Kazim Ghafoor is a medical student in his final year of school, originally from London. His four-week-long medical placement in Malawi taught him many things, both professionally and personally.
What inspires you about creating photos and documenting what you see?
I find the concept of freezing time, memories, and experiences into a single picture a beautiful one. I love that each photo I take is unique to me, each has its own backstory filled with emotion.
I feel a certain tranquillity and contentment when I’m immersed in nature. The vastness of the landscapes can make me feel completely insignificant and remind me there is a bigger picture. Photography also helps me be more patient. Sometimes I have to return to the same location numerous times to get the image I want.
How long were you in Malawi and what was your itinerary?
I was in Malawi for four weeks. I organized a medical placement in a rural village hospital as part of my medical degree. My focus was Pediatrics, but I also spent time in the Internal Medicine, Surgical and Maternity departments while I was there. I also planned to utilize my weekends to explore Malawi, too.
What was your main reason for going to Malawi?
I decided to go to Malawi primarily for the medical experience I’d obtain. I’ve always wanted to experience working in a low-resource setting. I thought it’d be an excellent opportunity to decide whether I could see myself volunteering in such settings for longer periods of time in the future.
What was it like practicing medicine while you were there? Did you face any recurring challenges?
The experience taught me a lot, both medically and personally.
The one recurring challenge we faced in the hospital was the limited resources we had at our disposal. Having studied medicine in London, where we have the latest equipment and investigations readily available, this took a while to get used to. There were countless times when we didn’t know a patient’s diagnosis and had to try to cover all the possible remedial options as a result.
To give an example, a child was admitted to the hospital after feeling unwell with chest pain and a fever. The child’s oxygen saturations levels had fallen to a frighteningly low 25 percent (they should be above 95 percent). We suspected there had been a problem with one of the heart valves since birth, but there was no way to confirm this. We had no imaging tests available other than a chest x-ray. Without the resources available to adequately look after this young child, we were forced to urgently transfer them to the central government hospital where they have a cardiology department.
Despite cases like these, I was inspired by how the hospital was able to function so efficiently and deliver a high level of care to each and every patient. The dedicated staff do an amazing job, especially when you consider the challenges and difficulties they face.
What were some of your favorite locations you traveled to while you were in Malawi?
Hands down, Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi. The light, especially at sunrise and sunset, was amazing and I hope my photos do the place justice.
I also thoroughly enjoyed travelling to Zomba Plateau in the South. I was captivated by the landscape — it felt like a mix of the Scottish Highlands and the forests of the Peak District in England, yet I’d occasionally spot samango or vervet monkeys. It was a surreal but magnificent experience.
Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed climbing our local mountain in Nkhoma, so much so that I climbed it twice. It’s situated 4,000 ft. above sea level and the four-hour hike was made a lot easier by the cool morning air and excellent company. The views from the top weren’t too shabby either.
What was it like interacting with locals while you were there?
When I think of Malawi, the first thing that comes to mind is the friendliness of the people. I was continually surprised and humbled by the constant hospitality that was extended toward me by the locals. There’s a reason why Malawi’s nickname is “The Warm Heart of Africa.”
It’s striking how the communities and people that have the least are often the ones who give the most. It’s definitely an important life lesson I can take with me and emulate in my treatment of others.
What was it like photographing locals in Malawi, any tips or suggestions to get the best shots?
Photographing the locals was a lot of fun. I love incorporating human focal points into my images, usually my friends when we’re out exploring. Every Malawian I met loved being in front of the camera — a group of children would often jump into the foreground when I was taking a photo of the surrounding landscapes. It’s fair to say it’s not something I’d experienced before, but it’s sure to be something I’ll miss.
I tend to shoot more often at sunrise and sunset when the light is softer and more magical. When people are in the frame, my aim is to keep the shots as organic as possible. To achieve this, I try to ensure the person is unaware they’re in the frame. I’ll often take a lot of photos to try and capture them as naturally as possible.
Please pick 4 of your favorite photos and tell us the story behind the image.
Note: Kazim adhered to local policy regarding photography of minors in Malawi. He also took measures to ensure anonymity and confidentiality of any patient mentioned in this piece.