Photo Journal: Experiencing Poverty from Behind the Camera


Robert Coronado, Creative Director at World Vision has worked with the organization for 16 years. He has photographed poverty around the world in his travels to 16 countries. Today, Robert shares what it was like experiencing the Dadaab Refugee Camp from behind the camera.

In August, at the end of the 30 Hour Famine study tour, I was asked to return to Nairobi, Kenya. The assignment was to travel to the Kenya/Somalia border to Dadaab – the oldest and largest refugee camp in the world with over 400,000 refugees – to document the famine relief efforts and World Vision’s work happening there.

As a creative director and photographer, I’ve had many opportunities to witness and document World Vision’s work around the globe. Each time, I am amazed by how dignity and compassion thrive in the midst of chaos, despair, and hopelessness. I discovered this same sentiment in Dadaab, but the scale of the need and the poverty there was unlike anything I’d seen before.

I’m often asked what it’s like to photograph poverty. Is it hard? Don’t you just cry all the time? Do you feel like you just want to help everyone, but are frustrated because you can’t?

It is hard work, and yes, the things I see often bring me to tears. Seeing poverty through a camera lens is work. Hard work. But, it’s worth it. And it allows me to tell stories that need to be heard on behalf of the women, children, and families who would not have a voice otherwise.

Here are a few of these stories from Dadaab:

The Dadaab refugee camp sneaks up on us as we drive the dirt roads through the desert. Don’t be fooled by the clouds. It hasn’t rained here in years. It is hot, dry, and the wind is relentless.

Lack of trees and vegetation and constant wind make this place miserable for the people that call Dadaab home. The terrain is dangerous – littered with sharp branches and thorn bushes. No children should be walking around here. Families make shelter with tree limbs, old sheets and blankets, garbage, and anything else they can find to protect them from the harsh wind and dust.

No matter where I am or what project I’m shooting, I’ve seen that mothers around the world all want the same thing for their chidren – safety, health, and the opportunity to learn. This expectant mother, pictured above, walked several days with her two children to reach Dadaab.

Children suffer the most during a famine. Their developing bodies are most vulnerable to disease, infection, and malnutrition.


Shukeri, Ali, and Shafar Nuur were some of the first recipients of a World Vision tent. “I feel like I’m at home,” says Shukeri (left). After traveling for nearly two weeks to reach Dadaab and being separated from her father for part of that time, Shukeri’s excitement was visible as she explored her new home.

This mother and her children walked for 15 days drinking just a sip of tea in the morning and eating a tiny bit of maize. The merciless sun beat down on them every step of the way as they traveled through the desert.

The expansion area of Dadaab, where World Vision is working to set up 5,000 tents to provide shelter to more than 38,000 refugees who will now call this place home. Each day, 1,500 new refugees are arriving in the camp, making it increasingly difficult to meet needs.