Central Africa Republic ranks at the bottom of the table in the Global Youth Development Index from the Commonwealth, as well as in other reports about childhood development from Save the Children and the United Nations.
To find out what issues children growing up in CAR face daily, photojournalist Marc Ellison embarked on a reporting trip which resulted in a digital graphic novel called House Without Windows, published by HuffPost today (26 July).
Ellison worked with artist Didier Kassai and a fixer on the ground to tell the stories, from children's struggle with homelessness to access to education and health services, through a mixture of illustrations, photography, and 360-degree video.
"I deliberately try to have them overlap, and that's basically to essentially ground the illustrations in reality," explained Ellison, speaking to Journalism.co.uk.
"You'll notice there are sections in the comic where you've maybe got four or five pages in a row of just illustrations and I found from talking to people that you get sucked into the story and the illustrations and you start to almost think this is a comic, this is fiction."
Ellison has worked on graphic novels before, telling the stories of Tanzania's child brides for example, but House Without Windows is his first project that also includes 360-degree video.
"There is a cool wow factor in using 360, but I think we're really transporting people to this country and allowing them to see the hardships that these kids are facing be it in diamond mines, or the classroom or hospitals. I am really hoping that it will draw people in and immerse them in a place they will probably never ever go to."
Blending illustrations with photos and videos was also a way for Ellison to show that the small team did their due diligence and that the illustrations presented are true to life. Ellison was intentionally selective with his use of 360-degree video "because we're still figuring out how to use it, and I am a great believer of just because you can doesn't mean that you should".
When planning House Without Windows, Ellison hoped to get Western audiences involved with the newsgathering process, allowing them to ask questions about the lives of children in CAR that would be followed up on the ground, hoping being part of the reporting would make audiences more interested in journalism about the country.
But the participatory part of the project, mostly conducted through social media, fell by the wayside during the reporting process. However, Ellison and Kassai appeared weekly on a radio show in CAR from Radio Ndeke Luka to update listeners there about their progress and experiences, which proved a more successful way to gather feedback and ideas.
"That's very important to me as a foreign correspondent, because all too often foreign reporters will parachute in for a couple of days. I was trying to crowdsource a wider response by using the radio station, so that way we were getting feedback and input not only from a Western audience trying to interest them, but also for a local audience who has lived through what is basically an ongoing conflict."
The name of the graphic novel also references the lack of coverage of CAR in the international media. Speaking to a doctor from Doctors Without Borders, Ellison was told that CAR is a house without windows, "if you think that media coverage is like a window allowing us to see into the house".
Free daily newsletter
- Five golden rules for using images to engage readers with your story
- Tip: Safety tips for photojournalists in the time of covid-19
- Solutions photojournalism: “If you can capture all the problems with a photo, why can’t you capture the solutions?"
- Ten sources of free images for journalists
- Tip: Find an everyday angle to crisis reporting