African Childhood: Beauty in Simplicity

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.

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.

Day of the African Child Riding a Bike

Diaper change time.

Day of the African Child Diaper Change

Getting distracted at school, it’s a global phenomenon.

Day of the African Child Distracted at School

Carrying water is so much more fun when you’re doing it with friends.

Day of the African Child Carrying Water

The joy of jumping.

Day of the African Child 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.

Day of the African Child Silly Faces

Ingenuity – making fake reading glasses with a little bit of wire.

Day of the African Child Glasses Out of Wire

Enjoying a drink of water and a laugh.

Day of the African Child Water and a Laugh

We all get by with a little help from our friends.

Day of the African Child Help from Our Friends

Four boys chase the sun down with homemade kites made of plastic bags.

Day of the African Child Homemade Kites

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.

Day of the African Child Refugees Adjumani Refugee Settlement

School is so much funnier with friends in Ethiopia.

Day of the African Child School is Funnier

Awiho loves her cabbage in Kwazu Natal, South Africa

Day of the African Child Loves Her Cabbage

Playing ball in a slum in downtown Kampala, Uganda.

Day of the African Child Playing Ball

Why put an arm around a friend when you can put your finger in their ear.

Day of the African Child Child 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.


Day of the African Child Helen

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.

6 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Andrea July 26, 2016

    I looked at these beautiful photos many times. Thank you. I have 3 children who live in the USA land of excess and 3 sponsored children who live in Ethiopia, Haiti and Bangledash. I yearn to go with my children and live in one of the regions….or where ever there is a need. I am a social worker.
    Thank you for sharing the beauty of these simplistic childhoods.

  2. Lyne April 6, 2016

    This is beauiful/I love all of them.They stress on the beauty of my continent.

  3. MK June 21, 2015

    I will try this one more time, I used to sponsor a female child name Nakure” from Rwanda Africa, a beautiful child. We corresponded regularly with translation and a photo. She is a beautiful gal. I want to know where she is and how she is doing, is she a mother, does she still live in Rwanda Africa, please anybody where is she? How is she? Let her know I think of her often.

    1. Emily Vanhoutan
      Emily Vanhoutan June 22, 2015

      Hi MK! It sounds like you built a wonderful relationship with your girl. We pray that every sponsor and child are able to bond and form a lasting relationship during the time they’re in our program and I’m so encouraged to know she had you as a loving sponsor that spoke truth and hope into her through letters over the years. Thank you for the impact you made! Compassion currently has over 1.5 million children currently registered in our program whom we have to keep track of. Because we do not currently have a formal alumni reporting system, it is difficult to report on former Compassion children as we do not have current up to date information on them once they graduate our program. I’m very sorry for this inconvenience.

      While we strongly discourage continued communication once your child graduates due to safety and privacy concerns, if you’re interested in connecting with your child we may be able to assist you depending on how long ago your child left our program. Regrettably, I was unable to locate you or your child in our system using just your email address. Please email us at socialmedia@compassion.com with your sponsor number or child’s reference number and I’d be happy to look into this possibility further for you.

  4. Michelle Bloem June 18, 2015

    These pictures are stunning. So nice to see happy pictures from Africa.
    Helen, you and Tim are amazing and we are so proud of you both and your precious little daughter Hope. Continue to do God’s work and we pray for blessings on you and your family and also on the precious African children you work with.

  5. Katy Causey June 17, 2015

    Beautiful work, Helen! Thank you for sharing.

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