Sometimes a smile can mean so much. (IMA World Health/Christopher Glass)

What does a smile say?

  • Dec 8, 2014

IMA World Health/Christopher Glass


y family and friends wonder what I do for IMA World Health. Some say I’m a photographer, some think I’m a writer, and others just scratch their heads and ask why I would travel to fragile countries like South Sudan.

Really the answer is quite simple.

But first, I’d like to introduce you to a 6 year-old girl named Alvat.

I recently met her at the Langbar Mobile Clinic in Bor. She had come to the clinic with her mother and sisters because she had an earache and upset stomach. When I first saw her, she obviously wasn’t feeling well.

She spent two months living with her mother and sisters in a swamp hiding from warring tribes in South Sudan. They traveled at night. Their shelter was a piece of plastic found along the road. They drank water from the White Nile River to stay hydrated in the 100 degree heat and they ate water lilies to keep the hunger pains at bay.

Her story is incredible. She has seen so much at such a young age and I’m sorry to say that thousands of families in the area around Bor have similar stories. The fighting last year caused many families like hers to flee their homes to find safety. I spent a few days meeting South Sudanese health workers who partner with IMA to ensure these displaced people have quality health care. These hard working men and women are equipped to immunize, vaccinate, deliver babies, and provide the basic health services needed by all, and I will have more to post in the future.

But today, I want to talk about Alvat. Her photo stood out to me on the drive back to IMA’s office. For many in the states, Africa is a distant place that only makes the news when there is war, famine or drought. But in my time with IMA, I’ve come to realize that I can share 100 stories of hope and rebuilding to every story about war and poverty here in Africa.

So the simple answer to why I travel to these fragile countries? Because I get to tell the stories that won’t make it to the 24-hour news cycle. I’m happy to say this is what I do for a living. Alvat and her family have experienced hardship, but seeing her feel better, relaxed and smiling at the attention she’s getting from a photographer, says to me that her spirit isn’t broken. And that brings hope.

I’m pleased to work for an organization that helps to ease the hardship that men, women and children face here in South Sudan. And through improved health, they may help to bring some joy to faces of those who need it.