When UNICEF's photographers set out to capture the light of hope, first they had to look in the darkness.

Hope is a hard thing to show in a photograph. It's not tangible, but we can feel hope in our hearts; it's invisible, yet we can see it in someone's eyes or hear it in their laugh.

Hope is a light that guides us through the darkness and the voice that sings to us in the silence. Humans need hope to carry on because, without hope, life would be too damn hard.


"Finding Hope," the new photo series by UNICEF's photographers is a stunning exposé about what hope looks like in the most dire situations.

In search of hope, these photographers traveled to people living in some of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time to find that most intangible and often fleeting human emotion.

When they found it, the results were breathtaking:

1. In Ghana, hope is...

Photo by Nyani Quarmyne/UNICEF, used with permission.

Hope is Munira Yakubu holding up Lorentia Bernard, her 2-year-old daughter, at their home in Widana in the Upper East region of Ghana.

Munira and Lorentia were abandoned by Lorentia's father. Murina is still in school and sells maize and groundnuts outside her house during school holidays to earn money to pay her school fees and support her daughter.

2. In Nepal, hope is...

Photo by Brian Sokol/UNICEF, used with permission.

Hope is Kuisang Rumba, a famous Tamang language actor, dancing with 9-year-old Jamuna Nepali at a UNICEF Child-Friendly Space in Charikot, Dolakha District, Nepal.

On April 25, 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake killed more than 8,000 people and destroyed massive amounts of property, including numerous temples that were on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

3. In Jordan, hope is...

Photo by Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo/UNICEF, used with permission.

Hope is 5-year-old Mohammed spraying water on his 11-year-old sister, Danya, and his cousins, 8-year-old Amnah and 4-year-old Mo’men, in the Za’atari refugee camp, in Mafraq Governorate. The family fled to this camp when their Syrian village was taken over by military forces in 2012.

The camp provides electricity at night, but during the day, refugees at the camp have to use what little water there is to combat Jordan's brutally high temperatures.

Half of Syria's population has been displaced by civil war.

4. In Uganda, hope is...

Photo by Jiro Ose/UNICEF, used with permission.

Hope is refugee children from South Sudan playing at a child-friendly space at a refugee settlement in Kiryandongo District.

Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees have been displaced by military conflicts.

5. In Greece, hope is...

Photo by Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo/UNICEF, used with permission.

Hope is refugees like Kinan Kadouni, 26, welcoming other refugees, like the boy he is carrying who has just arrived on the shore near the village of Skala Eressos, on the island of Lesbos, amid volunteers and other refugees. Both are refugees from the Syrian Arab Republic.

“This lovely boy made my day with his nice smile," Mr. Kadouni told UNICEF. “When their boat arrived, everyone looked pale and afraid and this boy was the only one with a big smile, and that is how he drew my attention immediately. I went directly to him and got him out of the boat and we started playing and laughing... I always try to welcome them with a smiling face because I think that will make them comfortable."

In 2016 alone, almost 100,000 refugees from Syria have fled to the shores of Greece.

6. In Cameroon, hope is...

Photo by ESIEBO/UNICEF, used with permission.

Hope is newlyweds Ibrahim and Hauna John embracing in the Minawao camp for Nigerian refugees in Far North Region. The couple got married in the camp the previous day.

While they planned to marry in their home village, they were forced to flee when it was attacked by Boko Haram insurgents. Ibrahim stayed in the village longer than Hauna in order to finish a school exam, though eventually they were reunited in the camp where they were photographed by UNICEF Africa.

“The very first day we met in the camp, I could not resist her. I had to hold her to my cheek. Really it was a great moment that day. Heaven was very close to me that day,” Ibrahim said.

7. In Uganda, hope is...

Photo by Jiro Ose/UNICEF, used with permission.

Hope is children watching a skit performed by other children at the Child Restoration Outreach, an organization helping street children in Africa.

In Africa, there are millions of children on the street. Organizations like the Child Restoration Outreach work to reintegrate them into the community, so they may become empowered, self-reliant, and proactive adults.

8. In Croatia, hope is...

Photo by Tomislav Georgiev/UNICEF, used with permission.

Hope is teenagers playing in the sun in the UNICEF-supported family area at the reception center in Opatovac. Croatia recently opened its doors to refugees from Serbia.

"There were between 2,000 and 3,000 refugees stuck on the border in the mud and rain when the gates opened," Al Jazeera wrote in October.

9. In Iraq, hope is...

Photo by Lindsay Mackenzie/UNICEF, used with permission.

Hope is Dunya, 13, opening a box of new winter shoes in her caravan in Baharka IDP Camp in Erbil Governorate.

In 2015, UNICEF distributed 200,000 sets of winter clothing to children and pregnant mothers in Iraq.

“In conditions where children have suffered, in some cases for years, from violence and exclusion from basic services such as education, it is unacceptable for them to not have shoes, coats or hats appropriate for the winter season," says Dr. Marzio Babille, UNICEF's representative in Iraq.

These photos are powerful. They show that hope is resilient and can be found anywhere.

Even in the midst of a tragedy or in a crisis with no end in sight, the one thing people always have is a glimmer of hope.

It's not an accident that many of these pictures that encompass that feeling of hope are of children. Children have a unique ability to find hope in the world no matter where they're from or what they've been through.

That's something people lose sight of as we grow older. As life goes on and the world begins to place more weight on our shoulders, we should always remember that children all over the world continue to smile and dance. Hope can be fleeting, and hope can be false, but hope is also the reason to continue forward. Never forget that.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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