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Award-winning Brazilian photographer, Luisa Dörr, documented the resilience of girls overcoming climate change in Guatemala. 

Guatemala is a special place. Volcanoes and mountains peek through the mist, blankets of ancient forest stretch across the landscape, and girls' traditional clothes are hand-sewn works of art. 

Guatemala is also facing some of the worst impacts of climate change in the world. Towns and villages are being battered with extreme storms and flooding, while other areas are facing the scorching sun with almost no rainfall in a year.  

One-third of people in Guatemala depend on natural resources to make a living, many of them are farmers. 

Photographer, Luisa Dörr, and I visited Save the Children's work in storm-affected communities. Here Luisa met girls from the Maya community, which dates back thousands of years. She captured stories about what is being done to ensure these girls stay in school and get the food they need to thrive. 

I caught up with Luisa to find out more about her work and what she gained from gathering these stories with us. 

Was there anything you gained from this project personally and creatively?  

"Travelling to other places, meeting new people, and understanding other global narratives are some of the main reasons I am a photographer. This project with Save the Children was all three. 

Creatively it always helps being in a new context, with new faces and new landscapes. It is like fresh water for me."

What was the most impactful thing you saw and how did you capture this?   

"I saw the aftermath of a huge storm that struck the region two years ago. The rocks that had rolled down the mountain, destroying the houses, are still there. They are massive, physical reminders of what could happen again.  

The girls I met have a strong and resilient way of dealing with life. I saw how Save the Children supported them and their communities to rebuild water systems and infrastructure in the wake of this climate disaster. There is clearly a very important community-led movement there." 

I'm going to share a bit more background before we jump back into the interview with Lusia.

One of the girls that Lusia and I met is seven-year-old Petrona.

Her wooden house is set among a backdrop of mountains and misty clouds, while a stream runs down the side of the hill with a little bridge over it. Birds sing and sheep roam freely. "I love my little sheep!", she tells us.

When the huge storm struck, Petrona’s tranquil village was badly damaged and many people lost their lives. The weather still makes her fearful: “it scares me when it rains.” 

Girls in Guatemala with their sheep

Sisters Jacinta, five, Petrona, seven, and Petrona Maribel, eight, with one of their sheep outside their home in Quiche district, Guatemala

Luisa Dorr photograph of a girl called Petrona in Guatemala

Portait of Petrona, seven, in Quiche district, Guatemala

Luisa Dorr photograph of a house damaged by a storm in Guatemala

A house destroyed by the storm in Petrona's village


With the climate becoming more extreme it is harder for people to grow food.  In the aftermath of the storm, community leaders, parents, young people, and local teachers worked together to rebuild their neighbourhoods.  

At 11-year-old Maria Elena’s school, children are given free school meals by Save the Children. Her school is one of over 260 in the Quiche region that are part of this project.

The food is healthy, nutritious, and supplied by local farmers, which boosts the local economy. Farmers are taught new skills, including the use of drought and flood-resistant seeds. 

Maria Elena thinks that the yummy food hasn't just improved her school work: “I like the fruits they give us because they are tasty and make us strong to play sports... I like playing basketball.”

Luisa Dorr photograph of a girl called Maria Elena eating fruit at school in Guatemala

Maria Elena, 12, eating fruit at school in Quiche district, Guatemala

Luisa Dorr photograph of a girl playing basketball in Guatemala

Delmy, 10, playing basketball at school with her friends in Quiche district, Guatemala

When we met Maria Elena at her school, she couldn’t wait to rush to the basketball court. Luisa grabbed her camera and started taking photos. The combination of the girls playing such a fun, active sport, while wearing their beautiful clothes, looked incredible. We were blessed with golden lighting as it was late afternoon.

Luisa Dorr photograph of girls playing basketball in Guatemala

Cousins Anabely, 11, and Maria Elena, 12, playing basketball at school in Quiche, Guatemala

Is your approach different when photographing children? 

"My creative and technical approach is the same. I like to photograph children as people, capturing their unique characters. But certainly, what is different is how I interact with them. It is more complicated, since most are shy, or scared, or they try to replicate stereotypical ways of posing, which is something I try to avoid."

You photographed girls in their traditional Mayan dress. Why is it important for you to capture these traditions?  

"For many years, young people all over the world felt ashamed of their traditional heritage. Due to historical and global issues, they have tried to forget and avoid their cultural identity.  

Now, it seems that there’s a new wave of recognition that empowers young people to reconnect with their heritage and take pride in their traditions. These traditions make them unique and give them identity. The Mayan girls in Guatemala are wearing their traditional clothing with pride when they could have chosen to wear a simple T-shirt with jeans, that’s so wonderful for me."

Your photography work focuses on the genre of portraiture. What emotions and messages did you try to portray through this piece of work? 

"It’s hard to talk about sharing emotions or messages with art. Sometimes the artist might try to send one message and the viewer interprets it as something completely different, due to their own circumstances.

Luckily, in documentary photography, we have captions and stories. In this very assignment, I tried to focus on being as objective as possible. Above all, I tried to avoid visual stereotypes that portray people as helpless victims waiting to be saved, which is often how people living in lower-income countries and realities are portrayed."

Luisa Dorr photograph of school girls in Guatemala

Delmy, 10, Maria Elena, 12, and Anabely, 11, in their school playground. Guatemala. “The clothes represent my homeland.” - Maria Elena.