Photo by Brenda Berry

Photo by Brenda Berry

Life is funny sometimes. I thought I had the entire month of March to enjoy in Vermont but turns out I will start the month in Kenya and spend the middle of the month in Uganda. I bet you are thinking that I am going to be on a photo safari photographing elephants and zebras and lions and then the gorillas in the mountains of the Rift Valley. That would be nice but that is not why I am going.

I have been asked to take pictures and find words to support the work of an international NGO trying to stop human trafficking. NewCourse, in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, believes that, in the case of Uganda,  years of civil war, ethnic cleansing and aggressive religious intolerance from both external and internal miscreants has lead to severe environmental degradation. This in turn causes a primarily agrarian-based economy to collapse which in turns leads to hopelessness and despair for families who were once proudly working and sustaining themselves.

Evidence has now shown that when faced with this kind of economic hopelessness mothers (the fathers have usually left to try to find work else where) will in an act of desperation agree to send off their oldest children with a ‘trusted friend’ to ‘work’ in a city unknowing that the ‘work’ is often sexual or domestic slavery and the city may be a continent away.  These young preteen and early teenage girls will be beaten, threatened, raped, forced to take drugs and brutalized until they either killed, psychologically and emotionally damaged or just given up as no good anymore and thrown out in to the street. NewCourse is trying to break this chain of causation and give hope back to these families.

So what have I been asked to do? I will try to get pictures of and find the words to describe the environmental degradation and the desperate lives lead by the poor farming families of northern Uganda. In addition, I will try to somehow get images representing human trafficking. Most of the trafficking is not done by force or in the dark of night, it is done openly with consent and with deception but none of it happens in front of a camera. I have to figure out how to photograph and write to show the horrors of trafficking without actually showing the trafficking. I’m not really sure how I am going to do this. I do plan to keep blogging while I am on this trip so keep an eye here for further news and images.

I have always thought of myself and introduced myself professionally as a teller of stories. Tell stories is what I do. I’ve told funny stories, sad stories, meaningful stories, silly stories, owl stories, farm stories, teaching stories, lobster stories, Vermont stories, all stories.   This story though, may be the greatest story I will ever tell.