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Congo: The Faces of Orphans

More than 4 million children have lost at least one parent in Congo over the past two decades.

Alpha Meleki, 6, plays in the yard at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, on June 19, 2016.

Meleki survived an attack from ADF rebels on his village that left over 20 dead including his parents in Beni earlier this year. Rescuers found Meleki in a pile of bodies with a bullet wound in his belly.

As Congo falls once again into violence in the face of a delayed election, here are profiles of some orphans in Goma.

Jerome Delay / AP

Orphans eat their lunch at the Don Bosco center, on June 18.

26 million orphans live in West and Central Africa — the second highest number in the world behind South Asia, according to the United Nations. These children have grown up amid conflict fueled by ethnic strife and the fight over Congo's valuable minerals.

Jerome Delay / AP

Jean Claude Twisenge, 15, from Massissi, joins other street children in a prayer service at a Don Bosco safe house, on June 18.

Jean Claude had walked for a week to reach Goma, "Fleeing misery, I was looking for money to pay for school."

Jerome Delay / AP

Alpha Meleki plays in the yard at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center, on June 19.

The bullet wounds and the vine-like surgery scar on the 6-year-old's pudgy belly have only recently healed. He hobbles around, pulling his loose shorts up on his tiny body. The emotional scars however, are still fresh, "They hit me with a machete," he recalls.

Jerome Delay / AP

Julie Faide, 14, waits for lunch to be served at the Don Bosco center, on June 18.

Julie came to the center in 2003. Her father was a soldier and her mother disappeared. Julie wants to be a nun.

Jerome Delay / AP

Orphans eat their lunch at the Don Bosco center, on June 18.

Jerome Delay / AP

Moises Munoka, 7, recounts the loss of his mother who died in 2013 after health complications from rapes, at the Children's voice center, on June 21.

Rape is a constant in Congo, where it has become a weapon of war. At the Children's Voice Virunga Centre, at least 30 children were born of rape. Though Moise never knew his own father, he knows that he was probably a fighter who raped his mother.

Jerome Delay / AP

Safina Gatuku, 10, left, and her sister Subiza, 8, sit in front of their room at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center, on June 19.

Abandoned by their father, they walked two days in the forest after their mother was killed by soldiers in 2009 before being picked-up by ICDC volunteers.

Jerome Delay / AP

Moise Bahati, 12, joins other street children in a prayer service at a Don Bosco safe house, on June 18.

Bahati, who left home fleeing from domestic violence, has been in the shelter for 5 months. " This is much better than home, I do not want to go back," he said.

Jerome Delay / AP

Jeannette Umutesi, 17, dances in the courtyard at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center, on June 19.

Born only a few years after Rwanda's 1994 genocide spilled into Congo and rebellions started forming, Jeannette has known only Congo's and her father's violence, displacement and death.

Jerome Delay / AP

Subiza Gatuku, sits in front of her room at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center, on June 19.

Jerome Delay / AP

Orphans wash their hands before eating their lunch at the Don Bosco center, on June 18.

Jerome Delay / AP

Damien Matata Bizi, 22, recounts his past as an orphan who became a child soldier, at the Don Bosco center, on June 20.

Damien became a rebel after his father, also an armed fighter, died. He was only 10 years old. "I was angry when I learned of my father's death. So I wanted to avenge my father, so I entered into the rebellion to fight," he said. "My mother could never pay for school, and we could never find money to pay for food so I thought this was best."

Jerome Delay / AP

Rachel Wanimigabo, 3, rests on a sign reading "respect the grass" at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center, on June 20.

Rachel's mother died giving birth to her youngest brother in April 2016. Her father disappeared.

Jerome Delay / AP

Orphaned children play on the soccer field at the Don Bosco center, on June 18.

Jerome Delay / AP

Jeannette Umutesi cries as she recalls fleeing her hometown of Kirolarwe in 2008, at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center, on June 19.

Armed fighters stormed her home, hit her in the leg with a shovel and nearly killed her sister. Her and her family subsequently fled and in the next village, she hid in a toilet enclosure for three days to save herself from another attack. For days, she heard gunshots and saw dead bodies, including that of her uncle. "I have so many nightmares now. So many nightmares," she says.

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Jerome Delay / AP