Voiceless Children

April 30, 2011

Felix Masi is a renowned documentary photojournalist and humanitarian, combining a wealth of experience in documenting humanitarian images on camera with a very personal background of lose and poverty. Born and raised in Kisumu, Western Kenya to a single mother, Felix and his siblings were orphaned at an early age, and left in the care of foster parents. After his maternal grandmother discovered the terrible conditions within which the children lived, she took action and had Felix and his siblings removed from the home and put in the care of his eldest sister and relatives.

Felix’s Photojournalism career is born out of life passion for photography. He was exposed to the cameras early by his mother, an avid photographer, frequently documented her children’s early years until death when Felix was only eight years old. After being rescued by his grandmother, Felix was among fortunate children in Kenya to enjoy a high school education. Upon graduation, Felix launched his career as a photojournalist in his first job at The standard, a leading local newspaper in Kenya.

In 1996, Felix’s brother, Dennis passed away after a battle with HIV/AIDS. This event, combined with his own personal experience and a life of witnessing Africa’s struggle with the pandemic, inspired Felix to resign from his newspaper position and begin working as an independent photo-journalist focused on humanitarian crises. In 2005, with a vision to help the women and children of his village create a path to a better future, Felix founded Voiceless Children, an organization that provides school fees for children as well as resources that help grandmothers care for their dependents. The same year, Felix was selected to participate in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Following this opportunity to further hone his expertise, Felix returned to Kenya, inspired to give voice to the millions of orphaned children, widows and grandmothers impacted by HIV/AIDS. The fulfillment of that vision was the film, A Grandmother’s Tribe.

Today Felix continues to work as a freelance photo-journalist “any place where a story needs to be told”. Alumni of a Visiting Program in Leadership and recipient of multiple prestigious awards, Felix continue his craft to elevate an understanding of humanitarian and social issues around the world.

Voiceless Children exists to give support to young people and their caregivers so that their struggle to survive becomes a struggle to be even better than they ever dreamed they could be fast.  Join us                http://www.voiceless-children.org/

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Library of Congress Declares Billy Joel, Gloria Gaynor, Metallica Songs Important Parts of U.S. History

March 23, 2016

25 recordings were added to the National Recording Registry

Source: Library of Congress Declares Billy Joel, Gloria Gaynor, Metallica Songs Important Parts of U.S. History

One Woman’s Struggle in a Village of Multiples by Felix Masi

March 8, 2016

Deep in Dibaya territory, in the sleepy village of Tshimbulu, in Kasai Central province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), lives a resilient woman with multiples. Multiple challenges. Multiple tasks. And multiple children. A twin herself, Mwambuyi gave birth to four sets of twins, one set of triplets, and four singles—15 in all! On camera Mwambuyi’s day seems short, but her daily life is an endless struggle for survival.

Wherever I go, I try to let my camera lead me, while my heart pulls me in the direction of inspiration, motivation, the beauty of the African story. In this story, I witnessed hardship, and resilience, but little hope. My heart broke. As someone who overcame a life of hardship, I carry hope with me wherever I go. But life can squeeze you and crush you so hard, and hope can be elusive.

Pathfinder International sent me to tell the story of families like Mwambuyi’s and demonstrate the importance of access to family planning in the DRC. My lens focused on one woman, but it told the story of many, including efforts by community organizers trained and supported by the Pathfinder project to inform these communities about reproductive health.

Deep in the countryside, the neglected and undeveloped road to this village is a precursor to what one encounters upon arrival—a village so remote even Coca Cola hasn’t reached it. With no access to banks, they put what little they have in mattresses. With few cell phones, and certainly not “smart phones,” many follow news on radios strapped to their shoulders. Most days their only hope is to get enough today to make it to another tomorrow.

The village of Tshimbulu is located 946 kilometers from Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC. The village is full of multiples. While Mwambuyi’s family of 15 ranks among the highest, average family size is seven with ten or eleven not uncommon. These families live on hope. Hope that they will find a little something to eat and fire wood to cook it over. Mwambuyi’s family eats in shifts, consuming whatever the meager 2,000 FC (about US $2) will buy them in a day, if she’s lucky to have gotten it when she sells firewood or cassava leaves from her community farm. On many occasions, Mwambuyi does not light a kitchen fire at her home. Her day starts at dawn and ends late at night. Like any mother, when one of her children falls ill, she may stay awake all night long. The odds of that happening with any one of the twins, triplets or singles is all too great. She has a heart of gold in a country full of precious minerals, but her heart cannot feed, cloth, or shelter her children.

Changing with Technology

Choice is a word of privilege. While it’s true that many women like Mwambuyi choose to have many children, often neither their education, means, nor cultural expectation as a wife enable them to choose wisely about family planning. Mwambuyi’s husband works as a security guard for a Congolese national railway company. Though he is technically a salaried employee, he is rarely, if ever, paid by the company he works for and instead relies on tips given by passengers whose wares he guards while in transit. Born in 1978, 38-year old, Mwambuyi accepts her duty as a wife and accepts the consequences with a stoicism unheard of in the modern world of ultra-planned pregnancies. Her nine pregnancies were carried to term without the assistance of ultrasound, and only the last was done by cesarean. Instead medical personnel detected the faint heartbeat (but only once multiple heartbeats) with the traditional listening device—a tube pressed hard into the mother’s abdomen. Mwambuyi gave birth to her first four single babies without any problems. On her fifth pregnancy, at a clinic five kilometers from her former home, the attending medical personnel informed her she was having twins. Her second set of twins was a surprise at birth. As was the third set. Six months into her ninth pregnancy Mwambuyi felt ill, but she still had to attend to her twelve other children, as her husband was often away and would return only occasionally late in the evening or in the very early morning. Although during her last pregnancy she was again told she was having twins, she gave birth to triplets, indeed a huge surprise and even bigger worry!

More than a dirty dozen

Despite Mwambuyi’s positive spirit and willpower to raise her fifteen children almost single handedly, every day is an immense challenge. For many families throughout Africa, tradition dictates that a woman’s mother send her a sibling or a relative to assist with family chores–cooking, feeding the other family members, fetching firewood and water from the river–until she’s strong enough to resume these activities. For Mwambuyi, that was never the case. Her one-bedroom grass-thatched hut has a mattress, a kitchen, and a family room to house fifteen children, four chickens and four rabbits. When one of Mwambuyi’s children catches a cold, it spreads like a bush fire. When one or two or three or four suffers any type of illness she is on nonstop duty.
If her instinct tells her she needs more help, the following day she awakes very early, wraps her baby or babies on her back, and walks five kilometers to the nearest clinic, stopping to rest in the shade only briefly, as she knows she must arrive early to beat the queue.

Reality through the Lens

We arrive at Mwambuyi’s home at around 11 a.m. She is ready with her platoon of babies–some with clothes, some bare chested, some with protruding stomachs, but all quite active. Mwambuyi is in her Sunday best, with a hair weave to boot! The “community based distributors” (those who go door to door to disseminate information) and health workers are all seated and having her sign releases. We are set to conduct an interview with her about reproductive health. It’s all a bit surreal.

Camera rolling, I can see in Mwambuyi’s eyes her pain, struggle, and perhaps a bit of hope. She is resilient. She is not giving up, she is determined, but she is also very tired and burdened by the life she’s been handed.

Mwambuyi’s glimmer of hope is that programs like Pathfinder International’s found her before fifteen became sixteen or more. Working with local leaders, teachers, educators, and church leaders the non-profit organization attempts to educate communities about family planning, breaking down centuries of cultural proclivity to having many children, which are considered a blessing and mitigate inevitable deaths.

Mwambuyi, has no set schedule to her day, but rather takes each as it comes. She waits, for her school-aged kids to return home to plan what they will eat for dinner. Two of the older kids rotate shifts every day to harvest cassava leaves and find firewood, often walking a few miles from their home in order to put just a little food on the table. Mwambuyi is a dream chaser, hoping each day there will be enough food. Some days she does not cook at all, but on days she does, the children eat in shifts, and often the older ones skip, so the little ones can eat.

Arriving with food for Mwambuyi to cook, I let the camera roll as her children’s excitement fills the space. Mwambuyi has to cook early, around 5 p.m., outside her hut and eat before the sun sets, as there is no electricity in this village and darkness comes quickly. The children sing and jump around, hands holding tight as a sign of unity, celebrating their only meal of the day. They had not eaten the previous day.

One of the older girls sets the table. It is very small and cannot accommodate all the fufu (cornmeal mash) and vegetables Mwambuyi cooked. Most will eat on the dusty ground. They are dirty, but water is scarce and bathing is a luxury they rarely enjoy.

The following day we arrive back at Mwambuyi’s house just before the bigger kids leave for school. Mwambuyi has not dressed for guests. This is the real deal. Breakfast is not an expectation, but we offer biscuits, and the triplets and their twin siblings eagerly accept, eating them with the fufu leftover from the night before. The older kids are dressed and ready to head to school, wearing only flip-flops on their feet. They leave on empty stomachs.

The Daily Grind

Daily chores consume Mwambuyi’s life. She has no time to socialize. The implants she received to prevent further births are a blessing, but raising 15 children would be difficult in the best of circumstances. The DRC, like most developing nations, has no welfare programs, no school feeding programs, no soup kitchens. Mwambuyi, like most of the women I interviewed, was afraid of dying and leaving her children completely helpless. The immense energy she expends in the fields yield little results, but at least help some of her children attend school some of the time. Many of those who have benefited from the family planning program, using implants as a method of birth control, have since become educators and champions in their own villages in the campaign against uncontrolled births. They are grateful for the education and support to help them take control of their lives. But their children are already in this world, and they struggle every day to survive in it.

Postcards from my journey!

October 26, 2015

Long post after a long time Dear friends, let me tell you a little story, i would like to tell a little story about my journey and acts of kindness, I was only 8 when i lost my mother, this is when i came to face the cruel world, i realized how she was everything to me together with my siblings, I was the fourth born, my kid bro, now the late was so little then. Growing up, i wanted to be a war photographer, i thought their was glamour in dying to tell war stories.
Back in the days it seemed like every television story was about war, the slums were less congested but with no electricity and no flush toilets, we shared long drop, i think our block had two of them, yes! always under lock and key and because toilet business was and still is a matter of life and death in the developing part of the planet.

Although i had no questions about becoming a photojournalist, i just thought it was cool, I just wanted to tell stories the way those guys on television were doing it, most of them were Muzungus/Mundele in lingala (White people). Those were the days we could only watch television in social halls, the black and white television belonged to the municipality, you know what i am talking about. I will share with you one day when i first watched a colour screen NOT the tinted made in China “Gratewall” for my Kenyan old school friends who shared a similar path.

If i had doubts about my chosen career today I would selling clothes for a living or sipping spiritual wine like any other Catholic priest does, I wanted to be a priest, that was my late grandmother’s wish, i am not sure for how long but I loved serving, the alter boy’s life was special. I was a hustler and a good listener though, i also hanged around smart and motivating older friends, i still do keep most of them, they are my motivation, I motivated myself that I can make it in life.

Dear friends, telling a personal story is never easy, it is not a personality contest or a celebrity status, my strength is drawn from being able to pick up myself and help other countless selfless/hopeless souls to confront their own challenges. It is from this journey that i resigned from my daily full time job as a photojournalist in one of the leading local daily newspapers, to turn the camera on other countless orphan kids who had lost their parents. In this case i chose to document a story of children whose parents had died of HIV/Aids and were living with their grandparents.
A story that led me to ask grandmother’s in Mudoba village in Funyula, Western Kenya and grandmothers in Kibera slums in Nairobi both raising orphan kids from similar pandemic.

What motivates me today, is that these kids and their grandmothers opened their homes and allowed me to bring a camera into their humble dwellings to share a story of hope, loss, death, love and resilience with the world. I felt honored to have their confidence and trust in me, I knew this was the path i was trying to follow away from being a celebrity photojournalist at home. Folks, I got rid off this peer and group thinking and started documenting these families, it was challenging following these families without a budget, but i knew that their story was a turning point, I became part of the story.

I challenged myself to tell my childhood story through these kids, I was rescued and raised by my grandmother, a story so close to my heart RIP grandma! we create our destiny by the way we do things, i never let my childhood struggles hold me back, I wanted to live life but i also wanted to tell a human story, a story of hope, a story of African child from a personal experience.

From this humble beginning, i launched Voiceless Children in 2005 with the help of a selfless American grandmother Susie Banfield, we had met in Kenya, she saw my work and promised to help, the same year I was sent to the US on a Youth Leadership Program (IVLP) a class of very smart and visionary global citizens some were cabinet ministers, some were presidents of law society in various countries, some were teachers, we all wanted to learn from Americans and how we could make our part of the world a better place.

From these time, my journey developed into “A Grandmother’s Tribe” a story set between the above mentioned grandmothers by my special friends who became part of my family Qiujing Wong and Dean Easterbrook a story of HOPE. My family got bigger, I now have families in USA, Canada and New Zealand the home to the film director and producer of this award winning film, a story that triggered me to share my journey, I am not sure any of my friends from school and work ever knew my childhood story.

I have always told myself that I may have been born poor but am not so poor to touch a hopeless child, today I am a proud father, a husband with families and friends all over the world some by blood some through my work, but i cannot be any happier knowing that the second and youngest kid Emmanuel the star in the film through whom i see my childhood challenges, joined high school this week as a result of A Grandmothers Tribe film and dreaming big and maybe one day. I trust and hope Emmanuel and those before him not mentioned on this post will pay it forward!.

I could go on and on, but i learned lessons that when you are determined and passionate about a cause nothing is impossible, through this film, over 70 orphans have graduated, with 10 graduates some in university, some teaching and some like Emmanuel still dreaming to make it big! some grandmothers got homes, they have over 45 cows. I wish i could do more! I am grateful for my family, friends and the larger clan, mostly our children who agreed to share me with these families including sharing the little we had from food, the amazing grandmother Susie who has walked with me through ups and downs, and to the amazing NZ family that even taught me more on film production and to my lovely wife Ellen who means a world to me.

To all my friends not mentioned on this post, you are like stars, you are always there when i need you.
I want to leave you with this phrase “It is not the success that defines me but my journey and how many times i fall and rise when my wings are troubled and cannot not fly”. “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it” William Arthur Ward.

Emmanuel the lead kid in A Grandmother's tribe film, joined high school early this year and dreams to live his dream and give back to the community.

Emmanuel the lead kid in A Grandmother’s tribe film, joined high school early this year and dreams to live his dream and give back to the community.

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Emmanuel in 2010!

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Lorna Asira, then now a university student in Kenya in her fourth and final year!

Orchestra Symphony Kimbanguiste

September 11, 2012

Glody Membo, 13, practice with his fellow band members Armando Wabasolele, 10 (R), Dori Wasolua (L) with Armand Wabasolele (2nd L) at the Kimbanguiste center in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. These young boys are junior members of the Orchestra Symphony Kimbanguiste, Central AfricaÕs only all black Orchestra. The junior team is part of the school founded by Armand Diangienda. Despite many years of fighting, displacements brutal violence against women and children, a Congolese born Armand DiangiendaÕs, leader of Orchestra Symphony uses Congolese creativity and resilience in restoring hope of the tainted image of DR Congo, Africa and worldÕs wealthiest yet poorest.

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July 14, 2012

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Public Transportation in Kinshasa, DR Congo

July 14, 2012

“The Spirit of Death”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikjcBfO9C44&feature=player_embedded — at Voice Of America.

June 29, 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikjcBfO9C44&feature=player_embedded — at Voice Of America.

Trailblazers

May 16, 2012

Trailblazers

We are already celebrating the gains through these individuals who have graduated. Some with honors, some more to join University next year and Fredrik Oduko who joined Kabianga University College for his undergraduate pursuing Bachelor of Science Communication and public Relations on May 7th. We are not there yet but making a difference in a small way, join us and thank for your support!Thank you for liking our page https://www.facebook.com/pages/VoiceleChildren/222683964452670?ref=tn_tnmn

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Voiceless Children exists to give support to young people and their caregivers so that their struggle to survive becomes a struggle to be even better than they ever
dreamed they could be fast. http://www.voiceless-children.org/

FHI 360 360 Presents A Grandmother’s Tribe-Washington D.C May 10 2012

May 5, 2012

FHI 360 360 Presents A Grandmother's Tribe-Washington D.C May 10 2012

FHI 360 Presents the screening of the award winning film, A Grandmother’s Tribe followed by a moderated panel discussion with Q&A, Speakers and panelists will be: Felix Masi, Film advisor, International Visitor Leadership program and founder Voiceless Children will introduce the film and talk about providing school fees for orphan African children in Kenya and supporting grandmother’s. Other panelists and speakers include: Danielle Darrow de Mora, Program Director Center of AIDS and community Health, FHI 360. Damon Woods, Founder and President Parnassus Global Agency, Alma Candelaria, Director, Office OF International Visitors U.S. Department of State and Dr. Al Siemens, CEO FHI 360. FHI 360 is a nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions. Our staff includes experts in education, health, nutrition, economic development, civil society, environment, gender, youth, research and technology – creating a unique mix of capabilities to address today’s interrelated development challenges. FHI 360 serves more than 60 countries and all U.S. states and territories.

A Grandmother’s Tribe Washington D.C. Screening

May 5, 2012

FHI 360 Presents the screening of the award winning film, A Grandmother’s Tribe followed by a moderated panel discussion with Q&A, Speakers and panelists will be: Felix Masi, Film advisor, International Visitor Leadership program and founder Voiceless Children will introduce the film and talk about providing school fees for orphan African children in Kenya and supporting grandmother’s. Other panelists and speakers include: Danielle Darrow de Mora, Program Director Center of AIDS and community Health, FHI 360. Damon Woods, Founder and President Parnassus Global Agency, Alma Candelaria, Director, Office OF International Visitors U.S. Department of State and Dr. Al Siemens, CEO FHI 360. FHI 360 is a nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions. Our staff includes experts in education, health, nutrition, economic development, civil society, environment, gender, youth, research and technology – creating a unique mix of capabilities to address today’s interrelated development challenges. FHI 360 serves more than 60 countries and all U.S. states and territories.