Students from the VIP Academy for Aviation & Technology march on their graduation day in Juba, South Sudan. (Esther Ruth Mbabazi)
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Last fall, The Washington Post partnered with Visura in an open call for submissions of photo essays. The Post selected five winners and three honorable mentions out of almost 300 submissions. We are presenting one of the honorable mentions today here on In Sight: Esther Ruth Mbabazi and her work “This Time We Are Young.”

At the heart of Esther Ruth Mbabazi’s work is a desire to combat the usual tropes she has seen used in the coverage of her native Uganda and in Africa as a whole. “Many of the images out in the western media about Africa are not representing a fair amount of the reality of daily life here,” she told In Sight. Coupled with her desire to show her peers — the young ones who are growing up on a continent that, she said, remains stubbornly inhospitable to her rising generation — Mbabazi started “This Time We Are Young,” a long-term project that explores what it means to be young in Africa today.

“This project is a way of both collaborating with my peers and exploring my own reality of growing up in Africa — our hopes, our challenges, our future,” she said. “After all, we will be the ones to define the next chapter of this continent’s story.”

In South Sudan, which Mbabazi reported on with a fellowship with the International Women’s Media Foundation, the photographer sought to show how “young people manage to stay sane amidst all the insecurities found around them,” she said. “Many of these youths have been born in conflict, they have grown up amidst conflict, they have lost a lot, and it’s what life is made up of for them.”

Her images show young men learning karate, boxing or break-dancing. They show moments of happiness and normalcy, like a graduation ceremony at an aviation school or a dancer rehearsing before a performance. They portray aspiring rappers or medical students going about their day. “Life is happening as just about anywhere else in the world,” Mbabazi told In Sight. The tension of war exists, and it shapes people, she said, but it doesn’t define them.

Mbabazi has so far photographed youth in Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan. She plans to expand the work to western, northern and southern Africa in the coming months, but first she wants to look at the young Africans who have emigrated to Europe. “How are they integrating in societies and cultures new to them? The relationships they’ve formed, the fun, the solitude, the success, challenges and sense of responsibility for the people back home,” she said.

With this chapter, she hopes to address the misconceptions young people in her country often have about the ones who made it to Europe. “I’ve personally had conversations with youths who believe that if one went to a European country or to North America, even if for a week, they’ll return home rich.” That’s another stereotype Mbabazi will challenge this year.


Nancy and Micheal walk down the aisle at St. Joseph's Parish in Juba town, South Sudan. Life perseveres with love and hope beyond the scars and terrible memories created by the long-standing conflict in the world's newest country. (Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

Karate practice at Hai Neem Youth Center in Juba, South Sudan. The youth center provides space for training in different sports and recreational activities like boxing and dancing. (Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

A member of the dance crew "Wup Soul," which translates to "fantastic soul," shows off his moves before a performance at the National Basketball League finals in Juba, South Sudan. (Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

Phoebe (center) chills with her friends at a meeting space for youths in Juba, a space created by artist group called "Ana Taban." Phoebe is a medical student and an aspiring model. (Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

Phoebe, 22, during her work-shift after classes. She moved back to South Sudan in 2011 after the new nation gained its independence from Sudan. Phoebe is studying medicine at the University of Juba, South Sudan. (Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

A university student uses her phone. Many young people stay connected, online, with friends and relative who left South Sudan for neighboring countries like Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. (Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

Ramses, 21, lives with his grandparents and uncles in Juba since he lost his parents. He has joined the rap industry because, he says, "through music, I release the pain inside me." (Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

Students from the VIP Academy for Aviation & Technology march on their graduation day in Juba, South Sudan. (Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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