Let’s remember back to the start of this year. I recall feeling full of hope and blissfully unaware of what was about to unfold. Sitting at my home desk 12 months later, it invigorates me to imagine the chorus of celebration heard around the globe when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2020. A sigh of relief – a tumultuous year finally come to its end.

While we look forward to a new year with hope – including a vaccine that can end this roller coaster of a pandemic – it’s amazing to look back at all we accomplished together this year. At how resilient we can be in the face of trials.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of Shalom these days. Most commonly known as the Hebrew word for “peace,” it can literally be translated as “to make complete” or “to restore.”

Even in the middle of social distancing, it’s beautiful to see how we made space to care for and acknowledge each other. How we brought Shalom in a hurting world. We hope you see the same glimpses of hope, humanity and restoration that we found in this year’s best images.

The Early Days of 2020

Florence Emee holds her baby son, born three days earlier in a maternal health ward in Kyangwali
Maternal Health Ward, Kyangwali, Uganda | Florence Emee holds her baby son, born three days earlier. When Florence was checked into the Maternal Health Ward in Kyangwali, the doctors found her baby’s heartbeat was growing faint. She was prepped and rushed to the surgical theater for an emergency C-section

Just as the pandemic was being discovered in the United States, our video production team was in the middle of a trip to Kyangwali, Uganda. To be honest, we leap into these trips with hope and prayer that everything will turn out well. Thankfully, the trip far exceeded our expectations and was a blessing in disguise. Little did we know this would be the only trip we would be making this year.

Together, we stood in the operating theater and witnessed a new life taking his first breath (see image below). We witnessed a single mother of six, recently abandoned by her husband, finding hope in her newborn baby girl. We saw a young boy restored to health with proper nutrition, his family full of visions for his bright future.

At the end of our week in the field, we left feeling inspired by our incredible staff and their endless dedication to their work. To serve these communities who are in need of restoration.

Dr. Sarah Akite and her assistant perform an emergency C-section in a surgical theater.
Surgical Theater, Kyangwali, Uganda | Dr. Sarah Akite and her assistant perform an emergency C-section. Dr. Akite mentioned that they often will perform 3-4 C-sections per day, in addition to seeing a number of maternal health ward patients.
Nutritionist Monicah Nakabugo educates a young mother on how to monitor her baby son and provide proper nutrition.
Nutrition Ward, Kyangwali, Uganda | Nutritionist Monicah Nakabugo educates a young mother on how to monitor her baby son and provide proper nutrition. Monicah is devoted to her work, sometimes staying later into the night to make sure these children receive the care they need to survive.

“I believe every baby matters. Why? This is the future generation and God created us. We are different. We are unique. Now, if one is gone, I believe that we are losing something very precious, very good, that God made that person do. Now if we lose really just one single baby, we are going backwards, because I believe we are created in this way that everyone has their role in our society.” – Nutritionist Monicah Nakabugo

Nutritionist Monicah Nakabugo takes baby Namara's measurements.
Nutrition Ward, Kyangwali, Uganda | Nutritionist Monicah Nakabugo takes baby Namara’s measurements. Many young children suffer from malnutrition in the settlement. The cost of medication to restore their bodies is only $.50 per child, an astonishingly low amount for the amount of healing it can bring.

Even in the middle of a pandemic, the need for basic medical care doesn’t cease to exist. Early in the year, our mobile medical unit was up and running in Adjumani, Uganda, providing access to care for people living in remote communities.

Inside a mobile medical container a doctor examines a child patient, Adjumani, Uganda.
Medical Container, Adjumani, Uganda | In association with Arizona State University, we shipped a Mobile Medical Container to northern Uganda. This container provides a space for doctors to provide direct health services in a very remote setting.

Back in the U.S., masks and medicine began to sell out. On March 13, a week after schools and businesses started going into lockdown, our U.S. Programs team pivoted some of our Mobile Dental vans to become COVID-19 mobile screening and testing sites, responding to hot spots throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Volunteer Satine holds an infrared thermometer at an emergency dental clinic.
Washington, March 2020 | COVID-19 hits the United States. Our volunteer Santine uses an infrared thermometer to screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms at an emergency dental clinic.
Volunteers and staff at a COVID-19 testing clinic organizing paperwork in Seattle, Washington.
Seattle, WA | Our COVID-19 Volunteers and Staff prepare their mobile COVID-19 test clinic site for the day in downtown Seattle.

Socially Distant Spring

By Mid-Spring, we realized that, even with lockdowns, the pandemic wasn’t going anywhere soon. Social distancing, working and school from home and wearing masks everywhere we went became our new normal.

One of the silver linings of this pandemic has been working more closely together with our global staff through our new virtual operations. When we couldn’t meet on the field for our annual event, Field of Dreams, our silver lining was taking you to the field in Field of Dreams: World Tour to meet some of our incredible field staff.

Presenter John Curley standing alone on the set of the virtual FIeld of Dreams event experience.
Seattle, WA | With social distancing at its peak in June, we turned our annual Field of Dreams event into a digital experience. Standing alone on set in a massive studio, presenter John Curley tears up watching the Field Of Dreams: World Tour program.
An empty Real Life Exhibit, a humanitarian museum in Tigard, Oregon.
Real Life Exhibit, Tigard, OR | A now empty Real Life Exhibit awaits visitors pending safe access, and likely the end of the pandemic. Our team pivoted to create a Virtual Real Life Exhibit for visitors to enjoy a similar experience online.

Around the globe, we converted health centers and staff quarters to allow for isolation, treatment and distancing. We shipped masks to protect our health workers now fighting a pandemic on top of providing much-needed care for refugees and host communities. While we constantly checked daily COVID-19 case numbers in the countries where we work, our community health teams on the ground went out into refugee settlements around the world, sharing COVID-19 prevention messaging to help protect them.

A young refugee boy in Bangladesh is scanned with an infrared thermometer in the Isolation and Treatment Center for COVID-19.
Kutupalong, Bangladesh | Triage in our global health posts pivoted to include COVID-19 screening and prevention measures. Infrared thermometers, personal protective equipment (PPE), and space for social distancing became a global standard in our clinics. Photo by Nihab Rahman
A team of ten health workers stand outside the isolation and treatment center in Bangladesh.
Kutupalong, Bangladesh | In partnership with Food for the Hungry and UNHCR, we converted one of our health posts into a 50-bed isolation and treatment center (ITC) to help COVID-19 patients safely recover from their disease and to prevent further spread of COVID-19 within the settlement.

The Second Wave In a Heat Wave

By summer, with the pandemic rising to its second wave of high cases in the U.S., our COVID-19 testing program expanded from Washington into Oregon (see Hood River image below).

When you’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’s overwhelming to consider other disasters adding to the mix. Unfortunately, they do layer on. Fortunately, our teams were prepared.

When wildfires began to rage and smoke covered half of the U.S. West Coast, our Mobile Dental and U.S. Program team got to work. They prepared hygiene kits and provided access to dental care for people who had been displaced in Oregon.

On August 4, when an unexpected explosion decimated buildings in Beirut, our Lebanon team hit the ground, providing access to COVID-19 prevention care, monitoring for diabetics and wound care.

Hood River Mayor Kate McBride gets tested at one of our mobile COVID-19 testing clinics.
Hood River, Oregon | Hood River Mayor Kate McBride gets tested at one of our mobile COVID-19 testing clinics. The program, which started in March 2020 in response to the global pandemic, has since tested over 22,000 people in the Pacific Northwest.
Mobile Dental Clinic Manager Kevin Abbe pauses for a photo in the middle of the workday.
Grants Pass, Oregon | Mobile Dental Clinic Manager Kevin Abbe pauses for a photo in the middle of the workday. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve continued to provide urgent dental care to vulnerable people in the Pacific Northwest.
A team of firefighters standing in the rubble of damaged buildings after the massive chemical explosion in Beirut, Lebanon.
Beirut, Lebanon | On August 4, 2020, a massive chemical explosion set off in the city docks, causing over 200 deaths, 6,500 injuries and leaving 300,000 homeless. The explosion damaged buildings up to a six-mile radius away from the site and could be felt 100 miles away. Photo by Ahmad Laila
Mazen (center) with his cousins and siblings outside of his home in the refugee settlement in Lebanon.
Zahle, Lebanon | Mazen (center) with his cousins and siblings outside of his home in the settlement. When Mazen fell ill one day, his father was in a panic. Thankfully, he knew a Refugee Outreach Volunteer (ROV) in his neighborhood to contact who referred Mazen to a hospital. He was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and he receives regular follow-ups from his ROV to ensure they have access to the information and care they need.

Fall: Change Is Coming

Though disasters continued to come with Hurricanes Eta and Iota causing massive flooding and landslides in Guatemala in November, we started to see more glimmers of hope this Fall. The promise of a vaccine soon becoming available for frontline health workers. New programs for green energy and efficient health solutions kicked off with our program in Uganda. Our program supporting mothers and children in Colombia restarted and expanded to Bogota.

Something about the changing autumn leaves here in the U.S. felt like shifting tides in the year. Hope for change is on the horizon.

In Santa Marta, Colombia, Daimerlyn sits with her three children.
Santa Marta, Colombia | Daimerlyn sits with her three children. Our staff supported her with the birth of her youngest, helping connect her to pre and postnatal care.
Staff member Romeo Lem prays for Luisa after she lost her husband and home in a landslide caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota.
Santa Elena, Guatemala | Staff member Romeo Lem prays for Luisa after she lost her husband and home in a landslide caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota.
Staff members Celestino, Romeo and Carlos carry hygiene kits on foot to villages where the route was blocked by landslides.
Alta Verapaz, Guatemala | Staff members Celestino, Romeo and Carlos carry hygiene kits on foot to villages where the route was blocked by landslides.

A New Year Ahead

A group of children play outside in Kyangwali, Uganda.
Kyangwali, Uganda | Children play outside of Furaha’s house. While our film team interacted with Furaha’s family, a crowd of children played nearby. As the trip photographer, I played a round of “Simon Says” with them both for fun and to divert attention away from the filming. We look forward to returning to the field in the coming year. Photo by Lauren Odderstol

There is hope in the middle of the storm. Hope that one day soon things will calm down. The vaccine will become available to the public. Restaurants will re-open for dining and planes will fill the skies. Schools and offices will reopen for education and business. Maybe one day, you’ll find yourself sitting at your desk in a new normal, and you’ll forget everything you endured this year.

Let’s remember the blessings and lessons we found in this storm. I believe great learning moments occur more often when walking through fire than when standing on mountain peaks. We can see more clearly in the valley.

My hope is, when that new normal comes, we don’t forget how this year broke down our walls and expanded our horizons. Even while we were confined to our bubbles, our eyes were opened to a world filled with pain that is being restored. May we continue to be harbingers of hope and peace. May we continually find ways to bring Shalom to this world.

Lauren Odderstol

Lauren Odderstol
Medical Teams Producer, Storyteller & Photographer

A happy baby smiling at the camera in Kyangwali Uganda.
Kyangwali, Uganda | Happy baby outside the Maternal Health Ward.