More than a catalog, Kenya
This photo was taken in only 1/320th of a second at 250 ISO, f/7.1. But for me, it was years in the making.
Almost 10 years ago I was freshly graduated from high school and enrolled in beauty school in my hometown. Really, I was floating directionless, killing time while I figured out what to do with my life.
Christmas rolled around and the usual barrage of catalogs came with it. As I sorted the mail, I picked up the World Vision Gift Catalog and flipped through the pages. It was filled with farm animals, tools, and medical interventions. Then my eyes landed on a photo of a child and a mosquito net.
At the time, a mosquito net hung above my bed, because it was fashionable in home decor. I didn’t understand its practical application. The product description in the catalog explained that every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria, and a simple bed net could help prevent children from contracting this disease as they slept.
An image of the preschoolers my sister taught flashed through my mind. If she had 30 children in her class, there wouldn’t be any survivors after 15 minutes of recess. I couldn’t wrap my mind around that reality. I was stunned, angry, and sad. I was mad that it was happening, mad that I didn’t know, and mad that the world was letting it happen.
Suddenly, time wasn’t something to be wasted, but a precious commodity I had been given. I had a life, and I wanted to spend it helping other people live. The things I was doing — my entry-level corporate job and beauty school — didn’t fit with my newfound perspective. I wanted my daily work to be about giving people a window into someone else’s experience and inviting them to become part of the story.
My focus quickly turned to storytelling. I finished beauty school but traded in my makeup brushes and tweezers for a camera, notebook, and pen. I dove into college and journalism classes as major newspapers across the country were closing their doors. I had no idea what the future would hold, but I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Recently as I sorted through my mail, Benson, who I met and photographed in Kenya earlier this year, smiled back at me from World Vision’s Gift Catalog cover. Tears filled my eyes. What God made possible was more than I could have asked or imagined. “This is real life,” I told myself as I flipped through its pages. Simeon, Benson’s little brother, is in the pages of the catalog holding a chicken. Lucy, his little sister, is a few pages away holding a goat.
I thought back to the day I spent with their family. Benson, Lucy, and Simeon started out shy but quickly warmed up to our team of local World Vision staff and visitors from the U.S. office. The whole team pitched in to make photos happen: holding reflectors, handling animals, translating, playing games as one child was photographed and the others waited. I wouldn’t have a single frame without them.
The crew was patient and flexible as the light changed and goats decided they no longer cared to be photographed. There was talking, laughing, tea drinking, and lots of photos.
I loved watching the children interact with their father, a kind and gentle man. They crawled in his lap and put their arms around his shoulders as I sat and talked with him. He was so proud when I showed him the photos of his family.
Ten years ago, I had no idea what God was going to do when I first picked up the Gift Catalog. But he did. The number of children dying of malaria has been nearly cut in half — from one every 30 seconds to one almost every minute. While one child per minute is still too many, the progress makes my heart resonate with hope. Change is more than a possibility. It’s reality.
Not so long ago, I hadn’t heard of malaria or spent much time outside of my hometown. Today, I have the incredible privilege of using words and pictures to bring help to children around the world. When I think about what God has done, I’m filled with awe, gratitude, and humility.
The brokenness of our world will always give us reason to despair, but when we enter the suffering of others and allow it to change us, we get to be a part of the redemption story God is writing.