Cassandra Nelson has helped tell Mercy Corps' story with photographs and video for eight years. Her work is the backbone of our photo library — more than 9,000 of the archive's 60,000 assets are hers. She has been on the ground for virtually every emergency we've responded to during that time and she's covered most of our programs worldwide. She was part of our first-responder team after the Haiti earthquake and supplied moving images of Mercy Corps' early relief effort there.
This touching image is from Twic County, South Sudan in 2005 when 150 abducted slaves were freed and reunited with their families after 17 years of separation. The emotion of pure joy in the photograph is compelling. Here are Cassandra's recollections of the trip and this moment:
We received word from the UN that there was a group of slaves who were being repatriated from the north, back home to Turalay in South Sudan. At the time I was in Wunrock, South Sudan with Mercy Corps. We decided to go meet the families that were being reunited because part of Mercy Corps' work in South Sudan was to work with war-affected youths and help to reintegrate them into their communities. It took us the better part of a day driving on one of the areas very few roads to reach Turalay. It was incredibly hot — well over 100 degrees and no shade.. just a lot of dust.
"When we reached the village, the returnees had not yet arrived. I spent an hour talking with the grandmother of some of the children who were being freed. She told me that she had never met the children — they were born in captivity in the North. Her son, had been taken as a slave when he was a young man. He was walking to a nearby village to go to the market and he never came home. It had been 17 years since she last saw her son. She was not at all certain that he would really be coming home that day. She was very excited, but also afraid in case the reunion did not really take place.
When the truck with the freed slaves arrived the grandmother stood back. She didn't rush to see if her son and grand children were there. She just watched and held her breath. Then suddenly she ran across the compound calling out their names at the top of her voice. When the children saw her they ran towards her. I remember thinking it was amazing that they met as if they had known each other for a long time...but this was the first time they had every seen one another. It was beautiful — almost like a scene out of movie. The dust and the heat melted away and all you could see was this amazing joy and love."
By the way, a few more of Cassandra's images are featured in this month's Portland Monthly magazine.