2021, a Year in Review: Small Changes with Big Impact

“A small change can make a big difference. You are the only one who can make our world a better place to inhabit. So, don’t be afraid to take a stand.”

- Ankita Singhal, Author

After another unpredictable year of negotiating obstacles, facing difficulties and sometimes learning to accept defeats, we highlight some of the little victories we have seen that have had resounding impacts on people’s lives.

Telling these stories highlights the incredible work of the charities and NGOs we work alongside. They are an antidote to the defeatism and apathy that are daily threats in a world where information flows like a relentless tide and the next set-back can often feel like it’s just around the corner.

Every individual life we touch is a success, every life changed for the better is a major achievement. Amongst vast statistics and global issues, it’s important to remember that every sweeping systemic change consists of thousands of smaller stages along the way. We continue to tell these important stories to remind us that everything we can do is worth doing and that small changes can have big impacts — sometimes far beyond our expectations…

Opportunity International — Roots of Change

Lisa Murray / Opportunity International / Arete. Chantal, 51, harvests Cassava Leaves on her farm in Kinshasa’s Kimwenza District.

Chantal is just one of thousands of women who have benefited from Opportunity International’s 3-year Roots of Change project. Roots of Change, which came to its conclusion in 2021, aimed to empower women in rural Ghana and DRC by improving their status in their communities, giving them access to modern farming techniques and resources, helping them to have more control over their assets and strengthening their leadership skills. The project exceeded its targets and trained more than 15,000 women, with over 12,000 opening savings accounts.

Lisa Murray / Opportunity International / Arete. Chantal, 51, harvests Aubergines on her farm in Kinshasa’s Kimwenza District.

“With this project, I’ve been able to pay for the school fees for my firstborn; she’s going on a trip to Cyprus soon to further her studies.”

Foundational skills and equipment have brought these small fruits of labour to Chantal, whose daughters have, in turn, been empowered to build their own skills and travel abroad — spreading the impacts of the project across generations. With access to education assured, the young women can build on their positions in their communities and further equip themselves to be the leaders of tomorrow.

FAO Project — Laasqoray

FAOSA / Arete / Isak Amin. Beneficiary Deeqa Osman’s son holds a lamb in Garabis village.

FAOSA / Arete / Isak Amin. Deeqa Osman, 40, mother of 8, in her home in Garabis village

The potentially devastating effects of drought have been softened for Deeqa and her son by integrated cash and precious agricultural training, supplies and activities from The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) who provide emergency support and training programmes for local communities in Somalia affected by drought.

“We thank God for this help as it is the only thing that enables us to buy everything we need… I am telling everyone who is in the programme to benefit from it and not to waste the opportunity. My plans for the future are to develop my farm with the money I receive and to work hard.”

- Deeqa Osman

FAOSO / Arete / Isak Amin. Goats stand in a field at a farm near Badhan, Somalia.

These milk storage containers were donated by the FAO. Very small, simple pieces of equipment, that can have a critical impact; allowing communities to store and distribute more goat milk when it is available, keeping thirst at bay through periods of drought.

Open Government Partnership

Launched by the UN in 2011, The Open Government Partnership now has a membership of 79 countries and a growing number of local governments, representing more than two billion people, along with thousands of civil society organisations. It promotes accountable, responsive, inclusive governance.

Carina Bruwer / Open Government Partnership / Arete. Zukiswa works on her computer at Rhodes University in South Africa.

At Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, Zukiswa works on a user-friendly online platform to house national and provincial budgetary information, expenditures, and learning resources for citizens.

Using technology to link governments and their citizens can help build bonds of trust and empower normal people to make informed democratic decisions and perhaps bring about political changes which could have wider national and international ramifications.

“The idea behind this online budget data portal, is that it’s supposed to be really accessible to anyone, even people who aren’t economists or budget analysts. It’s intended to have lots of resources for learning, videos in different languages — 5 different languages. It also allows those who are more budget analysts to be able to access that kind of data and access that information to do their own analysis of public finance information. So it’s a wide range of users that we’ve targeted, but at the centre of it, it’s to make all budgets open and accessible for anyone, anyone at all.”

– Zoliswa Kota, Public Service Accountability Monitor, Makhanda, Eastern Cape

Jhpieigo — Malawi

Karel Prinsloo / Jhpiego / Arete. Queen holds her backpack, standing in front of a small group of schoolchildren in Malawi.

Queen receives school supplies from Jhpiego. She dropped out of school due to pregnancy while in Standard 8 / Grade 10 to take care of her child. She lost hope of having a brighter future for herself and child until the DREAMS programme established a Go Girls Club in her community. Queen has now completed the primary and secondary package of DREAMS and is pursuing a career in nursing.

Jhpiego responds to the HIV epidemic with innovative ways of supporting vulnerable populations. Investing in one school bag for someone like Queen can go some way towards making them feel worth investing in, it can help to reignite their hope for a better life — driving them towards fantastic achievements like Queen’s. By following a path of education, self-improvement and career, Queen provides a role model for others in similar situations. Promoting education has a key role to play in increasing the uptake and availability of preventative tools and treatments and ensuring the cultural/social changes needed to tackle the epidemic long-term.

EM2030

Clair Macdougall / EM2030 / Arete. Wendyam gives a presentation on gender sensitivity training.

Equal Measures 2030 is an independent civil society and private sector-led partnership that envisions a world where gender equality is achieved, every girl and woman counts and is counted.

EM2030 have provided opportunities for people like Wendyam Micheline Kaboré, Executive Director of Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-être de la Femme, to conduct gender sensitivity training with male NGO heads in Burkina Faso, who will in turn train their staff.

Training the heads of NGOs in gender sensitivity begins a chain of dispersion, whereby gender considerations begin to drip down and eventually touch all parts of society.

EM2030 are mapping and compiling data relevant to the education of girls and women in the unstable context of Burkina Faso — where violence has disproportionately affected women and education for women has come under attack. With data outputs they are undertaking advocacy with key stakeholders on the critical role of data driven advocacy in driving change on girls’ education.

In partnership with EM2030, Initiative Pananetugri pour la Bien-être de la Femme (IPBF) (the Pananetugri Initiative for the Well-being of Women) focuses on developing female leadership and empowerment, especially among young women and girls.

YBI

Oktavia Ika Rahman, a 27 year old female entrepreneur, poses for a photo next to her business’s poster at her home in North Jakarta, Indonesia.

Oktavia is a 27-year-old entrepreneur who sells homemade food from her home in Jakarta. She is just one of the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of the Youth Business International COVID Rapid Response and Recovery programme, funded by Google, which is supporting over 200,000 businesses in 32 countries. Thanks to YBI, Oktavita has been able to start selling food online. That way, she was able to work and take care of her children.

Arete / Yunaidi Joepoet / Youth Business International. Oktavia takes photos of her homemade food.

By providing the relatively small tools required to facilitate the transition of small businesses like Oktavia’s to the online space, the project softens the blow of the pandemic on the wider economy, also future-proofing businesses for the post COVID world, accelerating their modernisation and making them more competitive.

UNICEF — Somalia

UNICEF / Arete / Ismail Taxta. 9-year-old Hani holds up a learning aid in a classroom in Somalia.

Hani is one of the beneficiaries of a recent project by UNICEF and WFP, investing in the improvement of school facilities and the provision of school meals in the Banadir region. This project has been supported by a generous contribution from the German government, which has enabled UNICEF and WFP to provide safer, healthier schooling environments, more conducive to learning.

A healthy contribution from the German government makes a big difference and it’s important to remember the small instances where it is spent.

The ingredients for a safe, effective classroom environment are taken for granted by so many children around the world. They are incredibly simple, but equally, they are of vital importance. Access to simple resources can ensure education for the next generation in Somalia, and the students of today will grow up to be the decision-makers of tomorrow — equipping and empowering them could be the key to a hopeful future in the region.

Costa Foundation — Zambia

Arete / Karel Prinsloo / Costa Foundation. Eunice Chowa (18) in the dormitory at the Peas Kabuta Secondary School supported by the Costa foundation in Kabuta.

“My favourite teacher is Madame Musonda because she always encourages me to work hard so that I can achieve my goals. She teaches civic education. I also do computer training here, we all learn how to type… My dream for the future is to become an accountant, I want a nice house, and also to be a peace maker. I feel bad when I find people quarrelling about different things.”

- Eunice Chowa, Student at Peas Kabuta Secondary School, 18

The Costa foundation supports schools in coffee-growing communities in remote areas of Zambia — providing inclusive, accessible, quality education.

Arete / Karel Prinsloo / Costa Foundation. Pupils attend an ICT class at the Peas Kampinda Secondary School supported by the Costa Foundation in Kasama.

Computers hold boundless potential for students in the most remote places in the world, narrowing the obstacles of long-distance and national borders to open up a world of possibilities. Every computer can ignite an interest that could lead to a lifetime of success.

UWS Cambodia

WFP / Arete / Cesar Lopez. Chea, 10, goes to school near his home in Kompong Songkae village, Preah Vhear Province, Cambodia.

Most rural, ethnic-minority communities in Cambodia do not have access to the national education system as the national curriculum does not cater for minority languages. United World Schools works with local communities to provide access to an inclusive, accessible, quality education in children’s mother tongues.

The project begins to close the gap between minorities in isolated rural populations in Cambodia and those in urban areas. In the long term, it could contribute to altering the balance of society towards a system where a high-quality education isn’t reserved for people from certain places speaking certain languages.

For charities and NGOs, currently facing so many obstacles to their daily work, telling the stories of the little changes that make big differences to people’s lives has never been so important.

Our award-winning journalists, photographers and content specialists are eager to help you make a difference. Contact us to find out how we can tailor our expertise to meet your needs.


World AIDS DAY 2021: History by the headlines

A history of the headlines around HIV/AIDS since 1981

Photo: Quinn Mattingly/ Frontline AIDS/ Arete.

World Aids Day was first observed on December 1, 1988.

The intention was to bring greater awareness to HIV — the virus behind AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and honour all those affected by the killer disease.

This annual event has now become the longest-running disease awareness initiative in the history of public health.

Over its 34-year life span representations of HIV/AIDS and those suffering from it have morphed almost unrecognisably.

Since it first emerged, AIDs has been controversial — surrounded by scientific inaccuracy, social stigma and moral panic. This article tracks changes in public discourse in the west through a sample of headlines in the mainstream US and UK media from 1981 — when AIDS first appeared in US news reports — to the frenetic alarmism of the British tabloids in the mid-80s — to the emergence of some positive representation in the 90’s — through to the more global, factual, solutions journalism witnessed in the new millennium.

Photo: Kate Holt/ Jphiego/ Guardian/ Arete. Matwsie Serati who is HIV positive and taking ARV’s sits on her bed looking through photographs of her brothers and sisters who have died in Maseuru, Lesotho. Matwsie had five brothers and sisters who have died, three from TB and one from confirmed HIV who left four children behind. Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world with twenty six percent of adults being HIV positive and nearly 5000 people dying last year from AIDs. Poverty, lack of education and alcohol abuse are contributing factors. Jhpiego is supporting many initiatives to combat this including project to encourage people to use PrEP.

This account highlights the progress made through the years while facing up to shameful misinformation and prejudice spread by the media. If we are to address the present and future of the global AIDS situation, we need to understand the nature of the narrative that has gone before.

As early as 1983 — even while the virus was far from understood — it was clear AIDS was a global issue. Studies had shown that the virus was present in Africa long before its emergence in the West and that it was largely transmitted through heterosexual sex. Despite this, for years narratives became dominated by homophobia, victim-blaming and racism.

There have been myths about its origins in bestiality, misinformation about transmission, even beliefs that AIDS is somehow God’s punishment for sin, and on top of that flat-out denialism!

Sufferers were turned into modern-day lepers.

As we move through this timeline, it is clear to see the progression in how stories around HIV/AIDS are reported.

1981

2 Mysterious Diseases Killing Homosexuals

  • The Washington Post

‘It may be that both are piggybacking on the severe breakdown of the immune system in these men… But why only men? Why only homosexuals? And why in healthy men who had no apparent challenges to their immune systems?’

1983

US Gay Blood Plague Kills Three in Britain

  • The Sun

April 1984

New U.S Report Names Virus That May Cause AIDS

  • The New York Times

‘…the finding led the American researchers to express the hope that a vaccine would be developed and ready for testing ‘in about two years.’

October 1984

AIDS Studies Hint Saliva May Transmit Infection

  • The New York Times

‘…researchers said in interviews yesterday that they are convinced the studies raise real public health concerns.’

January 1985

Britain Threatened by gay virus plague

  • The Mail on Sunday

February 1985

It’s spreading like wildfire.

  • The Sun

July 1985

Hudson has AIDS, spokesman says

  • The New York Times

[Actor Rock Hudson becomes first major public figure to announce he has AIDS — he died in October later that year]

‘Asked how the actor acquired the disease, which most frequently strikes homosexuals, intravenous drug users and recipients of blood transfusions, Miss. Collart said, ”He doesn’t have any idea now how he contracted AIDS. Nobody around him has AIDS.”’

1986

“I’d shoot my son if he had AIDS”, says Vicar

– The Sun

‘…to make his point, the Rev Robert Simpson climbed a hill behind his church and aimed a shotgun at his 18-year-old son Chris.’

1987

Don’t Die of Ignorance

[UK AIDS Awareness Campaign featuring actor John Hurt airs in cinemas and on television]

While still alarmist, this campaign is said to have been a turning point in acknowledging the fact that “anyone can get it”, rather than blaming the homosexual population.

1988

[1st World AIDS Day to bring awareness to HIV, as well as to commemorate those affected by the disease]

1989

Diana opens Landmark Aids Centre

  • BBC

‘The Princess of Wales has opened a new Aids centre in south-east London.

She gave director Jonathan Grimshaw — diagnosed HIV positive five years ago — a firm handshake before going inside the Landmark Centre in Tulse Hill for a private tour.

This was the first attempt to de-stigmatise the condition by a high-profile member of the Royal Family’

1990

Ryan White dies of AIDS at 18; his struggle helped pierce myths

  • The New York Times

‘Ryan, a haemophiliac who contracted the virus through a blood transfusion, died of complications of AIDS… publicity helped pierce myths about AIDS, helping health experts and educators emphasise that it is not transmitted by casual contact, that it affects people from many walks of life and that although always fatal, the infection leaves many people able to continue normal lives for years.

Ryan White became a household name in 1985, when as a 14-year-old he began his successful fight to attend the public school in Kokomo that had banned him amid a clamor of fearful students and their parents.’

1991

Basketball; Magic Johnson Ends His Career, Saying He Has AIDS Infection

  • The New York Times

‘Magic Johnson, one of the most popular and accomplished players in basketball history, said today that he had been infected by the virus that causes AIDS and that he would retire immediately from the Los Angeles Lakers…’

February 12, cover of Time

Cover: WALTER IOOSS JR.

[Johnson made his announcement live on CNN, and specifically said he did not have AIDS, but had contracted the HIV virus — despite this the press still widely reported the former to be true. Notwithstanding, HIV now had a high-profile heterosexual African American spokesperson who would prove to do positive work to change perceptions about the virus. Two weeks later Freddie Mercury announced he had contracted the virus and the next day became the first high profile British figure to die from AIDS related illness]

1993

Healthy, Gay, Guilt-Stricken: AIDS’ Toll on the Virus-Free

  • The New York Times

‘At age 40, Jaffe Cohen says he feels “older than everybody else.” After stalking his circle of friends for more than a decade, AIDS has snatched and killed dozens of his contemporaries and left him with such a backlog of grief that sometimes when he is listening to music or relaxing under a hot shower he startles himself by letting out a sob.’

1996

[The Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) was established to advocate for global action on the epidemic and coordinate the response to HIV and AIDS across the UN]

1998

Clinton Declares Crisis Among Minorities

  • USA Today

‘SWAT teams of public health experts, AIDS specialists, epidemiologists and other federal health officials will design and implement education, outreach and treatment programs in minority communities with a high incidence of HIV or AIDS. One third of the funding will go toward substance abuse programs and protease inhibitors while the remainder will go to developing new strategies for preventing the spread of AIDS.’

2001

Drugs firms withdraw from Aids case

  • BBC

‘The world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have backed out of a landmark court battle over cheap, non-branded anti-Aids drugs.

The 39 firms had brought legal action to fight legislation which would allow generic versions of their patented drugs being made in or imported to South Africa… However, the South African Government argued that it desperately needed cheap medication to help the 4.7 million South Africans infected with HIV or Aids.’

2003

Flirting with Death: the UK’s First AIDS ‘Cluster’

  • The Independent

‘After 20 years of public-health campaigns about Aids, it seems that complacency is setting in. And nowhere more so than among heterosexuals, many of whom still believe that Aids is something that should concern gays, drug-users and Africans, but not them. They are wrong. In 1999, heterosexually acquired, new cases of HIV overtook homosexually acquired infection for the first time in the UK.’

June 2004

Bush Backs Condom Use to Prevent Spread of AIDS

– The New York Times

‘President Bush said on Wednesday for the first time that the United States should ”learn from the experience” of countries like Uganda in fighting AIDS and embraced the use of condoms to prevent its spread, a sensitive issue among conservative groups that have fought the adoption of any strategy that does not focus on abstinence.’

September 2004

Europe Unites for New Aids Battle

  • BBC

‘The conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, heard calls for European leaders to do more to fight Aids, described by one as “the silent plague of our times”.’

2006

‘Out of Control: AIDS in Black America’

– abc news.

‘As the world marked the 25th anniversary of the first reported cases of AIDS this summer, one important story was mostly ignored: AIDS is an epidemic in the African American community and it’s spreading fast.’

2007

Circumcision cuts by half the risk of Aids

  • The Times

‘Circumcising adult men may cut by half their risk of getting the HIV-Aids virus through heterosexual intercourse, the US Government announced yesterday as it concluded two studies in Africa testing the link.’

2008

Britons may be more vulnerable to Aids due to Roman invasion

– The Telegraph

‘Researchers found that people who live in lands conquered by the Roman army have less protection against HIV than those in countries they never reached

They say a gene which helps make people less susceptible to HIV occurs in greater frequency in areas of Europe that the Roman Empire did not stretch to.’

September 2009

AIDS vaccine “important step” against disease

– Reuters

‘An experimental AIDS vaccine made from two failed products has protected people for the first time, reducing the rate of infection by about 30 percent, researchers said on Thursday.’

December 2009

Killer Syndrome: The Aids Denialists

– The Independent

‘In the first week of November, a record number of Aids denialists from 28 countries, including Britain, attended the Rethinking Aids conference in Oakland, California.’

2010

Vatican shifts ground on condoms, HIV, conception

  • NBC news

‘In a seismic shift on one of the most profound — and profoundly contentious — Roman Catholic teachings, the Vatican said that condoms are the lesser of two evils when used to curb the spread of AIDS, even if their use prevents a pregnancy.’

2011

World Aids Day: Victory is within reach, but cuts could spoil it all

  • The Independent

‘Just as Obama announces ‘the beginning of the end’ for Aids, funding is being slashed.’

2013

End of AIDS a worthy legacy for Obama

  • USA Today

‘In his State of the Union Address, President Obama stated with confidence that the promise of an AIDS-free generation is within our reach. Scientists and HIV/AIDS experts agree…’

July 2014

Aids epidemic under control by 2030 ‘is possible’

– BBC

‘There is a chance the Aids epidemic can be brought under control by 2030, according to a report by the United Nations Aids agency.’

July 2014

Decriminalise sex work to help control Aids pandemic, scientists demand

– The Guardian

Photo: Kate Holt/ Jphiego/ Guardian/ Arete. Makananelo Mochasane, who is a sex worker, walks along the side of the road at night to get customers in Maseuru Lesotho. Makananelo is HIV positive and taking ARV’s. Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world with twenty six percent of adults being HIV positive. Jhpiego is supporting many initiatives to combat this including a project to encourage people to use PrEP.

2016

Gay or Bisexual Black Men Have 50 Percent Risk of HIV

  • NBC News

‘The average American has just a 1 percent risk of ever being infected with the AIDS virus, but gay and bisexual black men have a 50 percent risk.’

2018

HIV hairdresser Daryll Rowe handed life sentence

  • Sky News

‘Daryll Rowe faces life in jail for ‘deliberate campaign’ to infect men he met on the gay dating app Grindr.’

2019

UK ‘on course’ to be HIV-free nation by 2030 — as rates fall to lowest level in two decades

  • The Sun

‘New diagnoses fell by just over a quarter from 6,721 in 2015 to 4,484 last year, Public Health England said.’

2020

In This Pandemic, Personal Echoes of the AIDS Crisis

  • The New York Times

‘Are the parallels in the nature of the viruses, or just an old story about America that had never changed?’

2021

Women Living with HIV share their stories

– Daily Mail

‘Women reveal what it’s REALLY like to live with HIV including missing out on having children and hiding it for years due to shame — but say they’re ‘left out of the narrative’ because it’s seen as a “gay man’s disease”’

Unravelling the history of the western media’s complex relationship with AIDS can be disturbing. But this World AIDS Day, UNAIDS is highlighting uncomfortable economic, social, cultural and legal inequalities which must be ended urgently if we are to end HIV transmissions by 2030.

This stark reminder of the social and cultural obstacles activism has already overcome, of the inequalities that led to the marginalisation of people affected by the virus, and clear evidence of how changed perceptions changed headlines offers hope. IF we keep telling stories in a thoughtful and positive way, we can effect real change in attitudes toward HIV/AIDS.

Photo: Quinn Mattingly/ Frontline AIDS/ Arete. A close-up shows a thank you note to Doan Thanh Tung (31), Lighthouse Executive Director, adorns a shelf at their clinic in Hanoi, Vietnam. Frontline AIDS, in partnership with the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), has provided emergency COVID-19 grants to community-based organisations such as Lighthouse, a Vietnam-based community organisation that helps individuals most affected by HIV.

This article may have illustrated some progress around reporting and understanding of HIV/AIDS in some parts of the world. However, there is still some way to go in many other areas around the globe.

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World AIDS DAY 2021: History by the headlines was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Smartphone photography — Is a Smartphone all you need?

Smartphone photography — Is a Smartphone all you need?

Or is the humble DLSR still required?

As the well-used photographer aphorism goes: “The best camera is the one you have with you”. Yet, if you had a choice, is a smartphone all you need?

Photography is at the heart of every story we tell here at Arete. We tell stories with the intent to evoke emotion, to invoke action. Therefore how an image is perceived is paramount.

Without a doubt, the quality of the camera on the average smartphone has increased hugely in recent years; however, if you are a storyteller, be it an NGO, business or photojournalist, is there a time and place for smartphone photography or does the DSLR camera still reign supreme?

In this month’s Arete’s Stories, we broached this subject with two photographers who work in the field, Ishaq Ali Anis, and Anthony Upton:

Ishaq Ali Anis

Born in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan, Ishaq spent a number of years living as a refugee in Pakistan, before returning to Kabul in Afghanistan in 2012 to pursue higher education, enrolling at Kabul University to study photography.

Since graduation in 2016, Ishaq has worked with a variety of organisations as a photographer, such as the Afghanistan Photographers Association. Ishaq is an award-winning photographer, taking first prize in the Silk Road Photo Competition in Korea and Kazakhstan, and selected among the top 30 photos in the UNESCO Biennial Photos Competition and Photo Exhibition.

More recently, Ishaq documented his escape from Afghanistan to France following the Taliban takeover, which you can read in our From the Photographer blog here: https://aretegazette.com/2021/10/06/my-escape-from-kabul/

Ishaq, what do you tend to use for photography, a smartphone or a DSLR?

“The most recent story I documented was the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Whereas I would usually opt for my d600 NIKON DSLR camera, I chose to use only my smartphone on this occasion, as my camera is quite large and obvious.

Photo: Ishaq Ali Anis. Taken with a DSLR. Ziarat-e Sakhi is one of the landmarks of Kabul and every year, people on the first day of the year come together to celebrate the new year in this mosque. 2016 Kabul, Afghanistan

It was a very chaotic time in Afghanistan, and things were getting worse by the day. I wanted to capture the story, but I also feared for my life. In public, people in Afghanistan would not react well to a camera, so instead, I used my smartphone to take photos more discreetly.

For me, it was important this situation was recorded; I knew these photos would be a part of our history. Everything is changing.

I witnessed many journalists being targeted, and I heard many reports too. But, everyone has a smartphone these days, so I knew it wouldn’t create much suspicion if a young man is seen with a smartphone.

In Afghanistan, most people do not consider that someone with just a smartphone could be a photographer, so it helped me capture the story covertly.”

Photo: Ishaq Ali Anis. Taken with a DSLR. An old man working in the old Kabul City “Murad Khani” Kabul, Afghanistan 2015

So would you choose to use a smartphone in the future over a DSLR?

“To be honest, I do like using a smartphone. It is very easy and very handy, and because you are connected to the internet, once you take a photo, you can immediately start editing it, captioning it, and send it to the cloud.

When I was in Afghanistan, a lot of my friends were photographers for different agencies. They would often solely use smartphones, particularly for news. A DSLR doesn’t compare for immediate and urgent online news stories. You can send the photos or videos from the scene immediately. So I would say smartphone photography has improved journalism in this way.

Photo: Ishaq Ali Anis. Taken with a smartphone. Portrait of Mehrad, 2, an Afghan boy. Kabul, Afghanistan. 2020

However, what can be very disappointing, is lacking the versatility to take the different shots that a DSLR gives you. You can’t use a photo lens, which means you can’t zoom without using digital zoom and digital zoom destroys the quality.

It is important if I want to sell or exhibit my photos that they are captured in the best possible way. So for me, I like to use a mixture of both my smartphone and my DSLR camera, using each for the advantages they provide. A smartphone really doesn’t compare quality-wise. But it did allow me to at least capture something versus maybe nothing.

Photo: Ishaq Ali Anis. Taken with a smartphone. Children play in a back street in Hazara Town area in Quetta, Pakistan 2021

In the future, I hope for smartphones to improve in camera quality. It would be so useful and handy to be able to use something so small and discreet when documenting stories!”

Anthony Upton

Anthony has been an editorial photographer since 1990, starting in local papers and within a year graduating to British national newspapers, working for seven years at The Times of London before setting up a photo agency concentrating on sports marketing.

After seven successful years, Anthony returned to his editorial roots, freelancing for The Daily Telegraph and NGOs such as the UNICEF, TRUK and the British Red Cross, while maintaining a strong roster of corporate clients and thinktanks who require photos destined for publication in the media.

During this time, Anthony has volunteered as an Emergency Responder for the British Red Cross and worked in the logistics cell for UNWRA.

Can a good photographer make up for a poor quality camera?

“An experienced photographer brings so much more than their knowledge about how to use a camera to a photographic commission. For one, they’ll have a range of technical solutions to suit the different environments in which they work.

However, their greatest asset is their ability to see storytelling moments within each situation. Everybody is looking at the same event, and most won’t see what the photographer sees; it is the photographer’s job to distil from the multiple possible vignettes, the ones which convey the message to tell the story of the event.

Photo: Anthony Upton. General Views of the Cisco; Intel and Cohesity evening event in Barcelona.

Gone are the days when a photographer needed to capture everything in one photo, however even with online galleries, every photo needs to support the others and tell the viewer the story behind the photos — to explain the narrative.

Sometimes the photographer will welcome the greater creative options available with a dedicated camera, and sometimes the small size and immediacy of the smartphone will be the correct tool for the job.

It is part of the photographer’s pre-job planning to understand which will serve them better, alongside dealing with the logistical problems associated with the job.

And of course, the most important part of being a photographer is the ability to connect with the subject and treat them with dignity no matter the subject’s circumstances.”

And how about purely from a technical perspective?

“A DSLR Wide and Long Lens give creative options and low light capabilities that a smartphone simply cannot do. ISO agnostic sensors mean that more detail is available in both highlight and shadow areas of the image. This level of quality is what a professional is expected to provide.

There are further advantages to using a DSLR, such as using an off-camera flash rather than relying on low powered internal flashes.

Photo: Anthony Upton. The London Ballet Company performs ‘Poppy’ at the Bridewell Theatre in central London. The ballet commemorates the soldiers who fought in WW1 and the subsequent wars ahead of Remembrance Sunday.

The advanced sensors in a DSLR allow for better colour grading in post-production, which leads to photographs with huge file sizes when they are uploaded to a digital device, but an unrivalled level of detail and quality.

Using a viewfinder in bright light is far easier than a phone screen, and it provides three points of contact for greater stability.

What the smartphone lacks in technical prowess, it makes up for in discreetness. People see a smartphone as non-threatening as they are much more used to seeing them. In the analogue film days, we would carry a little point and shoot pocket camera to carry out this job. The smartphone has replaced this, so it will always have a place in the camera bag.”

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At Arete we source and manage local experts in photography, video, digital and written content from around the world to help you tell stories that make a difference.

Contact us to find out how we can help you make an impact through exceptional storytelling and targeted communications strategies


Smartphone photography — Is a Smartphone all you need? was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Arete’s Stories: Documenting a changing world; how reporting on the climate crisis impacts…

Arete’s Stories: Documenting a changing world; how reporting on the climate crisis impacts journalists’ mental health with Siegfried Modola & Aaron Palabyab

Photo: Siegfried Modola. A girl gestures during torrential rain in Chakmarkul, part of the refugee camp sheltering over 800,000 Rohingya refugees, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Children are the most vulnerable to waterborne diseases, and there are more than 100,000 of them at risk during flooding.

COP26 is coming to Glasgow on the 31st of October, and with it, the eyes of the world as the UN brings together world leaders to discuss and align on climate change action.

Around the world, storms, floods and wildfires are intensifying. Air pollution is affecting the health of tens of millions of people and unpredictable weather Is causing untold damage to homes and livelihoods.

In the lead up to the 26th Conference of the Parties, we sat down with two of our photographers that have spent years documenting natural disasters. We sought to discuss how, as environmentalists, they handle the personal and emotional weight of photographing worsening climate events year after year, how they justify what they do in light of climate grief and journalistic burnout, and more.

We start with Siegfried Modola…

Siegfried Modola is a Kenya raised independent Italian/British photojournalist and documentary photographer focusing on social, humanitarian and geopolitical events worldwide. He is based between Nairobi and Paris.

Siegfried has reported in over a dozen countries across Africa and worked in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America, and regularly contributes to news agencies such as Reuters and humanitarian organisations such as UNICEF, UNHCR and others via Arete. His photographs have appeared in some of the most prominent international publications such as Time, the New York Times, L’Express, Le Monde, Liberation, Figaro, Paris Match, Geo, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

Siegfried is currently working on a long-term personal project on the impact of air pollution on marginalised communities around the world. You can read Siegfried’s piece on air pollution in Afghanistan here: https://aretegazette.com/2021/09/23/afghanistan-battles-air-pollution/

Siegfried, can you tell us a little about the environmental disasters or events that you have covered over the years?

“Much of my work over the years has involved climate change-induced events. Being based in East Africa for a while meant that I have covered a lot of droughts. These are not new, but in recent years they have been reoccurring at a higher frequency and with more intensity.

Events that really stick in my mind are the major drought in Somalia in 2011, where thousands and thousands of people died, and the work I did covering the fleeing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Photo: Siegfried Modola. Rohingya refugees shield from the rain in Balukhali, Camp 10, part of the refugee camp sheltering over 800,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Bangladesh suffers intense cyclonic storms and some of the heaviest monsoon rains on earth.

This event in Bangladesh, in particular, is where you witness that climate change isn’t necessarily caused solely by industry or the burning of fossil fuels. covered one of the largest refugee camps in the world on the Bangladesh border with Myanmar, which housed almost 1 million people.

This sprawling camp led to complete destruction of the local environment in a country where climate change and rising sea levels have already had a devastating effect. There are no natural barriers left to halt the floodwater, and the refugees have no way to defend themselves; they aren’t even allowed to build any form of concrete structure to protect them from the rising sea levels and flooding.

Photo: Siegfried Modola. A mother gestures in grief as others stand close to the beds of their children suffering from lung infections at a government-run hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. Doctor Farid Ahmad Andishmond, a paediatrician at the hospital, believes that the spike of cases of pneumonia and other lung infections among children is directly linked to the increase of pollution in the capital and other cities in Afghanistan. Many families in the city cannot afford electricity. Instead, they are left with no other choice but to burn whatever they can find to keep their homes warm, he explains while doing the rounds through the room, between the beds of sick children.

In more recent years, I have been working on a personal project to understand, through photography, how the issues of air pollution are affecting the world’s most marginalised communities. It is often one of the impacts of climate change that can fly under the radar, as it is much more difficult to visualise versus something as dramatic as a flood or hurricane.”

How contributary do you think climate change is to these environmental disasters you have witnessed?

“Certainly, with something like air pollution, it is clear that the burning of fossil fuels and dirty fuel is the cause, and causing an impact, on the climate as a whole. We cannot argue this anymore; we can see world events getting worse every year.

Photo: Siegfried Modola. Coal merchants wait for customers in Kabul, Afghanistan. The capital Kabul, a city of some 6 million, ranks as one of the most polluted cities in the world — contesting amongst other polluted capitals such as India’s New Delhi or China’s Beijing. Many cannot afford electricity and so burn coal, garbage, plastic and rubber in their homes to keep warm during the cold winter months. Old vehicles and generators that run on poor quality fuel release vast amounts of toxins into the city’s air.

In my opinion, the climate has definitely shifted, it has become more violent, and it is the poorest communities around the world that are suffering the most. In East Africa, where I have lived and grown-up, the droughts are getting worse and worse. Crops might not grow because of the lack of rain, and it is the people who depend on these crops to survive who are dying.

Photo: Siegfried Modola. Women herd goats towards one of the few water points in the drought-stricken region of northern Kenya. Malnutrition among children is peaking at dangerous levels, and herders fear that it is a matter of weeks before their cattle start to die.

As a photojournalist it is clear that the climate is changing, I see it everywhere I go.”

How does it make you feel, witnessing these events year on year, while in some places around the world, climate change is touted as a myth?

“I am not a scientist or an expert. I prefer to be a visual narrator. I use the photos and stories I capture to help raise awareness of these issues, to show the world there is a problem, there is an issue — and let them build their own opinion.

Photo: Siegfried Modola. Sadi, starts to prepare food in her kitchen’s home in Malkoruqua village, northeastern Kenya.

I find it hard not to be a pessimist in all this when you know that during the course of the world’s history that the industrialisation of society has led to a huge amount of fossil fuels being removed from the earth and spewed into the atmosphere.

I feel obligated to cover the effects of climate change, despite how much these stories weigh on my conscience. To approach a story, you need to dive deep into people’s lives. You realise how vital the local climate is to them; when the next rain falls, how their homes would be washed away if a flood were to hit.

On the one hand, it is upsetting covering these stories. You feel that you are always chasing your own tail. Going around covering the same issues, with the same root cause and not enough real action being implemented.

On the other side, I can see that awareness is rising, particularly in the younger generations. We are moving in the right direction. It might still take years, but do we have those years?

Photo: Siegfried Modola. Women and children wait to be registered prior to a food distribution carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Thonyor, Leer County, South Sudan

If it is too late, what will this mean? How many more people will I document being affected by these issues? How many more people will die? Now we are witnessing that it doesn’t just affect the farmer in India; it affects almost everyone in their homes, cities in Europe, and America. I am hopeful that this will act as a catalyst for the world to act collectively and make a change for good.”

Next, we spoke with Aaron Palabyab…

Aaron shooting in Dinapigue, Isabela, an isolated coastal town in northeastern Philippines.

Aaron Palabyab is a filmmaker and a photographer specialising in travel-oriented content. He also works as a cameraman/videographer around the Philippines and the world.

Based in Metro Manila, in the Philippines, Aaron has won multiple awards for his film and photography and works for organisations including Fujifilm Philippines, Uniqlo, DHL International, the United Nations World Food Programme, GRID Magazine, UNESCO, Arete, and more.

Can you start by telling us a little about the environmental disasters or events that you have covered over the years?

“Living in the Philippines, I have mainly covered the aftermath of typhoons and a volcanic eruption. In the last four years, I have covered at least seven typhoons. Ketsana was the one that really sticks in my memory.

Photo: Aaron Palabyab. Marisa during clean-up operations in her subdivision, which was deluged with mud during major floods during Typhoon Ketsana in 2009.

The eastern side of the Philippines is more affected by severe weather, and the capital Manila is usually insulated from the worst of the weather. But typhoon Ketsana ripped through the capital city. Non-stop driving rain for days, areas of the city buried in mud, and a complete breakdown of social structure — people stuck on roofs, looting, etc. It was an unprecedented disaster, and it has been a very long time since a typhoon of this intensity has affected the capital city.”

How contributary do you think climate change is to these environmental disasters you have witnessed?

“There can be no doubt that the climate has changed dramatically in the Philippines since I was growing up. I remember a strong typhoon in 2009, and even then, it felt like it was a warning; it felt like it was a taste of things to come — and many of us felt that way.

In the Philippines, we have felt for a while it is not a question of if a huge disaster will hit Manila, but when. With each and every Typhoon that hits, you hear that it is record-breaking, more severe than the last. I don’t think it is a coincidence that as issues of climate change are becoming more pronounced, typhoons in my home country are getting more & more intense.”

Photo: Aaron Palabyab. A house by the coast destroyed during Typhoon Kammuri in Pilar, Sorsogon.

How does it make you feel, witnessing these events year on year, while elsewhere in the world, bad practices are continuing?

“In a place like the Philippines, a regard for the environment is just part of your everyday thinking for the most part. We are kind of on the front lines of climate change, next to the Pacific Islands. It is not just typhoons but also extremely hot summers and droughts.

I feel if we don’t all take care of this, if we are not all environmentalists, then we are not taking care of ourselves. In a developing country, priorities can be more about economics than the environment so it is difficult, and I understand that. But at what cost?

We don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing to believe in environmentalism. Climate change isn’t a political debate here. There aren’t people saying this isn’t real. But it is definitely something that can be more emphasised.

It is upsetting when you see people arguing climate change isn’t real. When you see the debates happening around the world about whether it is worth attention. I do get angry; it is a matter of privilege to not be impacted by this.

I think that is why the work we do as photographers is so important because we need to do what we can to make it feel as real as possible to people who have the luxury of being insulated from all of this. It is very frustrating to feel that this can still be a political debate when it is so real.

Photo: Aaron Palabyab. Villagers calmly wait under cover as a thunderstorm passes in Surigao province in the Philippines

When I go out to the provinces to document the after-effects of the typhoons, it is a wake-up call. In Manila, we are quite insulated, but when I see the devastating effects first-hand, it is unimaginable what people are going through.

It really prompts a lot of reflection and gives a lot of perspective. It prompts you to be extremely humble to have not been touched, but also a huge sense of compassion, I know I am just a photographer, but I want to do what I can to help, to contribute to the solution.

I have discovered on recent assignments, particularly with Arete, when the people you have travelled to help and document see you and see you with a camera. It means a lot to them; they want you to tell their story; they believe it will help them get the support they need.

So if my photos and stories can help get assistance for people, if my photos can make a difference. Then that helps me feel like I have made an impact and certainly helps balance out the sadness and stress of documenting these climate change events year on year.”

Photo: Aaron Palabyab. Aerial view of Taal Volcano in June 2021. The volcano is the most active in the country and one of the most active in the world.

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At Arete we source and manage local experts in photography, video, digital and written content from around the world to help you tell stories that make a difference.

Contact us to find out how we can help you make an impact through exceptional storytelling and targeted communications strategies


Refugee to Entrepreneur

Last week, UK Charity, Opportunity International, opened an outdoor photo exhibition in London, created by award-winning photographer Kate Holt. The exhibition features a series of life-size photographs of the refugees Kate met in Uganda and invites visitors to “spend an evening walking amongst the remarkable individuals.” Hosted by St James Church in Piccadilly it is open daily from 0900 – 1730; entry is free. 

In this Blog, Photographer Kate Holt talks about the inspirational people she met.

Kate Holt is pictured behind the scenes on assignment for Opportunity International in Nakivale refugee camp, Uganda.

It seems a long time ago that we were able to step on a plane without doing a Covid Test and worrying if you would ever be allowed back into the UK if you dared to travel and were able to pay the price of 10 nights in a quarantine hotel.

This trip to Uganda to gather these stories is one of the last I did before Covid struck.

Yet the power of the stories we were told back then, and what I learned from the people I met, is now more relevant than ever.

Since this story, there are now nearly 30 million refugees in the world – with the number rising daily. With the crisis in Afghanistan continuing to unfold, it is estimated that over 2 million more refugees will cross into neighbouring countries within the next year.

Refugees queue for food at Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

Ongoing political instability, the effects of climate change increasing populations and proliferation of cheap weapons, have left countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi more fragile than ever. Every day thousands of people move across the region – escaping war, famine and fear.

Uganda, one of the more stable countries in the region now plays host to nearly a million and half refugees officially – unofficially it is estimated that nearly 3 million have found sanctuary there.

It is easy to lose perspective on the human face of this crisis when confronted by such numbers.

The refugees we met in Nakivale all had powerful stories to tell of why they had ended up fleeing there, and what their hopes for the future were.

Refugees queue for food at Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

Therese fled from the Congo with her children after her husband was killed by rebel soldiers in their house

She arrived in Nakivale with hardly anything because they had to leave their home so quickly.

Therese poses for a photograph in the reception centre that she is living in with her 7 children in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

Living in the reception centre in a small shelter made of plastic, she is lucky if they get porridge once a day or sometimes maize. All she wants is the opportunity to be able to set up a business selling beans like she used to have in the Congo. “I don’t want Aid – I just want a business so I can feed my children and send them to school.”

Therese poses for a photograph with her children in the reception centre that she is living in Nakivale Refugee Camp Isingoro District, Uganda.

Gentil is an artist we met who had escaped from Burundi. He used to run workshops for young artists and was accused by the government of training rebel soldiers, so he had to flee. He now lives with his grandmother and the nephews and nieces who he supports in Nakivale.

Gentil, a 34-year-old artist from Burundi, poses for a photograph with one of his paintings at his home in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

He was able to do financial training with Opportunity International and got a small loan to set up a business farming chickens. He is now able to start painting again and hopes that soon he will be able to make a living from being an artist like he was in Burundi.

He also hopes to be able to motivate other refugees into setting up businesses so they can become self-sufficient and not dependent on food handouts.

Gentil, a 34-year-old artist from Burundi feeds his chickens at his home in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

Bitalie was one of the sadder stories we encountered.

A tailor by profession, she fled from the Congo after her village was attacked by rebel soldiers and her neighbours were all killed. She fled along with her four children, husband and brother’s family into the bush.

She lost them all while running through the night. Eventually, she found her way to Nakivale.

She was alone and wanted to know what had happened to her family so she sold what little food aid she was given to buy a bus fare to go back to Congo.

Bitalie poses for a photograph in her workshop in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

She spent months looking for them but with no luck. But while she was there a local Church gave her an old sewing machine though and she returned with it on the bus.

Being given a sewing machine was her opportunity.

She received financial training from Opportunity International and got a small loan to help her set up a business.

Now she sews and repairs clothes in the camp and has a regular income. Her ultimate dream though is to find her family.

Bitalie uses her sewing machine in her workshop in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda. Nakivale is home to over 120,000 refugees from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo Burundi and Somalia. Every week around 400 new refugees arrive from the DRC as violence escalates among rebel groups.

All the refugees we met had all experienced traumatic events, extraordinary upheaval and loss. But they all remain determined to make their lives better by running a business to improve their lives and those of their families.

They aren’t asking for much.

They are asking for an opportunity.

Photos by Eden Sparke at Opportunity International’s launch evening for their Refugee to Entrepreneur exhibition in St James, Piccadilly, United Kingdom.

Footnotes

Text by Kate Holt and photos by Kate Holt (Uganda) and Eden Sparke (London)


Arete’s Stories: A year in COVID from the UK & India, told by Vijay Pandey and Leon Neal

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. A masked security guard stands outside a cremation ground in New Delhi, India.

As the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 continue in the UK and some other countries, vaccination rates are on the rise, and COVID-19 deaths are falling. This has come after almost two years of ongoing social and technological battles with the virus.

The extraordinary work of the brave photographers who have been documenting this global pandemic must not be underestimated. Unlike photographing sub-genres of war, or natural disasters, these photographers aren’t offered hazard pay and are mostly self-insured. Despite this, they continue to capture the unfiltered stories that will go down in history.

We spoke with two such photographers, Vijay Pandey, who has been documenting the effects of Covid-19 and lockdown in India, and Leon Neal, who has been documenting the pandemic in the UK.

These are their stories…

Vijay Pandey, India

Vijay Pandey has spent over 20 years in India working with both National Publications and VICE News. In recent years, Vijay has ventured into freelance photojournalism, covering a broad range of news events including the Nepal earthquake, the Indian conflict between parliamentarian & Maoist supporters, the Delhi Riots of 2020 and, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Where have you been covering Covid in the last year?

“I have lived and worked in New Delhi for nearly two decades and covered the pandemic since it first started to take hold in the spring of 2020, both in New Delhi and in surrounding districts. I continue to do this.

While always very careful to take safety precautions — gloves, double masks, disinfectant and eye protection — I still consider myself incredibly lucky not to have contracted the virus or to have had any close friends or family die or fall seriously ill. But I do know that several photojournalists have died in India during the pandemic, some of them former colleagues from the field.”

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. A homeless boy sits on a deserted street as New Delhi continues under lockdown during the Coronavirus Pandemic in New Delhi, India. In the bustling market of Chandni Chowk in front of the famous Red Fort, there are only homeless, beggars and migrant labour as all shops and establishments are closed.

What was the general response to Covid in India?

“The initial response from many people was of panic. Mass migration started very quickly after the first lockdown started. Thousands of people just left the cities and started walking, fleeing the city to return to more rural areas. All the trains and buses were suspended, so there was no other option.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Migrant workers rush to board the final buses to reach their native places, in the outskirts of Delhi, India.

Those with the lowest income were undoubtedly the worst affected in the first wave, people who live hand to mouth. They had no other option but to leave urban areas and walk back to their family homes. With many people in lockdown in the cities, many job opportunities have gone, and many people can no longer afford their rent.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Migrant workers returning from rural parts of the country at Kaushambi bus terminal in the outskirts of New Delhi. Amid absence of skilled employment in villages, migrant workers who left for home during coronavirus lockdown are returning to Cities.

There was very little government support, no transport, food or water. And reported beatings by the police forces of people who were walking home — as, technically, they were out after curfew.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. A construction labourer Hari Om holds his eight months old son while walking back to his native village in Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh, in New Delhi. Tikamgarh is approximately 550 kms from Delhi. As the work was stopped and contractors ask the labourers to leave the construction site, migrant labourers who fear dying not of the disease but rather of starvation, have decided not to wait. Unable to afford food and rent, migrant workers are walking back to their native villages, hundreds of miles away, during the World’s largest Lockdown.

About 25% of people were forced to leave the cities; if you worked for the government or had savings, you were ok, but those in the private sector or gig economy were not supported. This lack of support, and response from the government, provoked a lot of anger towards the establishment.

This led the government to relaxing lockdown measures after two months. There are almost no jobs in rural India, so people returned to the cities. Despite Covid-19 still raging and many, many people dying every day, people were flooding back into the cities.

Although it may seem like a simple choice between your health and your pocket, it was not for many. Both would result in death, but at least there was a chance this wouldn’t happen if you caught Covid-19; death was almost certain if you had no job and no income.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Relatives of a person who died of COVID 19 performing the last rites during cremation at Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi, India.

It was very clear in India, what the priorities were during the pandemic, and it wasn’t the lives of most of the people. When local party elections came around, they were not postponed, the rallies went ahead, and many of the politicians did not wear masks and set a good example.

Thousands of people would gather for the rallies, which acted like a super-spreader event, and the result was thousands of deaths, particularly of many teachers who were required to do election duty”.

What are the challenges of trying to convey the pandemic through photography?

“I think there are two really challenging things. It was the first pandemic of this scale I have seen, and in my home country too. The first, and obvious, challenge is the risk to my own health.

Particularly when I was in the hospitals, I was really worried that I might catch Covid; the health system was overwhelmed, there were people everywhere, on the floors, the corridors.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. The body of the man who died of coronavirus (COVID-19) kept in a waiting room before the funeral at Nigambodh Crematorium in New Delhi.

The hospitals were full, and the cremation grounds were full. Bodies were being burned in parking lots because there was no space left. The chimneys in the cremation grounds were melting as they were working 24/7. It was awful.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Bodies of Coronavirus (Covid19) victims lay before being cremated at Gazipur crematorium in New Delhi.

This second really challenging thing is what the pandemic did to my soul; the helplessness and guilt I felt.

People were turning to me and asking for help to find them hospital beds or oxygen cylinders. I tried, but I couldn’t do anything. I saw people dying outside of the hospital, waiting for treatments; there was no oxygen, beds or medicine.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Women mourn during the cremation of a person who died of COVID-19 at Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi, India.

I saw people carrying patients from one hospital to another, searching for a bed. Children were dying in front of me, gasping for air.

Experiencing this made me really sad. But I felt I had to do it; had to keep on photographing. The only hope I have is that sharing these stories and photographs on my channels will somehow lead to some action, some more help for these people”.

Leon Neal, United Kingdom

Leon Neal is a winner of The Times/Tabasco Young Photographer of the Year scholarship and a former Times. Leon also spent ten years working in a staff position at the world’s oldest global news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), before moving to the Getty Images editorial team based in London. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.

Tell me about where you have been covering Covid in the last year?

“For the best part of 2020, I was covering COVID-19 in the UK. My first experience of how this new virus would be received came when I witnessed the arrival of a flight of citizens being repatriated via RAF Brize Norton, escorted on to coaches by a team in hazmat suits, but then driven away by a very concerned looking driver, wearing just his regular cardigan and no facemask. This confusion of how to go forward became a theme for the coming year.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. A concerned-looking coach driver tasked with transporting a number of repatriated citizens from RAF Brize Norton.

Based in London, the effects of COVID-19 induced lockdowns became obvious quite quickly. London’s theatres, stores, and tourist attractions closed their doors, and the capital fell silent.

In fact, the streets were so empty that it presented a great opportunity to head out and record some of London’s iconic landmarks in this new, deserted world. I’d ticked off a few by the time I arrived at the pedestrian crossing outside Abbey Road studios, made famous by The Beatles.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. Line repainting on the famous Abbey Road zebra crossing.

I waited around forty minutes for someone to cross, but the streets were deserted. Suddenly, an enormous brightly-painted truck pulled up next to the crossing, which I then realised was a highway maintenance vehicle. With traffic at a bare minimum, the local council were also seizing the opportunity presented by the unique nature of lockdown to repaint the lines on this iconic zebra crossing.

In May, I had my first experience documenting the important work to tackle COVID-19 head-on, being carried out by the NHS daily. I spent some time with the South Central Ambulance Service team around the Southampton area. Thanks to a pool arrangement negotiated by photographer Will Oliver, the NHS allowed each agency the opportunity to document a different area of support and care, and Getty Images was lucky enough to secure time with SCAS.

Photo: Leon Neal/ Getty Images. Ambulances of the South Central Ambulance Service queued up to deliver suspected Covid-19 positive patients to hospital.

Hearing the stories of how many of the ambulance crew members and paramedics had already suffered through COVID-19, with some members of the team still in hospital on ventilators, gave me a far greater awareness of infection and precautions. The mental and physical toil faced by the teams was overlaid with the type of humour that I recognised from my colleagues in the news media; a reliance on each other to get through what can feel like a daily onslaught of downward-spiralling news.

Having to treat each call as if the patient is COVID-positive adds an extra layer of duty and precaution. The smallest slip or shortcut taken could potentially lead to further infections among your friends and colleagues. As I returned to my hotel each evening, I went through a methodical clean of all my camera equipment, phone and other items used through the day before starting again the next day. When you think of all the items in an ambulance, you start to realise the huge scale of logistics involved with the new normal.”

What was the general response to Covid in the UK? How were people striking a balance between earning a living and adhering to lockdown?

“Restrictions and lockdowns of varying strengths continued throughout the year.

The public were adopting the old adage; adapt and survive. Driving home one day, I passed a couple who had created their own alfresco gym next to their housing block. Elsewhere, Reverend Lucy Winkett, rector of St James’ Piccadilly, invited me to attend as she battled technology to hold one of her first online services.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. A family brings their gym equipment outside and trains on the street next to their housing block.

Businesses, too, were facing incredible pressures. Among those struggling, taxi drivers had seen a total collapse in their fares. A virtual ban on international travel resulted in no passengers or tourists arriving, and the taxi ranks around London’s airports were packed with waiting cars but no business.

At London Heathrow, I was able to speak with just a few of those in the queue to pick up a customer. Again and again, I heard the same story; as fares dried up, drivers were forced to wait for enormous lengths of time between customers. Many I spoke to were sleeping in their cabs and waiting as long as thirty-five hours to make their way to the front of the line. At the end of all of that, the average fare was working out to be around £40.

Covid-induced lockdowns created a unique circumstance for many people in the UK, particularly the self-employed and those who fell through the gaps of the various government support schemes. My partner is a wedding photographer, and she was luckily able to claim financial support due to the total collapse of that industry. Continuing to work was a necessity for many, and paid leave wasn’t an option; although many in the UK are lucky to have such an option, this wasn’t the case for millions of others around the world. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to see your business or position disappear as the months passed.”

What are the challenges of trying to convey the pandemic through photography?

Both professionally and personally, the pandemic has provided huge challenges. In my work, the biggest issue was accessing institutions, who only really opened their doors to the media much later into the crisis. Months were spent sending out emails and calling organisations in a bid to illustrate the heart of the story, rather than the lighter stories around the edge, such as the weekly Clap For Carers. Looking at how colleagues overseas were working inside ICUs, funeral homes and care homes, while it was such a battle to get anything in the UK, was deeply frustrating.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. Paramedics of the South Central Ambulance Service attend to a suspected Covid-19 positive patient on the street.

In my personal life, the pressure in the early stages of the pandemic was substantial. As Government warnings told the public to stay indoors and keep away from others, members of the media were doing all they could to get into the hotspots. Looking back now, it’s easy to be dismissive of the threat, but, at this point, knowledge on the dangers, transmission and long-term effects were scarce, so that mixed message put a lot of pressure onto me. Returning home each day, my family would stay in another room while I removed my clothes, showered, cleaned my cameras, phone, keys etc before I was able to speak with them. After months of this, it was hard to remain buoyant at times.

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Arete’s Stories: A year in COVID from the UK & India, told by Vijay Pandey and Leon Neal

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. A masked security guard stands outside a cremation ground in New Delhi, India.

As the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 continue in the UK and some other countries, vaccination rates are on the rise, and COVID-19 deaths are falling. This has come after almost two years of ongoing social and technological battles with the virus.

The extraordinary work of the brave photographers who have been documenting this global pandemic must not be underestimated. Unlike photographing sub-genres of war, or natural disasters, these photographers aren’t offered hazard pay and are mostly self-insured. Despite this, they continue to capture the unfiltered stories that will go down in history.

We spoke with two such photographers, Vijay Pandey, who has been documenting the effects of Covid-19 and lockdown in India, and Leon Neal, who has been documenting the pandemic in the UK.

These are their stories…

Vijay Pandey, India

Vijay Pandey has spent over 20 years in India working with both National Publications and VICE News. In recent years, Vijay has ventured into freelance photojournalism, covering a broad range of news events including the Nepal earthquake, the Indian conflict between parliamentarian & Maoist supporters, the Delhi Riots of 2020 and, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Where have you been covering Covid in the last year?

“I have lived and worked in New Delhi for nearly two decades and covered the pandemic since it first started to take hold in the spring of 2020, both in New Delhi and in surrounding districts. I continue to do this.

While always very careful to take safety precautions — gloves, double masks, disinfectant and eye protection — I still consider myself incredibly lucky not to have contracted the virus or to have had any close friends or family die or fall seriously ill. But I do know that several photojournalists have died in India during the pandemic, some of them former colleagues from the field.”

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. A homeless boy sits on a deserted street as New Delhi continues under lockdown during the Coronavirus Pandemic in New Delhi, India. In the bustling market of Chandni Chowk in front of the famous Red Fort, there are only homeless, beggars and migrant labour as all shops and establishments are closed.

What was the general response to Covid in India?

“The initial response from many people was of panic. Mass migration started very quickly after the first lockdown started. Thousands of people just left the cities and started walking, fleeing the city to return to more rural areas. All the trains and buses were suspended, so there was no other option.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Migrant workers rush to board the final buses to reach their native places, in the outskirts of Delhi, India.

Those with the lowest income were undoubtedly the worst affected in the first wave, people who live hand to mouth. They had no other option but to leave urban areas and walk back to their family homes. With many people in lockdown in the cities, many job opportunities have gone, and many people can no longer afford their rent.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Migrant workers returning from rural parts of the country at Kaushambi bus terminal in the outskirts of New Delhi. Amid absence of skilled employment in villages, migrant workers who left for home during coronavirus lockdown are returning to Cities.

There was very little government support, no transport, food or water. And reported beatings by the police forces of people who were walking home — as, technically, they were out after curfew.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. A construction labourer Hari Om holds his eight months old son while walking back to his native village in Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh, in New Delhi. Tikamgarh is approximately 550 kms from Delhi. As the work was stopped and contractors ask the labourers to leave the construction site, migrant labourers who fear dying not of the disease but rather of starvation, have decided not to wait. Unable to afford food and rent, migrant workers are walking back to their native villages, hundreds of miles away, during the World’s largest Lockdown.

About 25% of people were forced to leave the cities; if you worked for the government or had savings, you were ok, but those in the private sector or gig economy were not supported. This lack of support, and response from the government, provoked a lot of anger towards the establishment.

This led the government to relaxing lockdown measures after two months. There are almost no jobs in rural India, so people returned to the cities. Despite Covid-19 still raging and many, many people dying every day, people were flooding back into the cities.

Although it may seem like a simple choice between your health and your pocket, it was not for many. Both would result in death, but at least there was a chance this wouldn’t happen if you caught Covid-19; death was almost certain if you had no job and no income.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Relatives of a person who died of COVID 19 performing the last rites during cremation at Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi, India.

It was very clear in India, what the priorities were during the pandemic, and it wasn’t the lives of most of the people. When local party elections came around, they were not postponed, the rallies went ahead, and many of the politicians did not wear masks and set a good example.

Thousands of people would gather for the rallies, which acted like a super-spreader event, and the result was thousands of deaths, particularly of many teachers who were required to do election duty”.

What are the challenges of trying to convey the pandemic through photography?

“I think there are two really challenging things. It was the first pandemic of this scale I have seen, and in my home country too. The first, and obvious, challenge is the risk to my own health.

Particularly when I was in the hospitals, I was really worried that I might catch Covid; the health system was overwhelmed, there were people everywhere, on the floors, the corridors.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. The body of the man who died of coronavirus (COVID-19) kept in a waiting room before the funeral at Nigambodh Crematorium in New Delhi.

The hospitals were full, and the cremation grounds were full. Bodies were being burned in parking lots because there was no space left. The chimneys in the cremation grounds were melting as they were working 24/7. It was awful.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Bodies of Coronavirus (Covid19) victims lay before being cremated at Gazipur crematorium in New Delhi.

This second really challenging thing is what the pandemic did to my soul; the helplessness and guilt I felt.

People were turning to me and asking for help to find them hospital beds or oxygen cylinders. I tried, but I couldn’t do anything. I saw people dying outside of the hospital, waiting for treatments; there was no oxygen, beds or medicine.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Women mourn during the cremation of a person who died of COVID-19 at Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi, India.

I saw people carrying patients from one hospital to another, searching for a bed. Children were dying in front of me, gasping for air.

Experiencing this made me really sad. But I felt I had to do it; had to keep on photographing. The only hope I have is that sharing these stories and photographs on my channels will somehow lead to some action, some more help for these people”.

Leon Neal, United Kingdom

Leon Neal is a winner of The Times/Tabasco Young Photographer of the Year scholarship and a former Times. Leon also spent ten years working in a staff position at the world’s oldest global news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), before moving to the Getty Images editorial team based in London. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.

Tell me about where you have been covering Covid in the last year?

“For the best part of 2020, I was covering COVID-19 in the UK. My first experience of how this new virus would be received came when I witnessed the arrival of a flight of citizens being repatriated via RAF Brize Norton, escorted on to coaches by a team in hazmat suits, but then driven away by a very concerned looking driver, wearing just his regular cardigan and no facemask. This confusion of how to go forward became a theme for the coming year.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. A concerned-looking coach driver tasked with transporting a number of repatriated citizens from RAF Brize Norton.

Based in London, the effects of COVID-19 induced lockdowns became obvious quite quickly. London’s theatres, stores, and tourist attractions closed their doors, and the capital fell silent.

In fact, the streets were so empty that it presented a great opportunity to head out and record some of London’s iconic landmarks in this new, deserted world. I’d ticked off a few by the time I arrived at the pedestrian crossing outside Abbey Road studios, made famous by The Beatles.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. Line repainting on the famous Abbey Road zebra crossing.

I waited around forty minutes for someone to cross, but the streets were deserted. Suddenly, an enormous brightly-painted truck pulled up next to the crossing, which I then realised was a highway maintenance vehicle. With traffic at a bare minimum, the local council were also seizing the opportunity presented by the unique nature of lockdown to repaint the lines on this iconic zebra crossing.

In May, I had my first experience documenting the important work to tackle COVID-19 head-on, being carried out by the NHS daily. I spent some time with the South Central Ambulance Service team around the Southampton area. Thanks to a pool arrangement negotiated by photographer Will Oliver, the NHS allowed each agency the opportunity to document a different area of support and care, and Getty Images was lucky enough to secure time with SCAS.

Photo: Leon Neal/ Getty Images. Ambulances of the South Central Ambulance Service queued up to deliver suspected Covid-19 positive patients to hospital.

Hearing the stories of how many of the ambulance crew members and paramedics had already suffered through COVID-19, with some members of the team still in hospital on ventilators, gave me a far greater awareness of infection and precautions. The mental and physical toil faced by the teams was overlaid with the type of humour that I recognised from my colleagues in the news media; a reliance on each other to get through what can feel like a daily onslaught of downward-spiralling news.

Having to treat each call as if the patient is COVID-positive adds an extra layer of duty and precaution. The smallest slip or shortcut taken could potentially lead to further infections among your friends and colleagues. As I returned to my hotel each evening, I went through a methodical clean of all my camera equipment, phone and other items used through the day before starting again the next day. When you think of all the items in an ambulance, you start to realise the huge scale of logistics involved with the new normal.”

What was the general response to Covid in the UK? How were people striking a balance between earning a living and adhering to lockdown?

“Restrictions and lockdowns of varying strengths continued throughout the year.

The public were adopting the old adage; adapt and survive. Driving home one day, I passed a couple who had created their own alfresco gym next to their housing block. Elsewhere, Reverend Lucy Winkett, rector of St James’ Piccadilly, invited me to attend as she battled technology to hold one of her first online services.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. A family brings their gym equipment outside and trains on the street next to their housing block.

Businesses, too, were facing incredible pressures. Among those struggling, taxi drivers had seen a total collapse in their fares. A virtual ban on international travel resulted in no passengers or tourists arriving, and the taxi ranks around London’s airports were packed with waiting cars but no business.

At London Heathrow, I was able to speak with just a few of those in the queue to pick up a customer. Again and again, I heard the same story; as fares dried up, drivers were forced to wait for enormous lengths of time between customers. Many I spoke to were sleeping in their cabs and waiting as long as thirty-five hours to make their way to the front of the line. At the end of all of that, the average fare was working out to be around £40.

Covid-induced lockdowns created a unique circumstance for many people in the UK, particularly the self-employed and those who fell through the gaps of the various government support schemes. My partner is a wedding photographer, and she was luckily able to claim financial support due to the total collapse of that industry. Continuing to work was a necessity for many, and paid leave wasn’t an option; although many in the UK are lucky to have such an option, this wasn’t the case for millions of others around the world. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to see your business or position disappear as the months passed.”

What are the challenges of trying to convey the pandemic through photography?

Both professionally and personally, the pandemic has provided huge challenges. In my work, the biggest issue was accessing institutions, who only really opened their doors to the media much later into the crisis. Months were spent sending out emails and calling organisations in a bid to illustrate the heart of the story, rather than the lighter stories around the edge, such as the weekly Clap For Carers. Looking at how colleagues overseas were working inside ICUs, funeral homes and care homes, while it was such a battle to get anything in the UK, was deeply frustrating.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. Paramedics of the South Central Ambulance Service attend to a suspected Covid-19 positive patient on the street.

In my personal life, the pressure in the early stages of the pandemic was substantial. As Government warnings told the public to stay indoors and keep away from others, members of the media were doing all they could to get into the hotspots. Looking back now, it’s easy to be dismissive of the threat, but, at this point, knowledge on the dangers, transmission and long-term effects were scarce, so that mixed message put a lot of pressure onto me. Returning home each day, my family would stay in another room while I removed my clothes, showered, cleaned my cameras, phone, keys etc before I was able to speak with them. After months of this, it was hard to remain buoyant at times.

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Arete’s Stories: Working in hostile environments with photographer Karel Prinsloo & hostile…

Arete’s Stories: Working in hostile environments with photographer Karel Prinsloo & hostile environments trainer Lizzy Stileman MBE

Anything can be news but not everything is newsworthy. Journalism is a process in which a reporter uses verification and storytelling to make a subject newsworthy.

Creating a good story means finding and verifying important or interesting information and then presenting it in a way that engages the audience. Good stories are part of what makes journalism unique. For a journalist to truly achieve this, they need to be on the ground, ‘in the thick of it’, capturing the story first-hand.

The stories that too often go untold are taking place in dangerous and challenging environments, warzones, pandemics, dictatorships. It takes brave and trained individuals to capture these stories safely and transparently.

In the latest edition of Arete’s Stories, we talk to Arete photojournalist Karel Prinsloo about his personal experiences of working in dangerous environments and Lizzy Stileman, MBE ,about the role of hostile environment awareness training.

Karel Prinsloo

Karel Prinsloo is an award-winning photographer. He has covered conflicts and humanitarian crises in Africa and the Middle East and has been based in Nairobi for nearly a decade as the Associated Press’ Chief photographer for East Africa.

He also worked at the Associated Press’ base in London as a picture editor for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Currently, he is a freelance photographer working for humanitarian organisations like UNICEF, WFP, GAVI, IFAW as well as for major international news media.

Karel has won numerous awards, including the South African Photographer Of The Year, second prize in the World Press Photo Awards in 2000 for his coverage of the devastating Mozambique floods and runner up in the CNN African Journalist of the year.

Karel has been published in all the world’s major publications, including the New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek and Paris Match.

Your reputation precedes you, Karel! Thanks for talking with me today. Can you start by telling us a little about some of the challenging environments you have worked in over the years?

“Sure, so I started when I was young, with my first experience of working in a hostile or challenging environment coming in South Africa just after the end of apartheid. I was doing a lot of work in the townships, and there was a lot of unrest and lawlessness out there during the transition of power in the country in 1994.

Since then, I have covered two wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, been embedded with the US Military in Iraq and Afghanistan, captured the ongoing conflict in Israel, Gaza, and Palestine, violent unrest in Uganda, the farm invasions in Zimbabwe, and unrest in Somalia where, tragically, one of my colleagues from the BBC died.

From the Middle East to Europe, to Africa, you could say I have covered a fair amount of dangerous and hostile situations over the years; thankfully though, I work in relatively safer climates now….”

I can only imagine some of what you see and experience when working in these places. Is there any way to prepare yourself for this?

“Well, when working with any news agency, they will send you on hostile environment awareness training (HEAT) — I’ve been on a few.

Generally, you get training in first aid, a bit of situational awareness, how to recognise danger, how to read a crowd, that sort of thing. For me personally, I had been working in the field a long-time before these training courses became mandatory, so a lot of it was common-sense to me — but I can see how it can be helpful for somebody who has never been in this situation.

The biggest takeaway for me was the first aid training — and, unfortunately, I have had to use these skills since.

During the Kenyan presidential elections, we stumbled across a lot of people who had been quite seriously hurt. I believe the reason we are taught these skills is to help people, so regardless of whether it was my team or me, or a complete stranger, I will help.

There are those who might say to preserve journalistic integrity, you shouldn’t interfere, but I don’t believe in this observer ideology. I believe if you are in a situation to help someone, then you should, so long as it doesn’t endanger your life or that of your team. And that is what we did. We tried to help as many people as we could”.

Can you give us an insight into how you feel when working in these places?

“I started out as a photojournalist to show injustice in my own country, Namibia and my aim is always to try and shine a light on the injustices of the world, and I‘ve been doing that with my camera now for well over 30 years.

When I initially started out working in potentially hostile places, I was young, and I wasn’t particularly phased by much of what I saw. However, I find as you get older, you get more sensitive to working in these environments.

I have a family now, and when you see the atrocities that are being committed against, particularly, women and children. You can’t help but think, what if that was my wife or my daughter. This is hard to carry when it is so important to stay focused and aware of your surroundings.

As a result, in recent years, I have pivoted to work in the humanitarian sector rather than for the media. I am still required to work in ‘hostile environments, but the stories’ subject is very different.

I feel whether you are seeking to unearth and capture injustice or documenting the amazing work many of these NGOs are doing, you have to believe in it. This is key. I still believe in this work, and I wouldn’t do it otherwise. I genuinely believe we make a difference, and to make a difference in one person’s life is amazing, but to make a difference in many people’s lives is incredible; this feeling is something special”.

Have there ever been moments where you have feared for your life while capturing these stories?

“Yeah many times. I can vividly remember the time when I was in Goma in the DRC. The rebels were advancing into Goma. I was standing with my colleagues, a photographer and a videographer, in front of the UN building on the road. All of a sudden a number of armed Congolese Government soldiers abducted us to flee from the advancing rebels, forcing us into our own vehicle.

We tried to reason with them, but the more we spoke, the angrier they got. They were speaking Swahili, which one of my colleagues understood. I remember looking over at him, and he was as white as a ghost.

All of a sudden, they came around a corner, stopped the car, got out, and ran.

It turns out they ran as there was a rebel checkpoint ahead. After speaking with my colleague, I found out that they were talking about how they intended to rape our female colleague and then kill us all. We got very lucky this day.

Unbelievably, this wasn’t the worst experience of my career. I was in the DRC again in 2001, this time for the funeral of the assassinated President, Laurent-Desire Kabila. I was amongst many people, and I could sense the mood was changing.

I was struck with a rock, and it was at this moment I realised that the sentiment of anger and outrage of this large group of people was being directed at me. There was a belief that foreigners had killed their President, and I became a target. Rocks started flying in my direction.

Nothing scares me more in this world than an angry mob. I’ve seen what a mob can do; I’ve been on the receiving end.

This happened to me prior to any of these training courses that are commonplace nowadays, and it was the only education on reading a crowd that I ever needed. Since then, I have been far more trusting of my gut instinct.

You don’t know how you will react when someone shoots at you until someone shoots at you! You can either continue working or not, and you won’t know this as a photojournalist until you have worked in a hostile environment and experienced it”.

It seems these experiences happened relatively early in your career, and it is remarkable that you could carry on after this. How were you able to continue? What makes all this worth it?

“For me, it is knowing that my work actually helps people. It is seeing it help. When I worked for the media, sometimes your work can lead to immediate and life-changing responses for people. After all, you are capturing first-hand accounts from places, particularly back then, that nobody else would be documenting.

One story that sticks in my mind was from 2003 when we were cut off from civilisation in a town called Bunia in the DRC. Atrocities were happening all around us, we were able to get some of these stories out to the media, and two weeks later, the French military landed, and it stopped overnight. There is huge satisfaction in knowing you made a difference by getting these stories out.

Today, I get to better peoples lives with my work in the NGO sector and my photography with Arete — we have helped raise millions of dollars for various organisations that have been used to make a better life for so many. That is the satisfaction I get now”.

Lizzy Stileman MBE

Lizzy is the Director of EJS Disaster Management and veteran of the British Army, serving for 20 years. Since then, Lizzy has gone on to complete a Masters in Disaster Management, volunteers for British NGO RE:ACT, where she has completed eight international deployments and remains an active member of the British Army Reservists.

Lizzy, can you tell us a little about the role of HEAT in preparing for work in hostile environments?

“The purpose of HEAT or hostile environment awareness training is two-fold really. The first aspect is security, and the second is remote first aid. As facilitators, it is our job to give people the best opportunity to not get in a position where they are under threat. The course is there as a thought-provoking tool.

We aim to prepare people of all walks of life, providing them with a toolkit that enables them to handle both the mental and physical stress of hostile environments. It is understanding how to read a situation and, if necessary, how to get away with your team safely.

Many of the scenarios explored in HEAT are things the vast majority of us would likely never encounter, such as kidnappings, carjacking, being caught up in a riot, illegal checkpoints or an active shooter.

It is more than just a set of instructions on what to do if that were to happen. It is about self-care, interpersonal skills, how to negotiate and help your team members if they are struggling. Your mind is your most powerful tool in a hostile environment, and it is essential that it is working efficiently.

The first aid aspect is focussed on what we call remote first aid, how to help someone when you are in the middle of nowhere, with very limited supplies. How to apply a tourniquet, how to do CPR, how to treat a gunshot wound. With no communications, how do you create a temporary stretcher, and how do you stay safe while doing it? In these scenarios, there is no 999, no ambulances.

Visiting hostile environments, even for a short period of time, is a dangerous but essential aspect for many sectors, such as those that work with NGOs and the Press; and HEAT has become a key element of preparing for this travel”.

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Arete’s Stories: Working in hostile environments with photographer Karel Prinsloo & hostile… was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Arete’s Stories: Refugees add far more to society than is often reported, by Jonathan Clayton

Photo: Karel Prinsloo/Unicef Somalia/ Arete. Refugee Ideeja at a support group held by UNICEF near her home in an IDP camp on the beach in Puntland, Somalia. ideeja traveled to Marere to be smuggled out by boat to Yemen. On her first night before departure at the port a woman was raped in their boat by a drunk smuggler. She got scared and left and walked all the way back to Bossaso. As the bitter conflict in Yemen grinds on and the humanitarian situation there continues to deteriorate, conditions facing the almost 280,000 refugees in-country are worsening and their needs and vulnerabilities are growing by the day.

Every 60 seconds, 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. Whether refugees or asylum seekers, each and every one of these brave people are simply seeking safety and security.

The narrative often delivered by the mainstream media around refugees, strips them of their previous successes and their ambitions for the future. Portraying them as helpless; whilst, conversely, depicting the country that offers them a home as a charitable saviour.

In this short blog, Arete journalist and celebrated correspondent Jonathan Clayton shares a selection of his experiences gained from documenting refugee stories for over 30 years. Stories of the amazing people he has met and how, contrary to popular depiction, refugees very often enrich and add value to the countries and cultures they become a part of.

Jonathan Clayton is the former East Africa Bureau Chief of Reuters news agency and from 2002–14 was The Times Africa correspondent. He also covered the first-ever refugee Olympic team at the 2016 Rio games for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

“I first met *Halima in the early 1990s in the Juba Valley, Somalia — one of the many casualties of the brutal inter-clan warfare which was then tearing the country apart.

A few years later, I met her again in a refugee camp in Kenya. She was still not 30, but in her short life had suffered more pain and hardship than most people can ever possibly imagine.

Dreadful things had happened to her. However, she never lost hope. She was always cheerful and bubbling with energy.

Photo: Kate Holt/ Arete. A mother walks with her children through a dust storm to their newly erected tent in the new arrivals area of Dagehaley camp, one of three camps that make up the Dadaab refugee camp in Dadaab, northeastern Kenya.

Over a sweet tea, we quickly caught up. Again she surprised me. She excitedly told me she was off to Dallas, Texas, in a few months along with her four children. She had never slept on a bed, never used a flush toilet, nor a fridge, nor a washing machine. Pointing at the sky, she told me her greatest fear was flying. Instead, it turned out to be the airport elevator.

A year later, we met in Dallas — a surreal experience. She was working full-time as a cleaner at Wallmart and living in a very decent, if small, apartment — two bedrooms shared by the kids, her and her husband on a pull-out sofa bed. Juggling mobile phone calls from family and friends, she was the very image of a busy suburban American Mom.

The kids loved school. Her boys had excelled at basketball. Her daughter devoured her studies. All spoke near-perfect English already. Halima worked hard as ever. Life was not easy, but people were friendly — most of the time. But she was happy.

Crucially, she told me that for the first time in her life she felt SAFE. She had also discovered “law” and was becoming a powerful advocate of women’s rights. “You know here, you cannot hit a woman!”, she told me. “NO, NO, NO.” It was an amazing transformation from the terrified, beaten and battered, young woman I had first met in the badlands of the lower Shebelle river.

Halima’s embrace of her new life — so wildly different to anything she could have ever dreamed about — challenged my own view of refugees. Like many others, until then, I thought they needed near-constant help and support. In fact, the vast majority only need, and want, an opportunity free from persecution, violence and conflict.

Photo: Karel Prinsloo/ WFP/ Arete. Somali refugees returning from Dadaab in Kenya, at a transit camp. The WFP is providing provision of unconditional food assistance to help those suffering from severe drought.

In more than 30 years of reporting for Reuters and The Times, much of it in Africa and the Balkans, I went on to meet and befriend many other refugees. Most shared one characteristic — determination. If ever they would be given a second chance, they would grasp it and make the most of it.

One of the greatest misconceptions of refugees is that they are a burden on society. The reality is mostly the complete opposite. Overwhelmingly, they enrich and better the societies which adopt them. Be it Albert Einstein or Steve Job’s father, a migrant from Syria, the roll call of history is undeniable. Can anyone imagine today without Apple, let alone the theory of relativity?

Photo: Kate Holt/ Opportunity International UK/ Arete. Kakule, a refugee from Beni in the DR Congo, accepts payment from a customer in his small shop which is next to his garden, where he grows food for his family in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Uganda. Nakivale is home to over 120,000 refugees from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo Burundi and Somalia.

More recently, I think of Yazidi women now running Middle East food deliveries in Antwerp, a tailor from Damascus stitching sails for wealthy yacht owners in Kiel, Germany, a Syrian architect now running a fashion business in Milan. Then there is Nakout, a Ugandan abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. She escaped after 14 years as a slave. She now lives in Finland, where she teaches English to other African refugees.

These are the faces behind the statistics. Their stories are powerful, their contributions to society immense. Unfortunately, the true picture is often obscured by right-wing and xenophobic narratives rooted in unfounded fear and propagated by fake news.

ARETE’s reporting of these issues offers a chance to redress that balance. Today, when figures show global displacement increasing for the 9th year in a row, this is more necessary than ever before.”

*Name changed for protection purposes

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Preventing Famine is a Choice

Photo: Saiyna Bashir/ WFP/ Arete

Famine and the risk of famine are increasing across the world. Climate change, conflict and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic have all worsened hunger and food insecurity for some of the most vulnerable communities across the globe.

Thirty-four million people around the world are currently experiencing extreme levels of hunger and malnutrition. Without immediate help, the slightest disruption to their food chain could mean the onset of famine.

At the G7 Summit this June, world leaders will focus on this humanitarian crisis with a Famine Prevention panel. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is calling on the global community to help raise awareness and encourage support for life-saving action in the lead up to this event.

Recently awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, WFP has received universal recognition for its efforts to combat hunger and for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in areas affected by war.

Arete have been working with the World Food Programme for over twelve years in countries all over the world. Our photographers and writers have seen first-hand how their programmes save lives, and in our latest blog, we are drawing attention, through photography, to WFP’s #FightFamine initiative, which aims to encourage support for life-saving interventions.

Over a million of the world’s hungriest and most vulnerable people live in just nine countries — the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, South Sudan, and Afghanistan — as well as, Sudan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Haiti, and Nigeria. Without urgent action, famine could soon become a reality for at least two of these countries that are also dealing with internal conflicts: Yemen and South Sudan.

Here we showcase some of the World Food Programme’s extraordinary work:

Fight Hunger — Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Photographer: Fredrik Lerneryd
World Food Programme/ Arete

Despite being one of the largest countries in Africa and abundant with natural resources such as diamonds, gold, copper and cobalt, DRC remains one of the least developed countries in the African continent, ranking 175th of 189 countries on the 2020 Human Development Index.

DRC now has the largest hunger crisis in the world. Hunger and conflict fuel one another here, with armed groups and widespread civilian displacement prevailing in parts of the country for the past 25 years, all of which compound the deeply entrenched humanitarian challenges.

Arete photographer, Fredrik Lerneryd, visited a town on Lake Tanganyika to document the vital work WFP is doing to support those suffering from moderate acute malnutrition.

Evariste, who is suffering from malnutrition has his arm measured while sitting on the lap of his mother Furaha at a clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Furaha lives in the province of Tanganyika with her four children and husband.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school Furaha worked for stopped paying her, and at the same time food prices went up. With only her husband’s salary, the family had to reduce the amount of food they ate. This caused Evariste to become malnourished, but he is receiving ready-to-use supplementary food for the treatment of malnutrition from a local clinic supported by WFP and is on the way to recovery.

WFP’s response in the Democratic Republic of Congo includes in-kind food and cash distributions for the most vulnerable, the treatment and prevention of malnutrition among children and women, and hot meals for school children.

Faida who can be seen sorting beans in Kasheke is a member of the COOPANG cooperative formed by 28 Farmers Organisations and supported by WFP.

A farmer in South Kivu, Furaha also benefited from a joint WFP-FAO resilience initiative in DRC and can be seen here arranging produce in her shop. After attending a literacy training programme supported by WFP, Furaha became the president of her local savings and loans association and has grown her shop into a successful business.

WFP Sudan

Photographer: Ed Ram
World Food Programme/ Arete

Across Sudan, 9.6 million people required humanitarian support in 2020. Of those, 6.2 million are food insecure, according to the Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan. High inflation has made matters worse, with people unable to afford basic food items. An average local food basket takes up at least 75 percent of monthly household income.

Sudan also faces persistently high levels of acute malnutrition, along with wasting, a low weight for a child’s height, and stunting, a low height for a child’s weight, all of which constitute a significant public health problem About 2.7 million children in Sudan suffer from wasting annually, with approximately 522,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Arete photographer, Ed Ram, was in Sudan to document the influx of thousands of refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia who are struggling to survive on what limited resources there are.

Ram documented the support given by WFP to tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees in the Um Rakuba settlement.

World Food Programme (WFP) distributes food to refugees coming from the Tigray region in Um Rakuba refugee camp in eastern Sudan.

WFP continues to support around 57,000 refugees in the four refugee camps, settlements, or reception centres in Sudan, who have fled violent conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia — by offering monthly food rations, providing food for hot meals for new arrivals, nutrition support, and logistical support to the humanitarian community. The United Nations refugee agency says about 63,000 people have fled Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region into neighbouring Sudan since November 2020.

Three children sit eating rice on the floor of a temporary shelter in Um Rakuba refugee camp in eastern Sudan.

WFP Nigeria

Photographer: Damilola Onafuwa
World Food Programme/ Arete

With over 182 million people, Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa and the seventh-largest in the world. The annual growth rate of the population is approximately 2.7 per cent, and more than half the population are under 30 years of age.

Nigeria is the 10th largest producer of crude oil in the world and achieved lower-middle-income status in 2014. However, conflict in the northeast has displaced 1.7 million people and left another 8.7 million in need of humanitarian assistance in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states. Over three million of them are in Borno State, the epicentre of the insurgency.

Damilola Onafuwa visited Yobe State on assignment for WFP and met many families fleeing from armed insurgents.

Sadiya and her 10-month-old daughter, Ruqayyah sit in front of their home in Yobe State, Nigeria. WFP Nigeria continues their famine prevention work by offering child malnutrition programmes that focus on children who suffer from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM).

The mother of 15 children, Amina, receives a food parcel at a Food Distribution Point in Yobe State Nigeria. “I lost everything and spent three days on the road while fleeing,” she says.

Photographer: Siegfried Madola
World Food Programme/ Arete

At the height of the annual hunger season from June to August, some 6.8 million people in northern Nigeria will not know where their next meal will come from.

According to a new assessment, conflict is spreading from the northeast to the northwest — engulfing the entire north of Nigeria.

Camps have been set up, such as this one in Zamfara State, northwestern Nigeria, to shelter internally displaced people.

In this photo taken by Siegfried Madola, a woman holds up her prepaid card from WFP, which will enable her to buy food and vital supplies.

WFP Somalia

Photographer: Ismail Taxta
World Food Programme/ Arete

Somalia was gripped by famine in 2011. Since then, a combination of improved early warning measures, donor mobilization and a sustained, large-scale humanitarian response from both government and partners have resulted in gradual improvements to the food security situation.

Now, however, the combined impacts of COVID-19 and desert locust infestations, coupled with insecurity, political tension and recurrent climatic shocks such as flooding and drought, threaten to undo this recovery. Nearly half the population, some 5.6 million people, are currently unable to access adequate nutritious food. Of those, 2.7 million people are expected to face ‘crisis’ level food insecurity or worse by June 2021.

Climate shocks pose continual risks to crop production and to livestock, which increases unemployment and drives up prices — compounding a high reliance on food imports and threatening access to food for low-income families.

Arete photographer Ismail Taxta documented how WFP Somalia is supporting the provision of school meals across Mogadishu — part of a broader WFP response to meet urgent food and nutrition needs, while also supporting Somalia in building longer-term resilience and food security. Hundreds of thousands of children receive two nutritious meals every day, which means they can concentrate on their studies and not feel hungry. These meals also provide a safety net for poor families, which might otherwise struggle to feed their children; and are entirely sourced from local producers and retailers, strengthening local economies and helping communities to resist shocks.

A child holds up her lunch at a school in Mogadishu, Somalia. WFP Somalia continues to support the provision of school meals and quality kitchen facilities in schools across Somalia.

Students eat lunch at a school in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Saabirin says,”I love eating meals at school. Today my classmates and I are talking about hot meals because the change to hot meals this week has made us very happy, I’d like to study at this school until I grow up. In the future, I would like to be a doctor.”

WFP needs to raise $5B US Dollars in 2021 to avert famine and meet the urgent food and nutritional requirements of those most at risk.

Donate and learn more here: https://cdn.wfp.org/2021/preventing-famine/