We’ve witnessed a challenging and remarkable year at Christian Aid. In the communications team we have the privilege of meeting the people at the heart of why we exist and the partners who drive this life-transforming work forward.

Stories that speak of hope and empowerment from around the world have landed on our desks: women in Ethiopia standing against generations of culturally-acceptable gender inequality, a market garden made possible in Mali — life and justice sprouting up through the earth. Sometimes it’s in the fragile flicker of a candle-lit vigil in Colombia. At other times, hope looks louder and bolder — like an ex-gang member in Nicaragua cradling his newborn child, himself a volunteer for the partner organisation that gave him a second chance.

It’s not always like this. We often see strong reminders of the need to continue working hard with our amazing partners around the world. Glimpses of how the terror of Ebola stretch beyond the biological: impacting culture, society, communities. We see the impact of climate change in the Philippines, further destabilising its vulnerability to natural disasters.

And then, there are times when the true complexity of our work reveals itself in an image; a moment of solace from the F16s for children in Gaza. Fun and rest amidst panic and fear.

There are so many stories to tell, but here are a few of our favourites. Ones which, for one reason or another have struck us personally. It’s a time to reflect on how far we've come, to face the reality of what still remains to be done and to celebrate the change that’s been achieved.

Colombia: hopes for peace

In this photograph, the candles are a reminder of all the lives lost in the 50-year armed conflict in Colombia. Now with the ongoing peace talks and the announcement of the FARC ceasefire, we hope and pray that these symbols of hope and dreams for peace and reconciliation will become a reality, especially for children and future generations.

Christian Aid/Matthew Gonzalez-Noda

Ethiopia: women changing the community

The colour and the symmetry immediately catch my attention in this picture, broken only by the gamboling kid, which further adds to the sense that I’m looking at a still from a Wes Anderson film. It’s a beautiful scene. But its beauty reaches far deeper than just the vibrant fabric of Bokiya and Elema’s clothes and the rich tones of the stunning Ethiopian landscape.

Both women have suffered the inequalities of gender traditional to the pastoralist, cattle-rearing communities of the region; both have known intimately the pain that practices such as early marriage can bring. Elema, older, wiser and more experienced was able to reach out and counsel the distraught thirteen-year-old Bokiya, fleeing her family’s punishment after refusing to marry her sister’s elderly widower. With the support of Christian Aid partner HUNDEE, Elema, Bokiya and other women in the community are setting a different example. Brave, strong and empowered they shine as beacons for positive change in their community. Now that’s beautiful.

Gaza: Laughter in a place of pain

I love this image of smiling young Palestinian women, which was taken at one of our partner’s centres in the Gaza Strip. There are few places where people can feel relaxed or at ease in Gaza — especially when F16s still circle ominously overhead. I remember vividly then the joy that I felt when I walked into CFTA’s centre and saw these young women smiling and laughing with one another. It came as no surprise to hear parents tell me that their children run to the centre after school, desperate to be in a place that makes them feel accepted and safe. This trip was characterised by a great many stories of pain and suffering. Experiencing the happiness, joy and laughter of the children at the centre made me realise how much of a blessing CFTA is in a place like Gaza.

Christian Aid/Ross Hemingway

Philippines: flood, fear, and faith

Five year-old Jasmine stands in the doorway of the family home. She lives next to one of Manila’s many waterways winding their way through the city. When a typhoon hits or the incessant monsoon rains arrive, the threat of rising waters looms large. Jasmine’s mother, Marilou tells her children it’s only rain and will bring no harm, yet inside she prays; frightened of what might be.

Manila can be a dangerous place to live. Marilou told me of how flood waters in the past have risen so high, they would have easily covered the head of Jasmine (as she stands in the doorway). She also told me of how they didn’t evacuate when Typhoon Ketsana hit Manila in 2009, ‘We stayed here,’ she said, ‘I thought we’d be okay, I didn’t know if we would. I just prayed and trusted in God that the waters would not rise any higher.’ Fortunately they didn’t.

The Philippines is the third most vulnerable country in the world to natural disasters and climate change.

Mali: the things I remember when I think of Mali

I love the movement in this photograph: the arc that is formed as Yatandou leans over and lets the precious droplets of water fall on her market garden. Through it you can see the huts of her village, with their pointy thatched roofs, so typical of Mali’s Dogon Plateau. I love the vibrant orange of Yatandou’s clothes — she’d put on her best clothes for the photograph. The energy, the bright colours, Yatandou’s smile: these are all things I remember when I think of Mali. But this photo also tells a wonderful story.

Just a couple of years ago the village didn’t have enough water; and the women didn’t have a market garden. Women traditionally help out on their husband’s land, and have no say over what to plant, when to plant or what to do with the crop. When the villagers told our partner APH that their biggest challenge was getting enough water, APH said they would help them to build a new well — if they would give a patch of good land to the women of the village to grow their own crops.

Now women like Yatandou are helping to feed the whole community. The shallots, salads, aubergines, chillies, spinach, beans and potato keep the village going until the millet is ready to harvest.

Finally, I love the promise that this photograph holds. It’s hard to guess but in a few months’ time the whole area will be green and lush with new crops.

21 Days of Fear

In Sierra Leone, a community in quarantine raise their hands to show appreciation for the food they are receiving. This photo conveys the human impact of Ebola. A simple piece of string is symbolic of the divisive nature of Ebola; those affected are unable to care for their loved ones or interact with wider society. It strikes me that Ebola is so much more than a medical issue. It is a crisis which has nearly destroyed the fabric of society in west Africa. It touched me when Jeanne Kamara, our country manager said it ‘…goes against the grain of our human interaction. We have stopped shaking hands, we have stopped hugging each other, we’ve even stopped exchanging the sign of peace in church services. What a life’ .

As Ebola cases continue to rise in Sierra Leone, our partners are delivering vital supplies to those affected. Support and essentials are provided to those undergoing 21 days in quarantine.

Nicaragua: hopeful future

I couldn’t help but feel moved by this scene of Bayardo, a former gang member, holding his new-born child, and the tender and happy look on his wife’s face. Who would have thought that this man was responsible for unspeakable crimes? I believe that everyone deserves another chance, which is what he has been given by our partner CEPREV. He’s helped to dismantle a gang and now works as a painter and decorator. He also volunteers with CEPREV, reaching out to other young men in his neighbourhood. The work of CEPREV has significantly reduced violence in deprived neighbourhoods of Managua in Nicaragua. He’s making amends.