The Dignity of a Photograph

By: Zewge, Internal Communications Manager

Over 40 children lined up in their school compound in the Central Tigray impact area, Ethiopia, for the annual photo day, where children have their photos taken to send to their sponsors. Some children look nervous and are unsure of what to make of this process, while others are very excited. These photographs are the only way for these children to let sponsors know how they look, so they have dressed as nicely as they could on this important day. It is also an exciting and busy day for Gebrerufael Gebrehiwot, Save the Children’s Sponsorship Operations Officer, who has organized this event.

According to Gebrerufael, the ‘photo shoot’ is an important part of sponsorship operations. He loves the children’s excitement because “their smiles follow when they are excited,” he explains. Yet, surprisingly,nearly 90% of the children have no experience with the photo shoot before they enrolled for sponsorship. “Many [children]are nervous and shy away from the camera,” says Gebrerufael. “It takes teachers’ and sometimes parents’ explanations to make them understand how important these photos are.”

The children also dance, sing songs and play fun games to get more comfortable before sitting for their photographs. “That is to help them to face the camera in a relaxed mood,” he explains.  “It’s also helpful to show the children the end result to keep them motivated.”

Sponsorship Operations Officer Gebrerufael Gebrehiwot showing a group of children some of their photographs during the photo shoot

It is also common that many children wear the same clothes for recurrent photo shoot sessions. “What mainly explains this is poverty,” Gebrerufael affirmed. Most children come from poor families with subsistence farming or daily labor as the main source of livelihood. “They are unable to afford to buy new clothes for their children every year,” he explains.

Million’s sponsorship portrait

For example, ten-year-old Million wears the same outfit she had for last year’s photo shoot. She said, “My parents don’t have money to buy me new clothes. I am shy, but I like seeing my pictures. I am happy my sponsor receives them, too.” 

Gebrerufael explains that although it is important the photo-taking process is fun for the children, it is just as critical that the activity fosters self-respect. “Not only do we want to achieve a quality photo to share with sponsors, we also want the children to preserve their dignity in the process.”