From the videographer: First time in Somalia

- Remi Bumstead

When you hear of Somalia in the media it is often tied with negative connotations: pirates; Al Shabbab; and famine. So when I got the call from Arete to create some videos for their clients World Food Programme and FAO in Somalia, I was very interested to find out what the stories would be like on the ground.

Camels in Somalia (Kevin Ouma / FAO)

In Somalia, livestock is key. The majority of people living outside of urban areas rely almost solely on livestock to survive, with cattle, goats, and camels being the key players. Not only do the people of Somalia use milk and meat for their personal consumption, the animals are bought and sold as their main form of currency; one of the main exports of Somalia is livestock. Animals are their lifeline.

In 2017, as Somalia was experiencing its second consecutive year of drought, livestock suffered greatly. Without pasture and water, they became weak. Disease and infection spread, and animals stopped producing milk; they became unsaleable, most of them died, and people’s assets with them. People had no money to purchase simple things like salt, to send their children to school, or to buy food. Somalia was on the brink of famine.

A Community Animal Health Worker treats animals in Gabilay Village, Somaliland (Kevin Ouma / FAO)

While working with FAO I saw first hand how their interventions brought people back from the brink of famine. Working through local organisations, FAO were able to set up initiatives to assist the local community to create water catchments, which funnelled and collect any rain into small dammed lakes. They did this via the ‘cash for work program’ which not only meant there was the creation of the water catchment, but also that people received an income when there was no other work.

A man helps to build a water catchment in Walalgo Village, Somaliland, as part of a Cash for Work programme (Kevin Ouma / FAO)

I spoke to many people who told me that this was a lifeline, helping them to buy food and ensure their children were healthy. Once the rains did come, the water collected in the catchments. The few animals that survived now had access to water, and the area around it also created pasture for their feed. It was amazing to see these catchments in this arid environment — especially when we got the drone up to take some footage! From all the people I spoke with while with FAO, it was clear to see that by addressing the needs of animals, they were able to address the needs of the people.

I also spent time with the World Food Programme, and it was inspiring to see first hand how their projects have helped people in response to the drought as well. WFP has historically undertaken food distribution in emergency contexts, although in recent years they have started to use voucher schemes or e-cash in order to distribute food. This entails topping up people’s cash cards, just like a pre-paid debit card, with money they can use to buy goods in local markets and shops. As a result, people are benefitting their local economy, and being given more choice in what they can buy.

Women show their SCOPE cards in Garowe, Somalia (Kevin Ouma / FAO)

In Somalia, phone use is high and mobile internet speeds are fast and relatively cheap. Additionally, people with phones tend to share them with family and friends, so even if someone doesn’t own a phone, most people have access to one. In response to this, World Food Programme have created a new platform building on the e-cash cards, developing it into an app and WFP e-shop. This app works in a similar way to many of our online shopping apps, allowing users to search for food products to buy from local shops and then having it delivered to their door.

A woman logs into the WFP app to shop for food (Kevin Ouma / FAO)

The e-shop works with the local stores, updating their stock on the app and showing the price of each item, allowing people to search the shops in their area to see what is available and at what price. Each month, World Food Programme adds people’s allowance onto the e-card, which syncs with the e-shop app. From the many people I spoke to about this programme, the recurring theme was how it has made their lives so much easier and allows them to spend their energy on more important things — like preparing for the next drought.

I learnt that Somalia is definitely not just pirates, Al Shabbab, and famine. I heard amazing stories while I was there, and seeing it was great to see how the World Food Programme and FAO projects are directly improving peoples lives.

About Remi

Remi Bumstead is videographer with 7 years of experience working internationally for a wide range of clients. Some of his clients include UNICEF, FAO, WFP, Restless Development and RedR. He has worked in a number of countries including Uganda, The Gambia, Samoa and India.

From the videographer: First time in Somalia was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ethos meets - Kate Holt

Arete is a unique storytelling agency, which works with NGOs, governments and charities, and sources and manages local experts in photography, video, digital and written content from around the world. Jack Atkins caught up with Arete’s founder, award winning photojournalist Kate Holt, to find out more about her process and ideologies…

Iraq — Warchild; A young boy sits on top of a truck containing his families belongings on the road to Mosul, Iraq Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. The exodus of civilians from the battleground northern Iraqi city of Mosul has reached an unprecedented level, leaving aid agencies struggling to cope. Nearly 1 million people have been displaced from Mosul since 2014 in the biggest battle since the second world war. Many are returning but everything has been destroyed and rebuilding will take years.

When do you consider your work on a story to be done?
It’s never really done is it. I always find it frustrating when I walk away from a story and think “Oh God I really should have asked this question” or I like at my set of pictures and think “Oh I really should have shot THAT bit” so I suppose you never really finish, and people’s stories are always unfinished stories aren’t they. I think when we’re striving to tell people’s stories it’s important to get as much information as possible that’s going to engage people with their lives.

What constitutes success; is it getting people talking and raising awareness, or is it direct action?
I think it’s both. A lot of storytelling, especially the type of stories we produce and write and photograph, are about raising awareness because once awareness is raised change happens. I don’t think change is quick, and I think change is very much about changing people’s attitudes, and that’s a much longer and harder journey.

How often do stories come to you, or do you go to them?
A mixture of both really, I have a lot of clients such as Unicef, UNHCR, World Food Programme, the Guardian, and sometimes they’ll come to me and say “right we want you to go out to Iraq and we want you to cover this story and we’ll give you a driver and a translator and you’ll work with our project out there” and I’ll do what they ask for. What I often find is that there’s a bit of a disconnect between people’s expectations and what can actually be produced, because really often the story is not what they think it’s going to be. I like being flexible in that situation, and I encourage my clients to be open minded about what the end result may be.

With regards to commercial work, how hard is it to balance the profitable side with the humanitarian side of the business?
It’s not actually, although I get paid for producing humanitarian stories… one of the things I’ve discovered is that no-one sets out to do a bad job. Particularly charities, UN agencies, government organisations, the likes of Save the Children, Oxfam etc., none of them set out to cause harm. Ultimately we’re all on the same journey, we all want to create a better space and a better place for people to live and work in. So although we get paid for what we do, I think it’s important to keep in mind that even if I see things or I’m asked to do things I don’t like or are unethical, no-one is actually setting out to be unethical.

Have you therefore found that any of your images have been bastardised, or reproduced in a way that skews the narrative?
Yes! All the time! *laughs* No, not all the time, but I’ve definitely had bigger clients who have sometimes manipulated images which has really upset me. But I think since the rise of social media and internet platforms it is much less common now, as people are more aware that they’ll be found out. Before when we were mainly dealing with print media it was a lot easier for people to do that, so I think now there is much a greater autonomous policing because of the internet.

Because you know there is now a lot more transparency within the media, has it effected how you view your work and how you approach stories?
I know now there will be open to a lot more criticism, a lot more scrutiny, and I think that is really healthy for journalists, as I think it’s important that conversations are opened up and that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I think someone like me, I have a lot of experience working in different countries and it’s important that I make people aware that my opinions aren’t coming out of thin air, but a lot of my opinions come from experience out of long periods of time spent in difficult places. I think the internet is a really valuable tool, as you can do a lot more research into a subject as a result of the internet than you ever could before.

So how much do you find yourself relying on the internet for research, or do you still find the most valuable information from the people at the coalface?
To be honest when I go on assignment I do minimal research *laughs* I tend to do it post or when I’m in the field. I quite like arriving at places with fresh eyes and haven’t read to much into a brief or around the history of somewhere, because it’s amazing what you hear that you hadn’t really thought you’d hear. It’s really important to do first hand research and understand things from a personal perspective.

With you work with Arete how do you measure your success? Is it in seeing graduates work reaching high platforms, or is it in finding out the good in which they are applying their skills?
There’s two things. One thing we do with Arete is we do produce content. I find it hugely satisfying when we manage to produce content, or a film, or photos that have launched big campaigns — last year we did all the film and photography and footage for the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal in East Africa. We managed to produce that content within a week, that was a huge logistical operation, and it was hugely satisfying when that appeal was launched — I think they raised 45 million off the back of the photos and content we produced. That was very satisfying.

We’ve launched Christmas appeals as well, which is hugely satisfying when you see how much leverage and money that makes. But for me personally, the most satisfying thing is training. I really enjoy being able to tell other people what I do, how I do it, and how they can be better at it.

Seeing the myriad horrors you must have encountered across your career, how do you unwind? Is it a case of switching off as soon as you finish working, or do you try and capture positive images even though they may never be used?
There’s always a light-hearted side to a story. I just got back from South Sudan where I photographed a project for Plan International. We were doing a whole story about teenage girls in early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and it was all quite depressing. But within that I went to look for photos of the girls with their favourite item of clothing because teenage girls all over the world are quite similar *laughs* Within that project I managed to find something light-hearted, in order to break-up what was… not a monotonous photoshoot, but it was a photoshoot where I think quite a lot of the images people would have seen before and I wanted to make it quite different; you’re looking for difference within difficult stories.

Do you ever take those light-hearted photos just to ease the situation, and have you ever found that they’ve changed the story completely?
It’s never changed a story completely, but I think those happy accidents are important for connecting people, so rather than showing people doom and gloom and horror all the time I think it’s important to show them something different so they don’t switch off completely, and to attempt to build a bridge between really difficult situations and the life we lead back in the UK. I think that’s a really important side of what I do.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or exhibitions you have planned?
In terms of exhibitions I had an exhibition about South Sudan in London in June, and that was about teenage girls in South Sudan and the impact of war and drought and food insecurity on their lives. I took part in the Eye Festival in Wales in October, where I did portfolio reviews and taught people how to tell stories. I’m also always running workshops about photography, video, ethical content gathering. Really I’m focusing a lot of my training on moving people away from this sort of image of Africa, and the Middle East, and other war torn countries, moving people away from that concept of ‘poverty porn’ and just more of a positive narrative rather than something negative.

All images courtesy of Kate Holt/Arete. Used with permission.
Read more about the work of Kate and Arete
And see more of Kate’s work in our
Ethos issue 08 photo feature

Originally published at

Ethos meets - Kate Holt was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.