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Photo Exhibit Began as Effort to Reunite Rwandan Families

December 22, 1996|From Associated Press

They looked into a sea of lost faces and found individual portraits of hope.

"Reunions: The Lost Children of Rwanda" is an exhibit by photojournalists Seamus Conlan, 30, and Tara Farrell, 24, that began as a way to reunite children with their families.

More than a million Hutus fled the African country in July 1994, when Hutu extremists began the slaughter of at least 500,000 minority Tutsis. In the chaos, thousands of children became terrified orphans.

"People say, 'Oh, that's a lot of zeros,' but this puts a human face to those numbers," Farrell said.

The exhibit opened Dec. 4 at the Museum of Tolerance of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles. It continues through April 9.

In August 1994, Conlan was traveling with members of UNICEF and the Red Cross. As they pulled into a field, he was struck by what he saw.

"It was just like this sea of little kids," he said. "They were all quiet."

Conlan decided to photograph them, post their pictures and hope their families would find them.

He approached UNICEF and it liked the idea. He called the Eastman Kodak Co. and asked for film. Within a few weeks, he was photographing as many as 500 children a day.

Farrell, a freelance photographer, who had gone to Rwanda to do a story on the project, joined the effort. For a year, they used every moment of daylight to photograph 21,000 children.

Conlan and Farrell said about 60% of the children were reunited with their families. The program is becoming standard practice.

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