'We cannot risk losing an entire generation of children to the drought.'
Rita Mazivehad 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 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.
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.
Such as how hard it is to put education first.
Especially when it takes two hours to walk to school.
It's not easy to learn on an empty stomach.
And it's still important for kids to be ... kids.
The images show the increasing focus on safe water...
Even though it can take a daily eight-mile-walk to find it.
Not to mention the 11+ miles to find wild fruits to eat.
Traveling long distances can create a dangerous situation for women and girls.
The images show what people in these communities eat now.
And how they prepare it.
But, most importantly, the images show that these communities are doing the best they can with what they have.
"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.
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.