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A young man in Kalak, Iraq: “I’m a student. My parents didn’t want me sitting around the house all summer, so they made me be a shepherd.” (All images via Instagram)

The United Nations usually relies on megastars like Angelina Jolie or George Clooney to raise awareness about extreme poverty. But like many nonprofits who have tapped the social media clout of “Internet celebrities” for their marketing campaigns, the UN has now also turned to a New York street photographer for its own. Humans of New York‘s Brandon Stanton has embarked on a 50-day photographic tour promoting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which seek to eliminate the number of people living on less than $1.25 by 2015, among other aims.

The trip kicked off last week in northern Iraq. Shortly after Stanton landed, the United States began airstrikes on Islamic State militants (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL), who are terrorizing Christian, Yazidi, Shia, and other groups in the north. Suddenly, Stanton’s portraits of citizens in cities like Shaqlawa, Kalak, Dohuk, and Erbil offered people around the world a rare window into the hopes and fears of locals confronted by uncertain futures. Writing in Wired, Emily Dreyfuss suggested Stanton had become a de facto war photographer.

“She always dreams about the bombs,” one father said of his daughter, both photographed sitting on a park bench in Erbil. Though Stanton was only in the country a few days, his photographs underscore the need for more such reporting in the region, where news agencies have had a decreased presence in recent years. They encourage a nuanced, empathetic understanding of a country the West typically views in black and white terms.

Stanton has now moved on to Jordan, where he will photograph refugees of the Syrian War. After that, he’ll travel to Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Vietnam, Haiti, and possibly El Salvador and Ecuador. Take a look at a few of his images from Instagram below:

“She always dreams about the bombs.” (Erbil, Iraq)

“We live in a very conservative culture, but I want my children to be open minded. I try to bring them to as many places as possible: big malls, art galleries, concerts. We want them to see as many types of people as possible, and as many types of ideas as possible.” (Erbil, Iraq)

“I would give my soul if I could fix her brain.” (Dohuk, Iraq)

“Swimming is the greatest thing in life. If we have time, we swim ten times per day.” (Kalak, Iraq)

“We just want to be together and not be afraid.” (Erbil, Iraq)

“My happiest moments are whenever I see my mother happy.” “What’s the happiest you’ve ever seen her?” “When I was a child, some German doctors told us that I could have a surgery in Italy, and my legs would work again. She was so happy she started crying. But I never had the money to go.” (Erbil, Iraq)

“I photoshopped my head onto a healthy body, to see what I would look like.” (Erbil, Iraq)

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

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