Horn of Africa: Bringing dignity to drought victims through photojournalism

Rodney Rascona – WNN Features

Lucie - Image copyright Rodney Rascona
Lucy is a woman from the desert village of Marsabit near the Kenyan border with Ethiopia, an area near the Horn of Africa that has suffered severe drought. Her face is strong and without apology. Image: Rodney Rascona

(WNN) ETHIOPIA: An award winning photojournalist maps a journey toward dignity, empathy and understanding during the drought in the Horn of Africa

It’s been over a decade now, since I had the ‘misfortune’ to cover famine along the Ethiopian/Kenyan border in a remote desert village near Gode, called Denan.

Then, like now, I was on assignment for Food for the Hungry, a humble organization which does so much good for so many in this world. Once again, I’ve been asked to cover the drought and efforts to help ease the human condition in the same desert region I walked twelve years before.

It was a dangerous time then. I was protected by soldiers who kept me in a triangle as I was led from hut to hut of assembled twigs — to see, to document, the need where mothers sat quietly with their emaciated children gently held in their arms.

It was there where many, among the hordes of flies and strained cries, struggle to draw what would have been their last breath.

This forgotten village well beyond the tourist beat wasn’t anything special except the contrast to me was so poignant. The evening sun was simply beautiful, blood red in color. It held my attention as it dropped below the horizon.

A lovely image and yet such tragic moments were in play as some thirteen children died that day simply due to the lack of food, water and medicine used to offset measles; a disease which proves easily deadly when a child is so weak.

The images, the sounds, the silence of people pushed to the edge affected me. Inside my heart ached and I cried for a very long time.

Would I now stop in sending food back to the kitchen, or never leave food on my plate nor see a healthy child, pink and smiling which didn’t make me pause?

The experience stayed with me — images of children, thin, quiet, with dark eyes absent of color. Lips which no longer smiled. It still haunts me, then like now, and makes me cry to this day.

Like the work I created in Haiti, I’m unsure of myself. I’m not a photojournalist or a war correspondent. I’m an advertising photographer who a long time ago was challenged by a well known photojournalist to take on serious work.

Twelve years ago I began with famine and now all this time later it’s on my (photo) shot list once again – fortunately I have a few well known mentors who guide my ethics when faced with human tragedy toward a unique way of seeing.

In a POV (Point of View) I am here to help elevate the message well beyond an image of a hungry, crying, vulnerable child which in time loses it’s value to stimulate action because so many others are creating the same style of image.

If an advertising team reads these thoughts and would like to partner with me to create a campaign to help make people think – I’d welcome the partnership without question and would make my images and film available for the asking.

I’m set to respond to what I see but I’m not exactly sure how I’ll frame what I experience this time out or how to create images with dignity when there is little dignity to be found. Debate among professionals is ongoing about the “aesthetics of famine” which leaves me a bit cold to discuss such things.

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