10 photos that inspired us in 2016

A woman in brightly colored clothing carries green cassia leaves in a bundle on her head in rural Niger. There is a blue sky behind her.

In 2016, Mercy Corps dispatched photographers to communities all over the globe. From remote, dusty villages in Nigeria to flooded parts of Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, we sent photographers to capture the grim reality of places in crisis, and the amazing impact of the work that you make possible every day of the year.

Our team members work in more than 40 countries around the world — empowering people to survive crisis, overcome adversity and transform their lives and their communities. In documenting this work, we’ve captured images of sorrow, sweetness, struggle and laughter. Each person’s story is unique, but they have all been touched by your kindness and compassion.

The images we receive tell the stories of the people you’re helping, from young girls who want to go to school, to refugee parents trying to keep their children safe. Sometimes a photo captures our hearts instantly, and other times the image becomes more dear to us after hearing the story behind it.

As we move forward into the new year, we want to take a moment to look back at some of the most inspiring images we’ve seen this year — and share them with you. These photos transcend language and remind us that when we understand and share the feelings of others, we can make the world a better place.

Nepal woman helping rebuild after earthquake
Photo: Tom Van Cakenberghe for Mercy Corps

More than a year after 2015’s devastating earthquakes in Nepal, communities are still working together to rebuild. Here, Nirmala, 43, and other villagers are clearing debris and making repairs as part of a paid Mercy Corps program. As a farmer, Nirmala likely never expected to wear a hard hat or join in on this kind of hard manual labor. But her defiant posture and firm grip on the pickaxe tell a story of resilience. The warm sun on her face conveys a hopefulness for the future.

Woman gathering items in front of destroyed home
Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

In October, Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on Haiti, smashing into rural and coastal communities — decimating crops, flooding fields and destroying homes. Mercy Corps teams were there to assess the damage and help communities that were still recovering from the 2010 earthquake. In this image a woman holds a bundle of clothing on the side of the road. There are fallen trees and a destroyed structure behind her. In the face of unrelenting devastation, she is literally picking up the pieces, looking back just for a moment as she walks forward.

A small girl looking up at the camera
Photo: Alice Martins for Mercy Corps

A young child who has fled war in Mosul, Iraq stands by her mother as they wait to receive aid in Tikrit. This little girl, perhaps age 5 or 6, should be in school learning how to read and write — but here she gazes into the camera, looking at us with heavy eyes. At her sleeve we see she is wearing layer upon layer, perhaps all the clothes that she owns. Her bewildered expression, her finger on her lip, and her unkempt hair all tell a powerful story about the war and its impact on children.

A woman in brightly colored clothing carries green cassia leaves in a bundle on her head in rural niger. there is a blue sky behind her.
Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Salma carries cassia leaves in a bundle on her head in rural Niger. She has five children and her husband is away, looking for work to help them get through the lean season. Life during the lean season is particularly hard on women, but thanks to a Mercy Corps farmer training, Salma has learned how to grow fuller, healthier vegetables to feed her children. The camera angle, tilted slightly upwards, gives us a peek at Salma’s smiling face. And we love that we can see just one of her eyes, the other hidden by the bounty on her head.

A woman refugee wearing a red headscarf holding an infant in a warm red coat and light colored hat
Photo: Sumaya Agha for Mercy Corps

In this photo, a refugee from Afghanistan holds her baby after arriving in Macedonia on her way into western Europe, where she and so many others hope to rebuild their lives. The look of shock on the woman’s face speaks volumes about her journey. She is gazing out of the frame and we can feel her confusion. The subjects in the background are walking and looking down, giving the image a somber tone.

A boy blowing up a bright red balloon in nigeria
Photo: Tom Saater for Mercy Corps

We love this playful image of a boy blowing a red balloon in a camp in Nigeria. The color draws our eyes to his face, which looks questioningly at the photographer. He is barefoot, and wearing a shirt that is worn and too big. Dust covers a rusty bike behind him, but the balloon is bright and new, popping out of the frame. This is one of those rare moments that every photographer hopes to capture.

A young boy sitting with a white basin in front of him. there is a peacock design on the basin and a serious expression on his face.
Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

This heart-wrenching image from Niger shows a toddler, framed between two mortars and pestles. The photographer reported that the little boy walked from a nearby village looking for food. We can see that he is in need yet he looks bravely into the camera. It’s arresting and powerful to have a hungry child look you in the eye. When the local villagers saw this little boy, many rushed to help him and share their food.

A man holds his daughter in lebanon
Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

Refugees Christina, 2, and her father Mohammed live in an old warehouse in an informal settlement in Lebanon. The living conditions are poor — hunger, unemployment and poverty are common features of life there, and everyone longs for a real home. We can see the worry on Mohammed’s face — his posture is tense and it looks like he may be holding his breath as he firmly clutches his young daughter. The simplicity of this portrait demands that we meet Mohammed’s gaze and empathize with his struggles.

Two young boys on the other side of a chain-link fence, holding hands and wearing striped long-sleeved shirts
Photo: Cengiz Yar for Mercy Corps

Here we see two little boys, newly displaced with their families after fleeing the conflict on the eastern edges of war-torn Mosul, Iraq. The composition of this image is striking. The photographer bent down so we are looking at the boys at their level through a fence that acts like a filter. They are both wearing striped shirts that somehow connect them, and they are sweetly holding hands. It’s heartwarming to see these little boys comfort one another.

A woman sitting on the ground surrounded by pots and bowls, holding a baby on her lap.
Photo: Tom Saater for Mercy Corps

Lastly, we selected a photo from Nigeria of Aishatu and her one-year-old daughter Halima. They live with six other family members in a one-room hut since they fled their village after a Boko Haram raid two years ago. The family faces constant hunger, rarely eating more than one meal a day. Halima holds her hennaed hands deliberately in a very un-baby-like gesture as she sits comfortably in her mother’s lap. And the beautiful light in this image adds a softness and vulnerability to their faces.

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