During my latest journey through the African continent, I noticed a simple thing that made me think: all the poor children wear the same colour, the colour of the soil.
While I was shooting them, I realised that the clothes they had on had absorbed and soaked up the red colour of the African soil. This didn’t depend on what they were wearing: if they were lucky, sometimes they had real clothes in their size, other times only a huge garment many sizes larger that should have been enough for them for years to come, or at least until it fell apart. Regardless of what they wear, these garments will in time all become the same colour, the colour of the soil on which they play, the colour of the soil on which they walk by the side of the road to school every day, the colour of the soil that runs over them every time vehicles pass by. Because that is how children in Africa play, by the roadside, sitting on the ground in front of their houses, running and chasing a tyre, simply playing with the very earth they are sitting on. All this always with a huge smile.
Watching these pictures made me come back to my childhood, to those days when I ran on the freshly ploughed fields; with my age friends, I remember that we moved whole, wet soil pieces and using them, we imagined building houses, walls and forts. When I played alone I used to walk along this “huge” furrow made by a tractor and I passed my time looking for stones, glass and small objects, imaging they had been buried for years. The mind wanders, happy afternoons passed by and fantasy was a great friend. By this I do not think that I was a poor child, nor that I had a disadvantaged childhood, on the contrary, thinking back now as an adult I think I had a very happy childhood.
Looking back at the photos I took of all these children around Africa, I found myself smiling and realised that I too had the same smile while playing in the dirt, while getting my knees dirty with grass, and while being outdoors.
All the poor children in Africa have the colour of the soil on them, and in the end, all the children who have that colour on them are happy, smiling and rich, rich in the thing that will lead them to live in the world they desire, in the world they will create with their own hands.
These children will be rich in imagination, something that is, unfortunately, being lost in our times. Let the children free to get dirty, to run, to fall. Let’s take them to the countryside to discover the colours and wonders of nature, to the sea to collect shells and notice their differences. Let us take them in search of something that is not there but that they, with their imagination, will be able to see. Regardless of our social and economic conditions, I think we will have children smiling at life.