There’s just something about the sun-scorched regions of Africa, isn’t there?
I don’t know if it’s the beat of the African drums, the relaxed pace of life, the smiling faces that greet me or that I frequently find myself humoured by the fact that some things can only be explained with a shrug and a smile!
Recently, my husband and I spent a year and a half living and working in Uganda. During that time I was given a unique opportunity to spend time with thousands of children as I went about my job.
Half the population of Uganda is under the age of 15, after all.
Today, the world celebrates International Day of the African Child.
At the heart of this day is a beautiful message of celebration and awareness for some of the most vulnerable in our world. It also presents an opportunity to focus on the work of all people committed to the rights of children on the continent.
One of the greatest rights of all is childhood.
So today, I want to take you on a photo journey into what childhood can look like in Africa. Not the depressing, defeating, horrible view we’re often shown. But the life-giving, every day, 2015 view that shows you just how far we’ve come and how kids will always be kids no matter what kind of poverty they might live in.
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I didn’t set out to take these photos – rather ‘life’ happened in the 18 months we lived there. I was lucky enough to watch it unfold and have a camera handy to capture these moments that are now gone forever.
There is no special theme holding them together, rather, they’re just a unique insight into life in its simplicity and beauty for just a few of the 1.3 billion that call Africa home.
A gorgeous bike ride along a road in Gulu, Uganda.
Diaper change time.
Getting distracted at school, it’s a global phenomenon.
Carrying water is so much more fun when you’re doing it with friends.
The joy of jumping.
Many African children (especially rural children in sub-Saharan Africa) go through their childhoods with almost no possessions. They play almost exclusively outside, usually without shoes and often without shirts.
I saw them make the most of simple ‘toys’ such as plastic bags bunched together for a ball, rags tied together for a skipping rope, plastic bags on the end of a string for a kite, puddles of rainwater for swimming pools – the list goes on.
Most have never been inside a car until they’re much older. And if they do get the chance, it’s sometimes a five-seater with 12 people jammed inside, a chicken on the loose (inside the car) and fish strapped to the bull bars on the front.
Pulling silly faces, popular with kids everywhere.
Ingenuity – making fake reading glasses with a little bit of wire.
Enjoying a drink of water and a laugh.
We all get by with a little help from our friends.
Four boys chase the sun down with homemade kites made of plastic bags.
As a mother to one, and with one on the way, I think one of the greatest gifts I can give my girls is the gift of childhood. But not the childhood that’s often promoted in the West. That’s sometimes one of excess, indulgence, and focusing on one’s self rather than the world around them.
Instead, I wish for a childhood for my girls that, at its heart, has beauty in the simplicity, contentment with what they have and imagination wilder than I’ve ever known of how a little can be turned into a lot.
In a world where more is more, all I want for them is less. I want them to know joy in the simple things in life and to have the freedom to enjoy it every single day.
Newly arrived refugees into the Adjumani Refugee Settlement.
School is so much funnier with friends in Ethiopia.
Awiho loves her cabbage in Kwazu Natal, South Africa
Playing ball in a slum in downtown Kampala, Uganda.
Why put an arm around a friend when you can put your finger in their ear.
This is why I love the work of Compassion. They give childhood. One of the most precious gifts a person can have.
They give a child the chance to study instead of work, stay healthy instead of sick and have enough food in their bellies to play hard. All the while feeling known, loved and protected by someone other than their immediate families.
Today, on International Day of the African Child, I honour the work of Compassion Africa’s staff and all those committed to the rights of children on the continent.
Keep fighting the good fight. The right for a childhood for every single one.
Helen Manson is the Communications Manager at Compassion’s partner, TEAR Fund New Zealand. Her passion is to use visual journalism to bring humanitarian issues to life.