The little boy said he wanted to be a soldier.
Vincent Tremeau, a photographer based in Dakar, Senegal, who was working at the time in the Central African Republic, was surprised by the answer. A civil war that began in December 2012 has brought destruction to the country, killing thousands and displacing a quarter of the country’s population. He wouldn’t have thought that the boy wanted to grow up to fight.
Tremeau was photographing the child as part of a new project, “One Day, I Will,” based around the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He asked children to dress as their chosen profession, in outfits made from whatever materials they had.
He first thought of the idea for the project while on a different assignment in the Central African Republic, he said. During that trip, he was constantly flanked by children, sometimes 60 at a time, who were fascinated by his camera. “I asked the people if these children were going to school, and what’s the situation for them, and they told me that the school had been destroyed a year ago … and [they] didn’t get any education, at least at school,” he said.
Tremeau began talking to the children about what they have experienced during the war in conversations that sometimes became too emotionally taxing to continue. “They told me so many horrible things that we stopped the interview,” he said. “It was too difficult for them.”
So instead of the present, he began to ask them what they wanted to grow up to do. He asked them to use whatever props they had to demonstrate their ideal profession and continued the project with children he met on subsequent trips to Mali, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The answers range from teacher to doctor, nurse, electrician or driver. But some of the answers — particularly those from Mali, Congo and the Central African Republic, each of which has experienced recent military conflict — also reveal the toll that war has taken on their lives. The boy who wanted to be a soldier told him that he wanted to grow up to fight the soldiers that had killed his brother. Another who said he wanted to fight because he had had to flee his village 12 times. “If you don’t take care of the children today, you can be sure that they will keep [these] psychological issues inside of them and this will have an impact on the next generation,” Tremeau said.
Tremeau, who is posting a different photograph from the project each day on Instagram, said the project reveals the importance of making education accessible and affordable for children. “Everything starts from school,” he said. “It’s where you learn how to live together, it’s where you learn how to think, to be entrepreneurial. If you don’t go to school, you don’t have the fundamental basis to start your life.”
The project is also a glimpse at the future, he said. “This project is to show that it’s really important to be very careful about these youth, because they are the next generation, they are the next leaders,” he said.
Check out more of Tremeau’s work below.
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