Apart from awards, distinctions by professional institutions and selling prints at scale, having your photos adorn the front pages frequently and especially on big news days is a measure of success for photojournalists. For Ondari Ogega, photojournalist with The Daily Nation in Kenya, the reward is in starting conversations that bring about change. That’s what his latest photo to headline has done.
On Wednesday 22 April, the Daily Nation carried on their digital platforms a photo of a woman wading through floodwaters with two goats under her arms. With news about the Coronavirus pandemic dominating the news, this photo turned the nation’s attention to the plight of families affected by floods in Western Kenya.
Ondari Ogega shares his thoughts on perennial flooding in Nyando, Western Kenya, connecting with local sources and what really counts in the end.
Did you know what kind of pictures you would get, as you left for location?
I did not picture that I would get this kind of image as I was heading out to the location. Naturally, we’ve been covering floods in Nyando area for years but it has never been of this magnitude In all the years that I have covered it [the floods] I think for four or five years back.
For this year, it was a bit different. The floods had wrecked havoc and had moved into homes that the floods had never been to for I think twenty years or so.
How did you get this picture? Did you have to go deep into the village for something unique?
I was taking the picture from a higher ground that is along the Kisumu-Kericho highway. So that I get a better short, I positioned myself in a way that I had to lean back so that I get the eye level of the subject. She was moving and the flood waters were trying to move her goats to safety.
Do you consider this your best photo so far of this issue?
I would say it is because when it went out through our digital platforms and the print paper the next day, it got people talking and many of them were calling for action. A few of my peers reached out and told me how it was a good photo. But what made me feel more contented was how people were calling for action because amidst this Corona pandemic, much focus has been given to counter the Corona pandemic. No one was giving any consideration to the plight of the victims of floods. And this photo in a way got people talking to relevant authorities to move into action and save the victims of floods.
People seem to trust you with their stories – how do you achieve this?
It is not something peculiar in our region because we’ve been there several times and we get to do stories in that region every other time, not only about floods and in one way or another we start to get people who [become our sources on the ground and they] inform us on any other thing that happens in that area. So naturally, we become friends and they become our sources and that in one way is a win-win situation for the both of us because we get to know what happens in their region and we get to highlight their stories and they get help from the relevant authorities.
Does it get frustrating to cover the same problem year after year?
It does because in journalism school, you are taught to detach yourself from the story or getting your feelings away from the story for you to manage to get the best story out of a place. But when you move around to these places, like the evacuation centres after the floods have hit the regions and you see the kind of places where children and their mothers or families have to spend in the cold floors of the evacuation centres, mosquito infested centres and we no food, sometimes they lack the necessary medical supplies that come with the floods, you feel pity for them and sometimes you ask questions; why is it so hard for the government or relevant authorities to come up with quick solutions to this problem like building dykes, like we have seen in some places in Budalangi here in [Western] Kenya where it sorted the perennial problem of floods because it’s been happening every year and it’s something that can be easily be sorted.
Any words to fellow journalists reporting on floods and other hazards in Africa?
Keep safe. Like they say, ‘No story is worth you life.’ But make sure in every story that you do, let it be something that can call the authorities to action. Let it be something that can bring change. Because sometimes we are seen as people who are thirsty for award winning photographs or stories but it might not be the case per-se because sometimes you want to highlight the plight of people who are in these situations So that help can come from whichever quarters and see it that their suffering is alleviated and they get out of these muddy situations.