Photographers' Blog

The children of Dadaab: Life through the lens

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.

Circle of life in world’s largest refugee camp

By Jonathan Ernst

I arrived in Dadaab, Kenya, well after the story broke.

It is the world’s largest refugee camp with a population of over 400,000, almost exclusively Somali, refugees. Its originally capacity was only for 90,000. Dadaab became front-page news this summer as the population spiked as a wave of “New Arrivals” crowded into the camps at a rate of more than 1,500 people per day as they fled the famine in their home country.

It’s a huge place, and getting around even requires a commute. Convoys roll from the main aid compounds only at certain hours for security reasons. Aid workers talk about how safe and peaceful it has been over the first 20 years, but the internal politics and demographics of the camp have changed dramatically in the past three or so years, as new arrivals outnumber the original shelter-seekers.

When I got there, the crush of new arrivals was still being processed, but the crush of international media had already left town. One of my first nights in the camps, at the bar in the UN compound, I met the crew who operated the satellite television transmissions for networks around the world whenever they wanted to “go live” from Dadaab. They had just rotated in and were prepared to be there as long as one month. But they left after just four days, as there was no longer any demand for them. Anderson Cooper of CNN was one of the last big names to pass through, and he had left a week or so before.

Flashback to Baidoa, Somalia: 1992

By Yannis Behrakis

It was the beginning of December 1992 and the winter had settled into Athens – the big story was the civil war and the famine in Somalia.

I volunteered to cover the story, as I’m sure many others did, but I was one of the “lucky” ones selected to go. Tom’s distinctive voice on the phone sounded both reassuring and worried. It was my first trip to the region and I remember running frantically to get malaria pills and a Yellow fever vaccine. I had the other vaccines a year earlier before covering a massive earthquake in Iran.

After a long flight via Cairo I found myself in Nairobi, with all my clothes lost somewhere in Africa. The most valuable part of my kit was fortunately still with me: two analogue camera bodies, the usual collection of lenses, a portable darkroom to develop color films, lots of chemicals and the latest in transmission technology, a 35mm film scanner and a T1 PC (the first Reuters photos portable PC) capable of filing a color photo to our London desk in about 22 minutes! This, of course, only if you succeeded in sending all three color separations.

Me and the man with the iPad

By Barry Malone

I never know how to behave when I go to write about hungry people.

I usually bring just a notebook and a pen because it seems somehow more subtle than a recorder. I drain bottled water or hide it before I get out of the car or the plane. In Ethiopia a few years ago I was telling a funny story to some other journalists as our car pulled up near a church where we had been told people were arriving looking for food.

We got out and began walking towards the place, me still telling the tale, shouting my mouth off, struggling to get to the punch line through my laughter and everybody else’s.

Then there was this sound, a low rumbling thing that came to meet us.

I could feel it roll across the ground and up through my boots. I stopped talking, my laughter died, I grabbed the arm of the person beside me: “What is that?” And I realized. It was the sound of children crying. There were enough children crying that — I’ll say it again — I could feel it in my boots. I was shamed by my laughter.

In the face of famine

Thursday, July 21, 2011 was supposed to be like any other night shift here on the pictures desk in Singapore – selecting, editing, and captioning pictures as they came in from around the world. On the menu would be coverage of National Day in Belgium, Eurozone summit, Tour de France, Europa League soccer, golf, and the daily file from Libya, Yemen and the rest of the Middle East, just to name a few.

In my close to four years working as a pictures sub-editor I’ve seen a large variety of what the world, and life has to offer. The rise and fall of politicians and regimes, tsunamis, earthquakes, athletes celebrating and hanging their heads in scandal-ridden shame, conservative cultures covering up in the name of modesty and liberal cultures baring all in the name of expression, fashion, entertainment, or just for the sake of it.

Through my photographer colleagues around the world, I’ve also witnessed a lot of bloodshed, violence and death. From a little girl clutching her dead mother’s body with her intestines spilling onto the road after a bomb explosion, to relatives reacting following gangland executions, heads and genitalia severed. ‘Soldiers’, ‘rebels’, ‘freedom fighters’, ‘terrorists’ – all killing each other in the name of one ideology or another. All of this, as a news organization we’ve presented to you.