Positive photos from a challenging year — 2020

Photo: Isak Amin/ FAO Somalia/ Arete

”2020 has been an extraordinary year. For photographers, videographers and writers, it has meant dramatically changing the way they work. Many have been unable to travel, and for those who can, assignments have become increasingly challenging, with new systems needed to ensure that peoples health and well being is prioritised over everything else.

We have seen an increasing demand for locally based photographers, to overcome travel restrictions, which has allowed us to expand our consultant database. At the same time, we have also seen budgets dramatically cut, which has proved challenging. As we look ahead to 2021, we hope that we can continue to tell important stories that can help make a difference.” — Kate Holt, Photojournalist & Director of Arete Stories.

In what has been an extremely challenging year our final blog of 2020 is a reflection on some of this year’s more positive moments as seen by Arete photographers from around the world.

We asked some of the fantastic photographers we have worked with on assignments this year to share with us one of their favourite photographs and explain why this photo represents positivity to them.

Quinn Mattingly


Quinn is an editorial and commercial photographer based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and has recently worked with us on projects for the Costa Foundation

Tell us about the photo: “This image was shot in Dak Lak Province, Vietnam, on assignment for Arete in one of the schools the Costa Foundation supports.This young girl is practising a dance for the Harvest Festival performance at her school, which happens every September in Vietnam”.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “The look of confidence and happiness on this girls face, as she practices her dance one last time before the performance, really struck me. It represents positivity to me in that we can do anything we set our minds to, especially, and even at a young age”.

Eden Sparke


Eden is a London-based photojournalist, specialising in humanitarian, sports, and news photography. She has worked with Arete for the last three years and carried out many assignments throughout Africa.

Tell us about the photo: “This was taken at a JHPIEGO outreach clinic in Kampala, Uganda. I was there photographing the great work of JHPIEGO in spreading awareness of, and access to, family planning initiatives. This particular clinic was in the forecourt of a hair extension and wig-making factory — the team set up the tent which had two consultation rooms and a reception area, and healthcare workers talked to the factory staff as they finished their shifts”.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “The woman in the photo, Nancy, had a consultation about her options for family planning, and she chose to have an IUD inserted there and then. ’She’s laughing in the photo as it ’didn’t hurt as much as she had expected!

It represents positivity to me because her happiness underlines that we are making great strides in helping women to make choices over their bodies and their futures. This year may have put a lot of things on hold, but there is so much good work out there still to be done and so many wonderful people out there ready to do it!”

Moses Sawasawa


Moses is a photojournalist and ’women’s rights activist, based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tell us about the photo: “I took these photos in the overcrowded village of Minova in South Kivu. This village has suffered many atrocities for years but the inhabitants do not give up. In this photo, Mr Kandu Hamuli works as a carpenter. He is a father to 7 children. Mr Hamuli is the sole earner for his family — despite the hardships around him he doesn’t give up.

Mr Hamuli says “I have been doing this job for 17 years and is what my father did before me. It gives me enough money to support my family.”

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? Mr Hamuli represents the bravery of his community. It also shows the love he has for his children and how he is willing to work hard to bring happiness and safety to his family.”

Aaron Palabyab


Aaron is a Philippines based filmmaker and photographer specialising in travel-oriented content and time-lapse photography. He started working with Arete last year.

Tell us about the photo: “This was the most surreal, foggy sunrise, seen while my girlfriend and I were riding our motorcycles up to the mountains just outside Manila. ’I’ve never seen a sunrise like this in many years of pursuing photography in the Philippines.We had to pull off to the side of the road to admire it”.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “There’s this mix of beauty and foreboding unreality in this photo that for me represents 2020 well. A few minutes after this photo was taken, the sun disappeared into the mist, but then a few more minutes up the road, the fog burned away and the sun shone in full glory.

It’s a reminder that no matter how dark and uncertain these times are now, one day, inevitably, the clouds must part, and the light that’s always been there will shine through again. Nature takes its course, and there’s beauty in that, no matter how dark it seems. It’s up to us to trust the process and live through the times we’ve been given”.

Gregory Escande


Gregory Escande is a french language teacher and photographer based in Maputo, Mozambique who has recently completed his first assignment for Arete.

Tell us about the photo: “It was taken in Maputo, Mozambique, in the Costa de Sol “bairro”. It had rained a little bit, and the ground was wet, but a group of 4 or 5 boys were playing with a ball. I asked them if they could do a jump with a ball header so that I could take a photo, and all the kids accepted to try a header. The boys tried many times, and two girls were watching and seemed to want to try too.

I encouraged the two young girls to attempt it, and this photo shows the first girl trying. Girls also play in sports in Mozambican schools, and one of the heroes of the nation is Maria Mutola, a Mozambican female track and field athlete, who is the only Mozambican, for both men and women, to win an Olympic or world title”.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “Mozambique is an extremely poor country, people are fighting every day for their survival and to support their families, and yet, people show dignity, kindness, and resilience. In my experience, people seem to be more optimistic and open-minded than in some developed countries. The child in the photo is also the symbol of joy, hope, and the ‘sans souci’.

To me this photo represents positivity because despite the difficult living conditions, even with the impression of a challenging future (symbolised in the photo by a grey, closed background) there are still suspended and fragile moments, in the harshness of everyday life, which are filled with optimism, joy and poetry”.

Massoud Hossaini


Massoud is a photojournalist based in Kabul, Afghanistan and 2012 Pulitzer prize winner.

“I was born in the wrong place, Afghanistan; grow up in the wrong place, Iran; living and working in the wrong place, Kabul; let’s see what will happen”.

Tell us about the photo: “In this photo, a man walks down the road as he sells balloons in Kabul, Afghanistan”.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “Positivity isn’t always easy to find in a place like Kabul. For me, the balloon seller in this photo is offering a piece of happiness, and the idea of a happier, more positive time with every balloon he sells”.

Kate Holt


Kate is a US based photographer who works in both Africa and the Middle East. Kate is the director of Arete Stories, and trustee of RE:ACT and the Royal Humane Society.

Tell us about the photo: “This photo was taken in downtown DC about an hour after Jo Biden had been called as the winner of the US Election. I had gone down to the White House to see first hand the reaction to the news and came across queues of cars and people celebrating. I turned around and unexpectedly caught sight of these two girls looking very happy”.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “This image represents hope as well as signifying change. Everything about the girls faces is positive”.

Solan Kolli


Solan is a photographer and filmmaker based in Ethiopia and has worked on many creative projects for Arete.

Tell us about the photo: “This picture was taken in Adame Yirgachafe, Ethiopia for the Costa Foundation to document the impact of their work which supports schools in coffee-growing communities in, Ethiopia”.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “My positive first impression of Adancech is confirmed by her interactions with other people. She was smiling andglowing in the sunlight as I photographed her on the coffee farm.

Adanchech is the story of a single mother from an impoverished village in Ethiopia who 10 years after dropping out and giving birth to five children, was able to go back to school. It is a truly exceptional story. The energy, enthusiasm, and hope that she has shown for her second chance in life taught me that you could start all over again regardless of the past challenges”.

Karel Prinsloo


Karel Prinsloo is an award-winning African photographer. He works for many NGO’s and news organisations throughout Africa and is one of Arete’s main photographers.

Tell us about the photo: “Children and a teacher walk past a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) health centre in the Mandruzi Resettlement neighbourhood, Mozambique. Mozambique continues to be impacted by the climate crisis and has yet to fully recover from the devastation of Cyclone Ida in 2019”.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “I like the picture as it shows children playing without a care in the world despite their dire circumstances. They are living for the moment, a lesson we all learned this year”.

Kevin Ouma

A Kenyan based photographer, Kevin recently worked with us on a project for the World Food Programme.

Tell us about the photo: “Muhumad holds tomatoes she grows in her garden in Ceel-Hume Village , Somaliand. In Somaliland, the main overall issues affecting food security are the lack of access to safe water for human consumption, agriculture and livestock production, as well as seasonal hunger due to insufficient food and income at certain times of the year”.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “Even in adversity, there is still room for hope. Living in a post-conflict environment Muhammad has not been put down; she has put together a small garden that provides good food for her family and extra to sell and earn a living. Adversity will come just as Covid-19 has, but we can emerge stronger”.

Brian Ongoro


A photographer based in Kisumu, Kenya, Brian covers East African and is an avid contributor to the AFP.

Tell us about the photo: “This photograph was taken in Kisumu, western Kenya during a cleanup exercise by a group of students. The students came out to clean areas surrounding Lake Victoria and a game park that is also next to the lake. Waves from the lake bring to shore plastics and other waste found in the lake.

The students have been home since March when schools were closed due to the spread of COVID-19. The students decided to organise themselves and spend their time at home cleaning up their environment. They want to engage in activities to help find solutions to the world’s problems — which they can participate in while they wait for infections from COVID-19 to reduce so that they can return to school.

Why does this photo represent positivity to you? “To me, this photograph shows that despite the challenges we are facing from COVID-19 and a lot of restrictions around the world, instead of just sitting and waiting for medical experts who are focusing on finding a vaccine for COVID-19, people can still focus their time and energy trying to solve other pressing issues”.

Roshni Lodhia


Roshni describes herself as a photographer for people, culture and conversation.

Growing up in Tanzania, Roshni found her calling in telling stories of grassroots conservation efforts through photography and film. Her work is unique in the way she captures light and the human spirit. Roshni has worked for conservation organisations, including The Nature Conservancy, in Tanzania, Kenya, Gabon, Seychelles, South Africa and India.

Tell us about the photo: “Joy and Antoney playing on their ancestral land in Paradamat, Kenya. Only a few kilometres away, zebras are grazing. It represents harmony between wildlife and humans.

This image is part of a series telling the story of Johnson Soit. Johnson Soit agreed to remove the fence on the land that he has leased out to Paradamat Conservancy Area to allow the wildlife to move freely. He says: “I agreed for the wild animals to roam around because that benefits us. From the lease payments, I pay my children’s school fees.”

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Positive photos from a challenging year — 2020 was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.