This article was written by Helen Manson, humanitarian photographer and storyteller, who visited some of our projects and met some of the people we serve. It was published on the Gospel’s Coalition‘s blog.
I’m a New Zealand humanitarian photographer and storyteller living and working in Uganda. I’m also a mom to three incredible kids (ages 2, 3, and 5). My work has taken me to 35 countries over the last decade, where I’ve seen everything from mothers saying their first hello to their babies, to witnessing their last goodbyes. I’ve listened to moms tell stories of hope and joy, as they proudly describe reaching the point of being able to pay their children’s school fees. I’ve wept as they’ve shared harrowing stories of surviving war, rape, slavery, abuse, and the murder of loved ones.
Before I started doing humanitarian photography/storytelling, I was tempted to imagine that mothers in developing countries who endured horrific things “on the news” were fundamentally different from me. Maybe, somehow, they just don’t feel things like I do. They’re “used to it,” numbed by the ubiquitous presence of suffering. Maybe they expect less, care less, hope for less, want less, or need less. But as I’ve gotten to know moms all over the world, and captured them and their children with my camera, I’ve come to see that as different as our cultures and contexts might be, the universal gifts and challenges of motherhood unite us. There’s really no difference in what we want for our children; only in what we can give them.
I’ve met many mothers through my travel and my work, in some of our planet’s most difficult places. These moms are remarkable. Each has a story, and each bears the beautiful image of God in how they nurture, love, and sacrifice for their children.
As Christians, one of the ways we dignify people is simply by seeing them, bearing witness to who they are as precious image-bearers, even or especially in difficult places and situations. Photography helps us do this. As we approach Mother’s Day, we can celebrate the gift of mothers is by seeing them in their beauty and struggle.
Here are some photos that try to do that—dignifying and bearing witness to six remarkable moms I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph.
Marwa (name changed for security reasons), 27, has five children between the ages of 7 months and 11 years. They came to Lebanon as refugees because of the war in Syria four years ago. “I saw bombs, shelling, people dying and ruins all around us,” Marwa said. “Every day I heard stories of families losing their children, and I was really scared of losing one of mine.” Marwa and her kids left everything they owned in Syria, coming to Lebanon with nothing. When they arrived, some members of a local church (supported by Tearfund) came to their aid, providing things like food vouchers, milk, and diapers—which they provide Marwa to this day. The trauma of what they left in Syria still affects the family. When the kids hear an airplane fly by or fireworks at night, they think there is bombing and shelling. But in spite of the emotional scars, Marwa is hopeful. “My hope for the future,” she said, “is for my children to get an education and to have no more sadness.”