The human face of the drought

The human face of the drought

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Adérito Bie, CARE Mozambique

“I have never used a camera before, and I have neither seen myself in a photo or in a mirror”, was one of the first things volunteer Rita said to me when I started my training on photography and storytelling in a small village close to Funhalouro, in the South of Mozambique. Despite this lack of experience she was nonetheless keen to participate in the photo project “Through the lens of hunger”, where we asked seven CARE community volunteers to move behind the lens. Their goal was to show the world how they and their communities are affected by the current drought in Mozambique.

I work for CARE’s Emergency team in Mozambique, and for the past months I have met mothers who fear their children might die because they don’t have enough to eat; I have spoken to fathers who travel far from their homes to find work to feed their families; and I saw girls cry because they fear to drop out of school, spending their days fetching water and selling firewood. But as aid workers we only see glimpses of people’s ordeals, nothing compared to experiences of people directly affected by this crisis. With our photography project “Through the lens of hunger” we wanted to hear their own stories, to know how they and their communities are affected by this worst drought in 35 years, and also how they work together to overcome their hardships. The CARE volunteers who participated suffer themselves from food shortages and hunger. But yet they spend their time counselling and supporting families in their communities on health care, nutrition and hygiene.

During the training, the volunteers learnt how to use cameras, some basics about lighting, perspective and storytelling. It was my first time training people who had never taken a photograph before or used any sort of technology, and I worked hard to explain it in a way that was easy to understand. The volunteers were very keen and interested, but when we went back to collect the stories and photos a week after the training, I was unsure what to expect.

When we finally transferred the photos from the camera to the computer, I could hardly believe my eyes at their quality. I was deeply touched by the talent and creativity of the volunteers. All of them managed to capture unique and personal insights into their daily lives and how the drought has affected their communities, themselves personally and their work as a volunteer. Each of them decided on a different, individual focus. Raulina for example shows 10-year-old Filani’s long and difficult search for water and João tells the story of how he works with his community to prevent people falling ill.

Rita, a volunteer for three years, talks about the difficulties she experiences in her work since the beginning of the drought: “I have all the knowledge about wild fruits and leaves, how to prepare them and what a diet for young children should look like. But the ideal of having three meals a day is unfortunately only useful in theory right now. My own granddaughter cries because she is hungry and we can simply not provide her with enough food.” But despite her own suffering, she continues her support for others. “Older women and girls need our help the most”, she explained, determined to make changes happen, even during difficult times. Similarly, João told me: “I was trained to be a volunteer by CARE and I will continue as long as there will be a need for me.”

All of the volunteers are determined to share with the world how they and their communities are fighting against the drought and its impact on education, food security and health. I hope that many people will stop seeing El Niño and the drought as something abstract, and start seeing the situation through the eyes of the volunteers. I hope that the international community urgently steps up its efforts for millions of people in need in Southern Africa, and supports women and men like Rita, Raulina and João in their ceaseless efforts to help their communities survive.