2019
in pictures

– with the stories behind
the photographs

Sifa* - Ebola Crisis in North Kivu, DRC. Sifa*, was vaccinated when a boy that had come to his village was diagnosed with Ebola after falling ill.

Save the Children's creative team selected twenty images from 2019 that celebrate children’s uniquely compelling stories and personalities. Then we asked our incredible staff photographers and award-winning freelancers to share their memories of that day.

The final collection shows moments of grace, acts of hope, exhausting journeys, agonising waits. And celebrates the private moments so easily taken for granted.

It's a testament to people's astounding reserves of love, resilience and power. The power in speaking your truth. The power of resistance – loud or quiet – against oppression and inequality. The power in carving out pockets of joy and connection; letting in light amid the shadows of grief.

It recognises the bravery it takes to be yourself – especially when you’re young: to play football when people say you can’t, to show love when people have failed you, to play and to speak out – even if it could be dangerous.

If ever there was a year when young people set an example, it was 2019. In 2020, let’s follow their lead: Do what feels right. Say what you believe. Find joy. Love.

The Youth Association girls’ football team, Sava region, Madagascar pose for a photo after their football game.

20 January: Youth Association girls’ football team, Sava region, Madagascar. Photographer: Charlie Forgham-Bailey

20 January: Youth Association girls’ football team, Sava region, Madagascar. Photographer: Charlie Forgham-Bailey

In this region of Madagascar, people say that rich men smell of vanilla. Behind the joke is a complex story of scarcity and abundance – and a battle to harness the strength of communities to ensure everyone can benefit from the skyrocketing demand for this sweet spice. The challenges younger generations face – like access to education and gender inequality – are being addressed through social initiatives like the youth association these girls are a part of.

This is the first girls’ football team in the community. They’ve faced criticism, but are winning everyone over with their skill and dedication.

Photographer Charlie Forgham-Bailey:

“We arrived at the pitch in a torrential downpour with raindrops the size of marbles. The pitch wasn’t an ideal surface for football – large puddles, long but patchy grass and the odd cow in the penalty box, but their enthusiasm couldn’t have been more obvious. After the match there was a brief pause in the downpour so I asked if we could get the girls from the village together in their kits. Some were still wearing their shower caps to protect their hair! I hope I captured their camaraderie and enjoyment from playing together in a team.”

Akello*, 6, in the refugee settlement in Uganda where she’s lived since fleeing DRC.

24 January: Akello*, 6, in the refugee settlement in Uganda where she’s lived since fleeing DRC. Photographer: Fredrik Lerneryd

24 January: Akello*, 6, in the refugee settlement in Uganda where she’s lived since fleeing DRC. Photographer: Fredrik Lerneryd

While Akello’s* parents were out tending crops near their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), armed men came to their village. It's a day that's seared into the family's memory: “I went to get Akello," her mother Mirembe* recalls: "but the rebels were coming from that direction. I ran for my life, and left my child behind. At that time many relatives and people in our community were killed.”

When Mirembe returned to the village with the Red Cross, they found Akello. She had been raped. She was four years old. Akello doesn’t remember the attack and her parents want to protect her from the truth for as long as possible.

Photographer Fredrik Lerneryd:

“We hid Akello’s identity because she’s young and has survived such horrific things. I wanted to photograph Akello in a dignified way, and add an element of beauty to the image, because she was a very sweet, young girl. I think it’s intriguing if you can give a sense of the person when you do anonymous portraits, and not just a silhouette.

"I will never forget Akello’s story. What she has been through is something that is hard to even imagine. I remember how caring her mother was, and how she was comforting the little girl. I’m very grateful that they wanted to share the story with us, so that we can give a voice to Akello and others like her."

Bolo, 18, dances with friends in their village, Sava region, Madagascar.

24 January: Bolo, 18, dances with friends in their village, Sava region, Madagascar. Photographer: Charlie Forgham-Bailey

24 January: Bolo, 18, dances with friends in their village, Sava region, Madagascar. Photographer: Charlie Forgham-Bailey

“One day, I will become very famous and many people will watch my show,” says Bolo proudly. Spending time with him is an education in the power of self-belief and hard work. He sings, dances and writes songs, even as he helps his dad and his younger siblings farm vanilla – something his mum taught him to do before she died.

Photographer Charlie Forgham-Bailey:

"This photograph was a lot of fun to make. The boys told us they like to practise in the river, so we waded upstream for about 15 minutes over slippery boulders. We reached a point with a rock formation that would lift them out of the water and put them in the archetypal boyband ‘flying v’. After a quick chat, they decided which routine to do and off they went. It was interesting to see the transformation in Bolo. He’s had a difficult childhood and there was an air of sadness to him... until he started dancing. He felt entirely at home entertaining a crowd and clearly found solace in dancing with his friends."

Ryian*, 15, with his sister, Siba*, 2, at their home in Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan

3 April: Ryian*, 15, with his sister, Siba*, 2, at their home in Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. Photographer: Jonathan Hyams

3 April: Ryian*, 15, with his sister, Siba*, 2, at their home in Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. Photographer: Jonathan Hyams

Ryian's* little sister Siba* follows him around everywhere. She cries when he goes to school and makes him take her for rides around Za’atari, the huge refugee camp where they live.

In 2013, when Ryian was playing in the snow on the roof of his cousin’s house, he lost both his legs in an attack. Ryian spent months in hospital before the family fled Syria for Jordan. He became isolated: “I didn’t want people to see me because I didn’t want them to pity me.”

But with his family’s support, Ryian forged new dreams and recently won the camp’s marathon race: “I want to be a role model. I want everyone to see how far I’ve come and how I managed to accomplish my goals and make my dreams come true…”

The Syrian conflict has resulted in the largest displacement crisis of our time. More than 5.6 million refugees have fled – mostly for neighbouring countries – and another 6 million are displaced inside Syria.

Photographer Jonathan Hyams:

"When I first met Rhian my first thought was that he looks older than 15 – he looks like a strong young man. But when he smiled, it revealed his age – he has this sweet smile and speaks very softly. I was struck by how remarkably positive he is. He wanted to talk about what he’s overcome and how he found the strength to not be defined by it. He wanted other children who’d been through difficult experiences in the war to see him as a symbol of hope.

"This is a special photo for me because I wanted to capture how important his relationship is with Siba and how much he loves and cares for her. It’s just a very sweet intimate moment between a big brother and his little sister."

Sisters Danusha (red), 8, and Imelda (white), 6, in a temporary camp for families affected by Cyclone Idai, Mozambique.

10 April: Sisters Danusha (red), 8, and Imelda (white), 6, in a temporary camp for families affected by Cyclone Idai, Mozambique. Photographer: Hanna Adcock

10 April: Sisters Danusha (red), 8, and Imelda (white), 6, in a temporary camp for families affected by Cyclone Idai, Mozambique. Photographer: Hanna Adcock

Imelda and Danusha hid under a bed as their house collapsed during Cyclone Idai. They were rescued from the flood that followed and now live in a tented camp with their parents and extended family. Their mother, Ines, has noticed changes in their behaviour.

“When the cyclone was coming, we were under the bed with the children. I had them on my stomach and they were crying all the time. We had the mattress on the bed to stop the bricks falling on us. I felt helpless because I couldn’t do anything. We were just under there.

“She [Imelda] is bedwetting all the time and sometimes she has nightmares. She wakes me up at nights and shouts.

“They are still so unhappy. If they hear a noise, they will run away. They are just sleeping all the time..."

Photographer Hanna Adcock:

“I arrived about ten days after the cyclone hit. The airport was the only place with internet, the arrival and departure lounges had become a humanitarian response hub, with organisations from around the world working together.

“The destruction was obvious straight away. Trees and power lines had fallen across the road. Whole ceilings had been blown off schools, and buildings had been completely destroyed.

“Because it had all happened so recently, people were eager to tell their stories, they needed to offload. Parents were telling me: ‘not in my life can I remember a storm this big.’ And a lot of families were looking for missing family members.

“When I met this family the kids were really lively, except Imelda, the girl in white, who was asleep on the floor. Her mum said she’d just been asleep and tired all the time.

“I visited them a few times over the weeks I was there. I’d joke around with the grandma quite a lot. Towards the end they were starting to just live a bit, braiding each other’s hair, cooking, always doing something as a family.”

Mohammed*, 13, plays football with his friends in a camp for internally displaced people, Southwestern Somalia.

22 April: Mohammed*, 13, plays football with his friends in a camp for internally displaced people, Southwestern Somalia. Photographer: Mustafa Saeed

22 April: Mohammed*, 13, plays football with his friends in a camp for internally displaced people, Southwestern Somalia. Photographer: Mustafa Saeed

When 13-year-old Mohammed* and a group of other children were shining shoes, they were hit by a bomb blast and Mohammed lost his right leg. Decades of civil war have taken a terrible toll here in Somalia. Mohammed has lived in a temporary camp since he fled the conflict in his community.

Photographer Mustafa Saeed:

“After I did a short interview with Mohammed at the makeshift hut where he lives with his grandmother, I walked around the camp with him and a family friend.

“Spending a long time, (one hour at IDP camp in Baidoa is long time, because security procedure won’t allow you to stay any longer), made Mohammed feel comfortable with me and my camera.

“It was a sunny, peaceful day, and luckily at the moment we started walking outside it became a bit cloudy which gave me a good contrast to make this photo. Even though people were used to photographers, following Mohammed created a bit interest and people gathered round. Luckily no shots were ruined by the crowd! His friends were interested in what we were doing and asked him to come and play, and that’s when I was able to make this photo.

“I really look at him as a brave strong person. As young boy who got injured in such blast, to be able to live through it and still play and be a kid is something very inspiring, and his energy and personality really inspired me." 

Tania, 7, watches her step mother (Happy), sewing, Sylhet, Bangladesh.

21 June: Tania, 7, watches her step mother (Happy), sewing, Sylhet, Bangladesh. Photographed by Tom Merilion

21 June: Tania, 7, watches her step mother (Happy), sewing, Sylhet, Bangladesh. Photographed by Tom Merilion

“I like Bangladesh. I like being a big sister.

"[My brother] is heavy but I am strong… I’m strong because I eat vegetables, fish, eggs and chicken.” The youngest member of a girls’ advocacy group in her village, Tania gets life and nutrition advice, practical support and friendship from older girls in her village. She lives with her little brother, father, and step-mum, who Tania’s father married after Tania’s mum died. In an illustration of how UK aid can make a long-term difference, the whole family are doing well and Tania is at a lower risk of early marriage and pregnancy.

Photographer Tom Merilion:

“Tania was inquisitive and bright but a little shy. She had her brother in her arms, resting on her hip, for the whole of the first day we visited the village. She was very active and I was struck by her zest for village life. I photographed her preparing an evening meal, scaling fish, talking to the older girls and jumping into the local pond for a swim.

“After you spend time somewhere even the shyest members of the community get used to you being there and get on with their everyday activities. I came upon this scene and of course photographed it. The natural light on Tania and her step-mum just looked fantastic. I took some closer shots but prefer this first wide frame. I like the negative space around them – drawing the viewers eye into what they are doing.”

Harrison, playing at school, South Wales.

20 June: Harrison, AGE, playing at school, South Wales. Photographer: Claudia Janke

20 June: Harrison, AGE, playing at school, South Wales. Photographer: Claudia Janke

Harrison is part of a programme pilot at his Special Educational Needs school in Wales. It creates a magical mini community of support for parents and children – where they can learn together and explore new games and approaches to learning at home.

Photographer Claudia Janke:

“The shoot took place at a school for the children with multiple and significant special needs in south Wales. I had never been to that part of Wales and loved the train journey through the lush landscape. I remember the shoot as rather chaotic and whirlwind-like but really sweet and fun. 

“When I arrived lots of mothers were ready to discuss the challenges they face navigating a life with a child who has special needs. It was an eye-opening experience to listen to the sometimes-horrendous stories of prejudice and discrimination, but great to see how the support system of the group made a difference to each of them. 

“The moment when the children were allowed to join the group was really sweet as the excitement everyone had to see each other changed the atmosphere of the room. Everybody got into the games straight away, counting, feeling and tasting numbers. Some children decided to take the games to another level. Harrison, for example, ended up chasing his mother across the yard with a water pistol, originally meant to be used to spray at specific numbers in a water game. He kept on adding new elements to the game including trying to hula hoop with a broken ring. It was special to feel the intense bond the mothers and children seemed to have with each other."

Daniel, 4, rides his bicycle in the cul-de-sac where he lives in Manchester, England.

25 June: Daniel, 4, rides his bicycle in the cul-de-sac where he lives in Manchester, England. Photographer: Rhiannon Adam

25 June: Daniel, 4, rides his bicycle in the cul-de-sac where he lives in Manchester, England. Photographer: Rhiannon Adam

Twocan is a chatbot that gives tips and activities to parents with young children, like Flavianna and her son Daniel, whose second language is English. Twocan is helping with his language skills and development. Encouraged by the bot, Daniel and Flavianna have been going the park to learn about rocks and trees, reading books at bedtime and building a den in their living room.

By age three, poorer children living in the UK are already 17 months behind their better off peers in key skills like language.

Photographer Rhiannon Adam:

“We were greeted by Daniel’s buoyant mother Flavianna (who I later learnt was from Brazil), and Daniel himself, a charming four-year-old in an incongruous Captain America suit, complete with muscle padding. 

“Daniel was a little shy at first, but within minutes, he was outside, racing around on his bike in front of the house, looking over his shoulder to see if I was following. A playful ball of energy, with more than a dash of mischief. It wasn’t what I’d planned to shoot, not that you can ever plan too much, but his enthusiasm was infectious, so I took a few pictures for posterity. As I looked back over the images from the day, I was struck by his level of engagement, and the easy interactions with his mother and sister, and all around him. The series of Daniel on his bike ended up being my favourite images from the shoot, the first pictures as we were working each other out. It seemed impossible to take a bad picture of him! He had such an ease in front of the camera, and an unusual level of attentiveness – I don’t remember being so well behaved at four!" 

Sifa*, after an awareness event about Ebola, North Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo

1 July: Sifa*, after an awareness event about Ebola, North Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photographer: Hugh Kinsella Cunningham

1 July: Sifa*, after an awareness event about Ebola, North Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photographer: Hugh Kinsella Cunningham

It seems so cruel for communities already facing huge challenges, that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is at the centre of the second largest Ebola outbreak in history. When it comes, no activity or relationship is safe – as Sifa* discovered after she played with a boy –Roger – who had contracted it:

"We welcomed them and we were playing with them without any problems. After a few days, Roger became very weak. They bought him some medicines, but he did not recover. Then they took him to Kasanga...

“Doctors came to disinfect his bedroom, they burned his mattress, they put all his clothes in chlorine, and they disinfected the toilet and the bathroom… they brought us soap, a washbasin, flour and beans.

“They told us Roger was doing well, that he would recover soon because he had been vaccinated and that those who have not had an Ebola vaccine die.

"We were very afraid."

Photographer Hugh Kinsella Cunningham:

“I met Sifa* at an awareness event for children in Beni, the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak. Save the Children were teaching local children how to prevent the spread of infection. Sifa had to endure the anxiety of the three-week period in which Ebola symptoms develop. Thankfully she hadn’t contracted the virus.

"I photographed Sifa inside first. Then the sun dropped and the light turned soft, so asked if I could take another portrait outside. I hoped this could bring a more positive mood, considering Sifa had survived her own encounter with the epidemic. 

"The portrait happened very naturally because we had already broken the ice and joked around before the first shots, so Sifa took up a confident pose. I think her expression reflects her quiet poise and the strength of someone living in the midst of such a crisis.

"From months covering Ebola, making quieter portraits of people living through these extraordinary circumstances was a compelling experience for me, and meant more than shots from the frontlines of the epidemic.” 

Leolida, 12, plays with his younger brother Lawrence outside their home in Turkana, Kenya.

15 July: Leolida, 12, plays with his younger brother Lawrence outside their home in Turkana, Kenya. Photographer: Fredrik Lerneryd

15 July: Leolida, 12, plays with his younger brother Lawrence outside their home in Turkana, Kenya. Photographer: Fredrik Lerneryd

Leolida believes that playing helps to distract Lawrence from his hunger: “Lawrence is my little brother that I love very much and I would do anything to help him… He is not hungry when you play with him, he is just happy”. Lawrence really misses Leolida when he goes to school and comes alive when he gets home. Leolida scoops him up in his arms and kisses him. He plays with him constantly, clapping hands, and throwing him up in the air to make him laugh. “I want to become a doctor so that I can help other young children like my younger brother Lawrence,” says Leolida – who’s been inspired by Mark – a Save the Children community health volunteer who’s been treating Lawrence for malnutrition.

Photographer Fredrik Lernyerd:  

“I remember that after we were introduced to the family at their home, Leolida ran off to look after his younger brother Lawrence. They were sitting under the tree playing, and I saw this moment between the two brothers. I didn’t interfere in any way, I just got down to their height and photographed them looking at each other. The younger brother, Lawrence, was malnourished had trouble standing, so I was waiting for him to stand up as well. “Leolida is taking a lot of responsibility for his younger brother Lawrence, to help his single mother Jennifer. It was truly a very loving relationship in the family."

 Peter* releases his pet pigeon Am, outside his home in a refugee settlement, Northern Uganda.

18 July: Peter* releases his pet pigeon Am, outside his home in a refugee settlement, Northern Uganda. Photographer: Louis Leeson

18 July: Peter* releases his pet pigeon Am, outside his home in a refugee settlement, Northern Uganda. Photographer: Louis Leeson

“I am used to handling pigeons… I can handle with care,” explains Peter, who just a year ago was living as a soldier with an armed group in South Sudan. “They gave us weapons for shooting,” he says of that time. “They were teaching us skills – how to hide ourselves or run.”

Now Peter’s at school in Uganda and has big ambitions for himself and his home country: “When I finish my studies and graduate, I want to become the President of the Republic of South Sudan."

Photographer Louis Leeson:

“We had driven out to Peter’s home at the edge of the refugee settlement in Northern Uganda, to interview him and his family. The drive had taken several hours along roads that were in a bad state from heavy rain, but when we arrived the sun was out, and the blue sky was full of picture-book white clouds.

“Because of the sensitive nature of Peter’s story, we had to anonymise his portrait, which is always a challenge for a photographer because you still want to capture something of the person’s spirit and personality without compromising their safety.

“For me the most poignant aspect of Peter’s escape from his old life as a child soldier was his decision to spend what little money he had on pet bird: a pigeon he named Am, meaning ‘alone’ in his mother tongue. It seemed that a photograph of Peter with his pet birds would tell part of his story with a certain immediacy not always possible with an anonymous portrait. Placing them in the centre of a long road with a vanishing point in the distance also hinted at the long journey Peter had made."

Deswita, 13, pauses on the pitch at a community centre in Jakarta, Indonesia.

18 August: Deswita, 13, pauses on the pitch at a community centre in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photographer: Jiro Ose

18 August: Deswita, 13, pauses on the pitch at a community centre in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photographer: Jiro Ose

On a tiny oasis of artificial grass in Jakarta, it’s time for football practice. The pitch sits amid one of 300 densely crowded slum communities in Indonesia’s capital city.

Deswita lives here with her father, grandmother, sister, aunt and uncle. Her mother left when Deswita was one – she doesn’t know why: “I would love to meet her and know her better, to know what she’s like.”

Through the programme of life coaching and football training Deswita's made new friends and found her voice:

“If I see child rights are being violated, I am able to speak up with confidence because I know this is wrong,” says Deswita. “When I grow up, I want to be Indonesian ambassador, a violinist and a professional football player.”

Photographer Jiro Ose:

“It was morning, but the tropical sun was impatient, already beating down on the concrete walls and tin roofs. Making portraits isn’t easy. Subjects are self-conscious and nervous, not revealing much of themselves. But in Deswita’s case, I simply showed her where to stand and said, “lihat saya” (‘look at me’ in Indonesian). When she turned and I saw her face filled with confidence, just like on the pitch, I simply pressed the shutter. Then she skipped back to join her team. 

“Among this tight-knit group, Deswita is lucky, because her father has a steady job and she does not have to work. One girl in her team sells sweets and cares for her siblings at home. Another girl’s mother collects recycling to support her family, but she is three months behind on their rent for an apartment with no running water. But on the pitch, they focus on the game. Someone scores the goal, and I hear the cheers and laughter. They hug each other, support each other. Their bond is football.

“Deswita dreams of becoming an Indonesian ambassador one day so she can represent her country abroad. Looking into her face in this photograph, I’m convinced it’s possible.”

Rama*, 14 (L), and her sister Hiba*, 17 (R), with their football coach in Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees, Jordan

9 October: Rama*, 14 (L), and her sister Hiba*, 17 (R), with their football coach in Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees, Jordan Photographer: Jonathan Hyams

9 October: Rama*, 14 (L), and her sister Hiba*, 17 (R), with their football coach in Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees, Jordan Photographer: Jonathan Hyams

“We are children who stand against early marriage,” sing Hiba* and Rama*. “We will fight the world to stop it.”

When the family arrived from Syria, 14-year-old Rama was struggling. Her arm had been badly injured in an airstrike and she was plagued by negative thoughts. Her big sister, Hiba, helped her find fresh hope through writing and rap. “I keep telling her we will achieve great things and the world will know about us,” she says.

Photographer Jonathan Hyams:

“The first thing that struck me about Hiba* and Rama* is how engaged they are with issues that girls face in their community. And how brave they are to make a stand for what they believe in.

"We lent them a phone so they could take over our Instagram and they chose to show their relationship with one of Save the Children’s facilitators. They've become very close to her and wanted to highlight the great work she’s doing, which she loved! It was a lovely sisterly moment.

"Part of their bravery is that they're exposing their opinions and vulnerabilities within quite a conservative society. They also talk about issues that are quite personal to them, yet they have this amazing capacity to relate their own insecurities and challenges to the wider world and use this as a force for greater understanding and respect. It makes them incredibly relatable.

"Spending lots of time together allowed us to build a friendship and talk about difficult issues whilst maintaining a sense of fun. Whatever weird idea we threw at them, they were up for it and made it their own. Even a music video!"

Six-month-old Alaziz receives a pneumonia vaccine from health worker Ifra Mahamud, 25, Somali Region, Ethiopia.

10 October: Six-month-old Alaziz receives a pneumonia vaccine from health worker Ifra Mahamud, 25, Somali Region, Ethiopia. Photographer: Hanna Adcock

10 October: Six-month-old Alaziz receives a pneumonia vaccine from health worker Ifra Mahamud, 25, Somali Region, Ethiopia. Photographer: Hanna Adcock

Though the Somali families here are nomadic, their sense of community and home is strong and there's an aura of permanence to their houses – domed and covered in multicoloured cloths stitched together, like patchwork Elmo elephants. The earth in the fenced courtyards around them is flattened and swept.

Communities are all but cut-off from medical assistance here, apart from visiting health workers like Ifra, a government employee trained and equipped by Save the Children’s vaccination programme:

“My motivation comes from using my experience to serve my community,” she says.

Photographer Hanna Adcock:

"A community elder brought out a big white megaphone and summoned around a hundred women and children for vaccines. Many mums had lost multiple children to preventable diseases.

"Wide eyes peeped out curiously at me beneath a mass of colour. As the babies were placed down in front of Ifra, their faces went from calm to an anticipatory scream. Even small babies seemed to remember the needle!

"Alaziz was wearing a little red hat and stared at me intently. Of all the babies, he was the most non-plussed about the needle, more fascinated by the reflections on the lens. He stayed still for a second, which is when this photo was taken."

Jacque*, 22 months, with his mother, Marie*, 21, in hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

24 October: Jacque*, 22 months, with his mother, Marie*, 21, in hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photographer: Jonathan Hyams

24 October: Jacque*, 22 months, with his mother, Marie*, 21, in hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photographer: Jonathan Hyams

“From home to the hospital, I walked for two days on foot,” says Marie*, 21, mother of 22-month-old Jacque*, who's suffering from pneumonia and suspected malaria.

Even though it's preventable by early vaccination, pneumonia killed more than 2,000 children every day last year. It’s an underreported epidemic that mostly affects families living in poverty.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo families have to overcome huge challenges just to access the most basic of lifesaving healthcare.

Photographer Jonathan Hyams:

“When I met Jacque he was in the emergency room being hooked up to oxygen and there were lots of things happening all around him, as staff tried to stabilise him. Reporting on life-threatening illness hard, as it’s such a difficult time for families. But after the initial rush to treat critical patients, there’s often a period where things are much quieter and have a different type of intensity – a time of waiting and hoping. I was interested in showing these quiet moments.

"After this picture was taken, Jacque was stable enough to return to the main ward. The next day when I saw him he was sitting up and feeding. It was a relief to see him regaining his strength."

IJ*, 35, and her son Uche*, 4, in the allotment at Reach Academy, Feltham, England.

5 November: IJ*, 35, and her son Uche*, 4, in the allotment at Reach Academy, Feltham, England. Photographer: Lewis Khan

5 November: IJ*, 35, and her son Uche*, 4, in the allotment at Reach Academy, Feltham, England. Photographer: Lewis Khan

“If I say, ‘Oh I'm so shy...’ I won't know the best courses to enrol my children in. I won't know the playgroups to go to. 

"I had to consciously, with baby steps, just come out and just say hello..."

IJ* was finding parenting hard without a support network, but got lucky when she met a friendly mum at a children's centre. It gave her the confidence to join children's services and parenting courses and access more support in her community. Now, she says, she's more relaxed.

Photographer Lewis Khan:

"I took this photo right at the end of a day with Uche* and his family in Feltham. It had been raining most of the day, and we’d been shooting and recording interviews inside. Finally, the sun came out, giving us some of that beautiful late autumnal light. 

"The photo was taken in a community garden backing on to the boy’s school. It was an environment he was happy in, and he displayed a real pride in showing the place to his mum. 

"In the photo they are looking at the plants and the garden together. I had seen the strong chemistry between them throughout the day, so I knew all I had to do was get the scene framed up right and the emotion would naturally come through. I gave some initial bits of direction and then preferred to just stay back and allow their moment together to unfold."

Saada* (in red) with her friends and fellow anti-FGM campaigners at school in Harar, Ethiopia. 

15 December: Saada* (in red) with her friends and fellow anti-FGM campaigners at school in Harar, Ethiopia. Photographer: Hanna Adcock

15 December: Saada* (in red) with her friends and fellow anti-FGM campaigners at school in Harar, Ethiopia. Photographer: Hanna Adcock

Hidden behind the high, multicoloured walls of Harar, Ethiopia, is a school set around a hexagonal courtyard. It’s an explosion of colour and teenage energy. Classrooms stretch up on multiple levels, walls painted rainbow-style. Students in a uniform of primary colours hang over the balconies between lessons, watching others play, chat and scrap below. The school is as vibrant as Harar itself – their tiny, ancient, atmospheric city.

"My friend came to me and said she was getting circumcised,” says ten-year-old Saada*, one of the school’s pupils. “I thought I would lose her because she would die.

“I will keep telling people FGM is bad until they listen. I am not alone, we fight this together. Together we are more powerful.”

Saada is part of a campaigning group (of all genders) at the school, that fights female genital mutilation (FGM), and other behaviours and attitudes that are harmful to girls.

In Ethiopia, 65% of women between the ages of 15 and 49, and 16% of girls under the age of 14, have undergone FGM. The government recently committed to ending the practice by 2025.

Photographer Hanna Adcock:

“After the group did a play about FGM we met them all together. They were really confident and outspoken, knowledgeable and passionate. We all had questions for each other, not only about FGM, but also about things like domestic violence and women’s rights.   

"Saada* immediately stood out as being really chatty. Although she was one of the smallest and youngest, she was constantly asking questions. She was helpful and loved to boss us around as she practised her English, asking what was happening behind the camera.

"The tuktuk was in the school yard and the girls played around with it – sitting in the driver’s seat, posing and playing around. The girls had real attitude that they brought to the photos and had a good bond together.

"After the girls’ joy and determination, it was sobering to see objects that were used for circumcision when a Save staff member brought them to us. A razor for cutting the clitoris, an egg to cool the area and soothe the pain."

 Rossi*, 15, aspiring singer and children's entertainer, in the apartment she shares with her family and others in Lima, Peru.

18 November: Rossi*, 15, aspiring singer and children's entertainer, in the apartment she shares with her family and others in Lima, Peru. Photographer: Hanna Adcock

18 November: Rossi*, 15, aspiring singer and children's entertainer, in the apartment she shares with her family and others in Lima, Peru. Photographer: Hanna Adcock

Rossi*, 15, and her mum, Mariana*, 41, are really close. They’ve been in Lima, Peru’s capital, for two months and travelled here together to escape the economic crisis in their homeland, Venezuela – it took a month. They both have light pink nails, which they painted for each other, and are planning to start selling pizzas from a food cart soon. Each night, Rossi and Mariana share a bed, which their landlady found for them. Rossi's two older brothers sleep on a mattress beside them; their cousin on a rug he rolls out across the last bit of floor space. 

Rossi is still out of school, so for now she fills her days by singing for her mum, which she’s always loved, and has recently started volunteering as a children’s party entertainer. She thinks the local kids at the parties are more innocent than Venezuelan children who’ve seen so much more.

Back in Venezuela, the shop Mariana ran was looted, forcing her to work in Colombia during the week. But while she was away, her children were repeatedly robbed at home. 

Political and economic crisis, rising crime, and food and medicine shortages have made Venezuela one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a child. 

“Another time,” Rossi explains, “we were sleeping and they came in through the window. They took everything – even the food we’d prepared. We didn’t notice or hear and people said we’d been gassed because we never woke up.

“That’s when we decided we should get out of here because all we have left is four walls.”

Photographer Hanna Adcock:

"I remember Rossi seemed really excited to see us. She’d been practising her singing using her prized mini speaker, which was given to her by a neighbour. She was grounded and thoughtful, but also a bubbly teenager – the kind of big sister you’d want to have.

"She seemed like someone who took everything in her stride. I remember her enthusiasm and her brightness – she had a real vibrancy – and how casually she would offer up details about what she’d been through. That amount of trauma could batter you down, but she was so optimistic and hugely resourceful like the other Venezuelan migrants we met – she had a sense that everything’s going to be okay.

"There was barely any natural light in the house so I took Rossi's portrait by the biggest window. She used to sleep on a mattress on the floor, which made her sick, so the mattresses – folded against the wall when we arrived – help to show how temporary and cramped the space is. We decided to show her with the balloon to represent her love for entertaining and her volunteer work at children’s parties."

17-year-old Isatu* in the house where she does vocational training, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

2 December: 17-year-old Isatu* in the house where she does vocational training, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photographer: Yagazie Emezi

2 December: 17-year-old Isatu* in the house where she does vocational training, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photographer: Yagazie Emezi

“Myself and my older sister used to carry buckets to town to sell, to fund our school books,” says Isatu*, 17:

“I met a guy who said he liked me. He said he would support me with money for lunch. I was 15 and I still lived at home, but he was in the same community. At this time, I had nothing. He invited me to come to his house and did things to impress me. I ended up falling pregnant.”

Isatu’s mum insisted she leave home when she got pregnant, so she stayed with a friend until she gave birth. “I had no money for something to eat let alone medicine. I decided if I am able to work I am able to bring up my child.”

So Isatu began attending vocational training for teenage mothers run by Aunt Esther – a seamstress who also provides them with the space for peer counselling:

"When I went to the first meeting I said to Save the Children: ‘please don’t disappoint me – right now I am the only one supporting my child’.”

Photographer Yagazie Emezi:

"It was just about midday, another sweltering day thanks to the start of dry season in Sierra Leone. Jada and Ramatu had just finished talking with Isatu. I had already photographed the girls at Aunt Esther’s workshop, which had been a small challenge as naturally, all were anonymous. I photographed most of the girls outside, so for Isatu*, I decided to switch it up a bit by photographing her indoors – Aunt Esther volunteered her living room.

"Isatu* has a soft ease about her. I speak Nigerian Pidgin which is a little similar to the Creole in Sierra Leone, so communicating with her was easy. She sat down on the couch and we had a giggle about Aunt Esther insisting that her cushions be part of the shot. Normally, I’d position someone to face the light, but not in this instance. I didn’t want to create a complete silhouette, especially with those lovely colours by the wall that reminded me of glowing embers. The maker of this image is Isatu*. She sat with her held held up, smiling effortlessly throughout. Perhaps that’s what will remain with me personally, knowing that although you can’t see her smile, it’s there."


If you support Save the Children’s work, you support families like the ones in these photographs. Thank you. Here are some other ways you’ve helped.

Emma Price, Stories Editor, Save the Children UK
17 December 2019
Photographer responses have been edited for clarity and length.
*Indicates that names have been changed to protect identities.