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Boiling beans, Burundi

Jon Warren
Oct 17, 2014
©2009 Jon Warren/World Vision
Nikon D700 camera, 26mm lens, 1/25th exposure, f/4.5, 1600 ISO

Three children cooking their only meal of the day — a glimpse into what poverty really looks like in this village in Burundi. 

A friend at work asked me what the formula is for coming back with meaningful photographs from difficult situations like this. My answer: relationships, access, and hard work.

Step 1: Relationship. Begin with World Vision staff who have gained the trust of the community through years of responding to their needs. They, in turn, introduced us to the single mother of these children. With our translator, we sat with the family by their banana-leaf hut, hearing about their lives. It was the first step in beginning to care for each other, developing a relationship.

Over the course of the next few days, World Vision writer Kari Costanza and I spent many hours with the family — going with them to fetch water, watching as they weeded their small potato patch, and chatting as they prepared their one meal of the day. Through this growing relationship they gave me access to photograph their lives.

So by the time the children sat by the fire hoping the beans and potatoes would cook faster, they were completely undisturbed by my camera.

Step 2: Access. Life happened, and I recorded it. I used my Nikon D700 because the light was dim and that camera has a wonderful low-light sensor. I usually carry two cameras on assignments — in this case, a Nikon D3 and a D700. And my normal lenses are a 17-35mm/2.8 wide zoom, perfect for cramped spots like this, and a long lens, usually a 70-200mm/2.8. One lens goes on each body. Even at 1600 ISO, I had to use a slow shutter speed — 1/25th, but I wasn’t too worried because the kids were mostly stationary. Except when Pascal (middle) stuck his tongue out. That, and Collette’s intense study of the cooking pot, were the moments I was looking for.

We spent one last day with the family: Sunday. They washed clothes on Saturday, their one good outfit, and early Sunday we walked with them to church. Worship for these folks isn’t a social habit. They come because they depend on God, openly and without abandon. 

Step 3: Hard work: I’m not sure that the privilege of sharing a few days with saints like these qualifies as work. 


This photograph appears in He Walks Among Us: Encounters with Christ in a Broken World, a devotional book written by World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns and his wife, Reneé. The book, which pairs each devotional with one of Jon Warren’s iconic World Vision photographs, is available in bookstores and online.