It’s a surreal experience to be reconfronted with the image that shaped my adolescence and early adulthood. I hadn’t seen it in years, but the second I saw it, I knew exactly what it was.
At eleven years old (a one year age difference from the girl in the image) I came across her face and was taken in. I read the caption to learn she was butchered across the face in the Rwandan genocide. She survived by faking her own death amidst the bodies of her loved ones. The importance of this story struck a chord in me. People needed to know. What made it so real was the captivating image. There’s no way anyone could imagine the gravity of the words without the assault of the image. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to tell stories through photographs.
Simultaneously I began to measure all struggle by the genocide standard (call it the genocide scale). That is, nothing was ever that bad next to the abrasive perspective of a child caught in so much tragedy.
I cut out the picture, posted it to a shelf in my childhood room and reflected on it with every moment of teenage angst that came my way. Many tantrums were abated this way. How could my frustration matter next to these realities so vividly surrounding me?
The positives to this perspective outweighted the negatives. However, there were negatives to this world view. I’d learned to deny hurt in my life because next to the richter scale of the Rwandan child, my pain didn’t even register. This proved to just be a complex way to avoid confrontation and courage that took years to undo.
Today, flipping through the latest issue of Compassion Magazine, the publication that orginally posted the photo, I stumbled across the reposting of the image and all those feelings I first felt welled up in me. I had not seen it in over a decade. I am on the otherside of the image now. Before I was a child who started a journey to share the world with others. I have not yet arrived, but I have come far.
Passions were rekindled when my eyes fixed on the girl after such a long time. Where is she? Does she have happiness, a family, peace? What is her story now?
I decided it was time to cut the image out and place it in my camera bag – the place where the stories come to life. Now I look at it as a reminder of my first hopes and all I’ve had to learn about myself and the world around me in order to come even come close to orbitting those passions. It’s a good reminder of the world, myself and my firm belief that everyone has a story that deserves to be told.