In July 2014 our photographer Adam Dickens travelled to Northern Uganda to meet our truly inspiring female South Sudanese entrepreneurs living there. The trip had already been postponed for several months as we were waiting for the civil unrest to settle in South Sudan. That time never came and Adam travelled to Northern Uganda where a large community of South Sudanese Deki entrepreneurs live in exile for the same reason we changed Adam’s original travel plans – it’s not safe in South Sudan. He met Alice, the Director of our field partner Hope Ofiriha in Palabek, and the journey began – visiting and documenting the lives of hundreds of incredibly inspiring women who are all Deki entrepreneurs.
How did this trip come about?
I met Vashti Seth, Founder of Deki at an event I was running for another charity in Bristol about 3 years ago, and we’ve been waiting until now for a project to come along that I could visit.
How did you end up doing photography for good causes in the developing world and where else have these projects taken you?
I had been working for a small UK charity since 2006 doing website and print design. The charity raise funds for a school in Zambia, and in 2009 an opportunity came up to visit the school, to spend 4 days photographing the students with the aim being to hold a gallery event back in the UK. So I flew out to Africa for the first time in my life, and the photos I took helped the charity raise, in one evening, over £45,000.
I’ve since been on a further 17 trips, for a total of 7 charities, visiting and documenting projects in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, India and Sri Lanka. I’ve flown the equivalent of 8 times round the world and taken over 100,000 photos on location. I develop those images into a series of photographs and films that capture the reality of the people’s lives. These are then exhibited and used in the media to increase awareness of the charity and critically, raise funds.
The main focus of the charities I’ve supported has been education, whether it is schools projects, building village banks or educating people in how to set up businesses and manage their money, with an emphasis on microfinance organisations.
What were your first impressions of North Uganda?
I’ve been to Uganda on a number of occasions now – visiting projects on the Rwanda border and the capital Kampala, and way over to the east, but I found the north to be much more rural and remote. I felt much more welcomed and accepted in the North, in fact anywhere away from the big cities like the capital Kampala.
Tell us your most memorable encounter during the trip.
Probably meeting the women in the market at Palabek Kal, and in particular Akena William, one of the group leaders, who is 83 and doesn’t have enough to live on and had to flee from South Sudan with her family, but is grateful for what little she does have.
What’s the best thing about Deki microfinance?
The fact that the money can be recycled – the original loan, once paid back, is then used to fund another business, and this cycle continues indefinitely. So, with a relatively small amount of money you can change the lives of many people, which I think is brilliant.
What was your most joyful moment?
There were many, but I would probably have to say the singing and dancing that greeted me in Palabek Kal, in North Uganda. It is so humbling to have 60 women showing their appreciation that I had visited them. Deki is the only NGO working in that particular town, which is why our work is so vital to them. In particular, this lady (pictured) left a lasting impression, she was one of the elders of the village and was keen to sing to me personally!
In your opinion what is the one thing that would improve the lives of the women in the community you visited in north Uganda?
More financial investment from NGOs like Deki. These loans are changing lives and freeing people from poverty, improving standards of living for the clients and their families, and nowhere was more evident than in the marketplace where around 45 out of the 70 businesses were due to be funded by Deki loans.
What surprised you most about the work Deki does in this region?
It wasn’t really a surprise, more a reality I was already aware of and is the same for other microfinance organisations I work for – the fact that nearly all clients are women. It is the women that are working hard to earn money to pay for school fees and feed their families, and a lot of the men are happy to let their women work and not work themselves. It is frustrating but that’s the culture.
What’s your favourite photo from this trip and why?
This is one of my favourite photos from the trip. These ladies are in Palabek, Northern Uganda, and a lot of them have taken out Deki loans. This singing and dancing was their way of showing their appreciation and was definitely one of the moments I shall remember from the trip.
What were the biggest challenges in photographing on that trip/part of the world?
There were a few things I found challenging – the distance between places is very far, so it is common to drive 12 hours between towns. You can fly, which is also safer but this costs a lot more than driving. The roads in Northern Uganda are old, full of potholes and hazardous to drive on in the wet, and particularly at night, which is not advisable.
Usually I find it a challenge to take photos in public places such as markets, as people are naturally wary of photographers, and I don’t exactly fit in with a large SLR! However, on this trip I had the freedom to photograph who I wanted because I was there as a Deki representative and we are changing lives with the loans we are providing.
Will you be doing more photography for Deki?
I will definitely be doing more trips for Deki, there are so many strong client stories in countries such as Ghana and Malawi, and there’s a real need for strong photography to re-enforce these stories visually, but a lack of funds to pay for my trips.
In partnership with a small crowdfunding platform called Goodfruit, I am running a campaign that aims to raise £8,000 to help fund four trips for four charities in 2015. Deki is one of the partner charities that a successful campaign will benefit.
I donate my time and expertise so the funding covers my flights, accommodation, travel, visas and the expenses incurred creating the images.
If you would like to help me turn Deki’s amazing stories into pictures that will raise more money to make more of a difference, please take a look at the campaign and consider giving. It is a time limited campaign, finishing on 17 November, and I have to raise the full amount, anything less and I won’t receive any of the money pledged, and none of the trips will happen.
There are some fantastic gifts on offer for the supporters – go to Goodfruit page to find out more.