What it's like to live in Southern Africa's worst drought in 35 years.

'We cannot risk losing an entire generation of children to the drought.'

Rita Mazive had never touched a camera before, but she knew she needed to document the situation she was in.  

“I have never used a camera before, and I have neither seen myself in a photo or in a mirror,” the 43-year-old from Mozambique told the global development organization CARE.

‌‌Rita Mazive. Image via Johanna Mitscherlich/CARE.‌‌


Rita is one of 40 million people in Southern Africa trying to survive the worst drought in 35 years.

Thanks for nothing, El Niño.

El Niño, the climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean that has a global impact on weather patterns, has rocked Southern Africa — specifically Mozambique, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. The region usually receives rain between October and April, but because of El Niño, the 2015-2016 season rains didn't fall until late-February.

In an area where 70% of the population depends on agriculture, you can imagine the predicament millions of families are facing: severe food shortages.

The realities of drought and food insecurity are hard to grasp when you've never experienced them. So CARE wants to give people around the world a glimpse into the lives of those who have.

El Niño: Through the lens of hunger” is a photo project that shows what life is like in an extreme drought, through the eyes of those living it.

Step 1 for the project's volunteers: learn how to use a camera. Step 2: go about your day.

‌‌Mira and Olga, two young mothers in Mozambique. Image via Joao Lambo/CARE. ‌‌

Each volunteer provides their own unique focus behind the lens. Through photos, they show insights into life in their communities — as they also suffer from food shortages — and their volunteer work with CARE, counseling community members and providing crucial health and hygiene information to them.

In the project, the images show the sacrifices families are forced to make.

‌Many older people are taking care of their grandchildren, because the children's parents have left to find work elsewhere because of the drought. ‌Image via Rita Mazive/CARE.

Such as how hard it is to put education first.

Many girls get up before dawn to find firewood and sell it, struggling to earn 5-10 cents per day for their families. Some still attend school, but often cannot make it in the lengthy time it takes to collect firewood and get to school. Image via Rita Mazive/CARE.

Especially when it takes two hours to walk to school.

These friends in second grade walk two hours to school and two hours back home every day. The secondary school is even further, which results in many kids dropping out after primary school.

It's not easy to learn on an empty stomach.

Many kids go to school on an empty stomach, making it hard to concentrate.. "We have only enough food for one meal at 5pm, when he returns from his classes," said one mother.

And it's still important for kids to be ... kids.

"It is very important for their development," said volunteer Tereza Titosse. "I have six children myself, and I know how difficult it sometimes is to keep up the energy to engage them. But we cannot risk losing an entire generation of children to the drought.”‌ Image via Hortencia Jacinto/CARE.

The images show the increasing focus on safe water...

CARE volunteers teach families to cover their drinking water and use a trowel to help stop dirt and leaves from falling into it. Unclean water is a major reason kids get sick.  Image via Joao Lambo/CARE.

Even though it can take a daily eight-mile-walk to find it.

18-year-old Erleia walks 14 kilometers to fetch water every day. Image via Rita Mazive/CARE.

Not to mention the 11+ miles to find wild fruits to eat.

‌Laura walks for 18 kilometers to find wild fruits like tindhzulo and wild leaves of cacana.‌ Image via Artur Tafula/CARE.

Traveling long distances can create a dangerous situation for women and girls.

There's an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence as girlsneed to travel ever increasing distances in search of water and food, especially when it gets dark. Image via Paulina Filipe/CARE.

‌‌The images show what people in these communities eat now.

Wild leaves and fruits are a go-to. Image via Rita Mazive/CARE.

And how they prepare it.

"I dry the tindhzulo fruit for two to four days in the sun. Usually we use peanuts, but that is not available because of the drought. I then crush the dried fruits to prepare and cook them." Image via Artur Tafula/CARE.

But, most importantly, the images show that these communities are doing the best they can with what they have.

Image via Hortencia Jacinto/CARE.

"I know it’s difficult for people in Europe or the U.S. to understand what this drought actually means for us," said CARE volunteer Artur Tafula. "With my photos, I want to show what people eat, how long they have to walk to find food, how they process wild fruits and leaves, and just how much time and effort is required to make it through another day.”

The times are tough, but they can, and will, get better.

Organizations like CARE are working with volunteers and community members to minimize the impact of the drought and to help get people back on their feet. Some of the steps being taken are as simple as focusing on safe water and sanitation and good hygiene practices.

Broken water systems are being repaired and communities are becoming more prepared for reoccurring disasters. Farmersare learning drought-resistant agricultural techniques, and they're being introduced to alternative sources oflivelihood and income too.

Image via Tereza Titosse/CARE.

These are all ways to move forward, but there's a lot more that needs to be done. A better understanding of the situation in Southern Africa is the first place to start. CARE's photo project, letting the stories come from the source, is a genuine  way to help close the awareness gap.

"I hope that many people will stop seeing El Niño and the drought as something abstract, and start seeing the situation through the eyes of the volunteers," wrote CARE representative Adérito Bie.

The next generation is counting on it.

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