The child doing the washing appears to be a girl, indicated by the style of dress worn, a striped skirt over a pair of leg-warming pants and a pink sweater, but the child has no hair to give a clue as to actual gender or if the child has simply adopted articles of clothing as a means of keeping warm. The desolation of the space the children occupied as well as the unfriendly-seeming nature of the murky water illustrates the lack of sustenance they are provided in their home.
The photograph was taken by a traveling journalist working on a story about the desolation of Africa and its effect on its people. The clothing worn by the children could be said to be coordinated, but could also be said to be hodge-podge depending upon the view taken by the photographer. In ensuring only meager vegetation is included in the frame, the photographer provides the viewer with the impression that Africa has insufficient growing things to support the people who live there. The attempt to clean clothes in the muddy water highlights the hopelessness of the children’s situation. Just as the viewer is aware that nothing will ever become clean when rinsed in mud, so the connection is made that these children will never be properly cared for in a land that is incapable of providing for their needs, represented by the bare rocky bank. The image that it is a pair of young children at the streambed washing clothes indicates a world in which children do nothing but work to ensure their own survival and perhaps is intended to also suggest the devastation on families that the AIDS virus has had in removing parents from their children before the children are quite ready to fend for themselves. These children thus emerge as desolate in spirit and hope as the land seems desolate of drinkable water and vegetative food supplies.