Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Water works

Children play in the spray of an overflowing water tank in the Dadaab refugee camp in northwestern Kenya. Tens of thousands of refugees have fled drought-stricken Somalia in recent weeks, swelling what was already the world's largest refugee settlement.

I'm just wrapping up a long week at the world's largest refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. The Dadaab refugee complex – it's really three separate camps – has somewhere around 400,000 people, and the numbers are growing daily as new refugees arrive from drought-stricken Somalia. It's a place full of pain and lost dreams, but as in any place where God's children gather, there is incredible capacity for joy and love. Much of the media coverage of Dadaab has focused on the pain. You've seen the images of malnourished children, for example. I've taken some myself. They are an important part of visually describing the landscape here. But if that's all that we see, it becomes a kind of disaster porn that reduces people to mere two-dimensional victims waiting to be rescued by us do-good outsiders. So part of what I look for as I decide what to photograph are images that depict the rest of the picture: the strength of women, the sensitivity of men, the laughter of children. And when I found some children playing in the overflow of a water tank in one of the camps a few days ago, I knew I'd found part of the bigger picture of this place.

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