Polio victims Aron Mahuka (L), 8, Singi Ndombasi (C), 4, and Prefina Nzuzi, 5, await therapy at the compound in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa July 2006. Handicapped, impoverished, often rejected or abandoned, and living in Africa's deadliest war zone, they should have little to celebrate. Instead, the lively "polio kids" offer an oasis of hope, unity and optimism in a vast country marked by despair.

Polio sufferer Raf Mamoni, 8, smiles at the Stand Proud compound in Congo's capital Kinshasa July 2006. The polio kids still smile, despite being thinly sheltered from the hostility outside their compound's cracked concrete walls and rusted green gate.

Children with polio play soccer in Goma in eastern Congo November 2008. Despite their polio-damaged legs, wrapped in casts or makeshift braces fashioned from scrap metal, the children dance enthusiastically to loud Congolese music or challenge visitors to madcap games of soccer.

Children afflicted by polio play in rainwater running off a roof at the Stand Proud compound in Congo's capital Kinshasa November 2006.

A child afflicted by polio lies by makeshift crutches and braces at the Stand Proud compound in Congo's capital Kinshasa November 2006.

PPolio sufferer Enoch Kanugu, 10, drags himself by his hands at the Stand Proud compound in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa July 2006.

A child afflicted by polio sits on his bed at the Stand Proud compound in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, November 2006. Run on a shoestring budget provided by donors and on slim profits from a small roadside bar, Stand Proud provides basic food and spartan shelter for its 100 children in a house bereft of furniture.

Lopez Vidal, 10, (2nd R), who is afflicted by polio and is also deaf, jokes around with another child Congo's capital Kinshasa November 2006. The centre also provides surgery to realign polio-damaged legs, allowing victims the chance to walk upright using braces.

Lopez Vidal (R), 10, who is afflicted by polio and is also deaf, tries to avoid bedtime, as does his friend, Aron Masahuka, 7, who has polio and autism, inside the Stand Proud compound in Congo's capital Kinshasa, November 2006. A few also have cerebral palsy or spasticity. Others, such as 10-year-old Lopez Vidal, are deaf. But even Lopez has created his own crude form of sign language and charms visitors with his good looks and winning smile.

Children afflicted by polio sleep on the floor inside the Stand Proud compound in Congo's capital Kinshasa November 2006. Most sleep curled together without blankets on hard tiles rubbed smooth by small bodies.

A child afflicted by polio enters a room at the Stand Proud compound in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa November 2006.