Anto is a 14-year-old girl who lives in the Sud Ubangi province of Congo. She has four brothers. Her mother, a dressmaker, and her father, a rescuer, are divorced. She lives with her mother and two of her brothers.
Anto has a group of six close friends. They go to school together and spend their free time knitting together.
Her knitting and sewing have also helped her earn money to stay in school. “One day, when I was in grade 6, my mother did not have the money to pay the participation fee for the end-of-primary assessment,” she writes. “With all the knowledge I had about sewing, I made a blouse. With that money, I paid the test fee.”
“When I am with my friends, we never stop talking about our dreams,” Anto writes. “For Divine, she wants to become a builder engineer; Nathalie, nurse; Benie, nutritionist; Glodie, dressmaker; Lor, teacher; Grace Vie, doctor; and myself, a dressmaker.”
For many children in Congo, their childhoods have unfolded against the backdrop of ongoing conflict and violence that has claimed about 5 million lives, displaced 4.5 million people and left 2 million children malnourished. Tens of thousands of children — about a third of them girls, according to some reports — in the country were recruited, abducted or joined as child soldiers. While the country saw a fragile peace in 2000s, there was renewed violence earlier this year in the eastern part of the country, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Currently, I live with my mother and my two brothers, Dieu, 12 years old, and Erick, 8 years old. The two others — David, 17 years old, and Lucien, 9 years old — stay with my father. All of us go to school. This year, all of us passed our class. As far as I’m concerned, I’m going into the third year of high school and I’m going to do cut-and-sewing because by becoming a dressmaker, I’m going to help the vulnerable. Helping the vulnerable is a blessing from God.
Today was the best day for me. I did the dishes, drew water, did the laundry and prepared food for the house.
Today, I met three of my friends — Divine, Nathalie and Lor — when I went out looking for water at the fountain. I also braided my hair and played with my doll.
What worried me today is the departure of my two brothers who stay with my father when they are on leave because we usually play together. Despite that, my friends will fill this void and I will feel good.
I woke up at 6 a.m. and went to bed at 7 p.m.
I spent my day watching a movie with my friends but also helping my mother in domestic chores.
I bought myself a new belt that I wore with my dress.
Caught in Congo’s tides of war (Washington Post)
Congo’s Children (The Pulitzer Center)