Saturday, July 02, 2005

Birhan Woldu - The Face of Famine

At the Live 8 concert for "make poverty history" in London, Bob Geldorf introduced a radiant Birhan Woldu, once the "face of famine." Read about her here.

"Tigray province in the high, remote North is the ancient spiritual home of Ethiopia, mesmerizing in its rugged, isolated, hard beauty.

It is in this deeply traditional society that Birhan Woldu lives. She is known locally as a pious, shy young woman close to her family and father, Ato Woldu.

She has never sought attention. But her strange fate has become legend as the 'miracle girl' who defied death in the Great 1984 Famine.

In 2002, she told me: 'I don't remember it, and I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I didn't see my people die in that terrible time. It is past. I don't see it the way adults see it, and I'm glad I did not see it.'

But in my memory it is never past. Down these roads in Tigray I did see the very worst of that famine for weeks on end, and will never forget.

It seemed a vision of the end of the world - the refugees in search of food, seven million near starvation. There were close to a million that would die, most of them children.

There was a civil war on, as well, so it was hard to get to the famine zone. For a while our crew was alone there to record sadness that seemed bottomless and, I feared, endless, so surrounded were we by death.

We saw children like one boy about to die and followed the tiny corpses to makeshift morgues, first 100 dead a day in one camp. Then more corpses each passing day.

Then around 9:30 one morning, in the last week of October 1984, we arrived at a Catholic feeding centre that was overwhelmed with parents bringing in sick and starving children.

With cameraman Phillippe Billard, we began moving along the wall, talking to mothers. Producer Tony Burman snapped still pictures.

By chance, in one wide shot I only noticed recently can be seen the first picture of three-year-old Birhan Woldu, cradled in her father Ato's arms. This is just minutes before we spotted her.

As they reached the wall I noticed her slumping to the pavement and called a nurse but it seemed too late.

I had no sense this would later become the legendary face of famine."


Post a Comment

<< Home

More blogs about Eschew Obfuscation.
Who Links Here