“Happy Kids of N’Djamena” — Maarten Schafer

Maarten Schafer - Author and Storyteller

Chad has a chequered history marked by civil unrest, instability, poverty and, more recently, streams of refugees flowing in from neighboring Sudan. Recent developments, however, are bringing the promise of a new era in Chad’s history. For the time being, however, tourism remains virtually non-existent in Chad, making it difficult for visitors like us to discover the country.

At the Kempinski Hotel in N’Djamena, I meet Zaid who gives us some interesting insights into the country. Half-Ethiopian, half-German, Zaid combines European efficiency with an African heart — a perfect mixture in Chad. He suggests I visit the SOS Children’s Village, which the Kempinski sponsors. “Spending just an hour with those kids gives me enough energy to face anything for the rest of the week,” he says.

The village, situated on the outskirts of the capital at the end of a dirt road, consists of 12 houses, each housing 10 children and one ‘mother’ who takes care of them. Aged up to 14 years old, most of these children were picked off the street and have harrowing personal stories. In the village, they receive schooling, proper medical care, and regular meals. “But most of all it gives them the opportunity to grow up in a safe environment,” adds Abdelkerim, the village director, whom the children call ‘father’.

Maarten Schafer at the S.O.S. Children's village in Ndjanema, Chad

I tour the village and are struck by how polite all the kids are, shaking our hands with a smile and a cheerful “Bonjour!” I meet some of the mothers and more kids who soon get used to our presence and start coming closer, touching us, smiling, laughing and playing. But as soon as I want to take a picture they freeze and start posing awkwardly.

In order to dispel this camera shyness, I give them our PowerShot camera so they can take pictures of each other and of us. “I want to be a photographer when I grow up!” one of them shouts. After half an hour the kids are used to the cameras and I start taking portrait photos. While their young faces show signs of their past suffering, their broad smiles are little rays of hope for a brighter tomorrow for Chad.

“I travel the world. I Take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time and leave nothing but footprints.”

“I travel the world. I Take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time and leave nothing but footprints.”