Sarina Lama  with her neighbours in Helambu, Sindhupalchwok district, Nepal. 27 February 2020. | © Narendra Shrestha

2020 in pictures

Join us for our review in 12 snapshots of an extraordinary year.
BY: Andrea Peterhans - 22. December 2020
© Narendra Shrestha

January: A world without hunger

Ahmed Ibrahim, 30, an Ethiopian farmer, attempts to fend off desert locusts as they fly in his khat farm on the outskirt of Jijiga in Somali region, Ethiopia January 12, 2020. Picture taken January 12, 2020.  | © REUTERS/Giulia Paravicini
© REUTERS/Giulia Paravicini

Smallholder farming families in developing countries are affected by all kinds of crises including severe droughts or floods and failed harvests due to climate change. They are also hit by volatile crop prices and plagues of locusts — obstinate and voracious insects that are almost impossible to chase away, as this farmer in the Jijiga region of Ethiopia is discovering. 821 million people (more than one in nine of the world’s population) still have uncertain access to food. Environmentally friendly soil management and intercropping help families to adapt to climate change while also making their farms more productive. Helvetas assists them in this process. Together we are looking for ways to reduce food waste between field and consumer as well as putting the subject of food squarely on the menu in politics and schools. That’s because we’re determined to achieve “Zero Hunger” by 2030. A world without hunger is possible, but only if people around the world join forces.

February: Far from home

Rohingya Camp Bangladesh | © Patrick Rohr
© Patrick Rohr

This is already the third year that Rohingya families have had to endure in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh. There is as yet no prospect of a safe return to their homeland of Myanmar. They are living in the most basic huts imaginable, in cramped conditions, with very few water points and sanitation facilities. Flooding and the coronavirus pandemic will only exacerbate their extremely precarious situation in the coming months. Carefree moments — here, Rohingya women paint memories of home on a wall under the guidance of an artist, a refugee like them — will be even scarcer. The international community is losing interest in the fate of these women and men, but people in Switzerland continue to show their solidarity. Helvetas alone received 50,000 Swiss francs in donations to ensure that the victims of this humanitarian crisis could have a more dignified life.

March: Deserted streets

Lima Peru Covid 19 | © Kaspar Schmidt
© Kaspar Schmidt

Anyone who knows the Peruvian capital, Lima, and its notoriously traffic-clogged roads will be stunned by this photo. Absolutely empty, apart from the odd bus or occasional car. The declaration of a state of emergency when the pandemic hit is a grave blow for the millions of people working in the informal sector, for example household employees or shopkeepers as well as refugees and migrants from Venezuela. Many of them don’t receive any state aid. Thanks to an alternative system using mobile phones and bank branches, the local Helvetas team is able to make much-needed support payments to the first families. A glimmer of hope in remarkably difficult times.

April: Villages reawakened

Sarina Lama  with her daughter in Halde, Helambu, Sindhupalchwok district, Nepal. 27 February 2020. | © Narendra Shrestha
© Narendra Shrestha

Exactly five years ago, the earth quaked in Halde, a village in the Sindhupachok region of Nepal, destroying houses and streets. For the first few days, Halde’s residents had to deal with this emergency on their own, but then countless people in Switzerland made donations so that local Helvetas staff could provide rapid emergency assistance. The village was soon rebuilt, and the women and men of Halde replaced a ruined irrigation channel as well. It now runs into a valley so that it is protected from future landslides. The water is channelled into a large stream so that families are now able to grow vegetables in the off-season. Sabrina Lama is one of those who lent a hand digging the channel. “The disaster brought both devastation and development,” she says in retrospect.

May: A release in stressful situations

Kyaw Zin from Call me today | © Kyaw Zin
© Kyaw Zin

Volunteering is common in Myanmar which has a deep-seated culture of giving. Young activist Kyaw Zin founded the aid organization Call Me Today two years ago — a Samaritans-style service offering telephone counselling to people suffering from acute stress. The idea came to Kyaw after a homosexual acquaintance of his committed suicide. In his goodbye letter, the man wrote that he had no one to talk to about his situation as a gay man. He might still be alive if Call Me Today had existed at the time. Kyaw Zin and his psychologically trained colleagues can also be reached on this hotline by people who are having trouble due to the coronavirus, for instance unemployed seamstresses or migrants with no future prospects. It’s a success: volunteers are queuing up to help Call Me Today.

June: Full steam ahead

Koch und Rikschafahrer Tewachew Wondimeneh | © Philipp Schütz
© Philipp Schütz

Not so long ago, the idea that he might one day drive passengers around in his own rickshaw would have been beyond Tewachew Wondimeneh’s wildest dreams. The eldest of three children born into a poor Ethiopian farming family, he started to hire himself out as a labourer from an early age. The turning point came when he joined Helvetas’s training programme for disadvantaged youths. After completing his course, Tewachew found a steady job as a cook in a hotel. In his free time, he works as a taxi driver and is now saving up to buy a plot of land. Tewachew is not just looking after his own future, though: his income means he can pay for his two little sisters to go to school.

July: A wish for the future

Maria Daudi  baut Ingwer an. | © Franz Thiel
© Franz Thiel

Maria Daudi proudly shows off some of her ginger harvest. The 26-year-old farmer from Tanzania beams as she talks about her new business — selling ginger products. With support from Helvetas, Maria attended a packing and marketing course, and on 7 July she presented her products at the large trade fair held in Tanzania’s economic capital, Dar es Salaam. Her business has been thriving since then. The bad times are still fresh in her memory, though, for there used to be many days when Maria and her husband couldn’t afford to buy enough food. This makes her particularly happy to be earning an income of her own. Thinking back to the poverty of her childhood, Maria says, “Our child deserves to have it easier than we did.” That wish is now a good deal closer to becoming reality.

August: Movie nights under the trees

CInema Sud | © Martin Zeller
© Martin Zeller

On 45 warm summer evenings, nearly 3,000 people all over Switzerland immerse themselves in other worlds under the open sky. Sometimes, as with the fast-moving Palestinian comedy Tel Aviv on Fire, it was pure pleasure; at others it was a poetic and mystical experience with the Senegalese emigration film Atlantique. These movie evenings beneath the starry sky are also very environmentally friendly. Since its launch 10 years ago, Helvetas’s “Cinema Sud” equipment has always been packed into two bike-drawn trailers. Volunteers cycle to the venue during the day, suspend the screen between two trees in the afternoon and then invite local people to the cinema that evening. The energy for these open-air shows is generated by mobile solar panels — and of course by all the spectators who come along.

September: Lost in music

Gabriel 52 y.o. sanitation worker is dancing salsa with his second wife Mercedes, 47 y.o. on the doorstep of their old wooden home in San Francisco de Paula village of Havana where Hemingway used to live in his home Finca Vigia. They have been married for 10 years. Havana, Cuba. June 16, 2013 | © Rena Effendi
© Rena Effendi

Mercedes and Gabriel are salsa dancing on the veranda of their wooden house in San Francisco de Paula, a neighbourhood of the Cuban capital, Havana. Their country is the birthplace of salsa, which is now practised around the world. Witnessing this spontaneous expression of joy and the nostalgia that pervades people’s often difficult daily grind in Cuba was the Azerbaijani photographer Rena Effendi. Her picture adorns the September page of Helvetas’s panoramic calendar. For nearly 50 years the calendar’s eloquent pictures have offered us glimpses of lives we barely know, and it is a manifestation of the humanity that binds us beyond borders.

October: Education for all!

Yes Tanzania | © Helvetas / Stella Oguma
© Helvetas / Stella Oguma

The International Day of the Girl is a sad reminder of the fact that 132 million girls worldwide cannot go to school. This increases the risk that they will be married off early and become young mothers. Pregnancy and giving birth are the most common cause of death among women between the ages of 15 and 19 in developing countries. So what is the solution? Education! Tabu, Neema, Odetha, Mwanahamis and Vumilia (from left to right) intend to decide for themselves what they want from life. These young Tanzanian women are training to become seamstresses. Financial support from Swiss donors made this possible, because none of the four was allowed to go to secondary school or even finish primary education. After the six-month practice-oriented course they will be equipped to make their own way in a profession for which there is great demand. Also, as ambassadors for a new generation of women, they will change traditional gender stereotypes.

November: Shifting attitudes

Helena Cordoba et Damiana Apaza à Porco, Bolivie. | © Christian Lombardi
© Christian Lombardi

On November 29, Swiss citizens voted on the Responsible Business Initiative . . . and failed by a whisker to cause a huge political upset. Although the initiative won the popular vote with 50.7% of all ballots cast, it lost the majority in the cantonal college by a few thousand votes. Human rights violations and environmental pollution, such as in the Bolivian village of Churcuita, where Helena Cordoba (left) and Damiana Apaza have to live on the banks of a contaminated river, thus continue to go unpunished. Helvetas laments the outcome of the vote, but is happy about the broad support, including that of the business community. One thing is clear, though. The initiative and the unprecedented efforts of thousands of volunteers have ensured that the links between business and human rights are now firmly in the public eye, and this new awareness is here to stay.

December: Everyday hero

Helvetas Burkina Faso Abdoul Konaté and Yameogo Emmanuel Covid19 Burkina Faso | © Cheik Omar Wereme
© Cheik Omar Wereme

They may not have any superpowers, but they’re still our heroes. By that we mean our staff and partners in our partner countries of course. They’ve been doing an absolutely outstanding job for many months. Despite coronavirus, Emmanuel Yameogo (left) and Abdoul Konate have taken care of internally displaced persons driven out of their villages in northern Burkina Faso by armed groups. The pandemic has only compounded these people’s misery. Emmanuel and Abdoul are helping these women and men to gain lasting access to clean water and learn the necessary hygiene measures. They have jointly drawn up longer-term plans and helped the host communities to prevent conflict and build social cohesion. Every day, the two Helvetas staff members hear unbearable accounts of people forced to watch their friends being killed and then running for their lives. Emmanuel draws strength from their gratitude: “I will never forget the words of an old woman who told me, ‘God bless you because in spite of everything you came here to help us.’ That gives me motivation and pride.”

The whole Helvetas team wholeheartedly wishes you une bonne et heureuse année 2021 – Wênd na kô-d 2021 Yùùmd paalga ne laafi – a happy 2021!