WHERE DO THE CHILDREN PLAY: IN CONFLICT AND CRISIS

WHERE DO THE CHILDREN PLAY: In Conflict and Crisis

Photo Exhibition by Kloie Picot

Text by Sushanta Das

Inspired by the 1970’s song WHERE DO THE CHILDREN PLAY by Islam Yusuf, formerly known as Cat Stevens, the photo exhibition by photojournalist Kloie Picot shows children from areas she has traveled and lived in during the past 6 years. “As a photojournalist traveling to conflict crisis areas, it is often the children I meet first.  As soon as the camera comes out children vie for attention. Soon I realized that it wasn’t the camera or getting a photo taken that they were after but rather, attention and time that they wanted and in most cases needed. I was their focus of fun, I was their entertainment, a diversion from the boredom of life in a displacement camp or on the street without the luxury of school or internet, toys or TV. And the one thing all children have in common, whether in countries of crisis and conflict, or in countries of affluence is they want a safe place where they can play,” says Picot of her experience taking photos of children.

Included in the exhibition are children playing alongside Sri Lankan military guards in Tamil Tiger controlled Batticaloa, in Northern Sri Lanka, children catching dragon flies after the devastating flood in Jakarta, Indonesia, children inhaling glue in Kathmandu, Nepal, children climbing scaffolding erected to build new government buildings and thus further displacing the displaced in Kabul, Afghanistan - the one amazing quality found throughout the exhibition is that despite their situation children have incredible resilience and somehow manage to laugh, sing, play, and hope for a better future.

Children play around Sri Lankan army guards while waiting to be transferred to a new internally displacement camp one month after the tsunami in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.  This area is Tamil Tiger controlled and received very little of aid promised by the donors or government.  February 2005.Children catch dragonflies while standing on heaps of garbage washed up after the unprecedented flooding along the canal in Jakarta, Indonesia.  The residents said that it is usual for the canal to flood but this year was like no other.  February 2007.Santos and Raju inhale glue in an alleyway in Kathmandu, Nepal.  The continued use of glue effects neurological and are long term.  Santos says it helps take away hunger, cold and while hallucinating he sees the Hindu God Ganesh.  June 2005.Internally displaced children play on the scaffolding alongside Department 5 displacement camp, in the former Soviet compound, in the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan.  The families living in this camp will be further displaced as the government intends renovate this building into governmental offices. Though the government promised alternative housing, those who voluntarily left found themselves living in tents on wet land. October 2006. 

To get such intimate photos Picot spent time with them. “I played with them or if they had parents I went to their homes listening to and answering questions, sharing difficulties, giving advice and encouragement. I found that the hours or even moments I spent with the children was worth more to them and me than any photo I could ever take and the photos I did take became more personal and meaningful,” says Picot of her encounters.

In Kathmandu Nepal, where it is estimated 600 children live and work on the streets, Picot spent 10 days with a gang of street kids, some as young as 6 years old. Picot told of her encounter, “These children are abandoned, orphaned, or war displaced. They earn money by selling souvenirs to tourists, some of which they send back to their families in the villages, some they spend on glue and drugs. They are tough, they are street wise, they think they have a life of freedom, but when they are cold, and hungry, they cry, they fight with each other, which makes them take more drugs to forget their cold, and hunger. They are neglected children who truly need love and guidance from caring adults,” said Picot.

Yet there is hope.  One year after taking photos of the gang of kids, in Kathmandu, Picot returned and found that most of the boys had found sponsors, were living in orphanages, or because of the peace accords with the Maoist rebels, had returned to their village.

In daily life in Kabul, circumstances hinder children’s development, put them at physical and emotional risk, spoil their relationships and cause distress and worry. When talking about war, the worrying consequences children identified were the physical destruction, and loss of opportunities for education. Though schools are now open, there are not enough classrooms or teachers to accommodate them.

Siar 8 years old attends school in the morning and sells gum  in the afternoon.  His father was killed during the time of the Taliban and Siar is expected to earn a living for his mother and younger brother.  Except for the foreign NGO staff or soldiers on leave, there are few tourists on the streets of Kabul, so he and his friends end up playing and return home empty handed. But he has hope, he says he will not give up, he will keep attending school, and become a teacher so he can help his country and support his mother and brother.

Children in Afghanistan are not, however, completely overwhelmed by the difficulties they face. Instead, they and their families have much strength and resources, which they employ to cope with challenges, lessen the negative impact of those challenges, and reduce suffering. It is these resources that allow children in Kabul to live through difficulties with optimism, and that contribute to their resilience in times of trial. Being able to share suffering with others and to receive material support is essential in enabling children to cope. Children are also better able to cope when there is peace and stability, when their families have economic resources and when the physical environment around them is safe.

In the Occupied West Bank and Gaza, children on the front line in the conflict. These children suffer unrelenting nightmares and "night terrors" and the dichotomy of having to cope with these conditions. On the one hand, they dream about becoming doctors and nurses "so they can help others"; on the other, this is then overtaken by an apocalyptic vision of themselves as the next generation of suicide bombers. They experience this invariably after attacks by the Israelis. For some boys, their heroes are no longer football players, but a confusion of Palestinian "martyrs" and even the enemy, "because Israeli soldiers are the strongest and have Apache gunships".

“War is a terrible experience for children. During war children are killed and injured, they lose family members and they forfeit opportunities for education and development. Children are frightened by the dangers they are living through, and scared for their own and their families’ survival. Long after it ends, war leaves a legacy of destruction and loss, which affects children and their wider society. Working with war-affected children to help them cope with the impact of conflict is a vital part of the post-war recovery of a whole society. “ UNICEF

(Sushanta Das is a New Zealander who has lived in Kathmandu for over 20 years.)
Department 5 internal displaced camp in the former Soviet Embassy Compound in the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan is home to 50 Afghan refuge families from Pakistan and Iran. The Afghan government has given the refugees eviction notice as they intend to renovate this building for governmental offices. October 2006.  Internally displaced children play on the scaffolding alongside Department 5 displacement camp, in the former Soviet compound, in the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan.  The families living in this camp will be further displaced as the government intends renovate this building into governmental offices. Though the government promised alternative housing, those who voluntarily left found themselves living in tents on wet land. October 2006.  A young boy lays down begging on a busy street in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Due to years of conflict in Afghanistan, thousands of children have been orphaned, with no one to take care of them they beg on the streets or work menial jobs.  October 2006.  The son of Mukhlis Basyar, a Free Aceh Movement commander, looks on as his father shows photos taken while in the jungles of Aceh.  To date the peace accords signed between GAM and the Indonesian army after the devastating tsunami, which killed an estimated 300,000 people, still holds.  February 2007.  A young girl peers around the corner at the painting her brother did of Osama Bin Ladin on the wall of their home, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.  February 2007.  Children catch dragonflies while standing on heaps of garbage washed up after the unprecedented flooding along the canal in Jakarta, Indonesia.  The residents said that it is usual for the canal to flood but this year was like no other.  February 2007.  A gang of youth show their bravery by playing soldiers in an internal displacement camp in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.  Though reconstruction is evident everywhere in and around Banda Aceh, many are still living in camps after the devastating tsunami.  It is reported that levels of corruption are high as some families have secured 2-4 homes while others remain homeless.  February 2007.  Boys playing and posing for the camera in Par Ganj, Delhi, India.  Though India is now surging economically hundreds of thousands of poor and uneducated make their living by begging from tourists.  One of the most popular streets in Delhi for street kids and touts to work is Par Ganj.  March 2006.  Bikash seen smoking and brother Deepak are street kids in Kathmandu, Nepal.  It is estimated that over 600 children live and work on the streets in the Kathmandu valley.  Most are orphaned, discarded, or escaped their villages when the Maoists tried to recruit them.  June 2005.  Santos and Raju inhale glue in an alleyway in Kathmandu, Nepal.  The continued use of glue effects neurological and are long term.  Santos says it helps take away hunger, cold and while hallucinating he sees the Hindu God Ganesh.  June 2005.  The boys had upset the shops owners in Thamel by constantly sniffing glue in front of their shops scarring away customers and saying bad words to the Nepali people while begging for money. The police came and rounded up the boys.  They were kept in jail with older criminals and scared. I spoke with the deputy superintendent, Prem Malla, "these kids need to be taken to a village where we can engage them and keep them away from harming themselves and others. When we try to arrest them the small kids bite us, we are afraid of getting Hep C."  The kids were kept overnight and released the next day.  Children play around Sri Lankan army guards while waiting to be transferred to a new internally displacement camp one month after the tsunami in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.  This area is Tamil Tiger controlled and received very little of aid promised by the donors or government.  February 2005.  A young girl in a displacement camp in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.  One month after the tsunami took her family, she could neither speak nor play, rather she spent her time staring out to the road waiting.  March 2005.  A girl plays in an outdoor Thai Boxing training center in the Banglumpu district of Bangkok, Thailand.  December 2004.  A rally against President Chen Shui-bian drew 90,000 people in Taipei, Taiwan.  Chen has come under pressure to resign over a series of corruption scandals including insider trading by Chen's son in law, buying and selling shares and improper use of government funds.  The protests organized by former DPP chairman Shih Ming-te were peaceful, calling for love and peace.  August 24, 2006.

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