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Camera reunites Rwandan children, families

boy October 27, 1996
Web posted at: 8:35 a.m. EDT (1335 GMT)

(CNN) -- Tens of thousands of children were orphaned in Rwanda following the genocide of 1994.

One photographer recognized the desperation. Working with various aid organizations, he devised a way to help the children reunite with their relatives.

"A lot of children show the trauma, the pain, the suffering and also the hope," said photographer Seamus Conlan.

David Friend, director of photography and new media for Life magazine, describes Conlan's work as that of a humanitarian, not a journalist.


"Seamus was a journalist who looked through his lens and saw parents frantically looking for their children," Friend said. "He had a very selfless notion to put down his camera as a journalist and pick up his camera to reunite kids and their parents and make families whole again."

Conlan himself says he originally went to Rwanda to document the aftermath of the war, the human suffering.

"When I came across unaccompanied children right in the middle of that, I just realized that there was a serious problem," he said. "It was a hopeless scenario."

Conlan worked with the Red Cross and other organizations that use centralized tracing numbers to track refugees. Conlan said it was a natural process to put the tracking number on a picture to be used as a form of identification.

Numbers staggering


But Conlan soon found the work overwhelming.

"He found out there were thousands and thousands of children to photograph and that he couldn't do it all on his own. So he asked if I wanted to take photos as well," said photographer Tara Farrell.

Conlan says some of the children terrified because it was the first time they'd ever seen a white person. The unfamiliar camera didn't help either.

"(They would) hear the click (and) they'd absolutely freak out," he said.

For Friend, the photos took on a different meaning.

boy crying

"There's something about the abundance of faces. There's something about the overwhelming repetition of these children," he said. "(You begin to) see collectively they have a power which individually they would not."

Farrell is glad to have been a part of Conlan's work.

"It's quite a blessing to be able to have something that uses photography as a tool, because there's so much negativity going on in the world," Farrell said. "And we're always fed a lot of negative things about war. What's going on (here) is something that's hopeful, and the strength of the children actually makes you have strength in yourself."


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