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We recently sent one of our talented East Africa-based photographers, Kevin Ouma, to rural Uganda to capture the valuable work of faith-based charity World Renew
Originally from Kenya, Kevin has over a decade of experience in humanitarian photography under his belt, earning him an impressive legacy with high profile development-focused clients such as CARE International and Oxfam. A quick glimpse at the expressions on the faces found in his striking images is enough to demonstrate his skill at building rapport with his subjects. His preference for humanitarian photojournalism and film production stems from an alignment of his own values and his curiosity for learning people’s personal stories. Since World Renew’s slogan for a recent campaign was ‘Changing the Story’, Kevin was the perfect candidate to fulfil the brief of documenting positive changes in beneficiaries’ lives.
So what goes on ‘behind the images’? To enhance your enjoyment of his work, we decided to find out what it’s like to be on the ground during a humanitarian photography shoot and learn directly from Kevin about how he experienced the stories behind his film footage and photos.
Q: What were the main challenges of this assignment?
This was my first time venturing into remote and rural parts of Uganda, and when working in new surroundings it’s natural for there to be a question at the back of one’s mind about how trying to form a connection with the people will work out. I’m happy to say that it was nothing but a positive experience; the team at World Renew helped to make my three-day trip incredibly easy.
The Kaberamaido region of Uganda has been neglected for a long time, so I also had to prepare myself emotionally for the possibility of heart-wrenching scenarios. In all the humanitarian photography and videography that we do at Robin Wyatt Vision, conveying people’s dignity is paramount. Those whose stories we’ve been asked to tell are always doing the best they can in their circumstances. I had to consider how best to strike a balance between showing the contexts of their situations, the impact of World Renew’s projects and people’s individual capabilities.
One of Kevin’s images of Catherine, a beneficiary of a programme run by World Renew’s partner, the Kaberamaido Mission Development Program, who now restricts herself to one sexual partner in order to protect herself from HIV.
Q: Which is your favourite image from this assignment and why?
A: This is Peter Ongem with his wife, Josephine. Of the all people I met in Uganda, it was with Peter that I connected the best. I could tell he really appreciated that I had come a long way to get know him.
Peter shows his affection for his wife Josephine, which is quite unusual in a public setting.
Peter used to have multiple sexual partners, but the programme of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) helped him and other men in the village through its ‘accountability meetings’, encouraging faithfulness in marriage to prevent the potential spread of HIV. The meetings had obviously really paid off, because his relationship with his wife Josephine gave me a sense that they were experiencing something fresh and new: they were very affectionate with each other in public, which I have found to be quite unusual for African couples. I really wanted to capture their renewed bond.
Watch Peter Ongem’s story of change here.
Q: Which was the toughest story to capture and why?
Without a doubt, it was Florence’s story. I felt saddened by the challenges she’d faced, particularly that she’d been so disempowered for so much of her life. When I heard that she was 39, I was shocked! She looked so much older, and a wave of sympathy came over me as I realised how hard life must have been.
Nevertheless, I could still see great hope. Florence has joined a literacy programme supported by World Renew, through which she’s learned to read and write. As I connected with her, it really struck me how clearly education ushers forth empowerment, and I sought to depict this as I wove her story together. As I look back, it makes me smile to think how she’s leaving behind the days when she was unable to read instructions on medication, check she’d been given the right change in shops and safeguard herself against being taken advantage of in so many other ways.
Since starting adult education, Florence has enjoyed studying alongside her children at home. Sometimes she is even able to assist them with their homework.
Florence is learning to do so many new things for herself. Seeing her helping her kids with their homework was something I found particularly moving, and it’s obviously a big deal to her as well. I asked her to assist them with a few sentences, and managed to get some great shots of her quietly concentrating on this task. I think the traditional singing I chose to use as a soundtrack for my video story gives a pleasing mix of melancholic and uplifting tones to portray this momentous change.
Watch Florence's story for yourself by clicking the play button above.
Q: How did you work alongside World Renew’s team to get the best shots?
The organisation’s Head of Digital Communications, Christina de Jong, came down from Canada to accompany me to the field, along with several staff members from PAG Kaberamaido who introduced me to their beneficiaries and helped them feel sure that I was a trustworthy, genuine partner. I can see that World Renew devise their programmes to fill needs they’ve identified in communities. There is no top-down approach: everyone works together and can be as involved as they want. For example, Christina was keen to engage me in the creative thinking process and showed confidence in my work. So I was given quite a lot of freedom for this project.
I have to say that seeing the smiling faces of real people, whose lives have been improved through these programmes, was just fantastic. I’m hopeful that the material I captured will encourage more people to support World Renew’s efforts around the world, and – if so – that’ll be ‘mission accomplished’ for us!
Kevin recording children singing for one of his videos.