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Kenya, 14 December 2016: Children use photography to highlight good nutrition

© UNICEF Kenya/2016/Pirozzi
Children taking part in a photography workshop to learn how to highlight and capture issues concerning nutrition in Kenya.

 
By Ruth Ansah Ayisi

NAIROBI, Kenya, 14 December 2016 – Mohamad Baryare, 15, had little time to prepare for the photography workshop that he was about to attend in the capital Nairobi, a six-hour drive away from his home in Wajir, an arid county in northern Kenya bordering Somalia.

Before he travelled, Mohamad was not only recovering from the waterborne disease typhoid, he was also preoccupied with finding water for his uncle and six cousins.

“Our wells had dried up so I had to look for water elsewhere,” he says. “Sometimes, we cannot eat three meals a day as we have no water to drink and cook with.”

The burden of searching for water increasingly falls on Mohamad, as his uncle, the main breadwinner, suffers from crippling arthritis. Mohamad’s mother died of an asthma attack when he was just 8.

Fortunately, Mohamad managed to make the journey to Nairobi with his teacher. He joined 29 other children who, like him, have mostly come from arid and semi-arid counties where droughts are frequent and chronic malnutrition levels are particularly high. Additionally, four of the children have the added challenge of living with HIV.

One of the girls, 14, living with HIV, stressed how nutrition is especially important for her health. “I need to eat well to take my tablets.” But when crops fail, there are food shortages. “When we don’t have much food, my mother still tries hard to make nutritious food. She does her best,” she says.

The five-day photography workshop, held on 4–9 December 2016, offered a chance for the children to learn how to highlight the issue of nutrition through their images.

The workshop was one of the activities supported through the UNICEF-supported Government Maternal and Child Nutrition programme, financially assisted by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), USAID and the EU, with the objective to improve nutrition in the arid and semi-arid counties.

Steve Wathome of the EU points out, “Acute malnutrition continues to be a persistent problem in Sub-Saharan Africa. The causes are diverse, and subsequently we need to adopt multisectoral strategies.”

The children attending the workshop, aged 10–15 years, were taught by an Italian photographer, Giacomo Pirozzi, who has facilitated similar workshops, with UNICEF support, in over 120 countries around the world, all of them aimed at disadvantaged children or children going through crises.

“The children pick up photography quicker than adults,” says Pirozzi. “It means a lot to me to see how they are able to express themselves through their images and how happy photography makes them.”
 

 
There was no doubt about Mohamad’s emotion as he photographed the rolling lush green tea plantations that glistened under the soft late afternoon sun in a fertile county just outside the capital.

“I felt like I was on top of a mountain and at the peak of discovery,” he says. “I had never used a camera before and never seen such green fields.”

On the final day of the workshop, the children participate in an exercise where they vote for the best photographer, the best photograph, the best story behind the image and the best team work.

“Although it is meant to be fun, it gives the children a chance to show what they have learnt about photography and for them to share the stories behind the images with the rest of the group,” says Pirozzi.

Mary Anne Chebet, 14, who was voted the best photographer, says her favourite photo was of a mother breastfeeding her baby.
 

 
“I like this photo I took so much as the baby looks healthy and the photo can be used to encourage mothers to breastfeed.”

She adds that this particular mother had told her that she had breastfed all three of her children even while working at the tea plantation.

“Her husband looked after the babies while she was in the plantation, and then she would come home during the day to breastfeed.”

Another popular photo with the children was of a father taking his baby to the clinic. Amina Bacho, 13, says, “I like this image as it is not often that fathers get involved in childcare. I would like to see more fathers take their childcare responsibilities more seriously.”
 

 
Grainne Moloney, Chief of Nutrition for UNICEF Kenya, explains that the best of the children’s photographs, with captions written by the children, will be mounted on a mobile exhibition which will travel around the country, including to the 14 counties where the children are from and beyond.

“The exhibition will be a powerful advocacy tool used to discuss new ways to address chronic malnutrition in the country.”

Despite the government’s commitment to tackle chronic malnutrition, one in four children in Kenya under the age of 5 years is too short for their age and failing to reach his or her full cognitive potential.

“This is a tragic loss,” says Ms Moloney.

At the end of the workshop, the children are allowed to take the cameras home to their counties to share their skills with school friends and to take pictures in their home areas. Some of the photos will be sent to UNICEF to share on social media and others will be used for fundraising and advocacy communication materials.

Mohamad, who wants to be a doctor in the future to help his community in Wajir, says, “I look forward to teaching my friends how I have been taught to use a camera, and when the exhibition comes to my county, I will invite people in my community so I can talk to them about good nutrition using our images.”

 

 
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