A Photographer’s Calling

© Rick D'Elia/D'Elia Photographic Rwanda 1994, Pausing to let kids have a look through the camera

© Rick D’Elia/D’Elia Photographic
Rwanda 1994, Pausing to let kids have a look through the camera

It began in 1993 Somalia, stepping off a military cargo jet, bleary-eyed into the morning sun, nervously anticipating my first opportunity to document a relief operation that held world attention. Stories of challenge and injustice fuel journalists’ deep-seated fire to shine a light on, and humanize difficult and incomprehensible stories, while challenging viewers to empathize and act.
Somalia introduced me, and in 1994, Rwanda profoundly embedded this calling as one of my personal and professional life missions. In 1999, my calling continued in Albania (Kosovo Crisis). Then, in 2004 northern Uganda, I covered refugees, showing what fleeing conflict and political persecution look like for real people and helping individual voices to be heard.
They welcomed my camera into their tents and huts, telling their stories freely, tearfully, wanting the world to know the human cost of their trials. They offered coffee and a bite of food from their limited resources, as their customs demand. In adversity, they held onto slivers of normalcy. I was compelled by their challenges and the simple moments, as well as by experiencing their culture and humanity, to put a face on incomprehensible events.

Shortly after arriving home from a year-long experience in Uganda, I discovered WTAP at a church ministry fair. Could my choice be any clearer? Giving this small organization access to photography normally only accessible to large, worldwide NGO’s such as Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services (both are clients), while continuing to work with refugees?
As you know, WTAP plays a key role in helping ease refugees’ transitions as they begin their new lives in a new country and culture. Although voluntary, I’ve experienced cultural adjustment, and it is no easy trial in the best circumstances. During my time in Uganda, I had to adjust to the most basic of things; shelter, transportation, food, and social interaction. In spite of having help, it was stressful and overwhelming. I made a choice to embrace these intimidating challenges, but the refugees have had no such choice. How much more daunting is this experience after resettling?
Having a little help lightens the load, eases the stress, and gives piece of mind.

©Rick D’Elia/D’Elia Photographic Haitian man learns about snuggies from WTAP volunteer

Documenting a delivery just before Thanksgiving reminded me of the profound power of that help. Wilson, from Haiti, grinned from ear to ear, thanking everyone as his empty apartment became a home. The Cuban husband described his impressions of Americans, “you are who I believed you would be, welcoming and generous,” and he pledged to be the same once his family got on their feet.


On occasion I get my hands dirty in other ways, turning a wrench or carrying a box. In the early days of my involvement, sometimes I was the second man lifting a couch, camera dangling as we climbed two flights of stairs, filling in for a low volunteer turnout. During the holidays, my whole family now gets into the act, “adopting” a refugee family. I do this not because I look for appreciation, but rather because I feel compelled, and I am able to do so.

I believe in what WTAP does.

During the holidays, I also donate part of the proceeds from the sale of my photography, back to WTAP. Raising funds through the sale of my work is an amazing opportunity to lighten their load in another way, to keep the truck running, the storage units full, and deliveries on track.

Rick D’Elia
D’Elia Photographic

D’Elia Photographic Photoscapes

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