I've met so many wonderful, inspiring children in the Central African Republic during the past few days - children with beautiful smiles, and big hopes and dreams for the future despite all the insecurity, uncertainty and challenges they face, every moment of every day.
Amina, 8, defies her situation with a gentle smile. Shot in the upper thigh during an attack on her home village - one that killed both her mother and her father - she is in Bangui receiving treatment, taken in by a family living in a neighborhood surrounded by men threatening mortal harm to those who stay. The scar on Amina's leg isn't pretty, but her smile is beautiful as she hobbles along on her small plastic crutches, struggling to take just a few steps. She is determined to learn how to walk again.
Sara, 11, pictured above, inspires with a determined smile. Living in a camp for families forced to flee their homes when their villages came under attack, Sara helps her parents by sweeping their makeshift home that they threw together under an abandoned plane using old sheets. She collects wood and tends a small fire for her aunt to make coffee to sell. She washes the family's clothes in a plastic bucket and cares for her baby sister. She's a serious girl with no time to play. She says she wants to go back to school so that one day she can be a policewoman, "so I can protect my mom and dad."
Ariel's smile is bright. A 9-year-old with severe burns across her chest and back, she has spent the last several months at the country's only pediatric hospital. She knows well the hospital routines, and the parents of the other injured kids call her "chefe du village," or chief of the village. Ariel asks me to take her picture with my iPhone and smiles when I show it to her through the bednet. I tell her I think she's more beautiful than the Disney Princess that shares her name; she looks far away for a few moments, then smiles shyly and whispers, "Merci."
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