It’s that time of the year again — time to share our top 10 photos from 2021.

For most of us, it’s been almost two years since the start of the pandemic. COVID seems to have a weird time warp effect. One year feels like five. One week can feel like one month.

When it started in the United States in 2020, I remember feeling hopeful that life would go back to “normal” soon. I heard people say, “You need to get used to this. This is the new ‘normal.'” I didn’t want to admit it, but they were right.

What I’ve learned during the pandemic is how adaptable we are as humans. We adapt. We endure. We are resilient. Maybe life isn’t the normal that we used to know, but in ways, life is becoming more normal. A new normal.

At Medical Teams, what stuns me most about the work we do is the people we serve — often escaping from a terrible situation and moving into a “new normal” that is anything but. They adapt. They endure. They are resilient.

At the end of every year, we reflect on the past year in photos. Although this top 10 photos list only skims the surface of this last year, here’s a look into the work we did and the people we met around the world. A look into how we adapted, endured and were resilient.

Burhani’s Story: Leaving Everything Behind

Man carrying water jug on shoulder
Burhani Zenieba collects water in a settlement in Um Rakouba, Sudan. 

In November 2020, conflict broke out in Northern Ethiopia, forcing more than 60,000 refugees to flee to neighboring Sudan and leaving over 4 million people internally displaced within Ethiopia. A few weeks later, we had a team on the ground assessing the need for medical care.

Forty-year-old Burhana Zenieba fled his house with his wife and his one-year-old son, Brook, as soon as the conflict erupted. He left behind his business, his home, everything.

“We woke up on the morning of the seventh of November to the sounds of cannons and gunfire everywhere,” Burhani said. With bodies lying in the street of his home city, he didn’t think twice about fleeing to safety.

“We didn’t have time to take anything with us, except for the clothes we were wearing.” The trek to Sudan was horrifying. “We didn’t have food or water, and it was extremely risky to go all the way from Humera to Sudan’s borders with a child on your shoulders, but we had no other opportunities. We were just determined to save the child, whatever the cost. So, we continued to walk despite our hunger, thirst and fears,” Burhani said. “We were fortunate because we met once or twice with herdsmen who were willing to provide us with some food and water.”

As new residents in the Um Rakouba camp in Sudan, Burhani and his family are trying to cope with their new life in a refugee settlement. Since arriving in Um Rakouba, they received shelter from UNHCR, and sustenance from the World Food Program.

In May, Medical Teams built a clinic in Um Rakouba to support the medical needs of families like Burhani’s. Some of the major issues within the camp include malnutrition and communicable diseases. With several clinics on site, the families relocated to this camp have access to the care they need. They are safe. 

Thierry and Florance’s Story

Ahab examines Thierry at Ntenungi Health Center in Uganda. He uses MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference) tape to evaluate for malnutrition. Photo by Andrew Onapito.

“We had a good life in the Congo before war,” Florance said.

She holds her son Thierry in her lap at the clinic in Ntenungi Health Center. They relocated to Nakivale Refugee Settlement after fleeing from conflict in the Congo.

“There was a war between rebels and government forces. Many people were being killed by bullets, and many women were being raped. That’s why my husband and I decided to cross the border and come to Uganda.”

When Florance brought Thierry to the clinic, he was in a terrible condition. After being tested, the Medical Teams clinicians discovered he had severe malaria and moderate malnutrition.

“My child developed a very high fever,” Florance said. “The condition worsened, and I decided to bring my son to the health center in the night. I cried to the nurse and told her my child was about to die. The nurse assessed him and gave him treatment. He started recovering. His body has changed.”

Thierry’s eyes, fingers and legs had become red due to his illness. The clinic gave him malaria medicine and advised Florance to get fruits and vegetables to help Thierry with his malnutrition. Not long after, Thierry had a terrible cough. Florance returned to the clinic with him, terrified. Our staff counseled her and gave her information on how to give Thierry nutritious foods at home.

They did home visits to check on Thierry, and he started improving after two months. After three months, he was able to go back to school. Our staff clinician Ahab said, “When I see Thierry today, I feel so much joy because I saw him earlier on when he was so thin and not interested in life. After he fully recovered, his mother came back to thank us.”

Eileen’s Story

Vincent Orozco receives his vaccine at a Kaiser vaccine clinic at his elementary school. Medical Teams partnered with Kaiser this year to bring vaccines to parts of Washington and Oregon where they are needed most, including elementary schools this fall. Photo by Lauren Odderstol.

“We lost my father last January to COVID, right before he was able to get the vaccine,” Eileen said.

She was waiting in line at her son Vincent’s elementary school to receive the booster and get the vaccine for him. She had her 18-month-old son in her arms while she received her booster shot. Vincent seemed nervous as he was getting his vaccine, but Eileen encouraged him on.

The first thing I noticed about Eileen was her strength. She had gone through so much this last year with the loss of her father and other traumatic life events that she shared with me. It’s amazing to me what mothers are capable of — the strength they have, even after so much loss.

This last year, Medical Teams partnered with Kaiser to start the Kaiser Vaccine Acceleration Project (KVAP) and Kaiser vaccine clinics around Oregon and Washington. The goal of these clinics is to fight the spread of COVID-19 by targeting areas where vaccination rates are low and offer vaccines to vulnerable populations. The KVAP clinics are hybrids, offering dental services and vaccinations as an incentive to help vaccinate people.

More 2021 Stories in Photos

Refugee Outreach Volunteer Zainab measures the blood glucose of a mother living in the refugee settlement in Lebanon. Diabetes is difficult to manage in general, but even more so when you don’t have access to the resources you need. Diabetic strips, glucometers, and access to doctors are vital resources that help support people living with diabetes in the Zahle refugee settlement in Lebanon. Photo by Andrew Boyd.


This Medical Teams volunteer team in Tunja, Colombia set up a health post to share COVID-19 prevention tips and disseminate COVID-19 prevention kits. In 2021, our team in Colombia starting providing vaccinations and mental health and psychosocial support to people fleeing from Venezuela, in addition to the pre- and post-natal care access we provide to expectant and breastfeeding mothers. Photo by Medical Teams Colombia.


U.S. Programs Clinic Manager Krista Handy advertises the COVID-19 vaccination/dental clinic outside the window of one of our vans in Madras, Oregon (USA) in August 2021. The hybrid clinics started this year as part of the new Kaiser Vaccine Project (KVAP) – using dental care as an opportunity to talk with and encourage unvaccinated patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Lauren Odderstol.


A midwife attends to baby Jonan and his mother Marion at Nshungezi Health Center, Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda. In 2021, we assisted in over 33,000 live births around the globe. Photo by Andrew Onapito.


Medical staff administer vaccine to a patient
COVID-19 vaccinations began in September 2021 for people living within the Kutupalong Refugee camp in Bangladesh. In December, Medical Teams, Food for the Hungry and other organizations within the camp are aiming to vaccinate over 39,000 people between the ages of 18-65 living in the camp. Photo by Medical Teams/FH Bangladesh.


A young boy smiles for the camera in Nduta Refugee camp, Tanzania. Photo by Andrew Onapito.


Toddler eating while sitting on her mother's lap
Sury Johana Calel Moran learned how to prepare nutritional food to help her daughter, Kasy, grow to and maintain a healthy weight. She attended a training in her village in Guatemala about children’s health, diarrhea, pneumonia prevention, and nutrition that taught her how to care well for her daughter’s health.

Thank you for helping make this work possible for another year. We’re grateful for another year ahead providing access to life-saving care for people around the world.

Want to see more photos? Check out last year’s top 20!



Lauren Odderstol
Global Content and Video Producer