Safari!

This Blog Entry is a part of my Uganda Trip Page. Click Here to read all of the blog entries as well as information about the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, the American Refugee Committee & how to help.

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In our last day in Uganda, my new friend Amanda (from Heartbeet Kitchen) and I left our group and began the trek back to the airport.

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We were accompanied by a driver and a Ugandan woman who is on the American Refugee Committee staff. Her name is Shamimn.

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We left early in the morning which gave us time to do a small safari at Lake Mburo National Park before catching our 11:30pm overnight flight. 

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It took a few hours and many bumpy roads to get to the park.

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Once we were there, we couldn't believe our eyes!

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We hired a park guide to show us around. They carry guns to fend off any aggressive animals. There is only one lion in the entire park, but animals like hippos and water buffalos can become aggressive if you get between them and their youth.. 

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These wild boar were my favorite. The way they moved their short stubby legs made us all laugh. I'm smitten.  

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Uganda! You do not cease to amaze! I am happy we got to see this beautiful side of Uganda before heading home. What an amazing country! 

The High Spirited Folks of Nakivale!

This Blog Entry is a part of my Uganda Trip Page. Click Here to read all of the blog entries as well as information about the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, the American Refugee Committee & how to help.

The first few days at Nakivale were spent meeting the various residents and learning about their passions.

There are over 120,000, yes ONE HUNDRED TWENTY THOUSAND refugees at the settlement! 

This is just a small glimpse into a few lives there.

Yes these people are poor. Much more poor than most of you reading this. But that's not what catches your eye when you're there.

Instead, you feel inspired by their passion for their hobbies. You can't help but smile at their high spirits. 

 I hope I convey this through my photos 

ACROBATS

The Nakivale Refugee Settlement Acrobatic Group spends their free time practicing the art of gymnastics and acrobatics.

Their skills took my breath away! It was amazing to see what they could do with so little resources.

They constantly landed on the hard ground with just their bare feet.

balancing two bottles on a knife!

balancing two bottles on a knife!

You can tell by their huge smiles that they LOVE their death-defying hobby. 

And I think they were really proud to perform for their american guests! They were very skilled and had obviously put in many hours of practice.

 

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT

Women in need of a new beginning meet with American Refugee Committee to discover opportunities available to them in the settlement.

Together they learn new gardening skills and work a plot of land to provide nutrition for their families and an income to create their new future. This program has been so successful that men have also joined - looking for a way to also provide for their families.

There was talk of possibly moving the program to a larger space! 

This guy. His real name is Woodrow Wilson. He runs the program at the gardens and gave us a tour. Several days later my friend Amanda and I ran into him during the 5k and ran a good amount of the run with him! His smile is contagious.

This guy. His real name is Woodrow Wilson. He runs the program at the gardens and gave us a tour. Several days later my friend Amanda and I ran into him during the 5k and ran a good amount of the run with him! His smile is contagious.

 

ARTIST COLLECTIVE: OPPORTUNIGEE

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We ate lunch with several of the Opportunigee artists at their compound in the settlement.

We ate lunch with several of the Opportunigee artists at their compound in the settlement.

 This was our typical lunch when we ate at the settlement.  We had it three days in a row. Beans, rice and a delicious peanut sauce. So filling! I really enjoyed it. (Photo by Amanda Paa with Heartbeet Kitchen.)

 This was our typical lunch when we ate at the settlement.  We had it three days in a row. Beans, rice and a delicious peanut sauce. So filling! I really enjoyed it. (Photo by Amanda Paa with Heartbeet Kitchen.)

A painting on canvas by one of the Opportunigee artists

A painting on canvas by one of the Opportunigee artists

One of the leaders of Opprtunigee, Patrick, donated his own land for the artist collective building. They filled soda bottles with cement and made beautifully colorful walls!

One of the leaders of Opprtunigee, Patrick, donated his own land for the artist collective building. They filled soda bottles with cement and made beautifully colorful walls!

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{Art Is Everywhere} When envisioning this trip to Nakivale Refugee Settlement with the American Refugee Committee, I had a hard time picturing the refugees having any interest in a giant rainbow umbrella... I was wrong!


The #shineonyoucrayumbrella was the perfect gift to give the artist collective group called Opportunigee (Opportunity + Refugee = Opportunigee!) I explained the story of the umbrella & how it has traveled the world & been photographed by various artists, all with unique perspectives...

We went from a sort of calm & quiet dialogue - to an animated, art-making frenzy! We brought the brella outside and immediately started creating. It was so great to share the universal language of creativity. 

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Afterwards, we shared many hugs and left two umbrellas at their collective. 


I can't wait to see what they add to the rainbow brella photo collection!

 

BURUNDI DRUM TROUPE

The entire drum troupe is made up of refugees from the country Burundi. 

Such beautiful people - they filled the air with high energy music and laughter. Inhabitants from the settlement crowded around to watch their performance. They lifted the sprits of all who watched.

I was amazed at their stamina. They put on a very high energy performance for over an hour under a strong sun. 

I was also really interested in their outfits. As you have seen in my photos, they live in small dirt homes. How did they manage to have such clean, brightly colored outfits?

I do not know the details but I did ask that question to a few locals. I was told that their clothes are made of a waxy material that repels dirt.

I was also told that they occasionally send their items to a woman who irons them. 

This is one of the best dance and drum troupes I've ever seen!  

In Conclusion  

Having the chance to meet these different groups was a real honor. Their high spirits, energy and passions were such pure examples of the natural need for joy built into all of us. Inspiring indeed.❤️

The Road To Mbarara 6/17/17

This Blog Entry is a part of my Uganda Trip Page. Click Here to read all of the blog entries as well as information about the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, the American Refugee Committee & how to help.

Today I woke up to the sounds of exotic birds chirping in Entebbe, the capital city of Uganda. I peeked out my window and saw a monkey scatter his way along the road in the early morning light. Later I was told that I was lucky to see one - they usually only come out at night.

A fellow American Refugee Committee traveler named Jon and I walked across the street to Lake Victoria. It is the largest inland lake in Africa. The water was very still and reflected the colors of the morning sky. It reminded me of our beloved Great Lakes back home. Sadly there are signs stating that you cannot swim in the lake. It has been polluted by surrounding factories. What torture it must be in the heat and look at this forbidden water.

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After a breakfast of mangoes, salted avocado, eggs and coffee, we gathered up as a group of 7 and loaded into a van. It was time to make the 5 hour drive to Mbarara.

Even though we had just completed nearly 24 hours straight of travel, I welcomed the thought of a long drive. I was catching my first glimpses of Uganda in the light and I wanted to see as much as I could!

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The drive was very surreal. Lack of sleep plus scenes straight out of a Nat Geo magazine had me constantly wondering if this was real life. Women wearing colorful dresses balancing baskets on their heads, children happily playing shoeless in the dirt, crazy moto drivers flying by with loads twice the size of themselves. Goats everywhere. Brightly colored doors with litter strewn about. Palm trees and policemen. Fields of corn and other crops. And water canisters piled up on every empty space available.

It was nice to see a bit of the capital and some of the rural towns today! Everywhere we went people were very outgoing and welcoming. I felt totally safe.

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We had a great time stopping at the equator for lunch. They had a little demonstration set up where you could watch water go down a drain and rotate in different directions depending on which side of the equator you were on.

We are almost to Mbarara now where we will gather as a group tonight, have dinner and prepare for our first day at the Nakivale Refugee Settlement tomorrow.

As I have mentioned before, I am traveling with the American Refugee Committee. There are several staff members in my group. I am also traveling with a few other photographers and social media folk. We will be staying in a hotel in the town of Mbarara and driving down a dirt road for an hour each day to reach the Nakivale Refugee Settlement.

I am excited to share with you the sights and stories of the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in the next few days. It is an area that most foreigners are not allowed to visit. 

 And we get to do so much more than just visit! We get to meet the people, learn their stories and run a 5k with them! 

Thanks for taking the time to follow along on my travels! 

❤️Jill  

A 5k Like No Other!

This Blog Entry is a part of my Uganda Trip Page. Click Here to read all of the blog entries as well as information about the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, the American Refugee Committee & how to help.

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I've run a lot of races.  Some had more meaning than others... As a family we run a costumed 5k every year for Halloween...  Goldie and the three bears, Super Mario Kart family, skunk family, Santa with Elf and Jovie, etc. That's a pretty monumental day in our home. 

I once ran a half marathon with a big sign pinned to my back dedicating my run to my recently-passed grandfather with his photo. I thought of Grandpa Cy, the family patriarch, the entire way. I'll never forget that one either.

I have a feeling this 5k I am about to witness in Uganda will also be at the top of this list.  

Refugees living in the Nakivale settlement hope to raise money for their hobbies & interests... a women's basketball team is running the 5k for first aid kits, acrobats are running for mats and juggling equipment, and school teachers are running for basic sports equipment. There are more than 40 teams signed up to run. They're also organizing the race.

I love that they're running to raise money for their passions... because really, once you have the major necessities like shelter, water, etc - isn't that what life is really about? The enjoyment of it. Making your day worth something to you. Making happy memories with those you love.

This is a group of people who have escaped nightmares like war, persecution, rape, etc. What a testiment to the strength of the human spirit.. to see they have again found their passions in arts, music, soccer, basketball, etc. 

I am honored to be a part of it and help them share their stories! 

You can read about the various teams and donate to the ones that you'd like to support here:

Uganda: A Big Decision

This Blog Entry is a part of my Uganda Trip Page. Click Here to read all of the blog entries as well as information about the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, the American Refugee Committee & how to help.   

A little over a month ago I received an email from a woman I knew at the American Refugee Committee (ARC) asking me if I would be interested in traveling with them to Uganda mid-June to work as their photographer & story-teller. June 20th is World Refugee Day and some of the 100,000 inhabitants of the Nakivale Refugee Settlement will be running a 5k race there.  

It took me a long time to say yes.

I was scared at the thought of leaving my husband & young sons and traveling to the other side of the world... especially considering the history of political unrest in central Africa. I also had a very tight calendar including a wedding to shoot back in America a few days after the 5k!

Nevertheless, everything seemed to fall into place.. My husband, who has to suffer through all of my business decisions, was supportive and encouraging. ARC assured me they could have me on a flight scheduled to return in time to shoot the wedding. The bride of the wedding encouraged me to go and we hired a second-shooter who will also be a back-up in the event of missed/delayed flights.

I also spoke with my friend Brad Johnson who is a respected local businessman. He is the person who originally introduced me to ARC and has previously traveled with them. He spoke very highly of the organization and encouraged me to not miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

Friends and family volunteered to help watch the boys and take them to their various camps while I traveled... 

So here we are, one week until GO-time! I have visited the health clinic and gotten my 6 shots. I have made sure my passport and paperwork are up to date. I've gotten care for my boys all lined up.

This is trivial but I am still trying to wrap my brain around what sort of clothes to bring! I was told people dress-up more there. Skirts below knees, collared shirts..  definitely not my usual tank tops and yoga tights.. but I cannot justify (in my head) going out and buying nice clothes when I know that the people I am about to meet would have much better uses for that money! 

I am not nervous or scared anymore. Once I made the decision to go, I felt a calm come over me. Now I am just excited. 

I truly feel that fate has brought me to this point.

I have worked so hard at my photography and building my audience for the past 4 years. I know I have the skills to shoot the refugees and the audience to share their story.

I have also learned how good it feels to conquer my fears! In the past few years I have accepted & successfully completed photography jobs that were way over my head. I have gone on numerous adrenaline-producing adventures like hot air balloon rides, scuba dives and helicopter rides.

Every time I have taken on a fear, I have been rewarded with joy, a true sense of accomplishment and a growth in confidence and skill.     

It is time to make use of these experiences and do something good!

From the minute I was asked to go to Uganda I felt a change. I suddenly felt so small driving in my car down the same road I have driven nearly every day, in route to take Arlo to his beloved preschool at a small Lutheran church in a suburb... There is a big world out there.. And people I may be able to help. And a path laid out for me to do so!