Seeing South Sudan

In January of this year, three young people traveled from South Sudan to Washington, DC and found themselves on a stage at National Geographic headquarters in front of a floor to ceiling screen showcasing their work. Catherine Simon, Duku Savio and Akout Mayak came to celebrate 10 years of National Geographic Photo Camp, a program that has covered the world from San Francisco to Maine and from India to South Sudan training young people to become visual storytellers.

4 photographers riding in a car look at their cameras.
Students share their work at photo camp. Photo by Lisok James Moses

In South Sudan, the world’s newest nation and one of its most dangerous, Internews partnered with Photo Camp to bring together 20 young people from diverse ethnic and personal backgrounds. For some of the students, this was the first time since the outbreak of conflict that they had come in close contact with its effects, while for others it brought back memories of their own difficult pasts.

“One of the sites that I visited was the Lologo Collective Center — a community space allocated by the Government where 450 women and children had arrived from Bor in Jonglei state following the conflict,” said photography student Duku Stephen Savio. “I couldn’t help but think of my own life in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya where my family fled after the last conflict. This country has had a history of war, but I hope like me the kids I photographed will be able to rise up and do something really important with their lives too.”

For these young people, photography offers a chance to tell a more personal and positive story about their young and troubled country.

Catherine Simon

“South Sudan is not a war zone. Through the camera we can see the life there.”

A young woman walks by some tables while other children look on
A fashion show at the Confident Children Out of Conflict orphanage. Photo: Catherine Simon
Closeup of a child's face with tears running down
A child cries over a lost toy. Photo: Catherine Simon


Duku Savio

“People are really suffering a lot. But if I am successful in this photography maybe I can help them to realize that this is just a moment in their lives, and one day they will be successful too.”

Close up of a man's face, wearing large black-rimmed glasses and smoking a cigarette
A student at Juba University. Photo: Duku Savio
Men box outside in a playground
At a kickboxing club. Photo: Duku Savio


Akout Chol Mayak

“Where there is hardship, there is hope.”

A woman sits by the side of a building with a child lying near her feet
Photo: Akuat Chol Mayak
Five girls swim in a river
Girls swimming in the river. Photo: Akul Chol Mayak


Simon Odhol

“As I was looking through the lens of my camera I just realized what I was really doing. I was actually capturing the history of my country. It was so powerful that I just kept on taking photographs, and I will keep on taking photographs.”

A boy sits on a trike that is too small for him
Young boy. Photo by Simon Odhol
A hand holds a cup of medicine up to a child's mouth
Photo by Simon Odhol


Dotjang Agany Awer

A girl wearing a red shirt and red shoes stands by a wall
Girl shows off her red shoes. Photo by Dotjang Agany Awer
Two children wrestle on the floor
Photo by Dotjang Agany Awer

The students have independently launched the South Sudan Photographers Collective; you can view their work on Flickr.

The National Geographic team at Photo Camp Sudan included Ed Kashi, Matt Moyer, Amy Toensing, Ross Goldberg, and Jon Brack. Photo Camp South Sudan was sponsored by National Geographic Mission Programs and USAID in partnership with Vision Workshops. Cameras were provided by Olympus.

This story originally ran in Medium