Ghulam Reza Nazari is a 25-year-old Arete Photographer from Afghanistan. Just before Christmas, Ghulam braved an overnight bus journey in a blizzard to get to remote communities in the mountains of Daykundi Province to take photographs for Arete on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). His mission was to photograph families, men, women and children, who were at risk of starving to death this winter.

Ghulam is just one of the people who play a crucial role in Arete’s mission – to “Tell Stories that Make a Difference.”

At Arete, we are enormously proud of our track record of going into the most difficult situations. Arete has been central in gathering and presenting content for many emergency appeals, (prior to our current work with the DEC in Afghanistan) including work with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In a crisis, the first priority is getting vital aid to those who need it, but it’s also critically important to get stories out. It’s those stories – well-told, well-illustrated – that hold people’s attention, engage the global community and move people to action. In the case of emergency appeals, like Afghanistan, engulfed in political turmoil – where DEC estimates a million children are at risk of dying of malnutrition this harsh winter, 8 million people on the edge of famine, and 95% of the population don’t have enough to eat – it is of paramount importance to respond as quickly and effectively as possible, to trigger the necessary response, so that the DEC can raise the money it needs to help the people of Afghanistan survive the winter.

Working with the DEC in Afghanistan is Arete’s most successful emergency appeal to date. So far, the appeal has raised over £30M.

At Arete, we think it is time to share some of the things we’ve learned and observed through the DEC Afghanistan emergency appeal, as well as our other recent emergency appeals.


Gaining Access to the Stories that Matter

Depending on the crisis, the obstacles to access differ. If it’s a natural disaster, particularly one affecting remote communities, the main obstacles are likely to be practical and logistical – how quickly can you physically get photographers on the ground in the worst affected areas?

A virtually submerged village in flooded rural Sindh, Pakistan. Arete collaborated with the World Food Programme on an emergency appeal in 2020, when floods devastated the region. Saiyna Bashir / WFP / Arete.

In conflict zones, security risks are obviously the most immediate consideration. Add to that, in Ghulam’s case, appalling weather and mountainous terrain. Additionally, one weapon warring factions often deploy is a bewildering increase in bureaucracy as a way to control access to people and the stories they can tell.

“Documenting things in Afghanistan is even harder today. We try to make it possible, but we must have a letter from the government giving us permission. Without it we will get in a lot of trouble.” – Ghulam Reza Nazari

The NGOs we work with are specialists in getting things done in the most complex situations – and that is Arete’s main advantage. After that, we’ve quickly found that local knowledge is one of our most valuable assets. In Afghanistan, we’ve exclusively used local consultants, like Ghulam Reza Nazari. This not only means Arete’s photographers can quickly gain access to affected areas but they understand the country and its people; as a result, it is much easier for them to communicate with potential beneficiaries. The only way to break through faceless statistics is by telling the stories of individuals, and how they and their families are suffering. It is those stories that move people to action, above anything else.

There is no point, however, in getting physical access to an affected community, if you can’t gain the trust of the people who live there. A photographer like Ghulam can connect with the people, explain to them why he has come, what he is trying to do to help relieve their suffering. That way he can learn and tell their stories in the most compelling way possible.

“People are not happy to have their photos taken, they are angry. They don’t want to be interviewed. But once we explain to them that these photos can help, they are happier to work with us” – Ghulam Reza, Arete Photographer
Nadia nurses her 2-month-old child, while the rest of her family look on, at home in Duykondi Province, Afghanistan. N’Deane Helajzen / Disasters Emergency Committee / Arete.

Using local photographers, incidentally, also builds capacity locally:  it puts money into the local communities, where it is needed, and helps local photographers build their careers, reputations and contacts.


Doing Justice to Those Stories

It’s also not enough to gain people’s trust, we have to make sure that we are doing right by those who have let us into their lives to witness to their most vulnerable moments. This takes tact and compassion, as well as technical skill – to take beautiful photographs that tell the story, while treating the subjects sensitively.

Whether it’s through photography, video, or the written word, Arete’s role is not to put a spin on events or individual accounts, but to use our skills to give people a voice that can reverberate around the world. 

“I feel bad seeing my country this way. This is the worst situation I have ever seen in Afghanistan. But I also feel happy with what I am doing, I can share my people’s problems with people who can help. It is the only way I can help, but it makes me happy that I can do this” – Ghulam Reza, Arete Photographer


The power of Photography and Video

Photo and video hold the real power, alongside a few well-chosen words. Arete always tries to let people tell their own stories, in their own words as much as possible: it is the best way to do them justice, and to preserve the authenticity that leads to a successful appeal.

Clara walks through standing water to her house while holding her one-year-old son Farnandine in Beira, Mozambique. Arete worked with the Disasters Emergency Committee in Mozambique in 2019 when Cyclone Idai destroyed most parts of Beira City. Karel Prinsloo / DEC / Arete.
Clara: “I woke up and the wind was blowing. I ran outside with my children. I have 5 children. My husband died a long time ago. We sought shelter. How will I live now? I used to sell bananas from a tree of mine. It is all gone. Who will help me now?”

 When you select the content for an appeal, it may not be what you initially expected – but it will almost always have an idiosyncratic quality, with individual details that stick in the mind, in a way that you could never recreate artificially. There’s never any need to sensationalise – the words, the pictures, the people speak for themselves.

The video below shows Istaahil, a woman living in Somaliland, telling her story. After her farm animals were killed by a drought in Somaliland in 2021, Istaahil’s livelihood was destroyed. The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations collaborated with Arete on an emergency appeal. This video shows how the results of that appeal changed Istaahil’s life – and the lives of her children, forever.

You do need to use editorial skill in placing individual stories within the context of the wider emergency. At Arete, we try to blend contextual information, statistics and individual accounts, to give the appeal an authoritative factual base, alongside its call to human emotions.


Framing an Appeal – Showing its Success 

Collecting and presenting high-quality content does not in itself guarantee a successful appeal. Emergency appeals differ from some of our other projects, in that they are short-term drives with very tangible results. The desperate need for intervention is powerfully represented by quantifying the impact of each individual donation. This also serves to emphasise the relatively small contributions needed to have a significant impact. This is a very effective way to move people to action. Content needs to appeal both to the public’s hearts and to their heads. 


It’s very important to show the success of emergency appeals – not just the money raised, but where the money has been spent. Chronicling the impact by producing content before, during, and after an appeal, promotes transparency and trust. It also generally leads to future donations and ongoing support.

It’s too soon, as yet, to have the full reporting on DEC’S Afghanistan campaign but other campaigns have proven their success.

DEC’s Cyclone Idai Appeal for Mozambique – which benefited Clara, who tells her story in the above photograph and quotation – raised £43 million. Thanks to these donations, DEC’S member charities were able to make sure that 220,700 people received seeds, tools, fertiliser etc. to regrow crops in the first six months to provide food and a livelihood for their families; 57,400 people received food parcels in the first six months after the cyclone, to keep themselves and their families from starvation; 163,000 people were given access to basic health care; 135,800 people were given access to safe drinking water. DEC regards this as a very successful campaign, and it undoubtedly made an enormous difference to the lives of women like Clara. Arete is proud to have played its part.


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.