Motherhood around the world as seen through the lens of nine female humanitarian photographers.

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Grace Ellis
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Collated and edited by Grace Ellis 


To celebrate Mother’s Day, Kiwi aid and development organisation Tearfund asked female humanitarian photographers from New Zealand and around the world, to share their favourite empowering image and story of a mother who left a lasting impression on them. 

From a story of a Ugandan mother who had surprise triplets, to a Nicaraguan mother who fought to provide her daughter with an education. Each story encapsulates the resilient strength a mother possesses universally, no matter where they are in the world and no matter the circumstances they live in.   



Merielle with her daughter. Shot for Tutapona Photo/ Candice Lassey Kanyinda  



Merielle was separated from her family when rebels invaded her village in eastern Congo.  

For a year she walked from refugee camp to refugee camp in Uganda, searching for her husband and children. One day, while desperately searching a refugee settlement in Uganda's southwest, she spotted her daughter crossing the road!  

"I was giving up hope that I would ever see my children again, and there she was, my daughter. Among a million refugees, she was right there. I held her then, and I never want to stop holding her". 

Merielle and her family experienced unimaginable horrors in their escape.  Thankfully, Tearfund’s partner Tutapona was there to provide counselling to the whole family as they rediscovered life together again.  


Candice Lassey Kanyinda is a humanitarian photographer, living with her Congolese husband and their daughter in East Africa. She shares stories of hope to bring light to the wonderful work organisations are doing to support individuals and communities in the region.  



Tailani comforting her eldest daughter Hemilly. Shot for Compassion Photo/ Sara Navarro 



Tailani had just left home for work when she heard a loud crash. Worried about her children, she ran home and saw the building where she lived had collapsed. Three of her four children died, Hemilly, her eldest daughter (16), was the only survivor. " As a mother, waking up every day is still heartbreaking." A year after the tragedy, silence and emptiness still haunt Hemilly and Tailani's minds and hearts, as they struggle to find hope in living with each other. 

Tearfund’s partner, Compassion supported Tailani and Hemilly with what they needed to start again, from medicine, and essential household items to renting a new house for them to live in.  


Sara Navarro is photojournalist based in Brazil. She loves telling powerful stories about everyday people that show how the world is full of inspiring people. 



Annet and her three triplets. Shot for Compassion Photo/ Helen Manson



Annet gave birth at her home in Uganda, before realising there was still more to come. Jumping on a motorbike she rushed to give birth a second time at a local hospital. Shortly after she arrived and baby number two was born, she found out she would need a c-section to deliver a third baby. At 32 she had surprise triplets; Patience, Grace, and Samuel. “In our culture, twins are a blessing, but triplets are a curse. For me though, these children are a blessing” Annet said. Upon hearing of the triplets, Annet’s husband promptly left her. It was then that Tearfund’s local partner, Compassion wrapped around this newly single Mum, paid her medical bills and helped her provide what she needed for her children. Five years later Compassion then built the triplets a home. All three of her children are now sponsored and going to school. 


Helen Manson is a humanitarian photographer and storyteller from New Zealand. She loves bringing to living colour remarkable stories of resilience and hope in some of our world’s most challenging places.



Nopolo (21) with her second son, Krittamet. Shot for Compassion Photo/ Oo Piyamary



Nopolo, gave birth to her second son, Krittamet, during a storm as the river swelled and the rain poured down on her bamboo home on the riverbank. For Nopolo, that was a comfort—she believes water is a symbol of new life. 

Nopolo fled from war with her parents when she was young, because her whole village was burnt down. Stateless, she struggled to get hospital benefits for her and her children. During labour, she was afraid. But then came a knock at her door - a Compassion Survival staff member had arrived with an elder, a doula, to help with her delivery. And when her baby boy’s first cry cut through the sound of the rain, Nopolo began laughing through her tears. She named him Krittamet, meaning “a wise man who is honorable”.

Oo Piyamary is a photojournalist living in Thailand, who often works in the Thai-Myanmar borderlands documenting vulnerable and displaced ethnic minorities.



Rosario helping her daughter get ready for school. Shot for Compassion Photo/ Junieth Dinarte 



This mother did everything in her power to give her daughter the education she didn’t receive. Rosario doesn’t know how to read or write, as she worked in the fields with her mother from when she was little. She wanted things to be different for her own daughter.


Junieth Dinarte is a 29-year-old photojournalist for Compassion Nicaragua. She is passionate about telling stories and considers it a blessing to learn from people from different backgrounds.  



Barbalinda with her healthy baby. Shot for Compassion Photo/ Vera Aurima



Barbalinda fought to survive after giving birth at home without assistance, on Indonesia's remote Sabu island. Although the baby was healthy and safe, Barbalinda experienced heavy bleeding. Her life was slipping away. I held back tears when she told me, “My newborn baby needed me. That's what pushed me to stay alive.”


Vera Aurima is a photojournalist for Compassion Indonesia. Her dream has always been to help children In Indonesia through her photography and storytelling. 



Mother Malathy and daughter Pavishani. Shot for Compassion Photo/ Odessa B 



Mother Malathy faced rejection from her own family and her husband’s family. She found herself isolated and crippled by anxiety, with nowhere for her and her baby to sleep.   

“I used to lean against the wall at night, with my child in my arms, wondering if anyone saw my pain,” she remembers. Someone did. With a knock on her door, a local staff member from a Compassion Survival Project interrupted one of her darkest moments. Since then the project has helped her grow in confidence and self-esteem. Now, Malathy is focused on giving her children the best future she can. “I can’t believe I gave birth to such a beautiful child,” said Malathy, of her daughter Pavishani. 


Odessa B. is a photojournalist living in Sri Lanka and loves documenting children and families interacting with each other and their communities. 



Dipty working in the tea fields. Shot for Compassion Photo/ Ella Tan



Dipty works in the tea fields of northern Bangladesh to provide for her children. Her work, from dawn to dusk, results in just NZ $2 for 23 kilograms of tea leaves. She has no other options to earn an income.  

Her 19-year-old daughter, Mispi, was one of the first girls to be registered when a child development programme was opened in her area by Tearfund’s local partner organisation. Her daughter now attends school and dreams of becoming a nurse one day.  

“I saw the strength in Dipty’s arms and her back as she plucked leaves. The weight of the bag on her neck was both a burden and a way that she could meet the essential needs of her children,” Ella says.


Ella Tan is a humanitarian writer and photographer interested in participatory and collaborative storytelling. She leads the team of Compassion photojournalists in Asia. 



Florance with her two sons. Shot for Medical Teams International/Lauren Odderstol



It was close to 1am when Florance rushed her son Thiery to the clinic nearby their home in Uganda on the back of a tuk-tuk. When they arrived, she looked the nurse in the eyes and said, “I’m afraid my son is going to die.”   

After losing her father to war and being separated from her family, Florance was terrified she would lose her son, too.   

Thiery was checked into the clinic with a high fever from malaria and severe malnutrition. The Medical Teams staff got to work, screening Thiery and getting him set up with a hospital bed, IV, and anti-malarial medicine. By morning, he was improving.   

Determined to help Thiery heal, Florance attended Medical Teams nutrition classes and learned how to grow and cook nutritious food for her family.   

Now, she teaches a weekly class on nutrition to other mothers in the community, so they can protect their children, too. The pillar of her family and community, Florance exudes the strength, beauty, and deep care I see reflected in mothers around the world. Today, Thiery is healthy and well, recovered from malnutrition and enjoying playing soccer and going to school with his friends.  


Lauren Odderstol is a humanitarian photographer based in Virginia, USA. Lauren says she’s meet so many incredible mothers over the years who she looks up to. But Florence stood out to her because she is a not a creature of her circumstances, she always sees the opportunities to rise and help others.  



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