Sight of Grace
Brazil 1980 | Ethiopia 1984 | Mali 1985 | Korem 1984 | Brazil 1983
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How do you feel when you look at this photograph?  I'm sure that most everyone feels a definite sadness.  One can sense by the way that she looks off into the distance rather despondently as her child clings tightly to her breast that the mother wishes things could be different.  She wishes that she didn't have to raise her child while roaming from place to place, not really having a permanent home, and staying in destitute refugee camps like this one in Korem.

Looking at the woman's face in a different way, one could almost get the impression that she's daydreaming about how good her and her child's lives could be.  Maybe through her eyes, she's not seeing filthy living conditions, depressed refugees, and deathly thin children.  Her eyes may be envisioning her and her child having an enormous picnic and playing together in the backyard of their very own house.  Even though she's surrounded by depression, she may still be very much optimistic about the future.

The mother is probably raising this child all by herself--as many women end up doing--with her husband having left her, gone off to war, or possibly having died from sickness or hunger.  Her entire life has most likely been one of great hardship, yet she has managed to make it through all the droughts, wars, famines, and exiles to do the most important thing in her life:  to try to give her child a better life than what she has had.  This child may never fully realize the sacrifices that her mother made to try to make her world as good as it could possibly be.

The young mother in this photograph is probably very hungry, yet she uses what nourishment she has left in her body to feed her child.  That is a strong symbol of unselfishness and love: she's putting the life of her little girl before her own.  Looking at the size of the child, one might think that she looks old enough to stop breast-feeding.  It may be that there isn't enough food for everyone in the camp and this is the only way that the mother can keep her young girl alive.  Continuing to breast-feed is a small price to pay to keep her child healthy and with her.  Her little girl may be the only thing the mother has left to live for.   

This woman is strong, loving, and independent--she embodies everything that most people consider to be ideal in a mother and a woman.  The most important thing in her life is her child--not the house, the car, or the job like so many of us--her child.  We should all strive to be as devoted to our loved ones as she is.

This image really stood out to us against the rest in Sebastião Salgado's An Uncertain Grace because we felt that it was the most touching display of a mother's love and revealed one of the deepest messages of the entire book.  The photograph showed that even though you may have no home, money, or possessions, you always have one  Your family is always there to be loved and to love you back.  The image shows the love of a family in its purest and simplest form.   This is why we were so deeply moved by this photograph and why we considered it to be the epitome of an uncertain grace.


More images of Ethiopian refugee mothers and their children......


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