Someone once said that a picture is worth a thousand words — but as I sit here looking through photos from my recent trip to the Horn of Africa, I don’t think that’s true.
This picture is of Falima, a 25-year-old Somalian who recently entered the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. She is holding her son, Abdullah, while her 3-year-old daughter, Fauhuya, hides behind her.
The happiness evident on Falima’s face and the bashful grin from Fauhuya puts a smile on my face every time I look at this picture. I know that their meeting with me helped bring joy to their day. I was sitting in the dirt in front of them, trying desperately to get Fauhuya to grin while I talked to their family. This picture tells me they are happy, healthy, and full of life.
But there is a greater and deeper story that the picture won’t tell you.
It won’t tell you about Falima’s 15-day trip from her home in Somalia to this camp. It won’t express the pain she felt two years ago when her husband abandoned her and their five children, leaving her alone on their farm to battle the famine that eventually devastated their crops and killed their livestock. The inability to provide for her children — and the decision she faced as a result — created a fear in Falima that no camera could ever capture.
This picture can’t describe the strength Falima bore as she packed up their few belongings and left home to trek across the wasteland of Somalia and into northern Kenya — by foot, and sometimes truck. It won’t tell you how fast Falima’s heart must have been beating when bandits robbed her on the journey, taking all of her possessions, food, and money, leaving her more forlorn and helpless than ever.
The camera didn’t capture the soft white bumps on Fauhuya’s eye — a complication from a case of the measles that has gone untreated. Without medical attention, this could cause blindness.
And it doesn’t show the hunger that is gripping the childrens’ stomachs — the result of having lived on tea and bits of food begged from fellow travelers for the past several weeks.
This image certainly won’t show you the hopelessness Falima expressed when I asked her what she looked forward to, now that she was in the camp:
“I have no hope for myself. I have no alternative,” she said. “My hope is with the children.”
Looking at this picture won’t force me to feel the hurt and loneliness that must have gripped her heart when she heard her husband is now living in this very camp, with a new wife and family.
This picture is of me sitting in the dirt in front of Falima and her family. When I see this picture, I see a woman in her early 20s, dressed for a hike, taking copious notes. I look happy and intrigued.
What this picture won’t tell you is how shocked I was at the realization that Falima and I are the same age: 25. Yet our lives couldn’t be more different. It doesn’t explain the grief that filled me as I thought of being abandoned by the man I loved.
How I would feel watching my livelihood taken by the silent killer of hunger? What would it be like not knowing whether my daughter would survive the measles? And how would I feel once I made it to a desolate camp with absolutely nothing but my children?
More so, this picture doesn’t show how hard I was fighting back tears, thinking of how Falima’s life was now in the hands of people like you and I, donors and compassionaries far from this place.
Every day, we are surrounded by pictures meant to convey the devastation and pain taking place around the world. But behind every photo are stories we may never know, feelings we may never understand, and individuals who continue carrying on in their journey, even after we forget their faces. Their stories may be of hope, loss, sadness, pain, happiness, or love.
The pictures of Falima and I looking content and happy in the middle of the refugee camp is evidence that a photo can fail to capture the whole story. Falima has lived a life full of pain, grief, and fear — harsh realities that these photos will never show.
Join Michele and World Vision in raising awareness and funds to fight hunger in places like the Horn of Africa. Sign up your church group to do the 30 Hour Famine.
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Michele Tvedt, representative from World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine, traveled to northeastern Kenya in the Horn of Africa in August to document the impact of the drought and food crisis living among children and families affected by famine there.