Doctor from Boston Children’s documents difficulties of life in the Congo

Chris Carpenter and patient

Chris Carpenter, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatrics Program (GPP), sees the world a little differently than most people. When faced with news stories about poverty and suffering in Africa, many of us see tragedy; Carpenter sees an opportunity to help.

Now he’s sharing his vision with the world, through the eyes of a camera. His documentary film, “Born in Goma” captures his time in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo, focusing on three special patients— Isaac, Gisele and Dieume—trying to survive in the midst of extreme poverty and violence.

Be aware, some of the following images are somewhat graphic in nature.

After finishing medical school and his pediatric residency, Carpenter was ready to embark on a personal mission to practice medicine in areas wracked by violence and lacking in resources. In October of 2009, he went to Goma, an eastern city in the Congo, where he worked with families whose daily life was a constant struggle. But despite the harsh conditions, most of these people had an unbelievable will to survive.

“Seeing how strong the people of Goma were, despite all they were up against, was such an eye-opener,” Carpenter says. “It made me realize that with real determination, humans are capable of amazing things. It made me strive to be a better doctor and a better person.”

But when he returned to the United States, Carpenter found it difficult to put into words what he had seen in Goma: the immense poverty set against a beautiful jungle backdrop, hope amidst violence and the inspiring way his patients celebrated small successes against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Carpenter realized he couldn’t fully express his patients’ experiences with just words, so returned to the Congo and create a film that would show people what it was like to be “Born in Goma.”

“To truly understand life in the Congo, you have to see it,” he says. “In a way that’s what I’m trying to do with the film. I want people to see—good and bad—what I’ve seen there.”

Carpenter used his savings to purchase a camera, audio and lighting equipment and researched “how to film a documentary” online. Once he had sufficient equipment and know-how, he boarded a plane for Goma.

Within days of arriving, Carpenter met Isaac, a spirited and fun-loving child living with HIV. At first, Isaac was shy in front of the camera, but after a few days, he became more comfortable in the spotlight.

A few months into filming, Gisele came to the hospital for her first prenatal visit. She was a mature young woman with a story to tell. Over the following months, Carpenter visited her remote home in the mountains many times.

Two weeks after Gisele gave birth, Dieume was brought to the emergency room with six gunshot wounds. After he had healed and grown comfortable around Carpenter, he agreed to share his story. Shy and immobile at first, Carpenter soon had trouble keeping up with him.

As rewarding as the experience was, Carpenter says there were many challenges in creating the film. He and the small local crew he assembled to help film were attacked, threatened and robbed. They were involved in two serious vehicle accidents that left them stranded in remote, dangerous areas for hours or days.

With just a little help, we can give a struggling kid, with the odds stacked against him, one more chance at a good life. -Chris Carpenter

Finally, after six months of daily filming, Carpenter returned to the United States with 110 hours of footage. He hired an editing team and spent the next several months piecing together the remarkable stories of the people he met. Now complete, Carpenter hopes “Born in Goma” will help others see the Congo as he does.

“In America we are blessed to not have to know about some of the issues the people of Goma face everyday,” he says. “I hope this film will expose people to those issues, and maybe inspire them to help in some way.”

Born in Goma will be shown on May 21, at 12 noon in the Enders Building, Byers A&B.