The children of Dadaab: Life through the lens

October 25, 2011

Through my video “The children of Dadaab: Life through the Lens” I wanted to tell the story of the Somali children living in Kenya’s Dadaab. Living in the world’s largest refugee camp, they are the ones bearing the brunt of Africa’s worst famine in sixty years.

I wanted to see if I could tell their story through a different lens, showing their daily lives instead of just glaring down at their ribbed bodies and swollen eyes.

It was a challenging project. As one senior photographer asked, how else can we tell the story without showing images that clearly illustrate the plight of the starving millions? Few photographs cover all aspects of life in the camps.

Many of Dadaab’s children are dying. And then there are others who, despite living in the world’s oldest refugee camp, embrace their childhood; they play, go to school, care for their siblings and collect water for their families. I wanted to incorporate all of these aspects of life for Dadaab’s children into this project.

To tell the story, I combined Reuters photography captured during the height of the famine with footage I had collected when I was in Dadaab six months ago, before the severity of the crisis hit international headlines.

The point is, when news of the famine made it to the front pages, the children I had filmed in Dadaab were now only perceived as children on the frontline of famine. Not just as children who were excited with the furor we brought to the camp.

It is already too late for some of these children, as nearly 30,000 have died in the Horn of Africa since July, and another half a million could suffer the same fate if not enough action is taken. With the onset of the rainy season ahead, many of the weak and malnourished risk succumbing in large numbers to outbreaks of diseases like Cholera.

Photographers who have visited the camp speak of the resilience of the people there. When the cameras go away, the children who are able get on with their daily lives in the shadow of the threats.

The children’s famine has not gone away. This is a glimpse at what it means to be a child in Dadaab.


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Amazing work. How did you chose what frames to take when it seems like there were so many photogenic moments?

Posted by ElliotD | Report as abusive

WOW! Life as a child in Dadaab is very difficult. They have so many responsibilities of siblings and suffer through so much. I am also a blogger my self (Lekhini Bhatt) and i am also trying to help those children and change the world, because those children deserve more.

Posted by lekhinib | Report as abusive

Not to seem too critical of their plight, but it seems I’ve been seeing the same pictures for over 50 years of children in Africa with extended bellies; runny noses and flies all over them. I know for a fact we send them tons of food every month…it seems someone would have had the common sense to teach them how to grow things by now and stop the pain…if water is a problem, installing desalinization plants would be a solution – the cost would probably be less than the food/medical costs of a starving population…when will common sense ever prevail? Maybe sending a ton of seeds for growing food would be a good idea? I know their leaders are inept and are a major cause of their problems, but after 50 odd years, it seems we need to change our approach…

Posted by murrow | Report as abusive

It’s amazing to see so many children smiling even though they are facing so many hardships. Americans, and the rest of the world, have a lot to learn about the refugee children in Somalia. It’s embarrassing to see that in 2012, we still have horrible governments who don’t care about their people. I wish African countries would stand up more and stop the horrible government and rebel forces from mistreating their own people. It’s really sad..really sad.

Posted by zoo100 | Report as abusive

It is very hard with even the best efforts and intentions to overcome corruption: bribes and payoffs, extortion, protection rackets, insiders syphoning off the oil and mineral revenues, corporations pretty much doing whatever they want and enslaving entire populations, and commodities traders driving the price of grains and fuels up.
I know, Africa should lower the tax rates for the top 1% to 15% and they will create lots of jobs!
Too bad they don’t have Fox News in Africa.

Posted by Oprah_2011 | Report as abusive

The pictures are tragic. I remember, however, a mission to help these people and the video of a U.S. soldiers corpse being dragged and mutalated through the streets. I feel sorry for the children, but I think I would reserve my aid for other regions of the world. I may be convinced otherwise but it would have to take more than pictures.

Posted by criley401 | Report as abusive