Polaroid archive a documentation of country’s lost children

News and Press Release
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by Katie Bilboa

We recently re-opened an incredible archive at our office in Kigali, Rwanda.

Our team unearthed thousands of Polaroid images, documenting children whose lives – in 1994 – were changed forever.

The photographs – a faded moment in time, some damaged by weather and age – and the hand-written notes which accompany them are not just documentation of a generation ravaged by a bloody and brutal genocide.

They also played a vital part in the healing process, which saw families brought back together in the months and years following the conflict.

[Scroll down to see our photo gallery.]

A painful history

The genocide in Rwanda, which saw around 800,000 people killed in just 100 days, left the country with the highest proportion of orphans in the world.

The Polaroid images our teams captured were carried from village to village, where we organised mass meetings and asked people to look through the pictures, in the hope they would recognise their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Social worker Betty Mongi helped children find their families. “If you found their parents and saw how happy they were, you would feel emotional,” she says. “They were happy and then you feel that your job is done and you feel good.”

Re-tracing the children today

We ran ‘follow-up’ programmes in the years that followed the genocide, but as the twentieth anniversary approached and we unearthed this archive of images, we began to wonder what had happened next.

The search was no easy task, but our regional producer Colin Crowley worked tirelessly with the country office and former staff to track down some of the children we’d helped, to hear their stories and find out how they rebuilt their lives.

“Seeing this picture reminds me of everything I went through”

Flodouard saw his parents killed in the first days of the genocide and fled with his younger siblings, Cyprien and Gloriose, to save their lives.

After finding them in an orphanage in Byumba, Save the Children was able to reunite them with a paternal uncle.

When Flodouard turned 18 he worked a small job until he saved up enough money to establish a farm on his parents’ land where he could raise his two siblings as a family.

Flodouard is now a farmer and the father of three children of his own, and his sister Gloriose is studying at university.

“Seeing this picture reminds me of everything I went through. It also makes me realise that someone was still thinking about me. It reminds me of when you [Save the Children] took me from Byumba and brought me back home. I am so happy and I love you for this,” he says.

A hopeful future

In Rwanda today Save the Children works closely with the government, other partners and stakeholders, to reach more than 100,000 people through community-based child protection networks.

Geoffrey Mugisha, Country Director for Save the Children in Rwanda, said: “The greatest way we can show respect to the victims and survivors of the Rwandan genocide is to do our utmost to ensure that no child ever again has to endure what these children did twenty years ago.”

Watch our video about the children of the Rwandan genocide here.

View our photos from Rwanda below: