’s resources would be needed if everyone was to live like the average American, 5 more for Britons), and as much as we pledge to want to help those in developing nations, we have to realise that we live in a world that’s balanced. And if that balance (I’m not talking about communism) is going to be fairer, it means taking our lifestyles a step down.

Now there were some rousing speeches yesterday at the protest with strong points. And I agree the Robin Hood Tax should be imposed, and I think the rich should be heavily taxed. But the general public must realise the hit we have to take. If we’re talking about what’s fair, our nation should not be where it is, probably not as advanced in education or technology which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but we wouldn’t be so well off if we hadn’t benefitted so unfairly from all those nations under the British Empire. You may have gathered I’m not an expert in economics or politics – but I am getting a good idea of what is and isn’t fair in the world. Rant over, some photos?

…not everyone was there to take it seriously.

Is that the 1% watching the 99%? (I was going to say something about the private sector’s even smaller average pensions, but to be honest these guys work next to Trafalgar Square…)

A little rallying from the students as usual…

Rushing always helps too…

One of the aforementioned hippies.

Some cunningly painted arrows by our government.

A stubborn pensioner and her essay. I’ll read it later, and no doubt be so inspired that I’ll re-blog it, fully against the public sector cuts. That wasn’t meant to sound sarcastic.

One of the speakers at the rally.

Some of the kids enjoying themselves.

Another Union rep.

Guy Fawkes, looking for a way into parliament… funny story, I had an American friend who was under the impression his name was Guy Force. Sounds like a gay nightclub…

According to the Union about 2 million people across the country went on strike. I think the government have said 1.2 million did. Who to believe, who to believe…

It was an odd mix, but certainly a thoughtful and attentive crowd. Much like this blog post I feel…

I think half of those people are photographers. We make up 50% of most protests these days…

Yeah Lansley.

Now that is a kid enjoying himself. Yeah, f*** da po-leese. (Not sure of the correct spelling, apologies).

In all seriousness, I would welcome any comments on this topic, your thoughts etc. Especially from friends, as I know there are divided opinions. Feel free to slam what I have to say – take advantage of my fickleness.

Tom

Congo Colours: Landscapes and Skyscapes

Africa, Landscape, Photojournalism

Well I decided to do a simple post of just landscape (and skyscape) shots from my last three months in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Plenty more where these came from, but they will be emerging in a series of other posts and articles over the coming months. Many of these photos may match the stereotypical image portrayed in the Western mindset of the Congo – the dark, wild terror of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – however, I’m also hoping a few stereotypes are smashed in the following 50 images.

Goma, North Kivu.

Nyiragongo volcano, North Kivu.

Virunga National Park, North Kivu.

Dungu, Orientale.

UN airport at Dungu, Orientale.

Virunga National Park, North Kivu.

Jeannot Bemba’s Mausoleum in Gemena, Equateur.

Boyambi, Equateur.

Libenge Road, Equateur.

Near Libenge, Equateur.

Doruma, Orientale.

Ubangi River at Libenge, Equateur.

The airport building in Doruma, Orientale.

Lisala, Equateur.

Lisala, Equateur.

Lisala, Equateur.

Cathedral in Lisala, Equateur.

Goma from a UN helicopter, North Kivu.

Mubi, North Kivu.

Congo River at Lisala, Equateur.

Congo River at Lisala, Equateur.

Mutakato, North Kivu.

Kimpese Road, Bas-Congo.

UN truck near Walikale, North Kivu.

Near Kimpese, Bas-Congo.

Mobutu’s abandoned residence in Lisala, Equateur.

Kibua, North Kivu.

Kinshasa, Kinshasa.

Barges on the Congo river, Kinshasa.

Huge storm, somewhere over Kasai Oriental.

Solidified lava flow by Goma, North Kivu.

Bunia, Orientale.

Storm in Dungu, Orientale.

Storm behind St Augustins in Dungu, Orientale.

Hospital in Kimpese, Bas-Congo.

IDP market in Dungu, Orientale.

UN football match in Dungu, Orientale.

Catholic church at an IDP camp in Dungu, Orientale.

Kibua, North Kivu.

Kibua, North Kivu.

Kibua, North Kivu.

Kibua, North Kivu.

Dungu, Orientale.

Kibua, North Kivu.

Kibua, North Kivu.

Peacekeepers at Binyampuli, North Kivu.

Dungu, Orientale.

View returning from Walikale from a UN helicopter, North Kivu.

Nyiragongo volcano, North Kivu.

LRA: IDPs, FARDC, UPDF and other exciting acronyms

Africa, Documentary, Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, Photojournalism, Uncategorized

Today’s post about Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and other results of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) being in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Above: The government denies that the LRA are a serious threat there. When I spoke to a few officials and Commanders of the Congolese Army I’d hear something along the lines of: “There are 8 or 10, maybe as much as 20 but no more. These attacks are just local bandits”.

Above and below: However these ’10 or so bandits’ have caused well over 300,000 people in Orientale province, an area the size of France to flee their villages and set up in clusters around places such as Dungu and Doruma. Sometimes these are not much safer, Doruma has suffered multiple attacks in the past few months where civilans were killed, abducted and food and supplies were looted.

Above: The roof of the hut of a former soldier for the LRA. He was captured at the age of 17 and made to fight for the LRA for over a year. Now he has returned to his family. At 19, he is living in a displaced camp where he is hoping to find a way to get educated.

Above: A man rocks back and forth on his stool, staring unnervingly at the ground. He is mentally handicapped, but according to his sister he has done little else since moving from his village to the IDP camp in Doruma.

Above: A man a woman clear land and burn wood at the edge of an IDP camp in Doruma while their children wait patiently.

Above: Three young men talk about their experiences with the LRA. They were all captured for a short while (1 week, 2 days, and 1 day respectively) in order to carry supplies that were looted from them. In two cases they escaped, and one was let go. “We were made to carry things to their camp. We had no shoes, and our feet were swollen and bleeding, so when they let us go, we just collapsed and slept on the forest floor.”

Above: A man in the IDP camp in Doruma fills his jerry can from the nearby watering hole.

Above and below: IDPs in Doruma and Gangala.

Above: Tengende was working for the NGO Premier d’Urgence and was hitching a lift with one of their food trucks to see his baby son who was ill. They were attacked by the LRA and he was shot in the arm and a bullet just scraped above his right eye. The driver was killed, and the other man in the truck was dragged out of the front seat. Tengende played dead and witnessed the LRA beat his friends head in with a machete. Gasoline had leaked all over the ground and Tengende was lying a in a pool of it. One of the LRA thought they saw him move as they were leaving and checked by poking a bayonet into his neck. “I do not know how, but with God’s will I found the strength not to react”.

The LRA set the petrol alight, and Tengende lay burning until they disappeared. He rolled in the grass and staggered down the road where Congolese soldiers were running towards him. He was taken back to Doruma and treated for burns on his right arm and all over his back. Luckily they were treated early enough so as not to cause long-term damage and they just resemble large skin patches.Premier d’Urgence refused to send him to Dungu to get surgery on his eye because he had not formally requested to go with the truck. He is blind in his right eye. All the LRA took were two sacks of rice.

Above: Catholic church at an IDP camp in Dungu.

Above: USAID provides basic food supplies once a month or so various IDP camps. This food is generally sold or used up after a week.

Above: Esperance, 18 was captured in December 2008. Her father was killed on the same day. She escaped only two months prior to this post, in a UPDF attack on the LRA camp. She was forced to marry one of the commanders, and now lives with her mother and siblings in an IDP camp just outside Dungu. “I can’t go to get water on my own anymore, and even then, only when it’s very close. I’m scared that they’ll take me again, I don’t want to go back to them.”

Above: Esperance watches her younger brothers playing outside their hut.

Above: Despite the fact Esperance is now back safe with her family her mother is still very concerned for her well-being. She is a young woman who has spent over two years among soldiers and slaves, looking to get educated in an IDP camp, and scared to be on her own.

Above: IDPs are crowding market places in their new settlements and looking for different ways to make a living. Their presence is naturally effecting current residents, many of whom do not make as much money as before. This IDP has, for a good price just sold a sack of beans he carried from his village when he was displaced.

Above: This IDP is selling charcoal in the market place. Her husband was killed and two sons captured by the LRA. All around her is evidence of unemployed youth, many of whom have just finished their education.

Above: This IDP is making a living as an ironmonger. His resourcefulness has come in handy and he has made a tool to continually blow air onto his hot coals so that he can heat and forge metal. Sometimes he makes simple things like axe heads, but using these same methods he can make more complex contraptions like shotguns too.

Above: It’s not just IDPs that are trying to scrape money together. This woman in a soldier in the Congolese army (FARDC). The FARDC is infamous for poorly paying it’s troops if at all. She is selling charcoal in her time off just so she can feed her family. Her husband is a policeman who’s recently been transferred here. His story is the same.

The FARDC is now considered to be one of the greater threats in Orientale (well actually not just in Orientale…). Bizarrely, it is an army sent in to provide security by the same government that denies the LRA are a threat. The soldiers have very little will to actually be useful to the local populations they’re based near, and since their first priority (as with most humans) is to make sure they are fed, they have few options but to abuse their power (which is an AK-47 with perhaps one loaded bullet) and bully and threaten people into providing money or food for them. But not only are they just not doing their job, they’re actually a real danger to the societies they’re posted by.

Above and below: With the FARDC’s arrival in Doruma HIV/AIDS prevalence has shot up to 23%. The average in the DRC is 6% (however this is according to the ever so reliable government). Both of these babies were recently born HIV positive. Their mothers are unmarried and didn’t want to say who the fathers were. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have said that to battle this problem in Doruma would far exceed their budget. At the moment they only have the resources to deal with trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness).

Above: When attacks first occurred self defence groups (SDGs) were quickly formed by the locals to protect themselves, their families and their crops from murder, abduction and pillaging by the LRA. However the FARDC banned them from doing this (at least alone) when they arrived on the scene. This hasn’t stopped them entirely. It is these local self-defence groups that the government blames for many of the (quite obviously) LRA attacks.

Above: They meet twice a day to discuss what they can do. There are always a few that stay guard around the towns and IDP camps, on the off-chance of an attack. This particular meeting was called because the LRA had been spotted earlier that day just 12km from Doruma.

Above: A few men from the SDG march out in the early evening to track down the recently seen LRA. Since the FARDC refuse to acknowledge the problem and have no motivation, the SDG has little choice. “When we go in we are thinking of our brothers, sisters, and children that have been killed or taken. We go in with anger and revenge. That is what keeps us going.”

Above: The SDG make their own ammunition as well as the shotguns. They can be dangerous, and one shotgun cartridge went off in this mans left hand, taking off the tip of the little finger. However the LRA fear the SDG’s guns, which can kill an elephant and take down 8 men abreast at once due to the spread of the shot. The cartridges are a mixture of lumps of metal and matchstick heads. One former abductee said: “We really feared the self-defence groups. They would put their lives on the line. The FARDC weren’t feared, sometimes we would attack their patrols if they had something we needed.”

Above: Not all members can afford or get the resources to make shotguns.

Above: The main characters of Doruma’s SDG pose in the early evening.

Above: It is not hard to see that motivations like anger and revenge in the minds of untrained men with deadly but dodgy weaponry is going to have consequences somewhere down the line. However MONUSCO (the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo) does little but sit tight in their compounds in relatively secure areas, the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defence Force looking to kill the LRA leaders) comes and goes with little communication to anyone else, and the FARDC is a detriment to society. These small self-defence groups are brought together just to do something for their people.

Above: The president of Doruma’s SDG (middle) sits back during an evening meeting where it was reported that the LRA had now been spotted just 6 km from Doruma.

Above: The UPDF suddenly showed up the next evening in Doruma, having heard reports the LRA was close by.

Above: The FARDC major had refused to give this UPDF commander (with the map) any information of the recently seen LRA. So when we met up with the commander we brought along the vice-president of the local SDG so he could point out where the LRA had been seen the previous night.

Above: The UPDFs map of Orientale province with red dots to show where the LRA have recently been spotted. Rather different from the mental map the FARDC major tried to give us (no red dots).

Above: The UPDF commander thinks he has a seen a pattern with the sighting and hopes to intercept an LRA group that appear to be heading towards the Central African Republic (CAR) where their leader Joseph Kony is thought to be in hiding.

Above: Generally the UPDF troops were happy to be photographed. This friendly individual called himself BmaxB (I guess you spell it). Apparently this friendliness could have been related to my nationality: “The British are my favourite whites”. The commander even offered me 5 kilos of beans to take home. A rather stark contrast to the FARDC which often just take food from the locals.

Below four photos: Suddenly the order came for the troops to move out. In less than five minutes 95 troops had packed themselves into one truck, in the most dazzling display of military efficiency (though perhaps not discipline) that I have yet seen in the Congo.

Above: And just like that the UPDF disappeared again.

In all my interviews with various former abductees, it seemed that most of them had escaped during UPDF attacks. One boy who had served as an LRA soldier said “At first we feared the UPDF the most because they would kill anyone in the camp, even women and children, just to get to the Ugandan LRA commanders. But now it is just commanders that fear them. Many children escape the LRA during the UPDF attacks.”

Above: This was the closest shot I could get of the FARDC; the bottles left over from the Major having a drink with three officers. I took this photo at 7pm.

The US has now sent in military advisors to help these armies (MONUSCO, UPDF, FARDC). However in my opinion, unless they advise the Congolese government to pay their troops better and on time, the FARDC are going to continue to hold back any real progress in these areas – however MONUSCO and the UPDF change. With November elections looming it seems the government finds it cheaper and easier to deny the matter than spend money defending the lives, rights and homes of some of the poorer individuals in their country.

LRA: Local Initiatives

Africa, Documentary, Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, Photojournalism

As I mentioned in my previous post the stories I witnessed surrounding the complexities the LRA have brought to DRC will be posted in different parts. This is partly because there is so much to tell that for the amount of time it takes me to upload the photos here in Goma I would suffer several cuts in the internet, and I don’t have the patience for that.

So with the previous post’s reality of the situation a rather distressing slap in the face, and with the next post quite possibly a rant on the ludicrousness of the situation this is a rather more positive one.

Conciliation Resources recognises the abilities of the local organisations – Women’s Organisations, Civil Societies and organisations run by local religious leaders (for example the CDJP – Commission of the Diocese for Justice and Peace).

Above: Two women who run the “Association Protection par L’Enfants” – educating orphans, IDPs, les vunérables, former child soldiers and victims of sexual violence. Below: the store room for all their books and resources. It’s not much.

Their activities are locally born and run, and often with little or no budget, yet being Congolese they understand the lives of the individuals they are dealing with far better than say a great deal of the NGOs and international organisations that come and set up shop in these ‘areas of great need’. They are set up in almost every case (in every case in my – albeit short – experience) by a desire to help their fellow countrymen with an advocacy for better change and to help those that have suffered in whatever way.

Above: Emmanuel Laku, President of the Civil Society in Doruma.

In the case of those in the district of Haut-Uele, Orientale Province almost everything is directly or indirectly related to the presence of the LRA (though not everything would be totally absent without their presence).

So I spent a great deal of my time with the heads of the various women’s organisations and civil societies, and general leaders of the community, photographing their various activities and advocacy in their areas.

Above: Jeanne Lipombo is a 42 year-old widow with six children. She escaped the LRA with her life on the 17th of September 2008. Her husband, the chief of the village was not so lucky. He was killed, and two of their children were kidnapped. One is assumed to be with the LRA still.

She has been living in a few hundred kilometres away in Dungu with her remaining children, and those of her husband’s other wives ever since (polygamy is not unusual in many parts of the DRC). She is now the main provider for the 10 or so children, though some of the older ones are starting to sell in the streets to get a little extra money.

Above: It was Sister Angelique and her organisation “Dynamique Femmes Pour La Paix” that helped her. As well as training her to bake bread for the organisation (for which she is then paid, and the bread sold by others) they got her a job as a maid in the local parish, where her daily duties include washing, ironing, cooking etc.

Below: Lipombo’s children and husband’s children sleep together in one room. It has made a real difference to her life, and those of the children and young men and women she is responsible for.

Above and below: Sister Angelique’s organisation has created a whole host of activities, training and skills programmes to get IDPs and affected persons (predominantly women and youth) to help themselves… even if it’s just enough money to provide food and education for themselves and their families. It includes farming, sewing, and education in mathematics for business.

These are of course small efforts – and it’s been pointed out to me before, (certainly with helping former child soldiers) that training them in simple practical skills like brick making and sewing is never going to help them become a professor or an engineer if that’s what they’d like. But the reality of the situation in DRC and much of Africa is that these people have been born into societies that simply cannot support such dreams. There are naturally exceptions as there are in every walk of life, but at least these little steps in the right direction are being instigated by those who have been brought up in this world, and have a more intimate, if not fuller understanding of what’s needed.

Above: This man, the Reverend Mboligihe Ndalu is the director for Radio Artike, a local radio station with its prime message being of unity and peace. Quite incredibly it’s not been funded with any outside help whatsoever. In each village there is a society set up that collects money or food, or whatever people can afford to donate to keep the radio running. Naturally these are voluntarily, unlike many of the other ‘donations’ seen in the DRC, but people appreciate the station so much that they realise they must contribute in order to keep it running.

It is efforts like these that show that cooperation and collaboration to build an aspect of society is not only possible, but happening right now. It is the glimmer of hope that needs to be seen in a country that has been ‘shrouded in darkness’.

It is local enterprises (I suppose you could call them) like this radio that Conciliation Resources are looking to help, providing funding as well as direction for sensitizing the population to how they should welcome back former LRA members. The vast majority were, of course, forced into this army, and though many of them killed their own kind it was not through their own choice.

The Civil Societies and religious organisations help greatly in providing what support they can to combat these problems, improving lives for affected citizens (all of them to some extent) and IDPs and coordinating peacebuilding efforts.

Above: Aruna, head of the Civil Society in Dungu has a hand in most local peacebuilding activities. Obviously this is a broad term but I witnessed him interviewing Esperance, a young girl who had been with the LRA for over two years, and forced to marry a commander. Below: Esperance and her family watch the video recording I made of Aruna interviewing her.

Below: Abbe Jean-Claude, of the CDJP in Dungu.

Above: Father Ernest leads a local coordination meeting.

Meanwhile there is still much to be done – these organisations are hugely limited by resources and effectively trained staff. With a controlled outside input their effectiveness could really be felt.

Finally I’ll leave you with one of the last images I took during my three weeks. In Dungu I was put up by the Catholic Priests and in Doruma by the Nuns at the Convent. It seems in almost every remote and dangerous outpost in DRC that these peoples are pillars in the community, and usually the only places with accommodation reasonable and safe enough for temporary visitors like myself to stay at. Here is one of the nuns cooking in the kitchen. Naturally there’s no electricity.

LRA: Interview with a young abductee

Africa, Documentary, Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, Photojournalism

For the past three weeks I have been in Haut-Uele, Orientale province in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It has been plagued by escapees of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – a group of Ugandan rebels led by one Joseph Kony. Over 25 years ago this former choir boy formed the group with the plan of overtaking the Ugandan government and ruling by the 10 commandments.

Now dispersed across northern Uganda, the newly-independent South Sudan, Central African Republic  (CAR) and the DRC, they have been causing widespread destruction – massacres, rape, abductions, mutilations, lootings, and caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee within their own country – Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Contact with them is impossible, there are three official armies after them (FARDC – Congolese Army, UPDF – Ugandan People’s Defence Force sent simply to kill/bring back Ugandan rebels, and MONUSCO troops – UN peacekeepers), and no one is even sure of the numbers. I recently spent time with the UPDF – I’ll be posting more about the military roles later, but I thought I’d quickly add a photo of myself with a group of their guys. Compared to the FARDC they were extraordinarily friendly and more than happy to be photographed.

There are a plethora of problems in the situation, many linked to denial by authorities and the general situation of the country, and I will be talking more about them in time, but for this post I will simply post a recent interview with a recent abductee.

His name is Faustin Mboligbihe, meaning “God has heard” in Kisande. He was with the LRA for over a year and is now back with his family in an IDP camp outside the large village of Doruma. I went with Pere Ernest, one of my guides, local experts in the situation and translators in the area. He was not at his hut and his grandmother told us he just goes off without telling anyone. We walked through the settlements for 10 minutes and found him not too far away, playing on his own with a stick.

He agreed to be interviewed and came back to his hut with us. He is eleven years old. He sat partly in the dark, in a ragged t-shirt, turning sharply every now and then to the clink of pots and pans outside. His eyes and face showed no emotion, and it was impossible to read how he felt about the situation.

Pere Ernest conducted the interview – I played no role other than filming and recording. Pere Ernest’s words are in italics, Mboligbihe’s are in bold unless stated otherwise. The translations are as close to literal as makes sense. It is also worth bearing in mind throughout the interview that Mboligbihe is just 11.

Pere Ernest: What’s your name?

Faustin: My name is Faustin Mboligbihe.

How old are you?

I don’t know my age.

Faustin’s mother (from outside the hut): You are eleven.

I am eleven years old.

How did the LRA abduct you?

They abducted me early in the morning, before light.

Where was it?

In the house.

Were you alone?

No we were two.

Did they go with all of you?

No they left the other one.

Which year was this?

The time of growing rice. They went with me and applied their medicine on me. Then we lived with them for a time and then we were attacked by the UPDF. We fought and then after that I stayed with them for a long time and afterwards I came out at Dunde.

Was it in Dunde that they captured you?

No they captured me in Bwere (Bangadi).

How long did you stay with them?

I stayed a long time, but I’ve come out recently.

When you were with them what did you see?

What I saw was they were just killing people.

How were they killing people?

With sticks (like clubs).

How did they do it?

They were hitting their heads with it.

Were other children also beating people’s heads?

Yes.

Since you have come out, what’s coming to your mind?

My head is getting angrier and angrier more often.

How does it get angrier?

When somebody tells me to do something, I just get angry at them.

Do you still do what they ask anyway?

Sometimes I do.

When you came out where did they take you to?

They took me to COOPI (Italian NGO) then they took me to the hospital.

How many weeks did you stay with COOPI?

I didn’t pass one week there.

What did they give you?

They gave me one shot and two t-shirts with a pair of sandals. After that nothing.

In the bush how were you living?

We were eating once a day and once at night.

Where were you getting the food from?

The food was looted.

Were you participating in looting too?

No, them they were looting, us, we were carrying.

Were they many?

I didn’t count them, they abducted me in one group and then to make numbers we joined another group. Another two groups joined us later – four groups. There were many.

You were just wandering in the bush?

Yes.

How were you sleeping?

In the evening we found a place to sleep and when the morning comes we would move on.

The witchcraft they put on you, where did they put it?

They put it on my forehead, in my palms and on my back.

They told you it was for what?

I don’t know.

They didn’t tell you?

Yes.

How did you come out?

I crept away at night.

How?

They had crossed the main road with me and we slept the other side of the road. Then I crept away and came back on the main road.

They didn’t follow you?

No they didn’t follow me because they knew soldiers were around.

As you came back to the main road what did you do?

I was following it Northwards, then I found the FARDC. They took me to Diagbio (a village) and said I should show them where I’d come from. So we went. I passed two days in Diagbio. Then they took me to the (Doruma) airport. I stayed there two days too then they took me to the hospital where I stayed for one week before going back home.

When you came back home do you see anything that you are not happy with?

Nothing.

What do you want to be done for you?

I don’t know.

Are you studying?

No.

Do you want to go back to school?

I would go.

In the bush with the LRA, were there a lot of children? What were they doing?

Just carrying things.

Were they just carrying things without carrying guns?

Some were carrying guns.

And you, were you carrying a gun?

No, just carrying things.

And the children, were they killing people?

Yes, they were killing people. They are telling you to kill, and if you don’t kill, then they will kill you.

How were they killing these people?

They were hitting their heads with the sticks.

And were you seeing it?

Yes, I was.

And you, did you kill?

They asked me to kill. And I killed. If I hadn’t they would have killed me.

<long pause>

They were speaking which language?

Acholi.

Do you understand Acholi?

Yes.

How did they say “good morning” in Acholi?

Tchi.

And “how are you”?

Seneeh.

How do you say “no problem”?

Tie Mabe.

Do you know to speak Acholi?

Yes, I do.

Are you afraid that they will come and kidnap you again?

Yes I am.

What makes you fear most?

When I hear about them I am scared.

Is there anything else you want to tell me?

<pause>

I don’t have soap to wash my clothes.

How much is it?

I don’t know.

OK, thank you for speaking to us.

(Pere Ernest gives him 1000CF – just over 1 USD – to buy soap).

It is also worth noting that Pere Ernest presses the point about speaking Acholi as that is the Ugandan language used by the LRA. You would only know it well (as Mboligbihe does – he can speak it almost fluently we discovered afterwards) if you had spent a good deal of time with them.

Mboligbihe’s family prepare dinner without him. He often just wanders off for long periods of time without saying anything.

Pere Ernest is worried: “He’s dangerous. He’s had no therapy and because he’s already killed at such a young age he needs help coming to terms with that. It needs to be dealt with properly, and at the moment he’s an angry young boy living in an IDP camp where tensions are often high due to their poor standard of living and being far from home. He’s a walking time-bomb, and there’s no-one around that will help him.”

The problem with Pygmies

Africa, Documentary, General comment, Photojournalism

As part of my project on leprosy in the DRC I arranged with Dr Jacques (my amusing, capable, half-Congolese-but-fully-Congolese host) to go to Libenge, a town on the Ubangi river that separates the DRC from Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo. Originally when the capital of the Belgian Congo (now DRC) was being debated it was between Libenge and Kinshasa. I think Libenge is the closest to Belgium in terms of flights, and as such I believe is home to DRC’s first airport.

Anyway, leprosy is endemic in the area and I was looking forward to meeting a variety of different patients on the way there as well as in the surrounding areas. My trips either way were, despite the long, bumpy, 6 hours of red, drunken, dirt road pretty fruitful in terms of the stories I heard and the patients I saw. However the full day I had in and around Libenge was unsuccessful photographically, so I haven’t got the array of shots I was hoping for in this post. I’ll explain.

The thing I was most excited about was meeting pygmies. My previous pygmy knowledge went something like this:

They are shorter than most humans. They live in the bush.

I couldn’t remember anything more from the episode I’d seen two years ago where that guy went around different remote tribes in the world trying to fit in and ended up losing loads of weight having taken their local medication/brews and being very sick in the process.

I was right about one of those things. They are shorter than most human beings, averaging less than 5 feet.

I knew that there were four people in the community I was visiting that had previously had leprosy:

  • Bishop, a nervous young boy around 13 or 14.
  • Gobi, a single mother in her late thirties.
  • Mado, an elderly, but as it turned out fiery woman.
  • And Monyabo, an elderly man with a kindly smile and a quiet understanding it seemed.

At first I just sat down with Bishop. He was terrified of me and said nothing. I sat next to him, slightly dwarfing him, on the low straw bed in the hut that barely counted as an abandoned shack. A few sticks, and bits of straw with gaps occasionally filled with mud daub I can’t imagine it provided much shelter during the frequent storms – indeed the similarly built and sized Catholic church had fallen down in the last storm. Jacques translated what his marginally taller, thin and seemingly pregnant mother told us about this being his first encounter with a white man. So I moved to the floor and did my best to smile in a non-threatening way from behind my increasingly bushy beard, even scratching a puppy which staggered out from under the bed, which Bishop picked up. I could visualise a few friends back home squealing in adoration at the sight two feet in front of me. But this is DRC and naturally, it will either die within a few weeks, or be eaten if it doesn’t become painfully thin. Dog meat is still meat.

So I interviewed him/his mother, every now and then shooing away the nosy children that had nothing better to do (literally) than to gather at the door and stare at the white man. Bishop’s leprosy was diagnosed quickly as a result of the awareness work that ALM have been doing in the area (another pleasing display of the competence of Jacques and his team across this vast northern-equatorial province). He was put in the MDT and now appears to have made a full recovery. He of course still suffers stigma from it – neighbours make fun of him and the family are ridiculed for being ‘affected by leprosy’. Their community is not large… and this is not easy to live with for a very young teenager.

As a continuation of the commitment to help those currently and previously afflicted with leprosy, ALM has paid for his school fees. However we quickly learnt he had dropped out of school because he didn’t like it. I found this surprising – most children I meet on this continent rave about going to school – they know learning is their doorway to a better life. I’ve found this basic wisdom pretty common across most of my travels in Africa. Jacques suggested to him that it was worth returning to school, and one day he may have a chance to get a better house and more food for his family. He agreed silently – presumably terrified of giving a different answer. I didn’t believe we were getting very far.

I moved on to interview Gobi.

Gobi is probably one of the poorest people I’ve ever met. She got leprosy at a young age and it has affected her hands so she can no longer grip a machete properly (pretty essential for farming here), and she has lost most of her toes. Her stigma means she’s never been married, but she has a daughter, Bea, a bit younger than Bishop. Apparently her family, realising no one would ever take her brought a man to sleep with her to get her pregnant.

She has had no education, very few people to look after her and only her close family will speak with her. She lives with her daughter in a minute shack, again mainly just sticks lightly tied together with grass and looking like it would barely stand up if someone leaned on it (which someone did, dislodging a stick).  She owns two pots for cooking and a large rag as her clothes. The clothes she was wearing were borrowed from her sister; she hurriedly pulled them on when we arrived. “I still thank God though”, she explains. “I am suffering but I am still alive. I just ask that he may provide daily food”.

Mado and Monyabo, the other previously leprosy-affected patients are sitting next to her and start to chip in. A comment from Gobi that her daughter also doesn’t want to attend school a moment later and Jacques’ disturbed reaction provokes enthusiastic explanation of their situation, and the problems of Pygmies.

During colonisation, a white Belgian colonialist persuaded this Pygmy community to move away from their hunter-gatherer lifestyle deep in the bush (still maintained today by some tribes) and move near to Libenge where a town was growing. It seems like he meant the best for them.

They moved, but their community was located quite far out of the town still and they suffered ridicule from the locals – they were recognised and set aside as different, inferior. Kept poorly educated, underpaid when allowed to work and basically kept as slaves. Nothing has changed in that respect until this day it seems. Their regard as inferior humans is reminiscent of racism across the world, the Hutus and Tutsis coming to my mind first, and their treatment is not unlike that of the way migrants in many western countries are treated, taken advantage of, underpaid and not given the time of day for respect or understanding.

None of the children in the community attend school because they are bullied for being pygmies and poor (life is relative after all). Mado was particularly passionate about this: “Stones are thrown at our children and they are spat at. They have poor clothes and shoes and are laughed at because of it.” It is no wonder this community is so poor, its being shunned by society has sent it into cycle of poverty with no-one offering a chance of an opening.

We were beginning to attract interest from other members of the village that had heard of our presence and come back from their work in the fields…

Mado had started to get irate when Jacques said we have not come to give them money. I calmly explained with Jacques’ help that we are here only to collect stories for ALM. They show these stories and photos to Americans so that they may donate money so ALM can continue to help people like them. We could not promise them anything on this trip bar that the community health officer that has helped them before will continue to give his best efforts.

I’m always careful not to give false hope – more often than not, once I’ve explained these reasons via a translator people readily agree to be part of this process. At first it seemed like that in this case, and they agreed to have a photo outside Gobi’s shack. Afterwards I was hoping to spend a few hours photographing their lives generally. (Ideally I’d want a couple of return trips, but when you’re photographing projects across 400km connected only by roads kneaded by rain there’s not much time for those kinds of luxuries).

Jacques had said we’d give Gobi, Mado, Monyabo and Bishop’s mother a sack of salt to share, and I think it was around then that the arguments with other villagers started. Why are you giving it to them and not us? What have you brought us? Why is it you white men come but never give anything back?

It seems that in recent times they’ve had white doctors visit, get stories and take photos, with the promise that they’ll build a hospital or bring money the next day. Whether this is entirely accurate or not I don’t know, but I’ve no doubt there is truth there, and unfortunately in this case, not a good outcome.  I hesitate to add that ALM has not been among these people – I’m the first white person from ALM to visit this community.

I wanted to explain to the chief who had shouted at Jacques and the community health officer; he’d demanded salt for himself. I couldn’t understand the Lingala they were speaking and was slightly surprised when Jacques suggested we get moving, a noted urgency in his tone. I said (in my naïve white liberal way of thinking any situation can be solved by talking) that I should really go after the chief and explain what I had to the three leprosy-affected. But Jacques was quite insistent and I submitted. Most of the villagers were now shouting at us as we piled back into the Toyota landcruiser. It hadn’t got violent but Jacques and the health officer assured me it was looking to turn that way if we didn’t head right away.

I sat in the back of the landcruiser as it went out of the village, disappointed and upset. It didn’t help that we still had the salt we had promised our patients. I was angry with the chief for denying Gobi and the others a small something to make their life easier even for a short while. But I’d missed a trick, born, as with many of these misunderstandings, out of ignorance.

Pygmies have, in their society a strong culture of sharing. You give something to one of them, then you give it to all of them. ALM cannot use their resources to please the whole village – they deal with those who have the additional burden of leprosy, helping them in different ways to have the same chances as those that haven’t suffered this disease. Giving to a whole village, however great the need is denying the leprosy afflicted elsewhere. Us giving salt in front of so many people to just four people is an insult. It was Mado that threw it in the back of our vehicle as we left.

“It goes further than that” Jacques explained. “When we gave them the treatment I did it in private in their homes. I gave the MDT pills to the patient, and then multivitamins or whatever harmless pills I could find to the rest of the family. Previously the whole family has shared out the Multi-Drug Therapy, despite it being useless to the others.” Even though this culture of sharing, in my opinion has an enormous amount of benefits and I think is something generally missing from every day Western lifestyles, cultures and even policies, it appears to have gone beyond common sense in this place. Perhaps through lack of education, I don’t know.

But it was truly upsetting seeing that not only is this a stigmatized community, but those with leprosy are then stigmatized within it, and the cultural practices of Pygmies have prevented us from helping them, at least on this occasion. I couldn’t get the photos I’d planned, and as someone who’s contribution ‘to the cause’ as it were is to get photographic evidence of the need/the good work/the stories/whatever, I felt pretty useless.

We visited a health centre next for Jacques to confirm a few leprosy cases. I still had a very sour taste in my mouth – not helped when Jacques noticed they had been reusing needles there. Needless to say he scolded the health officer in charge explaining it is better not to use them at all than to reuse them in an area where HIV prevalence is so high. I won’t go into the sexual practices and forced prostitution of this region in this post…

One of the cases was a pygmy boy and his father. His father was already a confirmed case, but the boy was confirmed then and these by Dr Jacques, with evidence on his legs already showing cuts and infections he could not feel. He was put straight on the MDT and ALM gave them some shoes for protection. As they went away a few young men in the (now expected) small gathering jeered and shouted at them, laughing. It was the all too familiar bullying you see as standard in schools. “They are asking why we gave pygmies shoes when they are not true human beings” Jacques said gravely.

It makes my blood boil. The rest of the day was thoroughly unsuccessful and the team seemed quite tired from the day’s events. I had no impetus to do any more work that day. I asked Jacques if any NGO or missionaries were doing anything to break down this stigma. No-one at all.

Life for me, has since become less frustrating, but this problem with Pygmies remains, and no one is doing anything about it.

Freetown’s female prisoners

Documentary, Photojournalism

Above: I visited an art exhibition here in Freetown in mid-March that was put on by AdvocAid, a charity that helps to support female prisoners in Sierra Leone. The artwork was produced through a series of workshops by the prisoners themselves. The above pictures are self-portraits. Two of them were by convicted murderers.

In 2010, the UN finally passed the UN Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Female Detainees, more than 50 years after the UN Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Detainees was passed, recognising the special needs of women in detention.

Female prisoners in Freetown were finally moved to the ex-Special Court detention facility late last year in compliance with International standards that women should be housed separately from men. (Previously, they were detained in a small section in Pademba Road prison where men are also housed). It is a very positive move however there is still need for access to better services such as health, recreation and rehabilitation. AdvocAid currently provide welfare support and literacy classes in the prison but would like to do skills training and also are planning to build a library which will benefit inmates and prison officers.

Three weeks ago Sierra Leone celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary of Independence (see my previous blog). The government spent $24 million so that the population (certainly of Freetown at least) could celebrate all week long. Parties went on all night and in my new flat music died down for perhaps an hour at around 6.30am. On Sunday morning several of the floats from the lantern parade were dumped across the road; one of their drivers, perhaps high on the “excitement of the weeks events” had crashed it into an electricity pylon the night before causing a local blackout.

The female prisoners had two hours on Tuesday morning allocated for celebrating the anniversary. These photos are from this time.

Above: Some of the prisoners put on an amusing sketch for the others.

The prisoner’s faces have all been blacked out to protect their identity. In fact they all wanted to show their faces – to have their stories told, for the world to see their face and hear their voice. But the prison denies them this right.

Above: Songs, praise and prayer was on the day’s agenda before a bit of food and sodas were handed out for them to enjoy.

Above: Sabrina Mahtani is the co-founder and Executive Director of AdvocAid. She founded it in 2006 with aim to is to strengthen access to justice, including an increased ability to claim rights for women and to empower them as active citizens through the provision of education, welfare and post-prison support.

The prisoners welcomed AdvocAid with open arms – Sabrina and the team are clearly well-recognised by them all, and many of the prisoners have appreciated their work since AdvocAid’s foundation.

Above: Sia is 80 years old and the oldest person on death row. She was convicted of murder in 2009. AdvocAid felt she had strong grounds of appeal after reviewing her case file and had lodged an appeal for her at the Court of Appeal. She was pardoned on Independence Day – the President has a constitutional power to pardon people. She is poor, from a small village in Kono and illiterate (she does not even speak Krio) as is similar for most women in conflict with the law. When she was released she had no money to get home and had never even been to Freetown before. AdvocAid were able to assist her with housing whilst logistics were worked out  for someone to take her back to Kono. AdvocAid also met with the Paramount Chief from the area to assist with reconciliation for her return.

Above and below: Aminatta was sentenced to 15 years for unlawful possession of cannabis. She suffered a stroke in prison possibly because she could not deal with the enormity of her sentence. AdvocAid assisted her with medical treatment whilst she was in hospital. They also spent over 2 years trying to find her court file in order to lodge an appeal for her and 2 others who were also sentenced in the same matter.

Many of the women have children. Often the father’s have left or refused to care for the child. Sometimes the mother will give birth to the child in prison.

Above: Christianity is taught in the prison, written in Krio on the blackboard.

The prisoners were very much sad to see us go and waved enthusiastically as we left. For many I was the first male, let alone white male they had seen in years. If you would like to learn more about AdvocAid, or donate to their cause please visit their website.