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October 19, 2010

Photo blog: "Sierra Leone really hit home"

Dominic Chavez is a Boston-based freelance photojournalist, who formerly worked at The Boston Globe, specializing in global health issues. In the last year, the Ministerial Leadership Initiative has supported Chavez and writer John Donnelly's travel to the five countries that work with MLI: Nepal, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Mali, and Ethiopia. In this first of five segments, one from each country, Donnelly interviewed Chavez about the images below. What follows are his perspectives on his two trips to Sierra Leone, including one which focused on the Ministry of Health and Sanitation’s efforts to roll out free health care for pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers, and children under the age of five.

"These pictures are from two different visits. Sierra Leone really hit home in a lot of ways. Even though I’ve been documenting global health now for a little over a decade, I’m still always surprised how it always hits home, and I guess that’s why I am dedicated to it. But going to Sierra Leone opened my eyes again, and it really opened my eyes to the dangers that women face in trying to have a family. It meant witnessing the real hardships and the death of a newborn baby, as well as watching a nurse save the life of a newborn boy. It steals your breath. To me, it’s very haunting."



"This is a picture of Dr. Samuel Kargbo, the head of reproductive health in the Ministry. Kargbo is like the Michael Jordan of maternal health care. He’s a sharp shooter. He’s very determined, his short and long term goals are very impressive, so I was very grateful I could get a strong picture of him in a meeting, which is what we have here. Meeting pictures can be very boring. But this one has strong color, and there is intensity in his eyes. There’s always intensity in his eyes."



"I like this picture photographically, it has some interesting colors and shapes to it. You are not sure where you are looking, or what you are looking into. I has some nice implied lines. I shot it from a stairway above a waiting room in a hospital. The story behind it is this is the launching of free health care at the hospital where the president of Sierra Leone announced it – on the same day as Independence Day this year. There is a lot of energy, lot of layers in this picture. It shows the depth of a full hospital. It was very chaotic, and I can only imagine it’s still pretty chaotic."



"This little kid, he was just one of those, well, he represented a lot to me. He was incredibly sick. His color wasn’t right. He was very weak. He had almost no personality, no energy, it’s like you couldn’t feel him. It’s like the mother was trying to talk to him, trying to nurture him, he was just so weak, that he was an example of a lot of kids who are really desperate for medical attention. What I was trying to do was to use the layers of the mother’s hands, and the faces in the background, but for this little boy to be the entry point, the focal point, and for the other layers to be the exit point of the photograph."



"This was in a clinic just outside of Freetown, and this woman, I was just really responding to how happy this woman was. She seemed incredibly healthy and happy. Her child was healthy. It just kind of represented a kind of success in one family, and I was just trying to make an image that was slightly more sophisticated, so I’m using an implied mother and baby on the left of the picture showing who she is talking to, and suggesting she is not the only one receiving help on this day when they rolled out free health care."



"Dr. Daoh is kind of another, well, not really a secret weapon, but a critical person in the Sierra Leone government. I was looking at him and trying to make a picture of the weight of the world that he carries. To me, it’s very clear that he carries tremendous weight on his shoulders. I find it very impressive how he can juggle what he does and still succeed because he’s dealing with lots of problems-- he and others are learning what works and what doesn’t -- a lot of things to take the wind out of your sails. He’s very impressive because he’s very persistent with his message and his concerns."



"This is a bit of a haunting picture where the kids are incredibly sick, with issues from diarrhea, and I’m just trying to layer the hands and the child in the top of the frame to show just how weak that they are, and how completely consumed they are by their illness. It’s just quite frightening. This is the other side of the fence that shows why things need to change, why the Health Ministries are trying to take such an important role because there a lot of people in need."



 "It’s pretty dramatic because the baby came out blue. Immediately the nurse was trying to revive the child. She wrapped him in a blanket, ran around and put the kid on this table, and tried to clear the child’s air passageway. The interesting thing about this picture was you not only have the moment of the nurse using one finger to try to revive the heart – the one finger shows how fragile the child is – but then you have where the child just came from. The mother is on the operating table in the upper right in the background and in the foreground; lower right, you have a nurse’s hand with a needle. She is about to give the child an injection. You have three things happening at once and the baby is right on the line of living or dying. You are seeing back in the past, you are seeing the present, and you are seeing into the future.

"What hits home to me is the one finger – that’s how fragile this little baby’s rib cage is, and this little baby’s heart is. I’m not a father so it makes me realize how sensitive it all is. I haven’t been able to hold a baby since."


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flannel (not verified)
September 11, 2011 - 7:03am

It's very exiting to find this website. Thanks for sharing this information. I find it very cognitive as I have been studying a lot lately on practical matters such as you talk about...

John Donnelly (not verified)
October 29, 2010 - 10:38pm

The baby lived!

Jessica (not verified)
October 22, 2010 - 12:52pm

I love the concept behind this photo blog. It's great to learn what Dominic was trying to capture with each photo and I love the last two photos. They really capture the fragility and severity of the children's situations.

The composition and detail with the finger is wonderful in the last photo. But, I need to know ... what happened to the baby????