Pep Bonet, 2005 W. Eugene Smith Fund Grant Recipient

“Faith in Chaos. I named my photography project about hope in post-war Sierra Leone. For two years already, I have been capturing the lives of Sierra Leonean youngsters whilst they are creating chances for themselves in a land where opportunities are very rare. Even before the war, Sierra Leone was the poorest country on earth (UNDP figures). It still is, and now it’s in shambles, too.

I first went there a year after the peace agreement was signed, to produce a photo essay of “Faith” for the World Press Photo Masterclass. I hooked up with groups of kids who were the most affected by the war, but who had emerged as the strongest. Young people who were amputated and blinded bouncing back to demand the chances that were stolen from them. Former child soldiers, not long before members of rebel gangs, now transforming themselves into proper police and security forces. Even kids who lost their minds in the war and living in a mental home, succeeding to return to the world of the sane.

I returned three times for weeks and months on end, and documented the struggle of these youngsters. It’s a story that sheds light on a side of Sierra Leone (and of Africa) that we don’t often get to see. Of stamina, pride, and self-confidence. Against all odds: Sierra Leone is part of Africa’s most unstable region, with rebels still roaming the neighboring countries of Liberia and Ivory Coast.”