What if photography could change lives? What if something as simple as a portrait could help bring about real change, and to improve the quality of life for people suffering around the world? For Clay Cook, that’s not a “what if,” but more of a promise. Clay has worked all over the world for different organizations dedicated to bringing change, and he’s doing his part with his camera. His latest project takes place in Ethiopia, a country stricken by its own incredible problems.

“Due to famine and communist civil war, nearly 60% of Ethiopia, Africa is under the age of 18,” Clay told us. “And of that demographic nearly 100,000 children are completely homeless and suffer from tremendous injustice. There is an extreme lack of leadership, parents and grandparents. It is a country of youth.”

He continued, “Our project in Ethiopia focused on the foundation Youth Impact, which provides shelter, food and a solid path for homeless children located in the city of Addis Ababa. In coordination with Youth Impact I photographed a portrait series that highlighted teenagers right off the streets living through the shelter, but also those blossoming people who have so much to owe to their mentors,” Clay said. “These people have no voice. My goal is to give these people that voice.”

When I was first offered the opportunity to travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I was really unaware of those problems and issues that plagued the city and the country as a whole. On the minimal available information I had been given, it was tough to wrap my head around what we would be doing or why we would be there. There is so little awareness and so little knowledge that I was forced to dive deeper and I only scratched the surface of what I would eventually come to find.

It all started with my friend Coury Deeb of Nadus Films and the “Give A Story” grant project. We give a grant to those world-wide foundations that need it most. The grant provides the opportunity to document, capture and provide the right tools, so these initiatives can raise awareness and gain traction for further funding. Our project in Ethiopia focused on the foundation “Youth Impact” which provides shelter, food and a solid path for homeless children located in the city of Addis Ababa.

You can read more about Clay’s project on his blog. He’s included a great many behind the scenes photos and goes into significant detail on the project itself. I highly recommend the read.

Below is a finished film documenting the project as well as a selection with Clay’s finished portraits.

Behailu Kassanhun

Behailu Kassanhun: Orphan, he was taken into Youth Impact and has since graduated with a College degree and teaches Architecture.

Konjit Dejene

Konjit Dejene: Orphan, joined Youth Impact at the age of 17, she has since graduated College and is currently a School Teacher.

Robel Yimer

Robel Yimer: Orphan, joined Youth Impact at the age of 16, he has since graduated College.

Amanual Haile

Amanual Haile: Orphan, joined Youth Impact at the age of 12, he has since graduated College.

Genet Fantanhun

Genet Fantanhun: Orphan, joined Youth Impact at the age of 14, she has since graduated College and is currently a Elementary School Teacher

Kidist Tesfaye

Kidist Tesfaye: Orphan, joined Youth Impact, she has since graduated College and is currently serving at a local hospital as a nurse.

Yemisrach Tesfaye

Yemisrach Tesfaye: Orphan, joined Youth Impact at the age of 12, she has since graduated College and is currently serving at a local hospital as a nurse.

Dawet Daneyl

Dawet Daneyl?: Runaway, joined Youth Impact from the streets of Addis Ababa, he left his home in Ghana to find work in Addis Ababa.

Sebesebea Akalu

Sebesebea Akalu: Runaway, joined Youth Impact from the streets of Addis Ababa, he left his farm in Ghana to find a better life in Addis Ababa, which resulted in homelessness for over 4 years.

Habetamu Fentetahun

Habetamu Fentetahun: Runaway, joined Youth Impact from the streets of Addis Ababa, he left his farm in Dessie to find a work in Addis Ababa, which resulted in homelessness for 2 year

Eferem Tesefay

Eferem Tesefay: Runaway, joined Youth Impact from the streets of Addis Ababa, he left Ziway to find a work in Addis Ababa, which resulted in homelessness for several months.

[Via Clay Cook]

All images used with permission.