ONE DAY I WILL
be a doctor
be an artist
be an actress
be a soldier
be a teacher
to save, to protect, to be free, to be able to provide and to fight…
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I have been asking children in Africa this question for the past year as part of the portrait project “One Day, I Will.” In the Central African Republic (CAR), I met future diamond collectors, a pilot, and shopkeepers. In Mali and Niger, journalists, nurses, and farmers. In Congo, almost half the boys came dressed as soldiers. In every country, there were teachers.
This idea began as an experiment—a way to play a game with the children I met while covering a story about internally displaced persons in the conflict-ridden CAR. A community of Muslims had been sheltered in a church for a year, unable to leave for fear of being killed. The children were unable to go to school.
That day, I met a girl who started crying as she was telling me her story. I began thinking of how I could tell the stories of these children in a way that focused on possibilities for their future rather than a present centered around daily survival.
‘Let’s play a game. How about you all dress up with any material we find around us and you show me who you want to be when you grow up?’
So I came up with an assignment for them: Find a costume that represents what you want to be when you grow up and have your portrait taken in it. I had no idea whether this would work, but it would at least be fun. If I could change their situation myself, I could at least bring them a little of immediate joy.
The originality of what the children came up with that day amazed me, especially given that they were making something with practically nothing—paper, leaves, and cloth. And this experience became a long term project.
I became curious about what results I would get elsewhere. I started replicating this idea while on assignment in other African countries—Mali, Congo, Niger, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo. The children’s choices reflected their everyday experience: who they saw around them, what their parents did, who had directly influenced their lives. Many were pragmatic, some more aspirational.
But these choices also hinted at challenges inherent in their environments. In the diamond-rich CAR, parents often take their kids out of school so they can help dig for diamonds in the fields. In Congo, the number of boys dressed as soldiers speaks in part to the years of conflict they witnessed. In 10 to 15 years, when you grow up in this environment, I am fearing the children playing with toy guns today, will become the soldiers of a next war, a war that have always been part of their daily life. When will we break that cycle of violence ?
Throughout these images, I want to engage the conversation beyond just the chosen perspectives to talk about issues like education and the development. I want us to look at these young people, our next generation of leaders, and make us think what we can do to build and shape a better future- as all begins with a thought.