Towards the end of a long and arduous photographic journey in Ethiopia which had taken him the length and breadth of the country, Jonathan Crown travelled to the predominantly Muslim town of Harar in the East.
It was late afternoon on another hot and dusty day in the bustling streets around the market. A young street beggar approached him, hand out, asking for money. He wore a veil, not an unusual sight when worn by women; except he was a boy. Jonathan passed him by; he looked healthy enough and certainly did not appear to be in any particular urgent need.
As he walked on, and out of the corner of his eye, Jonathan noticed the boy lower his veil slightly, and what he witnessed in that instant changed his life forever!
The youngster had a huge hole where his right cheek and nose should have been, he had no mouth to speak of, just a huge gaping hole in his face. Jonathan was at once disgusted by the horrific sight before him, but he was also profoundly moved. Immediately he gave the boy some money; Jonathan only turned away for an instant, but in that time he had vanished into the crowd. He proceeded back to his hotel in a daze.
The sight of the boy’s face would not leave him. Jonathan has travelled extensively in Africa, but he’d never seen anything like it before. Although he did remember a similarly afflicted boy from South America who was bought over to the UK for treatment some year ago, ‘The Boy David’. He had become famous in the 1980’s when a TV documentary made by Desmond Wilcox and Esther Rantzen followed his progress to rebuild his face.
Jonathan knew right away that if they could do it, so could he!
Back at his hotel, a search party was organised that night to find the boy but this proved fruitless. A second search in the morning failed too, but another younger boy was found and presented to Jonathan. He also had terrible head injuries from an attack by hyenas. Jonathan took photographs of this second street beggar, whose name was Fhami; and he was just nine years old.
Jonathan was now back in London, when news came through that the first boy had been found and photographed. His name was Jemal and he was 14 year old. He suffered from noma a flesh eating gangrene that attacks children weakened by malnutrition. If anything, the images were even more horrific than those he had seen when their paths had crossed.
And so it was in April 2001 that Project Harar came into existence.
Armed with photographs of two boys, Jonathan soon secured free surgery for the two boys aboard a Mercy Ship Charity hospital ship, docked 4,000 miles away on the other side of Africa in the Gambia.
Undaunted by the logistical nightmare that was to follow, Jonathan pressed ahead. Six months later having secured all the documents necessary, the extraordinary odyssey to get the boys treated commenced.
The boys travelled to the Gambia via London, and spent three months on board the hospital ship undergoing three complicated facial rebuilding procedures. With their faces repaired, they returned back to Harar to lead healthier and happier lives.
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