Exhibit Highlights Struggles Of Congolese Women

A new photo exhibit titled "Congo/Women — Portraits of War" opens today on Capitol Hill. The display is aimed at bringing awareness to the struggles of Congolese women. Ron Haviv, one of the exhibit's photographers, discusses what he hopes to accomplish with this project.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

Telling stories from nations in conflict are often best told not in words, but in pictures. A new photo exhibit, "Congo/Women - Portraits of War," opens today in Washington, D.C. Its purpose is to draw attention to the women who bear the brunt of ongoing atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ron Haviv is one of four photographers whose work is featured in the exhibit. And he joins us now from our New York bureau. Ron, welcome.

Mr. RON HAVIV (Photographer): Thank you very much.

CORLEY: Well, this exhibit is a visual presentation. There's also an audio component that gives some context, voices that give an idea of what's to come visually. Let's take a listen. This is actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CHERYL LYNN BRUCE (Actor): I'm from Azizi(ph). Bugari(ph). Sati(ph). Tongo. The side of Goma.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BRUCE: I'm 20 years old. Twenty-three. Fourteen. Eleven. Fifty-eight.

CORLEY: Ron, I was wondering if you could talk about these women who are part of this exhibit. And how receptive were they to having you capture their images?

Mr. HAVIV: Well, the situation in the Congo is so dramatic and so extreme that people are extremely receptive to telling their stories because they realize that's one of the only ways that things can change, by help from the international community because the situation in Congo is in such disarray that they themselves are - find it very difficult to change their circumstances.

CORLEY: There's a really vivid photo you took of a young girl. One of her arms is decorated with multi-colored bracelets, and she looks like she may be surrounded by other people. Can you talk a little about the story behind that photo and what made you take it?

Mr. HAVIV: Well, that image is taken at a funeral of the child's younger brother, maybe about six months old. And one of things that's happened in the Congo since this conflict began 10 years ago is that between four and five million people have died. That is more than any other war in the world since World War II.

And that is meaning that every day there are funerals, and quite often, people are dying of preventable diseases, preventable causes, but they just don't have medical facilities. They don't have medicine. They don't have access. And when I was doing this story, when I came upon this funeral, I was in a refugee camp and going from funeral to funeral.

And each time I would arrive at a funeral where people would insist, please come in. Please photograph. Please tell the world what is happening to us. Please, please, please. And that's exactly what was happening in this situation where the family is mourning over the child right before they're about to bury him.

CORLEY: You've taken pictures of conflict and humanitarian crises for a number of years now. I was wondering what led you to that work and how dangerous is it for you?

Mr. HAVIV: Well, it becomes a pretty simple idea to go and do this type of work once you see the effect of a war on civilians. And you realize that they're often bearing the brunt of the conflict. And they are the ones who are often most underprotected. And we're hoping to raise awareness so that people know what's going on.

We're hoping for education, that the exhibition will also go to a number of -over 40 universities in this country, and I think that's extremely important. Congo is a place where the international community can have a real result.

CORLEY: What stands out for you most about the Congo?

Mr. HAVIV: Well, the Congo is a place of contrast. It's one of the most beautiful places on earth. It's where Dian Fossey's gorillas are. It's this incredible, green, luscious countryside where you have these absolutely amazing atrocities taking place. Yet you have, when you speak to the people, you find warmth, and beauty and hospitality. And it is often very difficult to sort of in your mind understand that you're in the same place where so many people have been dying.

CORLEY: Ron, you talk about how this exhibit is different from a typical photographic exhibit. How so and what can people expect?

Mr. HAVIV: Well, one of the things that we're trying to do with this exhibit is have a different interactive experience for the viewer. And so a number of the photographs are over six feet tall and give a very different feeling when you walk in. We hope that you sort of will be overwhelmed by not only the stories of these women, but also of their images.

So even if you go to congowomen.org and see some of the work on the Web site, there's nothing really like actually experiencing the images in real life.

CORLEY: Ron Haviv is a photographer. Some of his work is featured in the exhibit "Congo/Women - Portraits of War." It opens today in Washington. Ron Haviv, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. HAVIV: You're welcome.

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