A rare candid of one of the children, Danny. These kids are always posing so it's a rare photo. CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE OR SCROLL DOWN TO VIEW MORE
After five-and-a-half years and a twenty-two hour journey from Burien, I was back. Africa!
By Chase Smith
This is my third trip to this diverse continent but my first visit to Benin, a small, key-shaped country on the western coast of Africa, bordering Togo and Nigeria. The national language here is French due to France’s invasion in the late 1800’s. In 1958, Benin was granted autonomy and two years later they were led to independence, thus resulting in 53 years of continued peace to this day.
In this culture, an orphaned or abandoned child is considered to be on the lowest rung of society and is treated as a servant for the duration of their childhood. It is thought to be a curse in many villages if a person has any kind of physical imperfection. Human life does not carry value like we are use to in the West due to the practice of black magic and sorcery in many parts of this country. A child can be sold to a trafficker for as low as $20.
Although the economy has been slowly allowed to grow, the West African countries are some of the poorest in the world. The wages are around US$1 per day. The people are full of culture and take their heritage very seriously. They are a friendly and beautiful people.
After a long journey on the road upcountry, we arrived at our destination. I stumbled out of the car into the welcoming arms of 60 children. We made it to the
The children speak French and the tribal language, Fon. I learned very quickly upon arrival that love truly is universal and destroys any language barrier. These children love to be loved.
My reason for being here is multifaceted, but the primary purpose is to capture the essence of this home through photography. My affiliation, Orphan Relief and Rescue, is a small organization fully submerged in the fight for the justice of children who are victims of child trafficking, abuse, neglect and needless suffering. This fight has led us to work in Liberia and Benin, West Africa.
As I was photographing different kids, one girl in particular caught my attention. Her heart was so tender and the air around her lit up. “Photo,” she said as she gestured to herself.
Before she came to the orphanage, she was like other kids here living at home with her mother. While this little eight-year-old girl was in the kitchen, a pan of hot oil spilled on top of her. Her frail arms and the side of her small head suffered third-degree burns. For reasons we can only blame on the ostracizing thrown on those who are cursed by deformities, her mother no longer wanted her. However, the truth remains a mystery. She was scarred for life, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.
She was cursed.
Through some gesturing and terrible French, I asked her name. “Fifa,” she smiled.
Fifa has every reason in this culture’s handbook to stay hidden, to be ashamed of her scars and live a victimized and “cursed life.” But for a reason far beyond mankind’s power, her smile was the brightest. She has a home––she is loved. Redemption has replaced her scars with beauty.
To find out more about Orphan Relief and Rescue and hear more stories about the kids we serve, come wine and dine with us at our annual dinner fundraiser Saturday, November 16th at 6:30pm. Register on our website at: www.orphanreliefandrescue.org/content/saltys
Photo gallery for this story