In June of 2013 I volunteered with the ECOLIFE® Foundation to facilitate an educational and community service experience in Uganda for twenty YPO (Young President’s Organization) members and their 20 adult children.
We went to Mukongoro, a village near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, to provide fuel efficient wood-burning stoves to the first three Batwa and Bakiga families with the ultimate goal of providing a stove to each family in these communities in the coming years. The YPO group has come to learn about the issues and do community service work with these families. As well as helping to facilitate this large group, I was shooting to document the stove building process and the reactions of the locals for ECOLIFE’s website and their marketing materials.
The ancient jungle, now known as the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Southern Uganda, was home to the Batwa, an indigenous, short-statured “pygmy” people for 60,000 years. The Batwa survived by hunting small game and gathering plants and fruit in the rain forest. In 1992 their lives were irrevocably changed. In an effort to protect the remaining mountain gorillas and the rich biodiversity of the forest, The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became a national park and World Heritage site. The Batwa were evicted from the park becoming “conservation refugees” – landless peasants living as squatters on land around the forest. They are now some of the most severely marginalized people in the world, with an average life expectancy of less than 30 years.
The entire village wanted to see what was going on and gathered and watched outside of the home where the first stove was being built. Mothers carrying infants clustered, teenagers hung out, others were in small groups, and everywhere the children played all around them. The festive dress of the Maasai made a beautiful contribution to the local attire. It was a festive day.
In a procession, school children from the near-by Nina Waits Mukongoro Primary School carried the bricks down from the road in buckets. During the stove building many of the locals joined in with the visitors to mix the mortar with their hands or climb the roof to mount the exhaust pipe. It was quite a scene with the 45 visitors and about as many curious locals hanging around talking and helping. Villagers kept coming up to us asking when they could get their stoves too.
I wished I had a wider lens as the kitchen where the stove was being built is really small and it was crammed with helpers so I wandered out to mix with the people. I asked to take photographs of the husband and wife in whose home we were installing the stove. They also posed with the installation team leader, a Maasai, providing a nice contrast of one of the tallest and one of the shortest peoples in the world. I noticed a young woman standing alone in a doorway. I was able to photograph her and later photographed her with the wife of the family. I thought she was beautiful. This is the woman with the scar on her forehead. Her name is Sarah and she is married. I regret not learning how she got this scar.