Girls Rule - Ann Jones in Sierra Leone
March 31, 2008 by The IRC
|Girls are strong. Every Wednesday morning, students at R.C. Girls' Primary School clean the building and grounds. Photo: Mary Lansana, age 14|
|The International Rescue Committee is working with women’s advocate Ann Jones to help women in war zones — survivors of conflict, displacement and sexual and domestic violence — use photography to make their voices heard. Learn more and read Ann’s earlier posts here.
Part 7 - Kailahun, Sierra Leone The girls are way cool. I ask each one in turn to come sit with me at the computer. Musu is first. I put her memory card in the card reader, and soon her photos are flashing fast on the computer screen, visible only to Musu and to me. Auntie Chris and Chris G. have been continuing the discussion with the other girls, but now the room is silent. I look up to find all the girls gazing intently at Musu who is gazing at the screen. She has shot 330 photos; she and I see every one of them. There are a lot of shots of her pals—girls at school making faces at the camera or peeing in the bush—and some interesting ones snapped in the village. All the while Musu’s face is a perfect mask. What is she thinking, this pert little girl, seeing pictures of her own making? I can’t tell.To me this is strange and disappointing. I’m also working with two groups of women photographers, one here in Pendembu and another in Kailahun town. There are twelve women in each group, ranging in age from 20 to 55. I’ve already shown the women in both groups their first photos, and their reactions were completely different from those of this small enigmatic girl, Musu, who now rises, puts her memory card in her pocket, and saunters back to her seat. Her sister Mattu comes next with 176 photos, then Bintu with 431, and later Comfort with 542. It seems to me you have to enjoy snapping to do it 542 times in a single week, but Comfort is just as enigmatic as the rest.
Girls are smart. They size up their teachers, and they help one another. Mattu Koroma, age 11The women, on the other hand, had skyrocketed out of control. At the Pendembu meeting, Habibatu shook her fist and shouted “Yes!” at every photo. Fatmata grinned and said “Fine!” 310 times. At the Kailahun meeting, Mamie Sampha put her arm around me as I downloaded her photos, and as each one of her 248 images flashed by, she squeezed me tighter and tighter and tighter. I knew the Kailahun women were serious and working hard because I live in Kailahun and I often meet them in the street, snapping like mad. Sometimes Theresa or Mariama or Aminata shows up at the IRC guesthouse, where Auntie Chris and I live, at 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, needing a battery change. But their excitement at seeing their photos is off the charts. As Sattu’s images flashed by, she shouted “Fine!” to each one, and for emphasis she brought her fist down hard on my left thigh. Sattu had 310 photos. So that day in Pendembu, downloading images for the girls’ group, I was a wreck. My shoulders and ribs ached from being squeezed by substantial women. My left thigh was black and blue and the muscles ached. My ears hurt, still reverberating with shouts of “Fine!” and other less intelligible whoops and cries. But here came these little girls, one by one, apparently as calm and disinterested as could be.
Girls are cool. Gender Club girls learn about sexual coercion and violence. Armed with information and attitude, they have a chance. Photo: Jenifer Manso, age 10I had to ask Auntie Chris, “Can you tell how they feel?” “They are happy,” she said. “Can’t you see?” “No,” I said. “I can’t see how they feel.” What is it about their lives, I wondered, that makes them have to hide a feeling as simple as joy? But the older girls had a harder time containing themselves, and Lilian, the last to come forward, broke into a big smile. “I think my photos are very fine,” she said. Gratefully I slapped her hand. “Yes, Lilian,” I said, “Your photos are very fine.” Girls really are way, way cool.
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