It’s been less than 12 months since my last trip to Uganda, and I find myself jarring along in a Land Cruiser, camera in hand, headed through the northern town of Gulu with a small team. 15 days into this film trip and it’s been an awakening. This is my third trip to the north, yet Gulu still unsettles me. Less than 10 years ago this hot dusty town was the staging ground for some of the most horrific rebel fighting on the planet, a nightmare carried out by children who’d been abducted, brainwashed, and forced to kill. It’s the darkest town I’ve ever experienced, the only light coming from the headlamps of our Cruiser. People seem to appear out of the dark, slipping in and out of the cast of our headlights.
It was here, just three years ago, that my team and I unknowingly interrupted the start of a tribal war when we randomly stepped into the village to pick up orphaned twins. The night before, a woman had been brutally killed with a machete after she had denied her husband. The murdered wife’s tribe had then declared war on the husband’s tribe. On our way out we passed the gathering fighters, armed with primitive weapons and machetes. To this day I don’t know what happened after we left there.
Uganda is dark in more ways than the lack of physical light things like infrastructure give, but there is a light shining brighter every year through the Uganda Orphans Fund. I came to know UOF founder Duncan Hill of Bozeman, Montana five years ago. He started the orphanage about 8 years ago after his first trip to Uganda, and first experience of what he calls the “Orphan Condition.” He’s become a dear friend and mentor, and has tasked me to show the world what UOF does here through video and photography. The progress made in these rescued kids has been incredibly moving. The orphanage has become home to a mix of kids: former child soldiers of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), child mothers, abandoned street kids, young ones orphaned by AIDS. There are two million orphans in Uganda — in a country the size of Oregon — and they share a common story, though the details of each are incredibly specific. However, love has filled the Kasozi Village, which is an orphanage and school built from scratch by the UOF that together house over 200 kids, and has crushed the differences, horrors, and abandonment each of these children have been through. It’s an incredible transformation to see, and has the potency to make a grown man weep.
Our current trip to Gulu allows us to meet up with friends working in the far northern town of Kitkum, just an hour drive from southern Sudan. It’s the edge of Africa’s wild west and there’s no shortage of UN personnel, NGO’s, and people extending everything they have to make a difference in a forgotten place. Their approach is community based, which often involves orphan leaders, and teaching the means to economic growth, something that hasn’t been present in almost 35 years. They fear that the northern bounds of Uganda are still on the brink of further war and years of hardship if things don’t turn around.
Their trip has been a success, and through them I’ve learned of my next trip to Uganda. About six months from now, a group of young boys, known as the Lost Boys of Juba, will be rescued from Southern Sudan. Juba is where they were left after the LRA disbanded. Violently abducted from their homes, forced to be the murderers of their own villages, and then left on their own, the 12 or so Lost Boys have stuck together, living on the streets. Now, a new orphan village is being prepped for them in Uganda, their native country. After the final preparations are made these 12 will be the first brought into this new home. It’s a chance to start over. A home with food, clean water, education, and love. I truly look forward to being there that day, to document and show the world what God and love can do for the weak and the abandoned. As of now the trip has been a huge success, and a reminder to me of how blessed we are here in America despite our own current hardships. You never know in this profession where your work will take you.
To learn more about the Uganda Orphans Fund, please visit their website; ugandaorphansfund.com