My escape from Kabul

Ishaq Ali Anis is a 28-year-old photographer from Afghanistan. In this blog he describes The Taliban take-over of Kabul and his escape to Paris. 

Ishaq Ali Anis stands on the top of the ancient Ghulghola City in Bamyan.

My journey into photography began when I was living in Quetta, Pakistan. I would take photos of anything that interested me: clouds, gardens, flowers. It was nature that drew me in. 

In 2013 I applied to study graphic design at Kabul University, as there was no specific department for photography. In the middle of my first year, a lecturer announced that they were going to select ten people who were interested and create a photography class.  I was the first to raise my hand.

Employees work in a busy confectionary shop in Kabul Old City, Afghanistan. Ishaq Ali Anis / Arete

Working as a photographer, particular events stay with you. In 2016, I went to photograph a protest against the planned route of some powerlines. During the protest there was an explosion.. I was blown off my feet by the force of it. Luckily, I was not injured or killed, but I lost some really dear friends that day. It has been years and I still cannot bring myself to look at the photos.

When Covid happened, I was very afraid. I was living at my brother’s and barely left the house. Despite my precaution I got infected. Everything was suspended and I had to use  my savings to get by. As time passed, I obtained some translation jobs, which I did from home. The pay was not particularly good, but it was something. But being a photographer in Afghanistan has always been difficult. Most people do not care about photography, even the media use photos from the internet without paying copyright, so I’ve always done other things to sustain myself.

Before the Taliban took over, I was working for Safeer Media and we were living in their offices day and night.

One day, there was a big Russian tank close to our offices. I was amazed by this, I had no memory of the Afghan military using Russian tanks, but there it was, fully functional. I asked, where did it come from? The people around it said someone had just brought it and left it. It was terrifying. It showed that the Taliban were in our parts of the city even if we could not see them.

A photo shows a fully functional Russian tank parked in front of a military school in Kabul 100/200 meters away from Ishaq Ali Anis's offices in Kabul, Afghanistan. Ishaq Ali Anis / Arete

When the Taliban took over Kabul, it happened very unexpectedly. I thought the residents or the Afghanistan National Forces would hold them back and expected at least six months of resistance. But  in a matter of 24 hours, they were at the gates of the city.

The day of the takeover every road was blocked. I went to the bank, but they were sending everyone away, saying there was no money and that everyone needed to return home.

A landscape photo shows the day after the Taliban entered the city and the fighters have blocked the entrance to the presidential palace perimeter in Kabul, Afghanistan. Ishaq Ali Anis / Arete

After that day, everyone went into hiding . The roads were completely deserted. I had been living in Kabul for 8-9 years and I had never experienced seeing anything like that before.

Civilians walk through the deserted streets a few days after the government collapse in Kabul, Afghanistan. Ishaq Ali Anis / Arete

I knew I had to leave Afghanistan. I would have been putting myself at risk by staying. The Taliban has no tolerance for the arts and especially for photographers like myself who has worked with countries like the UK, the United States and France over the years.

I had a friend in France who was able to get us onto a list to leave Kabul. In the lead up to my departure, myself and my six colleagues attempted to get through the gates and into the airport by saying we were on the list. Three made it through but three of us were unlucky and got turned away. 

Outside the gate I took photos of the other journalists, filmmakers and other members of the media. I knew I had to document it, but I was not there for this purpose. I was there to escape like them.

Ishaq Ali Anis and friends wait for French military armoured vehicle to escort them to the French forces camp in Kabul, Afghanistan. Sami Ataie / Arete

We returned to a friend’s house, changed and showered. Then, around 3 or 4 in the afternoon we received another message saying that our names had now been added to a list and they gave us a code to give the French Soldiers at the gate.

We returned to the airport and found the French forces, feeling hopeful that we would get through, but we were turned away for a second time saying our names were not on the list. It was really disappointing.

But I was committed to leaving the country, I had my laptop, hard drive and money with me and if I couldn’t leave through the airport, I would have gone to the Pakistan border.

However, I tried again. Another French soldier came to replace the other two. I went up to him, explained we are on the list and gave him the code our friends in France gave us. I am not sure how, but this time we were allowed through, I will be forever grateful for this soldier. I hoped this would guarantee my safety, but nothing was guaranteed.

When I entered the airport, I felt like the world had been taken from underneath my feet – I was falling. I had left so many friends behind. I was ringing my friends giving them detailed instructions of the French soldier’s uniforms, their flag and the code they needed.

I felt guilty. Had my friends had been with me they would be inside the airport too.

They made it through in the end, but I still feel guilty. I didn’t call my brother. I could have called him, and he could have got out, but I didn’t.

And then a few days later the explosion happened, and everything got messy.

The journey out of Afghanistan took 3 to 4 days in total. Only when I got on the airplane did I feel safe. I didn’t know where I would end up, but I didn’t mind. I was just happy to be leaving Afghanistan and that chaos and uncertainty.

We were told not to bring lots of luggage as the space was very limited. So, I only took my laptop and hard drives. Sadly, I had to leave my cameras behind. When I was taking photos with my phone it was painful, but I documented what I could.

Ishaq Ali Anis and friends, Nasima, Rosa, Aqeel, and pose for a selfie in front of the pyramid in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

My family are still in Afghanistan. One brother is a farmer, the other is a journalist in Kabul, and his wife works for Norwegian Church Aid. Because he is a journalist, I am not sure if he is safe. Maybe later the Taliban will search for him. For now, there is no Taliban asking, ‘Who are you?’ ’What have you done?’ ‘Show me your passport’. This may happen later, but I don’t know. 

I can no longer report directly from Afghanistan, but I still use Twitter to write about it. For me it’s about keeping the connection between me and Afghanistan alive. If I am tweeting about Afghanistan, I can tell myself that it’s okay, that I am still thinking about it. It still matters to me. I am living here in Paris but my heart is in Afghanistan. 

I stayed with a friend of my cousins for a few days. They were incredible and really looked after us. I am now living in Arbois, a small town in the eastern part of France.

I don’t really have any plans for the future. I want to get settled here. I would like to obtain a residential permit or long-term citizenship but I am afraid they will ban me from going back to Afghanistan. Going back for me, as a photographer, is something that is necessary. But for now, I am planning on doing a master’s degree in something related to photography – something that will empower me to keep working as an artist.


Footnotes

Photos by Ishaq Ali Anis and Sami Ataie
Text by Izzy Morshead


Afghanistan Battles Air Pollution

Siegfried Molada on assignment in Bangui, Central African Republic


Siegfried Modola is a photographer and videographer based between Nairobi and Paris who has worked around the world. In this blog he recounts the stories of people surviving the polluted and bitter winters in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Over the last 15 years, I have reported from over a dozen countries across Africa and worked in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America.

In the winter of 2019, I travelled to Afghanistan to document the deteriorating air pollution crisis in the country, focusing specifically on the capital Kabul as part of a larger ongoing project that sheds light on the effect of pollution on the most vulnerable in our societies – children.

An aerial view shows a part of Kabul, Afghanistan.

I visited the Indira Ghandia Children’s hospital in Kabul, where I met six-month-old Zabiullah in the intensive care unit. Gasping for air in his mother’s arms, she held tightly onto the mask feeding him oxygen.

In the same room, a dozen children—all under the age of five—struggle to breathe as distressed mothers look helplessly at doctors carrying newly filled oxygen tanks into the ward. Most children have been diagnosed with pneumonia, like Zabiullah, while others have bronchitis or other respiratory infections.

In a country ravaged by years of conflict, pollution is now proving to be a bigger threat than war in Afghanistan – with more people being killed by toxic air than by bombs and bullets.

Six-months-old boy Zabiullah, who is suffering from pneumonia, breathes oxygen through a mask placed in position by his mother in a children's Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI) department in a government run hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan.

It is wintertime and outside, the temperature drops below zero. Through the clouded, uninsulated hospital window, Afghanistan’s capital, a city of some six million people nestled amongst the Hindu Kush mountains, lies blanketed in a haze of dark, toxic fumes.

Kabul is one of the most polluted cities globally – contesting India’s New Delhi and Beijing in China.

A mother with her daughter walk across a snow covered area of the city during a heavily polluted morning in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Zabiullah’s mother, Negar, 35, speaks to me about the daily struggle that she and her family endures. She describes the small tent they live in, with no electricity or adequate sanitation, in a camp for the internally displaced on the outskirts of the city. Here, hundreds of families that have fled the war from every corner of Afghanistan are living in absolute poverty.

“At night, I do not sleep as I fear my children can die of the cold. There is no wood. We burn rubbish that we find on the streets to keep warm,” she explains as she stares at the fast, rhythmic movement of her baby boy’s chest as he breathes. “We can smell the bad fumes of burning plastic in our home, in our neighbourhood. The smoke gets everywhere; the smell of it stays in my children’s clothes, in their skin.”

I speak to Doctor Farid Ahmad Andishmond, a paediatrician at the hospital. He believes that the spike in pneumonia and other lung infections among the many hospitalised children is directly linked to the increase of pollution in Kabul – especially during the winter months, when the temperature drops

 

“Most in Kabul, and as in the rest of the country, cannot afford electricity. Instead, they are left with no choice but to burn whatever they can find to keep their homes warm”, he explains as he does the rounds through the room. Between beds of sick children, he checks that the daily dose of intravenous antibiotics is properly administered by the nurse. “People burn plastic, rubber from the tires of vehicles, and cheap, unrefined coal. Whatever they can find and afford. These substances create toxic fumes that are harmful to the human body, especially in small children. A lot of children—and also adults—are dying because of health issues directly linked to the pollution levels in our country.”

According to the World Health Organisation, household air pollution is the single most dangerous health risk factor worldwide. Women and children are at the most risk of exposure as they are the ones that stay home the most, compared to men.

In Kabul and other cities across Afghanistan, it is not only household air pollution that is killing thousands of people every year: public bathhouses that burn tons of coal daily, poor city planning, a chronic lack of electricity, and dirty fuel with heavy lead concentrations, are all escalating the problem. During rush hour, you can feel the acrid smell of pollution stinging your throat.

Men and children wash in a communal bath house in Kabul, Afghanistan.

I speak to Doctor Fazil Ahmed, who works for Unicef in Kabul. His tell me how he blames the lack of infrastructure and the economic state of the country for the rising and ever more alarming pollution crisis.

“To understand the pollution problem in Afghanistan, we have to look at how our cities are built and the poor state of the economy. We lack proper city infrastructure. Many can’t afford electricity. We use dirty fuel, full of lead, for our vehicles. Lead is very bad for the human body – especially for the development of the brain in children”, he explains. “Unfortunately, there has never been a comprehensive study on the impact on pollution. Such a study would take a lot of resources, which the government does not have”.

The research group State of Global Air offers analysis on levels and trends in air quality and health for countries around the world, and they paint a bleak picture. The group states that more than 26,000 deaths in 2017 can be attributed to pollution in Afghanistan. In contrast, according to the United Nations, 3,483 civilians were killed the same year by the ongoing war in the country.

Smoke rises from the chimneys of hundreds of homes in an internally displaced camp on the outskirts of Herat, western Afghanistan.

According to the State of Global Air, long-term exposure to air pollution increases a person’s chances of developing and dying early from heart diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, lung infections, lung cancer, diabetes, and other health complications. Even short-term exposures too high pollution can trigger asthma and cause a spike in hospitalisations.

I visit another family in an internally displaced camp, on the outskirts of Herat, in the west of the country. The mother, Badungul, explains to me how she burns rubber from car tires, plastic, and any other cheap material they can afford to buy to keep their home warm during the cold winter days. They cannot afford coal or wood.

“I have to bring my children often to the doctor and spend the little money we can save to buy medicine,” she explains, as she lights a fire in her family’s stove and her four children play on a colourful carpet in the small room of their home. “The doctor tells me that we should stop burning plastic in our home, that the fumes from such material will make us very sick. But what other choice do we have? If we don’t burn these things, we will freeze to death.”

Bibigul, 4, (centre), Naramgul, 5, (left), and Nafasgul, 7, pose in their home in an internally displaced camp on the outskirts of Herat, western Afghanistan.

In another home in the same IDP camp, I speak to Narmagul, 45, and her son Nazzir, 11; both of them cough, as they light their stove with recycled plastic. Narmagul explains to me how the entire family is developing breathing problems due to the toxic smoke they inhale day in, day out. She had a throat operation that cost her all the family’s savings. “The doctor says that I became sick because of all the plastic we burn in our home,” she said.

A mother with her baby boy lights a stove fire in her family's home in an internally displaced camp on the outskirts of Herat, western Afghanistan.

Back in Kabul, at the Ibni-Sena hospital, 80-year-old Zulaikha is cared for by her daughter as she inhales oxygen administered through a face mask in the emergency department. She is suffering from a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and needs a regular intake of administered oxygen throughout the day. During cold days as pollution spikes, her health deteriorates. She has lived through decades of war, but it could be the air that she breathes that kills her.

Doctor Azim Samim examines an x-ray scan of the chest of a patient suffering from pneumonia at a hospital in the capital Kabul, Afghanistan.
Women suffering from lung infections and other health complications rest in the emergency ward of a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan.

At Arete we source and manage local experts in photography, video, digital and written content from around the world to help tell stories that make a difference. To discuss photographing people in medical settings in more detail, or how to tell a story of your own, you can get in touch here.

All text and photos by Siegfried Modola


Refugee to Entrepreneur

Last week, UK Charity, Opportunity International, opened an outdoor photo exhibition in London, created by award-winning photographer Kate Holt. The exhibition features a series of life-size photographs of the refugees Kate met in Uganda and invites visitors to “spend an evening walking amongst the remarkable individuals.” Hosted by St James Church in Piccadilly it is open daily from 0900 – 1730; entry is free. 

In this Blog, Photographer Kate Holt talks about the inspirational people she met.

Kate Holt is pictured behind the scenes on assignment for Opportunity International in Nakivale refugee camp, Uganda.

It seems a long time ago that we were able to step on a plane without doing a Covid Test and worrying if you would ever be allowed back into the UK if you dared to travel and were able to pay the price of 10 nights in a quarantine hotel.

This trip to Uganda to gather these stories is one of the last I did before Covid struck.

Yet the power of the stories we were told back then, and what I learned from the people I met, is now more relevant than ever.

Since this story, there are now nearly 30 million refugees in the world – with the number rising daily. With the crisis in Afghanistan continuing to unfold, it is estimated that over 2 million more refugees will cross into neighbouring countries within the next year.

Refugees queue for food at Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

Ongoing political instability, the effects of climate change increasing populations and proliferation of cheap weapons, have left countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi more fragile than ever. Every day thousands of people move across the region – escaping war, famine and fear.

Uganda, one of the more stable countries in the region now plays host to nearly a million and half refugees officially – unofficially it is estimated that nearly 3 million have found sanctuary there.

It is easy to lose perspective on the human face of this crisis when confronted by such numbers.

The refugees we met in Nakivale all had powerful stories to tell of why they had ended up fleeing there, and what their hopes for the future were.

Refugees queue for food at Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

Therese fled from the Congo with her children after her husband was killed by rebel soldiers in their house

She arrived in Nakivale with hardly anything because they had to leave their home so quickly.

Therese poses for a photograph in the reception centre that she is living in with her 7 children in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

Living in the reception centre in a small shelter made of plastic, she is lucky if they get porridge once a day or sometimes maize. All she wants is the opportunity to be able to set up a business selling beans like she used to have in the Congo. “I don’t want Aid – I just want a business so I can feed my children and send them to school.”

Therese poses for a photograph with her children in the reception centre that she is living in Nakivale Refugee Camp Isingoro District, Uganda.

Gentil is an artist we met who had escaped from Burundi. He used to run workshops for young artists and was accused by the government of training rebel soldiers, so he had to flee. He now lives with his grandmother and the nephews and nieces who he supports in Nakivale.

Gentil, a 34-year-old artist from Burundi, poses for a photograph with one of his paintings at his home in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

He was able to do financial training with Opportunity International and got a small loan to set up a business farming chickens. He is now able to start painting again and hopes that soon he will be able to make a living from being an artist like he was in Burundi.

He also hopes to be able to motivate other refugees into setting up businesses so they can become self-sufficient and not dependent on food handouts.

Gentil, a 34-year-old artist from Burundi feeds his chickens at his home in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

Bitalie was one of the sadder stories we encountered.

A tailor by profession, she fled from the Congo after her village was attacked by rebel soldiers and her neighbours were all killed. She fled along with her four children, husband and brother’s family into the bush.

She lost them all while running through the night. Eventually, she found her way to Nakivale.

She was alone and wanted to know what had happened to her family so she sold what little food aid she was given to buy a bus fare to go back to Congo.

Bitalie poses for a photograph in her workshop in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

She spent months looking for them but with no luck. But while she was there a local Church gave her an old sewing machine though and she returned with it on the bus.

Being given a sewing machine was her opportunity.

She received financial training from Opportunity International and got a small loan to help her set up a business.

Now she sews and repairs clothes in the camp and has a regular income. Her ultimate dream though is to find her family.

Bitalie uses her sewing machine in her workshop in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Isingoro District, Uganda.

All the refugees we met had all experienced traumatic events, extraordinary upheaval and loss. But they all remain determined to make their lives better by running a business to improve their lives and those of their families.

They aren’t asking for much.

They are asking for an opportunity.

Photos by Eden Sparke at Opportunity International’s launch evening for their Refugee to Entrepreneur exhibition in St James, Piccadilly, United Kingdom.

Footnotes

Text by Kate Holt and photos by Kate Holt (Uganda) and Eden Sparke (London)


Photographing people in medical settings: how and why to do it

Arete translates as knowledge. An area where knowledge is key is photography — particularly when it comes to photographing people in medical settings, such as hospitals and clinics. Without the right set of skills and knowledge more harm than good can be done by photojournalists.

We work with some of the world’s biggest non-governmental organisations and charities, gathering stories on their behalf. It is therefore of the utmost importance that every piece of information our journalists and photographers gather has the patient’s wellbeing in mind and adheres to an ethical code.

Following on from our previous blog by Arete photojournalist Karel Prinsloo, we discuss some of the key points in photographing people with medical issues.

The well-known saying ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ still holds true when it comes to photojournalism. It is no secret that the world’s NGOs and charities must fund-raise in order to provide free support to people in critical and life threatening situations. This is where original photographs come to the fore; there is no medium that tells a story better than a still image.

It is key that how and why these photos are being taken is communicated to everyone involved, and consent is given before any photography takes place.

Consent

Asking for consent from the patient, the patient’s next of kin, or the director of the medical facility should always be the first port of call for any photojournalist. Who consent is obtained from will be dependent on the situation of each patient. If the patient is unconscious, or devoid of mental capacity, then consent can be sought from the appropriate guardian — be it the person in charge of the medical facility or their next of kin.

An integral part of the process of asking for consent is explaining how and why these photos are being taken, how they will be used and by which organisation or charity.

A young girl holds her newborn baby at the Mbambamu Health Centre Kwango, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Kate Holt / Jhpiego)

Observe, don’t interfere

A photojournalist in this situation is ultimately there as an observer. Being mindful and aware are two of the most important attributes a professional can have when photographing people in medical settings.

It is always best to observe from a distance and to not get in the way of medical staff in an emergency. Be aware of the impact you are having by simply being present with your camera, always aim to avoid causing harm or distress.

Mombenga Mona Julie has her blood pressure taken before receiving the family planning injection at Boo Nsuba Health Centre Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Kate Holt / Jhpiego)

Dignity

Aiming to preserve the dignity of the patients should always be a high priority. From a technical perspective this means using equipment such as a long range lens, so as to avoid getting too close to a patient and invading their personal space. From a human perspective this means being conscious of how your actions or intentions are impacting upon the person, and those giving them care.

Before starting to take any photographs it is important to spend time with the patient, talking about anything other than their medical condition so you can gain their trust. When it comes to taking the photographs don’t focus only on the visibly affected areas of the body.

If required there are also various techniques that can be employed to preserve the anonymity of the patient too — such as not capturing the patient’s face in full, the eyes, or any identifying tattoos or hospital tags.

Cervical cancer patient Tabu Kitmonga Kiparu (46) in her hospital bed at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Photo: Karel Prinsloo / GAVI)

Using the photos

Employing a code of practice and ethics is just as important when choosing which photos to use as it is when taking them.

An example of this can be seen in the New York Times reporting of the terrorist attack on the Nairobi hotel-office complex in January of 2019.

The decision was made to publish photos of a number of the victims who died. The ensuing backlash from the people of Kenya and elsewhere in the world showed how unethical a decision this was.

Ultimately, here at Arete each of our photojournalists operate in accordance with their own code of ethics — some of which we have explained in more detail above. Only photos that fall in line with those ethics will be presented to the client. Although which of those photos are used, or not, always remains the client’s decision.

Mombenga Mona Julie receives counselling about different family planning methods from Tshezanga Jane at Boo Nsuba Health Centre in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Kate Holt / Jhpiego)

At Arete we source and manage local experts in photography, video, digital and written content from around the world to help tell stories that make a difference. To discuss photographing people in medical settings in more detail, or how to tell a story of your own, you can get in touch here.


A year in COVID from the UK & India, told by Vijay Pandey and Leon Neal

As the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 continue in the UK and some other countries, vaccination rates are on the rise, and COVID-19 deaths are falling. This has come after almost two years of ongoing social and technological battles with the virus.

The extraordinary work of the brave photographers who have been documenting this global pandemic must not be underestimated. Unlike photographing sub-genres of war, or natural disasters, these photographers aren’t offered hazard pay and are mostly self-insured. Despite this, they continue to capture the unfiltered stories that will go down in history.

We spoke with two such photographers, Vijay Pandey, who has been documenting the effects of Covid-19 and lockdown in India, and Leon Neal, who has been documenting the pandemic in the UK.
These are their stories…

Vijay Pandey, India
Vijay Pandey has spent over 20 years in India working with both National Publications and VICE News. In recent years, Vijay has ventured into freelance photojournalism, covering a broad range of news events including the Nepal earthquake, the Indian conflict between parliamentarian & Maoist supporters, the Delhi Riots of 2020 and, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Where have you been covering Covid in the last year?

“I have lived and worked in New Delhi for nearly two decades and covered the pandemic since it first started to take hold in the spring of 2020, both in New Delhi and in surrounding districts. I continue to do this.

While always very careful to take safety precautions — gloves, double masks, disinfectant and eye protection — I still consider myself incredibly lucky not to have contracted the virus or to have had any close friends or family die or fall seriously ill. But I do know that several photojournalists have died in India during the pandemic, some of them former colleagues from the field.”

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. A homeless boy sits on a deserted street as New Delhi continues under lockdown during the Coronavirus Pandemic in New Delhi, India. In the bustling market of Chandni Chowk in front of the famous Red Fort, there are only homeless, beggars and migrant labour as all shops and establishments are closed.

What was the general response to Covid in India?

“The initial response from many people was of panic. Mass migration started very quickly after the first lockdown started. Thousands of people just left the cities and started walking, fleeing the city to return to more rural areas. All the trains and buses were suspended, so there was no other option.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Migrant workers rush to board the final buses to reach their native places, in the outskirts of Delhi, India.

Those with the lowest income were undoubtedly the worst affected in the first wave, people who live hand to mouth. They had no other option but to leave urban areas and walk back to their family homes. With many people in lockdown in the cities, many job opportunities have gone, and many people can no longer afford their rent.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Migrant workers returning from rural parts of the country at Kaushambi bus terminal in the outskirts of New Delhi. Amid absence of skilled employment in villages, migrant workers who left for home during coronavirus lockdown are returning to Cities.
Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. A construction labourer Hari Om holds his eight months old son while walking back to his native village in Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh, in New Delhi. Tikamgarh is approximately 550 kms from Delhi. As the work was stopped and contractors ask the labourers to leave the construction site, migrant labourers who fear dying not of the disease but rather of starvation, have decided not to wait. Unable to afford food and rent, migrant workers are walking back to their native villages, hundreds of miles away, during the World’s largest Lockdown.

There was very little government support, no transport, food or water. And reported beatings by the police forces of people who were walking home — as, technically, they were out after curfew.

About 25% of people were forced to leave the cities; if you worked for the government or had savings, you were ok, but those in the private sector or gig economy were not supported. This lack of support, and response from the government, provoked a lot of anger towards the establishment.

This led the government to relaxing lockdown measures after two months. There are almost no jobs in rural India, so people returned to the cities. Despite Covid-19 still raging and many, many people dying every day, people were flooding back into the cities.

Although it may seem like a simple choice between your health and your pocket, it was not for many. Both would result in death, but at least there was a chance this wouldn’t happen if you caught Covid-19; death was almost certain if you had no job and no income.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Relatives of a person who died of COVID 19 performing the last rites during cremation at Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi, India.

It was very clear in India, what the priorities were during the pandemic, and it wasn’t the lives of most of the people. When local party elections came around, they were not postponed, the rallies went ahead, and many of the politicians did not wear masks and set a good example.

Thousands of people would gather for the rallies, which acted like a super-spreader event, and the result was thousands of deaths, particularly of many teachers who were required to do election duty”.

What are the challenges of trying to convey the pandemic through photography?

“I think there are two really challenging things. It was the first pandemic of this scale I have seen, and in my home country too. The first, and obvious, challenge is the risk to my own health.

Particularly when I was in the hospitals, I was really worried that I might catch Covid; the health system was overwhelmed, there were people everywhere, on the floors, the corridors.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. The body of the man who died of coronavirus (COVID-19) kept in a waiting room before the funeral at Nigambodh Crematorium in New Delhi.
Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Bodies of Coronavirus (Covid19) victims lay before being cremated at Gazipur crematorium in New Delhi.

This second really challenging thing is what the pandemic did to my soul; the helplessness and guilt I felt.

People were turning to me and asking for help to find them hospital beds or oxygen cylinders. I tried, but I couldn’t do anything. I saw people dying outside of the hospital, waiting for treatments; there was no oxygen, beds or medicine.

Photo: Vijay Pandey/Arete. Women mourn during the cremation of a person who died of COVID-19 at Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi, India.

I saw people carrying patients from one hospital to another, searching for a bed. Children were dying in front of me, gasping for air.

Experiencing this made me really sad. But I felt I had to do it; had to keep on photographing. The only hope I have is that sharing these stories and photographs on my channels will somehow lead to some action, some more help for these people”.

Leon Neal, United Kingdom
Leon Neal is a winner of The Times/Tabasco Young Photographer of the Year scholarship and a former Times. Leon also spent ten years working in a staff position at the world’s oldest global news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), before moving to the Getty Images editorial team based in London. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.

Where you have been covering Covid in the last year?

“For the best part of 2020, was covering COVID-19 in the UK. My first experience of how this new virus would be received came when I witnessed the arrival of a flight of citizens being repatriated via RAF Brize Norton, escorted on to coaches by a team in hazmat suits, but then driven away by a very concerned looking driver, wearing just his regular cardigan and no facemask. This confusion of how to go forward became a theme for the coming year.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. A concerned-looking coach driver tasked with transporting a number of repatriated citizens from RAF Brize Norton.

Based in London, the effects of COVID-19 induced lockdowns became obvious quite quickly. London’s theatres, stores, and tourist attractions closed their doors, and the capital fell silent.

In fact, the streets were so empty that it presented a great opportunity to head out and record some of London’s iconic landmarks in this new, deserted world. I’d ticked off a few by the time I arrived at the pedestrian crossing outside Abbey Road studios, made famous by The Beatles.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. Line repainting on the famous Abbey Road zebra crossing.

I waited around forty minutes for someone to cross, but the streets were deserted. Suddenly, an enormous brightly-painted truck pulled up next to the crossing, which I then realised was a highway maintenance vehicle. With traffic at a bare minimum, the local council were also seizing the opportunity presented by the unique nature of lockdown to repaint the lines on this iconic zebra crossing.

In May, I had my first experience documenting the important work to tackle COVID-19 head-on, being carried out by the NHS daily. I spent some time with the South Central Ambulance Service team around the Southampton area. Thanks to a pool arrangement negotiated by photographer Will Oliver, the NHS allowed each agency the opportunity to document a different area of support and care, and Getty Images was lucky enough to secure time with SCAS.

Photo: Leon Neal/ Getty Images. Ambulances of the South Central Ambulance Service queued up to deliver suspected Covid-19 positive patients to hospital.

Hearing the stories of how many of the ambulance crew members and paramedics had already suffered through COVID-19, with some members of the team still in hospital on ventilators, gave me a far greater awareness of infection and precautions. The mental and physical toil faced by the teams was overlaid with the type of humour that I recognised from my colleagues in the news media; a reliance on each other to get through what can feel like a daily onslaught of downward-spiralling news.

Having to treat each call as if the patient is COVID-positive adds an extra layer of duty and precaution. The smallest slip or shortcut taken could potentially lead to further infections among your friends and colleagues. As I returned to my hotel each evening, I went through a methodical clean of all my camera equipment, phone and other items used through the day before starting again the next day. When you think of all the items in an ambulance, you start to realise the huge scale of logistics involved with the new normal.”

What was the general response to Covid in the UK? How were people striking a balance between earning a living and adhering to lockdown?

“Restrictions and lockdowns of varying strengths continued throughout the year.

The public were adopting the old adage; adapt and survive. Driving home one day, I passed a couple who had created their own alfresco gym next to their housing block. Elsewhere, Reverend Lucy Winkett, rector of St James’ Piccadilly, invited me to attend as she battled technology to hold one of her first online services.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. A family brings their gym equipment outside and trains on the street next to their housing block.

Businesses, too, were facing incredible pressures. Among those struggling, taxi drivers had seen a total collapse in their fares. A virtual ban on international travel resulted in no passengers or tourists arriving, and the taxi ranks around London’s airports were packed with waiting cars but no business.

At London Heathrow, I was able to speak with just a few of those in the queue to pick up a customer. Again and again, I heard the same story; as fares dried up, drivers were forced to wait for enormous lengths of time between customers. Many I spoke to were sleeping in their cabs and waiting as long as thirty-five hours to make their way to the front of the line. At the end of all of that, the average fare was working out to be around £40.

Covid-induced lockdowns created a unique circumstance for many people in the UK, particularly the self-employed and those who fell through the gaps of the various government support schemes. My partner is a wedding photographer, and she was luckily able to claim financial support due to the total collapse of that industry. Continuing to work was a necessity for many, and paid leave wasn’t an option; although many in the UK are lucky to have such an option, this wasn’t the case for millions of others around the world. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to see your business or position disappear as the months passed.”

What are the challenges of trying to convey the pandemic through photography?

“Both professionally and personally, the pandemic has provided huge challenges. In my work, the biggest issue was accessing institutions, who only really opened their doors to the media much later into the crisis. Months were spent sending out emails and calling organisations in a bid to illustrate the heart of the story, rather than the lighter stories around the edge, such as the weekly Clap For Carers. Looking at how colleagues overseas were working inside ICUs, funeral homes and care homes, while it was such a battle to get anything in the UK, was deeply frustrating.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images. Paramedics of the South Central Ambulance Service attend to a suspected Covid-19 positive patient on the street.

In my personal life, the pressure in the early stages of the pandemic was substantial. As Government warnings told the public to stay indoors and keep away from others, members of the media were doing all they could to get into the hotspots. Looking back now, it’s easy to be dismissive of the threat, but, at this point, knowledge on the dangers, transmission and long-term effects were scarce, so that mixed message put a lot of pressure onto me. Returning home each day, my family would stay in another room while I removed my clothes, showered, cleaned my cameras, phone, keys etc before I was able to speak with them. After months of this, it was hard to remain buoyant at times.”


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Covering the Horrors of India's Second Wave

The rapid spike in covid cases and the number of deaths in India during April and May shocked the country – and the world – as the grim reality of this deadly virus was once again highlighted.

Arete photographer Vijay Pandey recounts his experiences documenting India’s deadly second wave for Arete in Delhi.

Arete photographer Vijay Pandey

With almost half of India’s 30 million Covid-19 cases coming in April and May alone, the country’s health services were completely overwhelmed and under-equipped to deal with the exponential rise in infections.

I have lived and worked in New Delhi for nearly two decades and have covered the pandemic since it first started to take hold in the spring of 2020, both in New Delhi and in surrounding districts. While always very careful to take safety precautions – gloves, double masks, disinfectant and eye protection – I still consider myself incredibly lucky not to have contracted the virus, or to have had any close friends or family die or fall seriously ill. I do know, however, that several photojournalists have died in India during the pandemic, some of them former colleagues from the field.

Crematorium staff oversee the cremation of Covid-19 victims at the Ghazipur crematorium in New Delhi, India, May 2021.

In May, while on assignment for the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) and Arete, I travelled to several locations in New Delhi to document the effects of the deadly second wave that was sweeping the city. The DEC, which is made up of 14 of the UK’s leading aid charities, launches emergency appeals when disasters strike the world’s most vulnerable communities. It has been on the frontline responding to the crisis in India, taking the lead on emergency fundraising in the UK to deliver medical supplies, treatment facilities and logistics support quickly to overwhelmed health facilities.

Funeral pyres laid out at the Ghazipur crematorium in New Delhi, India, May 2021.

The DEC’s Coronavirus Appeal has been funding emergency work in fragile states during the pandemic, and was extended to cover India in April when the unprecedented scale of the second wave became clear. The organisation has been responsible for distributing things like water and soap in vulnerable communities and helping to ensure that the pandemic does not lead to children going hungry or becoming malnourished in these areas.

Khalsa Help International volunteers check oxygen levels of patients infected with Covid-19 at Gurudwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Indirapuram, Ghaziabad, New Delhi, India, May 2021.

I was asked to photograph and interview victims’ families and frontline workers at several locations in the city, including the Ghazipur and Nigambodh Cremation Grounds, and the LNJP Hospital and Khalsa Help International centre in Ghaziabad to the east of the city to photograph the scale and severity of the crisis. All of these places are located in traditionally vulnerable neighbourhoods, with fewer economic opportunities for citizens and weaker basic housing and sanitation infrastructure. As a result, all were badly hit during the recent wave, with the number of dead bodies being brought into the Ghazipur crematorium reportedly 10 times the usual figure at its peak.

A volunteer of the NGO, Khalsa Help international, gives CPR therapy to a Covid-19 patient gasping for breath at a tent installed at a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, in Ghaziabad, India on May 6, 2021.

I have covered many stories of violence and suffering in India, while working as a photojournalist, including the Delhi riots in 2020, bomb attacks in the capital in 2008 and 2010 and conflicts between Maoist insurgents and central government forces in Chhattisgarh State in central India. But despite this, and although I have been covering the pandemic for over a year, I had never seen anything like the scenes captured in these photographs. I saw people struggling to breath, gasping for breath and dying in front of me. One of these was a 14-year-old girl who passed away as her parents looked on helplessly.

Sarita tries to contact her husband, Suresh Kumar, who has been admitted in a Covid-19 ward, while sitting outside the main gate of LNJP hospital in New Delhi, India, May 2021. Entry to Covid-19 hospital wards and isolation facilities is strictly barred, even to the families of the patients, to prevent the spread of infection.
A man carries oxygen cylinders on a scooter in New Delhi, India, May 2021.

It was my first time visiting Ghazipur, a very deprived slum area in the East Delhi district, the sort of area where the city’s crematoriums are almost always located. The crematorium staff had been working non-stop, with more and more bodies arriving each day. As frontline workers they have all received at least one vaccine. However, many of their family members have not, a big concern for these men who understand, more clearly than most, the devastating scale of this crisis.

Dinesh waits to collect the belongings of his father after his death, which were left inside LNJP hospital in New Delhi, India, May 2021. His father died on May 4, 2021 due to Covid-19.

Dinesh waits to collect the belongings of his father after his death, which were left inside LNJP hospital in New Delhi, India, May 2021. His father died on May 4, 2021 due to Covid-19.

Health workers in PPE inside a temporary Covid Care Centre set up at Shehnai Banquet Hall attached to LNJP Hospital in May 2021 in New Delhi, India.
A health worker puts on protective gear before entering a temporary Covid Care Centre set up at Shehnai Banquet Hall attached to LNJP Hospital in New Delhi, India, May 2021. The massive rise in infections in the second wave of the pandemic led to hospitals in several states reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen and beds.

The responsibility for this devastating wave has been laid squarely at the feet of the central government by the local communities. Mostly they blame the rallies held ahead of the local elections in April, while other factors include the ongoing farmers protest around the borders of Delhi as well as the major religious festivals that were allowed to go ahead earlier in the year.

Looking at the scenes I photographed in Ghazipur it is astonishing that the government could have been so short-sighted. It is also remarkable just how all-encompassing this wave has been – while last year things went relatively smoothly in the battle against the pandemic, this wave has stretched the healthcare system to breaking point – and beyond – with even the city’s wealthy struggling to get hold of oxygen.

A father watches the funeral of his 42 year old son, who died from Covid-19 within 6 days of infection, at Nigambodh cremation ground in New Delhi, India on May 6, 2021.

The worst appears to have now peaked and thankfully any vaccine hesitancy seems to have been dispelled by the horrific scenes over the last few weeks. The next challenge will lie in making sure everyone has access to one – although vaccines have been announced for over 18-year-olds, there is a currently a shortage, with the online booking system confusing and difficult to navigate. Moreover with 70% of people in India living in rural areas I have a horrible sense that we are far from out of the woods yet.

Family members of a Covid-19 victim carry the body into the Nigambodh Cremation Ground in New Delhi, India, May 2021.

Footnotes

All text and photos by Vijay Pandey


Working in hostile environments with photographer Karel Prinsloo & hostile environments trainer Lizzy Stileman MBE

Anything can be news but not everything is newsworthy. Journalism is a process in which a reporter uses verification and storytelling to make a subject newsworthy.

Creating a good story means finding and verifying important or interesting information and then presenting it in a way that engages the audience. Good stories are part of what makes journalism unique. For a journalist to truly achieve this, they need to be on the ground, ‘in the thick of it’, capturing the story first-hand.

The stories that too often go untold are taking place in dangerous and challenging environments, warzones, pandemics, dictatorships. It takes brave and trained individuals to capture these stories safely and transparently.

In the latest edition of Arete’s Stories, we talk to Arete photojournalist Karel Prinsloo about his personal experiences of working in dangerous environments and Lizzy Stileman, MBE, about the role of hostile environment awareness training.

Karel Prinsloo
Karel Prinsloo is an award-winning photographer. He has covered conflicts and humanitarian crises in Africa and the Middle East and has been based in Nairobi for nearly a decade as the Associated Press’ Chief photographer for East Africa.

He also worked at the Associated Press’ base in London as a picture editor for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Currently, he is a freelance photographer working for humanitarian organisations like UNICEF, WFP, GAVI, IFAW as well as for major international news media.

Karel has won numerous awards, including the South African Photographer Of The Year, second prize in the World Press Photo Awards in 2000 for his coverage of the devastating Mozambique floods and runner up in the CNN African Journalist of the year.

Karel has been published in all the world’s major publications, including the New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek and Paris Match.

Your reputation precedes you, Karel! Thanks for talking with me today. Can you start by telling us a little about some of the challenging environments you have worked in over the years?

“Sure, so I started when I was young, with my first experience of working in a hostile or challenging environment coming in South Africa just after the end of apartheid. I was doing a lot of work in the townships, and there was a lot of unrest and lawlessness out there during the transition of power in the country in 1994.

Since then, I have covered two wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, been embedded with the US Military in Iraq and Afghanistan, captured the ongoing conflict in Israel, Gaza, and Palestine, violent unrest in Uganda, the farm invasions in Zimbabwe, and unrest in Somalia where, tragically, one of my colleagues from the BBC died.

From the Middle East to Europe, to Africa, you could say I have covered a fair amount of dangerous and hostile situations over the years; thankfully though, I work in relatively safer climates now….”

I can only imagine some of what you see and experience when working in these places. Is there any way to prepare yourself for this?

“Well, when working with any news agency, they will send you on hostile environment awareness training (HEAT) — I’ve been on a few.

Generally, you get training in first aid, a bit of situational awareness, how to recognise danger, how to read a crowd, that sort of thing. For me personally, I had been working in the field a long-time before these training courses became mandatory, so a lot of it was common-sense to me — but I can see how it can be helpful for somebody who has never been in this situation.

The biggest takeaway for me was the first aid training — and, unfortunately, I have had to use these skills since.

During the Kenyan presidential elections, we stumbled across a lot of people who had been quite seriously hurt. I believe the reason we are taught these skills is to help people, so regardless of whether it was my team or me, or a complete stranger, I will help.

There are those who might say to preserve journalistic integrity, you shouldn’t interfere, but I don’t believe in this observer ideology. I believe if you are in a situation to help someone, then you should, so long as it doesn’t endanger your life or that of your team. And that is what we did. We tried to help as many people as we could”.

Can you give us an insight into how you feel when working in these places?

“I started out as a photojournalist to show injustice in my own country, Namibia and my aim is always to try and shine a light on the injustices of the world, and I‘ve been doing that with my camera now for well over 30 years.

When I initially started out working in potentially hostile places, I was young, and I wasn’t particularly phased by much of what I saw. However, I find as you get older, you get more sensitive to working in these environments.

I have a family now, and when you see the atrocities that are being committed against, particularly, women and children. You can’t help but think, what if that was my wife or my daughter. This is hard to carry when it is so important to stay focused and aware of your surroundings.

As a result, in recent years, I have pivoted to work in the humanitarian sector rather than for the media. I am still required to work in ‘hostile environments, but the stories’ subject is very different.

I feel whether you are seeking to unearth and capture injustice or documenting the amazing work many of these NGOs are doing, you have to believe in it. This is key. I still believe in this work, and I wouldn’t do it otherwise. I genuinely believe we make a difference, and to make a difference in one person’s life is amazing, but to make a difference in many people’s lives is incredible; this feeling is something special”.

Have there ever been moments where you have feared for your life while capturing these stories?
“Yeah many times. I can vividly remember the time when I was in Goma in the DRC. The rebels were advancing into Goma. I was standing with my colleagues, a photographer and a videographer, in front of the UN building on the road. All of a sudden a number of armed Congolese Government soldiers abducted us to flee from the advancing rebels, forcing us into our own vehicle.

We tried to reason with them, but the more we spoke, the angrier they got. They were speaking Swahili, which one of my colleagues understood. I remember looking over at him, and he was as white as a ghost.

All of a sudden, they came around a corner, stopped the car, got out, and ran.

It turns out they ran as there was a rebel checkpoint ahead. After speaking with my colleague, I found out that they were talking about how they intended to rape our female colleague and then kill us all. We got very lucky this day.

Unbelievably, this wasn’t the worst experience of my career. I was in the DRC again in 2001, this time for the funeral of the assassinated President, Laurent-Desire Kabila. I was amongst many people, and I could sense the mood was changing.

I was struck with a rock, and it was at this moment I realised that the sentiment of anger and outrage of this large group of people was being directed at me. There was a belief that foreigners had killed their President, and I became a target. Rocks started flying in my direction.

Nothing scares me more in this world than an angry mob. I’ve seen what a mob can do; I’ve been on the receiving end.

This happened to me prior to any of these training courses that are commonplace nowadays, and it was the only education on reading a crowd that I ever needed. Since then, I have been far more trusting of my gut instinct.

You don’t know how you will react when someone shoots at you until someone shoots at you! You can either continue working or not, and you won’t know this as a photojournalist until you have worked in a hostile environment and experienced it”.

It seems these experiences happened relatively early in your career, and it is remarkable that you could carry on after this. How were you able to continue? What makes all this worth it?

“For me, it is knowing that my work actually helps people. It is seeing it help. When I worked for the media, sometimes your work can lead to immediate and life-changing responses for people. After all, you are capturing first-hand accounts from places, particularly back then, that nobody else would be documenting.

One story that sticks in my mind was from 2003 when we were cut off from civilisation in a town called Bunia in the DRC. Atrocities were happening all around us, we were able to get some of these stories out to the media, and two weeks later, the French military landed, and it stopped overnight. There is huge satisfaction in knowing you made a difference by getting these stories out.

Today, I get to better peoples lives with my work in the NGO sector and my photography with Arete — we have helped raise millions of dollars for various organisations that have been used to make a better life for so many. That is the satisfaction I get now”.

Lizzy Stileman MBE
Lizzy is the Director of EJS Disaster Management and veteran of the British Army, serving for 20 years. Since then, Lizzy has gone on to complete a Masters in Disaster Management, volunteers for British NGO RE:ACT, where she has completed eight international deployments and remains an active member of the British Army Reservists.

Lizzy, can you tell us a little about the role of HEAT in preparing for work in hostile environments?

“The purpose of HEAT or hostile environment awareness training is two-fold really. The first aspect is security, and the second is remote first aid. As facilitators, it is our job to give people the best opportunity to not get in a position where they are under threat. The course is there as a thought-provoking tool.

We aim to prepare people of all walks of life, providing them with a toolkit that enables them to handle both the mental and physical stress of hostile environments. It is understanding how to read a situation and, if necessary, how to get away with your team safely.

Many of the scenarios explored in HEAT are things the vast majority of us would likely never encounter, such as kidnappings, carjacking, being caught up in a riot, illegal checkpoints or an active shooter.

It is more than just a set of instructions on what to do if that were to happen. It is about self-care, interpersonal skills, how to negotiate and help your team members if they are struggling. Your mind is your most powerful tool in a hostile environment, and it is essential that it is working efficiently.

The first aid aspect is focussed on what we call remote first aid, how to help someone when you are in the middle of nowhere, with very limited supplies. How to apply a tourniquet, how to do CPR, how to treat a gunshot wound. With no communications, how do you create a temporary stretcher, and how do you stay safe while doing it? In these scenarios, there is no 999, no ambulances.

Visiting hostile environments, even for a short period of time, is a dangerous but essential aspect for many sectors, such as those that work with NGOs and the Press; and HEAT has become a key element of preparing for this travel”.


Fight or Flight; Six years on from the 2015 refugee and migrant crisis

It has been six years since Europe experienced its greatest refugee and migrant crisis since World War II, with more than a million refugees arriving on its shores in 2015.

With the world marking Refugee Week from 14 – 20 June, Arete photographer Philip Hatcher-Moore recounts his experiences documenting these arrivals, and reflects on what has changed for refugees in this time.

After having recently moved to Berlin after five years of calling Kenya home, in September 2015 I flew to Belgrade in order to cover the refugee and migrant crisis that was unfolding in the Balkans. Unprecedented numbers of people fleeing war and conflict across the Middle East—but predominantly in Syria—had earlier that summer begun crossing Turkey’s land borders with Greece and Bulgaria, and travelling towards central Europe. Although the vast majority of those I encountered were fleeing the civil war in Syria, there were others from further afield, including Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, all either setting out to establish new lives in Europe or to join loved ones and relatives who had already made the journey.

Syrian refugees sleep on the train from Belgrade towards Croatia, as they travel through Serbia, on September 17, 2015. The family had tickets to Zagreb, Croatia, but the train was stopped before the border, and they had to cross on foot through fields.

After arriving in Belgrade, I shared a train with groups of refugees up to the Serbo-Croat border, before crossing on foot to a town called Tovarnik which had become something of a bottleneck. Thousands of people had crossed into Croatia, and were waiting for transport—trains and buses—to carry them across the country and further into the EU. Travelling by train through Serbia, I approached groups of people and asked if they would allow me to travel with them, and document part of their journey. The atmosphere was serious, but convivial. People shared out food and offered it to fellow travellers as they would have done were they voyaging in easier times, as when I travelled by train to Iran in 2008. One of the first things people had done was to buy a local SIM card to stay in touch with friends and family, and to navigate. WhatsApp groups pinged with the latest news of the best routes to take, and the people I travelled with were glued to Google Maps as the train crawled north. When I joined them, I didn’t know exactly where the journey would take me, and so followed their routes and plans. It was a long night, crossing the border and trudging through fields, until eventually resting at dawn in Croatia, leaning against our bags on the roadside.

Rahaf, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, holds her son, Omar (3 ½ years old), whilst checking messages from her family as she sits on the roadside in the town of Tovarnik, Croatia, having just crossed through fields over the border from Serbia, during the night of September 17, 2015. Rahaf was travelling with her father, her sister, and Omar; her husband (Omar’s father) had been killed in Aleppo the previous year.
A man waiting for a train to Zagreb sits at the train station in Tovarnik, Croatia, on September 19, 2015. Thousands of people were left stuck in Tovarnik, prevented by the police from leaving, after having crossed the border from Serbia.

During my time living and working in Africa I had often covered stories where huge numbers of people had been forced to abandon their homes and their livelihoods because of violent upheavals; in Libya, DR Congo, Burundi, and Somalia. Yet I was arriving in these places because of these conflicts, and so while I would always have an abstract idea of what they were leaving behind—their homes and way of life—it was rarely places I knew of in peacetime. This time, it was different.

I had spent several months in Syria in 2009-10, a year before the Arab Spring gripped the region. After a month of travelling around the country, I lived in the capital for two months, studying Arabic at the University of Damascus and soaking up the atmosphere of Syrian society. My stay was brief, but it was enough to form bonds and friendships, and when it was time to carry on my journey towards Kenya, I was sure I would return to this hospitable country and its rich culture. (It never occurred to me that that return would be to cover the conflict there, witnessing unimaginable violence in Aleppo in 2012.) That summer of 2015, in contrast to my time documenting similar events across Africa, I had a much more concrete sense of what had been left behind by the people I met — what their lives looked like before being packed into a backpack.

A man sits as police push back people crowding to enter the transit centre in Opatovac, Croatia, on September 22, 2015. Hundreds more people arrived at the camp built for 4000, as the influx of refugees and migrants continued.

Arriving in Tovarnik the authorities were not interested in any sort of confrontation but simply wanted to move the migrants and refugees on. It was well understood that the vast majority had no interest in remaining in Croatia, this was a transit country, and they wanted to travel on towards France, Germany or Sweden, in many cases reuniting families. Contrary to the scenes of violence on other borders, the police in Tovarnik were largely engaged in mass crowd control, as buses and trains were organised so the new arrivals could continue their journeys further north. The overall sense was one of dogged determination and exhaustion on both sides, rather than confrontation or violence. Solidarity, too, was in evidence, with volunteers handing out food and distributing information. Later, on my return to Berlin, I would see signs hung out of apartments declaring “refugees welcome”.

However, that sense of solidarity was by no means uniform across the continent, and the choice of language quickly became an incredibly important factor as the crisis continued to unfold amid increasing numbers of new arrivals. Right-wing politicians and press began to drive narratives that perpetuated damaging stereotypes about refugees and migrants, seemingly unable to distinguish between these people who had been forced to leave their homes because of conflict and civil war, with underlying concerns around immigration.

A policeman tries to stop a crowd of people pushing onto a bus from the Serbian-Croatian border at Bapska, Croatia, on September 23, 2015.

Photography is an incredibly powerful tool in the development of any narrative and Tovarnik quickly filled up with photographers for the newswires like Reuters and AP. An underlying principle when I work is that I try to make pictures only if they can add something to the story. With hundreds of images pouring out of the region showing the vastness of the situation that was rapidly sweeping Europe, and the flashpoints of confrontation or desperation, I did not feel the need to add to this.

Instead, I began delving into the stories of individuals — interviewing them about what, and why, they left, and what this journey meant for them — their words accompanying portraits, families, couples, or as individuals. Published in the New Republic, I hoped to portray who these people are, and did not reduce them to a mass group, simply labelled refugees or migrants instead of their own identities of teachers, engineers, fathers, or mothers.

Lama Husseino (25), from Lattakia, Syria. “I left Syria because they wanted to take my husband by force for military. I don’t want him to end up like those with Assad. I was at university studying English literature but because of my husband I fled Syria, to Lebanon. I have no children. We don’t want children now, here. If I had children I couldn’t cross the sea. I was in Lebanon for one and a half years. We left Lebanon 25 days ago. In Lebanon I couldn’t work because of the hijab. I can speak English, I can operate a computer, but I cannot work. Turkish smugglers took our bags and threw them in the sea, they said it was overweight. Our boat sank in the sea and the Turkish coast-guard took us, after they sunk us with a wave from their boat. We were in Greek waters! All we want to know is what is our future in this country — I want to go to Germany. We want to forget everything but we want to know our future.”
Rakam Rahma (27) and his wife, Amira Qurab, from Damascus, Syria. “I worked as a computer technician,” said Rakam. “I left last Sunday, a week ago. We went to Lebanon, then Turkey, through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and now we’re here. We were 16 people, one family. My wife, and my mother, and together with some friends. “We left Damascus because our house was destroyed — bombed by an aeroplane. There was no water, no electricity. We would like to go to Germany, because we have family there. My brother and his cousins.”
Mehrnoosh, 39, from Tehran, Iran. “I am an accountant. I had to leave because I am a Christian, I began talking about Christianity, and it was a problem for me over there. I can’t sleep, so I ran away. Because I studied Christianity and talked to people — I gave them the Bible, and taught them about who Jesus Christ is — that’s when my problems started. The Government don’t want you to. If you’re Christian it’s ok, but you have to go to your room and pray. You can’t teach others, you can’t introduce Jesus Christ. It was one year ago, it started. But we left two weeks ago, we went to Turkey, to Greece, and then came here. I am travelling with my husband and with my friends. We crossed from Turkey to Greece by boat. We had many problems because our engines broke, and we had to row. I’m so scared. I don’t know what’s happening to us. I just pray, and I trust God. That’s it. It was so crowded. We arrived here this morning. They said to us, maybe you’ll go to Slovenia, or maybe to Austria, I don’t know. Today we wait for a bus or train. A train left two hours ago, and we couldn’t get on it as it was full and very crowded, and everybody is pushing each other. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, the train goes. But I talk to the people and they say they have been here for four days. I would like to go to Sweden, to Stockholm.”
Hussam Ahmed (29), from Raqqa, Syria. “Before, I worked in a supermarket. I’m from Syria, from Raqqa. Daesh [ISIS] is there, they killed everybody. They took my home. I don’t want to fight for them. After that I went to Turkey, to Urfa. I stayed there, and I looked for work, but they don’t have work in Turkey. After that I went to Izmir, for a boat. I came to Greece - an island, a small one. There were 40 people in the boat. You have families there. Maybe 27 of them died - they fell in. Turkish police came and the boat sank. I swam. You fall in the sea in Greece but the police come from Turkey. Another boat comes to take you. My bag was in the sea. From Turkey to Greece, the ticket is $1400 for Syrians. For Iraqis it’s $1600 or $1800. If you die, it’s no problem for them [the smugglers]. And if you don’t want to go, you can’t get your money back. We come here at night. Here, there are no problems. I will go on to Hungary, insha’Allah, and after that, I want to get to Holland. I travel alone, but I have friends here. My family is in Syria, they can’t get here.”
Qutaiba Al Msalm (27) and Samah Hizam (26) with her daughter, Senorita (4 ½), from Daraa in Syria. “We come from Daraa. I worked in a duty free shop on the border,” said Qutaiba. “I stayed in Gaziantep in Turkey for three months. We took a boat from Turkey to Greece with smugglers. I had to drive it but I have no licence, but you have no choice. You must do these things. The boat sank just before the island, in Greece. I swam to the island and helped people to come - it was just before the beach.” “I lived in Damascus for four years because of war,” said Samah. “The University in Daraa was destroyed. I studied I.T. - I finished my studies and looked for a job, and then had Senorita. My husband is in Germany, with my brother and my sister. Only my little sister is still in Syria, she must finish her studies. Senorita has brought these [teddy bears] with her from Syria. It’s been 16 days since we left Gaziantep. Through Turkey, to Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, but now we are stuck here. Croatia to Hungary was closed. Slovenia, closed. Now open. What do we do?”

Footnotes

All text and photos by Philip Hatcher-Moore


When a woman is empowered, a community is empowered

In 2020 and 2021, we interviewed a selection of women entrepreneurs in Kenya and Nigeria who are using free tools to harness their business potential.

Gender equality is still a long way off. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report suggests that economic equality will only be reached in 105 years’ time.

While this may seem like a gloomy statistic, some organisations are doing inspiring work to speed up the process.

Last September, we interviewed several women in Kenya and Nigeria, who were users of HerVenture – a free mobile app that offers business training to female entrepreneurs. The app was invented by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, whose aim is dedicated to empowering female entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries in order to close the gender gap.

Most women entrepreneurs go into business out of necessity, rather than choice. As women often have less access to formal education, and may face discrimination during hiring processes, a home-based, small-scale business provides an opportunity for them to earn money for their families on their own terms. Free apps like HerVenture, offer the perfect opportunity for women entrepreneurs to extend their business knowledge, without having to pay for, or attend a formal training.

The app features seven learning “tracks”, focusing on a range of needs, including how to launch a business, product innovation and expanding market access. Following the pandemic, a new track focusing on e-commerce was added, encouraging users to move their businesses to online platforms.

This simple app has had far-reaching effects on women, as well as their wider communities.

Wangari Mwaura, the owner of New Star Organics, an organic soap and skincare business in Nairobi, is the sole breadwinner for her family. With the arrival of a newborn baby during the pandemic, the app has helped Wangari not only to develop a stronger business identity, but also to manage the balance between her work and homelife. “My situation with a newborn baby is definitely a serious challenge but these digital tools like the HerVenture app, have enabled me to run my business and keep learning even when I’m at home and taking care of my baby.”

Wangari Mwaura arranges organic soaps that she produces in her small workshop in Kenol town, Nairobi. Fredrik Lerneryd / Arete / CBFW

“Before [the app], we were running blind, so the app is like a light in the dark; it helps us to know what to do in business. It gives us access to tools in order to address any difficulties we may have with our businesses.” Wangari explains.

Although women own almost half of all Kenyan microbusinesses, only 9% of medium-sized businesses are female-owned. This indicates that many women may struggle to grow their businesses because of gender barriers.

“Women go through tremendous challenges, one is financial inclusion, and another big challenge is the balance between work life and homelife.” says Wangari.

Wangari Mwaura uses HerVenture to balance her books every day. Fredrik Lerneryd / Arete / CBFW

This type of accessible and free business training provided by the app can teach individuals, like Wangari, how to manage their finances and income stream, helping them to realise their business potential.

Juliet Kathendu, another HerVenture app user, runs a roadside stall that sells fruit and vegetables in Nairobi.

“Before the app, I didn’t know much about business; but I have a good picture now. It has helped me to have courage and to move forward and know what I’m capable of.”

Juliet Kathendu poses for a portrait in her roadside stall, where she sells fruits, vegetables, and household commodities in Nairobi. Fredrik Lerneryd / Arete / CBFW

Thanks to the app’s recent e-commerce addition, Juliet has been able to start an online business, selling shoes through social media.

“Online business has really helped me, and I learned it from the HerVenture app. Now, I also sell shoes online. In the future, you won’t find me here. I will be an international businesswoman; that’s my dream and vision.” Juliet laughs.

The Foundation’s work doesn’t stop there; they have also launched a series of training and mentorship programmes across several African countries.

For Ene Adasen, owner of Ene Naturals, an organic skincare and haircare manufacturer in Lagos, Nigeria, the societal expectations of women have proven to be the biggest challenges in developing her business.

“For women, we are mothers, wives, and daughters, we have to take care of our children and family, we are burdened by these responsibilities. This is one of the greatest challenges we have; to be able to manage our homes before managing our businesses.”

Ene poses for a portrait in front of the range of organic skin and haircare products her business manufactures in Lagos. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW

In Nigeria, “Road to Growth” is a training and mentorship programme designed to build the business skills and financial literacy of female entrepreneurs. By using practical trainings, as well as the HerVenture mobile app, this blended learning style offers beneficiaries a range of advantages, from in-person networking, to everyday tips from the app.

Women in Africa are at the forefront of entrepreneurship, forming almost 60% of the continent’s self-employed population. Most of these women start their own businesses because they lack formal education, and a need to provide for their families. Accessible tools, like the HerVenture app and the Road to Growth programme, can help unleash the business potential of women entrepreneurs, thereby strengthening the communities they support.

Women like Ene can use the app in the comfort of their own home, while attending to familial responsibilities, and can also attend the workshops, enabling them to connect with and share their challenges and victories with other women entrepreneurs.

Ejiro Jakpa is the owner of Nicnax Enterprise, a manufacturer of healthy and affordable snacks. Ejiro’s business is a proudly women-centric manufacturer, with 50% of their sourcing from female-owned businesses. The networking opportunities offered by the programme has helped her expand her social circle and surround herself with likeminded entrepreneurs.

“It was great meeting fellow women in business and even greater meeting women in business that complimented what I do.” she explains. “Thanks to the Road to Growth training, I have developed working relationships with 3 women I met in the training.”

Ejiro Jakpa poses in front of the range of healthy granola that her company manufactures in Lagos. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW

Arewa Tobiloba, participant of the Road to Growth programme in Nigeria, owns of a textile design business called Adire World. The training gave her a much stronger business identity, allowing her to expand her company exponentially.

“Through the Road to Growth programme, I have learned to position my business better, communicate with the target audience, and get their attention. The growth in my business has really helped my family in many ways, like supporting them with my salary, helping people around me, and being impactful to society. I literally used to work under the sun at home, but now I have team members and a fully functioning workshop.”

Arewa Tobiloba hangs a wet fabric to dry in preparation for fabric dyeing at her workshop in Lagos. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW
Female entrepreneurs of the Road to Growth programme pose for a photograph after class at the Enterprise Development Centre in Lagos. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW
Arewa Tobiloba and her staff pose for a portrait at her workshop in Lagos. Thanks to the Road to Growth programme and the training from the HerVenture app, Arewa’s business is now able to employ several staff members. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW

Footnotes

Text by Dana Toerien. Photos by Fredrik Lerneryd (Kenya) and Benson Ibeabuchi (Nigeria).


Vaccination Reactions in Liberia

Philip Hatcher-Moore, Arete’s consultant photographer, recounts his experiences in Liberia during a recent polio vaccination campaign, and the unexpected response from the Liberian people.

Covid-19 has changed the world in innumerable ways, but one of the tragic side-effects is a spike in preventable diseases that have been hitherto successfully managed through routine immunisation. In March 2021, a year after the pandemic gripped the planet and lockdowns were imposed across the globe, I visited Liberia to document the rollout of their first polio vaccination campaign since Coronavirus hit. UNICEF, a partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, who had assigned me, were supporting the Liberian government in the campaign.

Children play on the beach near their homes in the Westpoint neighbourhood of Monrovia. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF

Arriving into Monrovia, having taken a pre-travel Covid test in the UK, I took another Covid test on arrival and registered through Liberia’s travel app. The country had recently received a delivery of nearly 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccines through the COVAX initiative, but was yet to roll them out. The following day, on the 26th of March 2021, Dr. Wilhemina Jallah, Liberia’s Minister of Health administered the country’s first dose of the novel type 2 oral polio vaccine (nOPV2), aimed at curbing the spread of type 2 circulating vaccine-derived polio virus. Late last year, the World Health Organisation granted an “Emergency Use Listing” recommendation for nOPV2, and in February, Liberia declared the polio outbreak in the country a public health emergency. Liberia is one of more than twenty five African nations hit by the outbreak.

Dr. Wilhemina Jallah, Liberian Minister of Health, gives a speech at the launch event of a polio immunisation campaign in Monrovia. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF

I spent much of the next few days alongside the teams of volunteer vaccinators, going door-to-door, school-to-school, church-to-church, trying to ensure that every child under the age of five received a first dose of the vaccine. What I hadn’t expected to see was a reluctance to receive the vaccine. As I stood at the border post with neighbouring Sierra Leone, I watched Selena, a UNICEF consultant, desperately trying to convince a mother to vaccinate her child before she crossed the border.

Left: A vaccine volunteer marks a house after administering the polio vaccine to children residing inside it, during a national immunisation campaign in the West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF Centre: Selena Montgomery, a UNICEF Communication for Development consultant supporting awareness creation, community engagement and social mobilisation, speaks with a mother to try to convince her to have her child vaccinated against polio, pictured at the border post with Sierra Leone at Bo-Waterside, Grand Cape Mount county. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF Right: Lovetee Porter, 30, a volunteer vaccinator administers a dose of the new oral polio vaccine to Mamajah Jalloh, 3, in the West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF

I’ve covered many vaccination campaigns across the globe, and just a couple of years ago, I was on the other side of that border post, researching the delivery of vaccines to the “last mile” — how people in remote areas could get their children vaccinated. I met mothers who had trekked for more than a day to reach a clinic in order to ensure their children were protected against disease. Frequently, I have seen people queuing for hours to get their children vaccinated. Yet now, as awareness of communicable diseases sky-rockets (and Liberia is no stranger to quarantine, being ravaged by the Ebola outbreak in 2014-15), I was witnessing a reluctance for something previously considered routine.

A child receives a dose of the polio vaccine in the West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF

Mohamed Shariff, a teacher in the capital and former vaccinator and supervisor with the Ministry of Health, explained to me why: “For the previous years, everyone was taking the polio vaccine,” he said. “When we had denials, we would talk with them to encourage them to take it,” he . But now, because of Covid-19, we have so many refusals.” The polio vaccination campaign coincides with the arrival of the Covid vaccine in-country, around which there is skepticism, fuelled by “fake news” on social media and unregulated radio stations. “People think that taking the Covid-19 vaccine will give them the signs and symptoms of Covid-19,” Mohamed explained to me.

Another vaccinator had put it even more bleakly. “They’re saying the Covid vaccine is killing people, that’s why they don’t want their children or anyone to take it,” Kissah Mensah, a volunteer since 2013 told me.

Mohamed Shariff, 28, stands for a portrait in a classroom at the Repentance Baptist Church school in Monrovia. Mohamed has served on previous polio vaccination campaigns in the country. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF

I spent a morning in Monrovia with Lovetee Porter, 30, a volunteer vaccinator working in the West Point neighbourhood — a labyrinth of tightly packed tin-shacks spilling out onto the beach of a small peninsula. Children hung washing in the narrow alleyways, people hawked basins filled with huge snails, and teams of vaccinators navigated—somewhat haphazardly—the densely populated area. Whilst Lovetee proudly claimed to have never had a refusal—”I convince people, I talk with them and tell them what the vaccine is for”, she said—she was not met with the same zeal she projected as she knocked on doors. My overall impression of people’s willingness to vaccinate their children was more one of ambivalence and laisser-faire than of enthusiasm. Yet despite the challenges, the previous day Lovetee had vaccinated 240 children and was engaging with every parent she met, leaving in her wake a trail of children with their little fingers inked with a blue marker pen, and chalk marks over doorway lintels, marking a household as vaccinated. “Some people are scared but you just have to talk to them to explain it’s for polio,” she said.

Left: Lovetee Porter, 30, a volunteer vaccinator, administers a dose of the new oral polio vaccine to Mary, 4, in the market in the West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF Centre: A team of volunteer vaccinators walk along a dirt road in Monrovia, Liberia, on the last day of a national polio vaccination campaign. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF Right: Lovetee Porter administers a dose of the new oral polio vaccine to Frances Brooks, 3, in the market where her mother works, in the West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF

In a private health clinic across town, Comfort Morphre, 46, a midwife, was talking with Ummu Passawe, a Ministry of Health officer working on the Extended Programme of Immunisation — Ummu was expecting her third child any day, and Comfort was taking her blood pressure. “I feel the weight [of misinformation] on me,” said Comfort of the confusion about vaccinations. “We tell people ‘all the children under five are getting vaccinated for polio’,” she said. “It is for them, it is for everybody.”

“Immunisation is a preventative method,” said Ummu, later, at her home. “It is far cheaper and simpler to protect them from disease than to deal with them being ill.” Yet the scepticism around Coronavirus has had a knock-on effect on routine vaccinations, she explained. “To my fellow mothers, caregivers, we should not prevent our children from getting vaccines,” she said. “This is a fight that can never be over. We have children being born every day…”

Ummu showed me her daughter’s little finger, which still had remnants of the ink, indicating she had been vaccinated. “The OPV [oral polio vaccine] is going to be given to my baby, for sure.” she said.

Ummu Paasewe, Resource Mobilisation Officer for the Extended Programme of Immunisation (EPI) at the Liberia Ministry of Health, hugs her daughter, Rahima, 3, at Rahima's school in Monrovia. Philip Hatcher-Moore / Arete / UNICEF

Footnotes

All text and photos by Philip Hatcher-Moore