Seeing what humans can do for humans

A NEW photographic exhibition will give Canberrans the chance to see how their generosity helped one the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies.

The Horn of Africa Crisis: One Year On reflects on the 2011 Horn of Africa Crisis, where widespread famine saw around 300,000 desperate Somali refugees flee to camps in Kenya and Ethiopia in search of assistance.

The exhibition will feature around 50 photographs, from the height of the crisis to the positive changes one year later, thanks to donations to the $5 million Horn of Africa Crisis Appeal by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

At the time, ACT residents donated around $200,000 to go towards the appeal.

National Director of Australia for UNCHR Naomi Steer, who was in Somalia in 2011 when famine was declared, says she couldn’t think of a better way to show people where their donations went than photographs.

“Last year in Somalia I met people in absolute despair who had seen all their crops fail, animals die and were watching their children face starvation,” she says.

“Thousands of people made the dangerous journey across the border seeking protection and support from UNHCR in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. They arrived with nothing and the support provided by ACT donors helped give them food, water, shelter, and basic supplies.”

One of the photographers featured in the exhibition is 33 year old Thomas Mukoya, a Nairobi based Reuters photographer and an award winning photojournalist who will attend the opening of the exhibition.

Thomas is no stranger to the challenges of covering humanitarian issues across the African continent.

He says it is important for a photographer to be able to empathise with their subjects.

“You have to be human, you have to feel the suffering these people are going through,” he says.

“You have to know how they are feeling. I was affected by this. I was feeling as if I’m with these people. I never went for counselling, but I had to do a lot of walking around, to normalise. Because day and night, every night in the camp, you think to yourself, what am I going to see. More deaths? More suffering? More kids in hospital? Some of these kids, they don’t have the strength to chew.”

But he says while the exhibition can be confronting, it is also “extremely positive.”

“The exhibition is like day and night,” he says.

“You can see how the people have suffered and the resilience of people and the successes. People were dying. But at last, people can smile now. Last year people had to be carried on donkey carts because they weren’t strong enough to walk. This year they are stronger. Last year we had so many clinics, with babies wrapped in foil just to keep them warm. This year, the clinics were shut down because the malnourishment was no more.

“This just shows what humans can do for humans.”

The Horn of Africa Crisis: One Year On will run from December 3-14, 8am to 6pm weekdays, in the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre, 180 London Circuit, Canberra.

Donations to support the ongoing work of UNHCR in the Horn of Africa can be made by calling 1300 361 288 or visiting  www.unrefugees.org.au

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