I’m never fully packed for a trip, be it work or play, until the camera makes its way into the bag. My love of photography started as a wide-eyed first grader. My dad, a professional photographer, gave me my very own automatic camera. Little did I know that gift would become the backbone of how I viewed the world around me.
I love the moments captured on camera, a story in one single image. As a photographer for Church World Service, for me, it’s about the people I meet, both in front of the camera and behind it. It’s heart-wrenching to hear the stories of people displaced from their homes. Having lost everything from a natural disaster. To document humanitarian work and its impact–it’s what drives me as a communicator.
Over my time with CWS, I’ve had the opportunity to gather photos and stories of those we serve. One trip in particular, when I visited a partner organization in Cairo, left an impact. This organization provides housing, education, legal services and more to refugees. The best part about this work is that it’s staffed primarily by refugees. There is a high level of selflessness these individuals bring to the work they do. It filled my heart with hope for all those participating in the programs.
Every day, they provide a delicious lunch for over 300 staff and students. I got a sneak peek into the kitchen to meet the woman behind the meals. The head cook, dubbed by the community as Mama Aisha, puts her all into the food she cooks. “I feel so thrilled and happy when I see people eating and enjoying the food that I make,” she told me. “It’s just refugees helping refugees at all time, and it’s a great idea.” Posing for a photo over the larger-than-life pot of fried rice made for a great scene. But sharing a bowl of her flavorful food and the stories she told me will forever be a treasured memory.
Another standout experience for me was a trip to the Dominican Republic. I spent three weeks documenting programs in education, farming and social support. One individual I had the pleasure of meeting was Julio. As a child, he spent time working on the street as a shoe shiner before school to help make ends meet for his family. Julio then met a counselor from Caminante Juntos, an organization that focuses on getting children off the street. It’s a safe haven for youth-a place for a hot meal, shower or rest. They also help to provide vocational training for youth. Opening doors to stable job opportunities away from the streets.
Today, Julio works as a youth counselor for Caminante. He helps get children off the street the same way they did for him. “I believe that if I hadn’t met Caminante when I was a shoe shiner, it’s possible I wouldn’t be here today telling you this,” he told me. He shared accounts of three individuals he had a hand in helping to turn their lives around. Now, they are in school pursuing their careers. When asked to come support events, they make time. The homecoming of Caminante-supported youth speaks volumes. The selfless and compassionate work done within this organization shines through. Making my job documenting all the easier.
It’s been a transformative experience meeting our global partners. Just as impactful are the local agencies in the United States and their unsung heroes that give their all to the work they do. In North Carolina, I met Serilda– yet another standout humanitarian. Her job focuses on supporting migrant families in her community. Back in 2018, Hurricane Florence left a wake of destruction in the area. For migrant farmworkers, making ends meet was already a struggle. I got to see firsthand the care and understanding Serilda gave to each family she worked with. Ensuring they had the resources and supplies needed to help pick up the pieces. Family after family welcomed us into their home to share their story like they would a neighbor. Once again, a testament to the incredible individuals behind this work.
The gratitude I have for working in the field I do is unmeasurable. Getting to tell the stories and share images of those we serve is monumental. I can’t stress enough– it’s the people serving these communities who are the backbone of humanitarian relief. They get the job done. They give of themselves and ensure the wellbeing of those in need. I couldn’t do my job if it weren’t for the staff behind the curtain.
I have visited more than a dozen CWS programs in my three years here. The countless humanitarians I have met see the humanity in everyone around them. To those facing their darkest moments, these volunteers and staff shine a light on change. They do so by building a rock-solid foundation of love and grace. I saw firsthand the smiles and laughter at a drop-in shelter for children in Serbia. All thanks to the staff welcoming them in and away from working on the streets. I’ve seen small business owners in rural Georgia talk with renewable energy experts. I’ve seen the sheer relief when someone receives a CWS Blanket or School Kit from a volunteer after a hurricane. And wherever I’ve gone, people have welcomed me into their homes with open arms. Treated me like family and offered food or water (which for some comes in limited supply). All out of respect for the people I’m traveling with.
Humanitarians treat every client like a neighbor. The very best lens to view the world through.
Abby Becker is the CWS Content Acquisition and Video Production Manager.