Young first-time photographers shine a light on South Sudan’s strife

In times of conflict, the psychological toll is especially hard on children. But they often have no way to explain what they are going through.

As its part of wider efforts to help children affected by conflict, UNICEF recently organized a photography workshop in Rumbek, South Sudan, to give 20 youths an opportunity to tell their stories and express their feelings.

“In situations like this in South Sudan it can be a kind of therapy. It starts like a sort of game, then they have to go out and take pictures and write captions. It helps bring out something they have inside,” explained lead facilitator Giacomo Pirozzi, a professional photographer.

  • None of the workshop participants, who were aged between 11 and 17, had ever taken a picture before. So the first step was to teach rudiments of photography such as light, focus and composition. Anthony Morland/UNICEF
  • Each student was loaned a sophisticated point-and-shoot camera. Despite their lack of experience, they took to the technology enthusiastically. “The best thing about the workshop was learning to use the camera and to feel encouraged,” said Regina Deng, 17. “Now I know the importance of the right background and correct use of light. If I could get a camera I could make a business taking pictures of people,” she said. Giacomo Pirozzi/UNICEF
  • Before heading out for practical fieldwork, the students broke into groups to decide among themselves where they would go, what they would photograph and which aspects of their lives they wanted to highlight. Anthony Morland/UNICEF
  • Regina Deng, who lives with her sister’s family in Nyan-Kot and hopes to soon return to school, put her new-found skills to good use in this portrait of a woman cooking. Among the workshop’s top tips were to exclude distracting elements from the frame and to place the main subject slightly off-centre. Regina Deng/UNICEF
  • Almost all the students said lack of water was one of their main preoccupations, so it’s no wonder so many photographed this hand-pump in Nyan-Kot, a settlement for former refugees who returned to South Sudan after it gained independence in 2011. Giacomo Pirozzi/UNICEF
  • So great is demand for water that residents wake in the middle of the night to place their jerry-cans in line and return at daybreak to fill them. Kerthina Arokgol (12)/UNICEF
  • As well as for cooking and washing, some residents use their precious supplies of water to irrigate kitchen gardens so as to increase their self-sufficiency in food. Nguanjang Deng (15)/UNICEF
  • Asked what they disliked most about their lives now, most of the workshop students said “fighting” and the prevalence of weapons. To help reduce the risk of violent cattle raids, armed police regularly patrol in Nyan-Kot.
  • Nearly all the students said what they liked most was school, which they see as a step towards a brighter future. But several said their families could not afford to send them. And for those who do go, it is not unusual to have to sit on the floor for lack of chairs and desks. Daniel Dut Ayuol (13)/UNICEF
  • 26024186172_1a1cbd8071_zThe medical clinic in Nyan-Kot consists of a single, small room. Chol Malek Makoi (14)/UNICEF
  • A girl roasts groundnuts outside her home. The nuts will later be ground into a paste which is mixed with greens or used as the base of a soup. “The things in this picture – the homemade stove, the thatch roof, the aluminium bowl, the broken jerry-can now used as a seat – all tell the story of the girl’s life,” explained the young photographer. Dong Awau Mon (15)/UNICEF
  • As well as photographing the difficult things in their lives to show the outside world, some also took time to capture the more positive aspects, such as their families. Much of UNICEF’s work with youths affected by conflict involves helping parents and the wider community interact more with children. Structured play activities also help to boost children’s self-confidence. Giacomo Pirozzi/UNICEF
  • “I like this one because it came out clear and everyone is looking happy,” said 14-year-old Dong Awau Mon. “I also wanted to show how we construct our houses here. Now I am helping my dad make mud bricks for a new house.” Dong said the workshop had boosted his self-confidence. “It has really changed me. I got new information about how to take pictures and also learned that pictures can tell stories. It has also made me happy, I met new people and learned how to behave in different environments. It has inspired me to seek out new knowledge. Dong Awau Mon/UNICEF
  • After the practical exercise, students reviewed their work and prepared “who, what, where” captions for the best images. “You see children coming into the workshop very shy,” said Pirozzi (right). “But by the end there is a totally different atmosphere, they open up, the workshop creates a safe space, it’s like a flower that blooms.” Anthony Morland/UNICEF
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