Happy Mother’s day: picturing mums in India and Sierra Leone

Changing lives: Ante and post natal care for mums and babies in every community. Picture: Pippa Ranger/Department for International Development

Changing lives: A mother and her baby boy, who've benefitted from ante and post natal care in Orissa, India. Picture: Pippa Ranger/Department for International Development (CC-A) View more on Flickr.

Ok, I know this Mother’s Day post is a couple of days late – at least if you’re reading this in the UK. If you’re in the US, or many other places like Australia, Canada and India, then it’s a couple of months early, as I know you guys celebrate ‘mothering Sunday’ in May. Anyhow, the date doesn’t really matter. What matters is that luckily I remembered to send my mum a card and some chocolates in time this year. I hope you did too.

What also matters is that I just wanted to share two very different, and (I think) powerful, images that we used at the Department for International Development over the last few days to co-incide with Mother’s day, and communicate about a fundamentally important development issue – maternal and new-born health.

The images are from two small photo-stories about the UK’s support for maternal and new-born health programmes in Sierra Leone and India. Working in conjunction with the photographers (one a member of DFID staff, the other an independent NGO campaigner), we put the stories together to try and explain how help from Britain is making a difference to the survival rates of thousands of women and their babies in some of the poorest parts of the world.

I feel that these two pictures tell aspects of those stories incredibly well. In Orissa, India, projects to improve basic health, nutrition and hygiene education are increasing the survival chances of babies born into some of the poorest families. Pippa’s photo of Swarna and her baby boy (above) is sublime, a wonderful portrait of one mother and child who’ve been helped.

Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone, a shocking one in four deaths of women at child-bearing age happen during pregnancy and childbirth, and a tragic one in eleven babies are lost before their first birthday. A UK scheme to help British doctors and nurses visit the country to train medical staff there is helping to change that terrible statistic.

Nancy Durrell McKenna’s photo from this story (below), of a family in Freetown, Sierra Leone, carrying away the bodies of two still-born babies in cardboard boxes is simply heartbreaking. I’m always keen that development photo-stories use positive, empowering images where-ever possible. But I also believe that as communicators about complex international development issues, we shouldn’t shy away from telling hard stories too, and we shouldn’t shy away from sometimes using harder-to-read images either. I know this picture requires the caption in order to explain it, to give it some context. Otherwise it’s just a picture of two guys carrying some boxes, right? Well, as I’ve written before, photography is often as much about what we can’t see as it is about what we can. I think this is one of those images.

The images ran on the Independent and Huffington Post websites, and have been extensively shared on Twitter and Facebook – as well as being published on DFID’s Flickr channel (here and here).

Hopefully they reached a few people this Mother’s day, and hopefully they tell an aspect of a complex story. For those of us born in countries where we take maternal health care almost for granted, hopefully they serve to remind us that basic support for mums-to-be should be available for every woman, no matter where they’re born.

Two boxes tell a tragic tale in Freetown, Sierra Leone: a family carry away the bodies of two still-born babies in cardboard boxes. Picture: Nancy Durrell McKenna/Safe Hands for Mothers

Two boxes tell a tragic tale in Freetown, Sierra Leone: a family carry away the bodies of two still-born babies in cardboard boxes. Sadly their mother also died. Picture © Nancy Durrell McKenna/Safe Hands for Mothers

*The India images are available under a Creative Commons (Attribution) License, so they’re free for anyone to use as long as they’re credited/captioned as indicated. The Sierra Leone pictures are reproduced with the kind permission of Nancy Durrell McKenna/Safe Hands for Mothers. They are Copyright – All Rights Reserved.

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About russellphoto

Photographer and multimedia producer/editor working in international development. Also on Twitter @russellphoto
This entry was posted in communications for development, international development, maternal health, photography, photojournalism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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