Children Of The Congo

Children Of The Congo


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Everybody remembers the wars in the Congo. No matter where you were, you'll have caught it on a TV screen, or seen a feature in a glossy magazine. But when wars end, they cease to be reported. The assumption in the affluent western hemisphere is that peace will mean everything is okay. Children Of The Congo challenges that notion by taking a long hard look at the realities of like in the Democratic Republic Of The Congo today.

Today the Congo's people are tired of war. Old political and territorial conflicts no longer seem worth getting so excited about, especially when it's hard enough simply to scrape a living. Gradually, attempts are being made to rebuild the nation. But in the meantime Kinshasa, one of the Congo's biggest cities, is home to thousands of displaced children, most of whom sleep on the streets. There are far too many of them for begging to be a viable means of survival, so they steal or work as prostitutes. Some of them are as young as five.

Copy picture

As if that weren't enough, many Congolese children are veterans of armed conflicts in which they were forced to take an active part. They've seen and done things that make it extremely difficult for them to reintegrate into normal society. Others lost everything to a massive volcanic eruption, and still others have been cast out by their own families following accusations of witchcraft. With their supposed wrongdoing confirmed by religious cults, many of these children were tortured and beaten. Now it is all they can do to stay alive.

Given all this, you might expect a very bleak film, but Children Of The Congo is less interested in dwelling on suffering than on seeing what can be done to turn the situation around. We meet charity workers and churchmen who run shelters and schools, supply food and medicine and try to teach the older children trades so they can support themselves. Some have been successful at persuading families to take their stigmatised children back and care for them properly. Others have helped families to find the resources which can make it possible for them to stay together in the first place.

There's a lot of suffering on display here, but there are also bright children with a real desire to reinvent their future. Often the camera descends to the children's height as an unselfconscious way of showing us the world from their point of view. It's a sobering thought, to realise that this harsh world is all they've ever known. Some shy away from the camera, curled up in a way that suggests deep trauma, but others are keen to assert themselves, to proclaim their identities, to reach out to the world.

Like all documentaries of this sort, Children Of The Congo is in part a plea for aid, but it is also a fascinating look at a culture re-creating itself out of chaos, a society establishing its own identity in the face of international indifference. It illustrates the enormous difference a few dedicated individuals can make to the lives they touch, and it reminds us of the complex potential these children represent - if the Congo is to remain at peace, it cannot afford to let them down.

Reviewed on: 31 Jan 2009
Share this with others on...
An investigation into the lives of children emotionally scarred and left destitute by numerous disasters.
Amazon link

Director: Dan Balluff

Writer: Dan Balluff

Starring: Dan Balluff (voice), Sadia Kaenzig, Fr. Zbigniew Orlikowski, Tony Akundi, Annette Wanzio, Alphonse Kabwe

Year: 2008

Runtime: 67 minutes

Country: US, Democratic Republic Of The Congo


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Pushing The Elephant