Betty (with bullets)

1 images Created 29 Oct 2013

I met and photographed Betty Jokodi, aged about 7 or 8, in the Lokurabang IDP camp on the outskirts of the Southern Sudanese town of Lainya. I was visiting the area with a UK charity that works with communities traumatised by conflict and war. I had been looking for an image that might communicate the wide range of issues and emotions that were prevalent in the area and when I met Betty I saw that she was very much like Sudan in so many ways.

Like Sudan, Betty is staggeringly beautiful but also very poor. Her face was muddy and she was dressed in an old and dirty homemade shift dress. Like Sudan, she has a traumatic past. Years of civil war have kept her family in poverty. Since the 2005 peace agreement they have striven to regain stability with simple subsistence farming, but with no medical support the people are vulnerable to very curable ailments and Betty’s own mother had recently died of measles. And like Sudan she was fearful of a new threat, which just seemed to add insult to injury.

The Ugandan rebel group, the LRA, in fighting for their cause just across the border, have taken to raiding villages in the nearby Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sudan. The LRA hunt in small packs, killing adults, looting for food and supplies and abducting children to be made soldiers or sex slaves, with estimates ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 children taken since 1987. Those most at risk are families living in remote rural locations away from the towns – families like Betty’s. Fear of attacks had forced them to relocate to the outskirts of a town and to find safety in numbers within the IDP camps. Betty was surviving on boiled leaves while waiting for the first harvest which was still months away.

But like Sudan, Betty, her family and all those you meet demonstrate a extraordinary determination to be joyful. Against all the odds they choose to smile, laugh, dance and sing with gratitude and wholeheartedness.

I often think about Betty, and smile.
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