The Yemeni children in the photograph above have some idea of how the children in Ukraine are feeling – except that they have never known peace. The war in Yemen has been going on since 2014 – all these children’s families have been displaced by the conflict. Called ‘the forgotten war’, Yemen’s situation today is worse than ever. As of 14 March 2022, around 17.4 million people are in need of food assistance, according to UNICEF. In response to this, the UN has requested US$4.2 billion in aid from member states, but on 16 March world leaders pledged just US$1.3 billion – leaving the people of Yemen in desperate need.  But Yemen, like Syria, Afghanistan, Congo and so many other human tragedies, is not currently the focus of the world’s attention.

 

New crises give you opportunities to revisit old crises or bring them back to the fore” Jonathan Clayton, Arete journalist and veteran foreign correspondent.

 

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is dominating the news. Western nations are transfixed both by the conflict’s apocalyptic potential for nuclear war, and the millions of refugees streaming from Ukraine into the rest of Europe. In a world with an increasingly short attention span, Ukraine has the advantage of being the latest war in town and has the power to galvanise politicians to action and to electrify the mainstream media and their public. As a result, there have been overwhelming gestures of international support and unity for Ukraine; borders have been opened for Ukraine’s desperate, bewildered refugees, and millions of dollars of much-needed aid relief are pouring into Ukraine – given both by nations and individuals.

But that doesn’t mean that other people in other regions, other crises, are not still suffering.  Unfortunately for the Yemeni children in the photograph, as Ukraine’s plight is soaking up the headlines, it also grabs the sympathy and the cash so vital for aid.

 

“You need to think outside the box. It may be the best way is to juxtapose or make parallels between the forgotten crisis with the ‘more current’ crisis to point towards the people in the world that have been forgotten.” Jonathan Clayton

 

This is when Arete’s work becomes all the more important. We have a reputation for going to places that others avoid. Our award-winning photographers, journalists and videographers are specialists at finding the stories that need to be told, to bring the people in these forgotten disasters back to the world’s attention. We are currently working with War Child in Yemen. We are working with the World Food Programme in Nigeria – where WFP continues its vital famine prevention work – and with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as they provide emergency support to communities affected by drought in Somalia.

 

Hussein, 13, poses for a photo with his goats on a footbridge in Somalia. FAO is working with local NGOs in Somalia to help support communities affected by desert locust invasion and drought.
Abdulkadir Zubeyr / FAO / Arete

 

Jonathan Clayton is an Arete journalist and editor, with more than 40 years of experience working as a foreign correspondent, writer and editor for both Reuters and The Times.

 

Jonathan Clayton talking with refugees at a UNHCR camp.

 

How do you make a situation relevant again to the wider world in order to build support and help bring about positive change?

People always get tired of crises when they can’t see any hope … when it has been going on for a long period of time, it is very hard to rally public support… Rwanda is now lauded as it has seen such huge progress, however, Congo has barely moved on, and…there is a limit to what people can stay engaged with.

“If you look at the crises that are forgotten, like the Western Sahara, or Rohingyas – from a news point of view, no one is interested. Even looking at Afghanistan with the country in dire straits, it’s a really hard sell for the mainstream media…

“You need to be more innovative in the way that you bring that crisis home to people. People were exhausted with stories of Somalia and Congo long before Ukraine started….”

“But the differences in the stories highlight the similarities, two different human beings in two different geographical locations, experiencing the same thing – you can use more recent or relevant crises to draw parallels between ongoing or forgotten crises in this way.”

 

Bitale, 47, is a refugee from Congo, now living in Uganda. She understands only too well the terror, grief and bewilderment afflicting the Ukrainians. 

Bitalie, 47, fled Congo for Uganda in 2017. In the chaos she lost her family. Five years later, she still does not know where her husband and children are, or whether they are alive or dead.
Kate Holt / Opportunity International / Arete

In 2017, Bitale fled her home in Uvira, Congo’s South Kivu province, when her village was attacked by the terrifying Mai Mai militia. In the chaos, she lost all her family, including her four children. She dreams of one day seeing her children again. She now lives in Uganda.

“They killed all of my neighbours, so I was very scared. I lived with my family. There were nine of us – myself, my husband, my four children, my brother, his wife, and my brother’s child. 

“We decided to run … we ran by foot through the forest …  we ran and ran … we reached Kamanura, and from there we got a bus that took us to Bukavu.” But in the confusion, the family were separated and she lost track of her children. After a long journey, by boat and on foot, Bitale reached Uganda.  

Bitalie holds a piece of paper with the names and ages of her children written on it.
Kate Holt / Opportunity International / Arete

A year later, Bitalie returned to Congo in the hope of finding her husband and children, but instead she found only ruins; the village was raided nightly by the Mai Mai. After six months, she gave up and went back to Uganda. A tailor for 20 years in Congo, Bitale can survive financially in Uganda because – on her brief return to Congo in 2018 – someone in the Church gave her a sewing machine, which she carried back to Uganda on the bus.

 With the support of the NGO Opportunity International, Bitalie now runs her tailoring business from Nakivale. She makes between £100 and £2 a week, depending on business. “If I can pay my rent, I buy things like tomatoes to mix with the food we are given. But all I want is to see my children again.” 

 

Jonathan Clayton:

“You have to work harder to have these stories heard. The challenge is that you get a disconnect between what’s happening in the news, so at the moment we all know about Ukrainian refugees, and before that Afghanistan and so on.”

 

So, you could use what is happening in Ukraine to revisit other crises?

“Yes, for instance… ‘this happened in Ukraine last week, but so and so lost their home 20 years ago and is still hoping to go back from the Democratic Republic of Congo’.

“Or ‘what is it like when your neighbours turn on you’ (like Russia and Ukraine) – along with applicable stories where tribalism is a key driver of violence…

It’s not necessarily new crises against old crises. …But there are some situations, such as those in Azerbaijan or Georgia, that would now be easier to cover with the similarities to Ukraine making them more attractive again.”

 

13-year-old twins of Azerbaijani heritage who had lived in Ukraine for the last 15 years, wait at Przemsyl train station in Poland. They are hoping to travel onwards to Germany. According to the UN more than 500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion with many of them being forced to queue for over twenty-four hours to cross the borders into Poland, Moldova and Romania.
Anthony Upton / DEC / Arete

 

How does the power of storytelling with images and the written story have an impact?

“The written word, as long as it is well illustrated, has an advantage over video. You will, by definition, be appealing to a small audience – it is not going to be prime time news. The narrative we always get is that video is so much more hard hitting. I think that is true with something like the current crisis in Ukraine. But when time elapses, good print stories come into their own. They allow you to tell a good story that is not necessarily topical. At best they are human interest stories, or success stories – because you are not going for the news pages, you are attempting to appeal to people.”

Jonathan’s wisdom and expertise is just one example of Arete’s bank of knowledge.  At Arete, we pride ourselves on connecting NGOs, charities and foundations with the most talented journalists, photographers and videographers. At Arete, we tell individual stories. Most importantly, as much as possible, we give individuals the means to tell their own stories.

 Arete’s team has the experience and understanding to tell stories in the most effective ways – and get them seen by the right people – so the stories have the greatest possible impact. You may think that, as Ukraine dominates the headlines, your campaign, your country, is likely to get less attention, but at Arete we know how to use the situation as an opportunity. We help to find the humanity in a crisis that brings the tragedies and resilience of these people back to the world’s attention. And we know how to make the world focus.

A seven-year-old boy wears a face mask whilst holding a hygiene kit during a distribution in Goma, D. R. Congo. War Child was distributing hygiene kits and informing people about how to protect themselves from COVID-19, whilst trying to minimise the spread of the virus.
Moses Sawasawa / War Child UK / Arete

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