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'Waiting for an opportunity' wins Tim Hetherington Grant

Fernando Moleres, a Spanish photographer who strives for positive change through his work, has won the Tim Hetherington Grant from World Press Photo to continue his project on child prisoners in Sierra Leone. Moleres will receive 20,000 euros to continue the project, “Waiting for an opportunity.”

Moleres has visited the West African country three times to capture the suffering of young boys incarcerated with men for years as they await trials in a broken system. He spent most of his time at Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, where 32 boys lived with 1,300 adults, Moleres said in his project description.

“They came from broken families or were orphans from the past civil war,” Moleres wrote in an e-mail.

Inside the prison, he was very cautious at first. There were few guards for the thousands of prisoners. A nurse by training, Moleres earned the inmates' trust by diagnosing diseases and bringing them medicines.

The prisoners have to line up and wait for water and food, rice and cassaba leaves served once a day. Everyone fights for food, putting the weaker boys at a disadvantage, Moleres said.
Close friendships develop, but there are constant quarrels over basic essentials, such as food, mattresses and sandals, Moleres said.

Moleres’ work has been published in several European press outlets. In order to make a change, he also started Free Minor Africa, a project that provides legal aid and bailout money to minors incarcerated for minor offenses and supports them as they re-enter society.

In October, Moleres saw one of his past subjects, Abdul Sesay, during the 16-year-old’s trial. Sesay had been accused of stealing a mobile phone, and he had been in prison for two years awaiting his trial.

Moleres compensated the accuser for the cost of the phone and the boy was released. Sesay is now attending school and living at the St. Michael’s rehabilitation center in Freetown. Moleres said he has spoken with Sesay twice since leaving the country and hears the boy is adjusting well and doing well in school.

Michiel Munneke, managing editor of World Press Photo and one of the judges for the grant, said the judges considered both the visual and journalistic qualities of the project, as well as the commitment to a human rights issue. “This work of Fernando’s for children is clearly a human rights issue,” he said. “There’s no justice for them.”

Moleres’ project stood out because it not only followed the boys currently in jail, but also was striving through his
charity  to provide a normal life for these boys as they try to assimilate after being released.

Tim Hetherington was a videographer and photojournalist best known for his Oscar-nominated documentary on the most dangerous U.S. military base in Afghanistan, Restrepo. Hetherington died in 2011 while covering the conflict in Libya.

Munneke had traveled to exhibitions with Hetherington after the photojournalist won the 2007 World Press Photo of the Year award.

“Tim at that time had a strong commitment to the subjects he photographs. It was very important to him to reach out to the audience,” Munneke said. “He was very cleverly thinking about the medium, whether it was video or photos.”

Hetherington was also an articulate speaker and a great ambassador for the profession, he said.

The judges had Hetherington’s character in mind when looking at the projects, Munneke said.

Moleres didn't know Hetherington, but he remembers his image of a soldier in Afghanistan, exhausted, resting his head in his hand. Moleres thought it captured the "senselessness of the war without platitudes." Hetherington won World Press Photo of the Year in 2007 for the photograph.

Moleres said he never risked his life as Hetherington did, nor did he speak about his work as the former conflict photographer did, so the question of why his work won is best put to the judges.

- Lauren Russell, CNN