Disclaimer: after reading this article you will most definitely feel inadequate, but you’ll also be inspired to do more, and to do better.
Last year, Curtin University’s Marcus Wong—then 18 years old—came across a children’s home in Uganda that was looking for a volunteer photographer, filmmaker, and graphic designer. Rafiki Africa Ministries, the children’s home, was looking for someone to help them get the word out about their story, their vision and their mission to help children in need. After reading a bit about the role and the home, Marcus decided to book flights, get his vaccinations, and take a leap of faith.
Marcus arrived at the children’s home in the afternoon right in the middle of a dance off.
“There were African drums and they were all in a circle and they would call out someone’s name like ‘Ruth!’, and then Ruth would jump in and have her little solo dance and then she jumps back out.
“So, my first introduction to them was doing a dance. It was just 20 kids watching you dance, you’d never met them before and they were all just so happy. You’re not filled with a sense of like ‘oh, man, these kids have been abandoned and this is really depressing,’ instead you see that they feel so much joy because they’re with each other and they’re cared for really well.”
Within the first hour he was helping bathe the kids, who were aged between a few months to 12 years old.
There were about 20 kids at the home while Marcus was there. Some of the kids were found abandoned and brought to the police station and then to the home. Some kids were found by the home’s staff, and in some cases the child had just gone for a walkabout and gotten lost and were looked after by the home until the parents could be reconnected with the child. The home’s main endeavour is to get the child back with their family, and this process can sometimes take years. Unlike other children’s homes, here there is a strong emphasis on the family unit and holistically caring for the child. Where the parents have been identified but cannot take responsibility for the child because of other pressures, the staff persevere with the parents to stabilise them in terms of getting them an education and a job. In some cases, this process has taken up to five years.
During his time at the children’s home, Marcus saw a few kids go through the resettlement with their parents. It starts with the child spending one day with the parents, then progressing slowly to weeks and months until, finally, both parties feel comfortable as a family.Reflections:
We’ve all seen the ads on TV that contribute towards our perception of life in Africa. We’ve been shocked and horrified to see little kids walking to get dirty drinking water while they’re living in mud huts. Before going into this experience, Marcus had anticipated this, but what he didn’t expect was how common and widespread it is there.
“What was shocking was the normality of poverty to the people in Uganda. When you see it there, and then you see it again and again so much and half the population is living like this, it’s normal in a sense and I suppose that’s what was shocking.” A lot of the moments, places and people captured in the photos are a part of the ordinary for the people there, but they’re simultaneously concerning for us.
Marcus observed that as a result of how hard everyone had it, there was a real lack of empathy among members of the community:
“Here [in Perth], if something terrible happened to me, I would have my friends, my family and people from the community. In Uganda, something terrible happens—you lose your spouse, your child, your job—no one cares because they’re going through their own struggles.”
Amidst everything, each morning was filled with children’s laughter. Photos of children in the home, playing together, filled with joy, encapsulate the essence of their childhood.
“It’s always about a story. Every photo has a story behind it. I could get technical and go into the lenses but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about connecting with the humanness behind every photo. It’s about photographing people in their environment with a certain emotion and connecting those things together”.
On reflecting on his time at the children’s home, Marcus was able to focus on what he wants to implement once he returned home. His main focus is to get more people to care through his storytelling, which encompasses film and photography. Rather than guilt-tripping people into donating money, Marcus hopes to move people through his storytelling. “I think guilt will get people to give once whereas love gets people to devote their lives to helping other people.”Voices Unheard:
On May 31, at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Marcus will be taking us along to the children’s home to experience and learn from his time there—think a TED talk but with an unreal accompaniment of photos and film. Not everyone can say they volunteered three months out of their uni break on the other side of the world to help where help was needed. Voices Unheard is an opportunity to experience Marcus’ three months in Africa and witness his story entwined with the stories of the 20 children in Rafiki and the forty who have been there before. All proceeds Marcus raises through the exhibition will go directly towards the care of the children at Rafiki.
Marcus wants to return to Uganda in 2020 to visit the new children’s home the charity is currently working on, but he’s missing the kids like crazy.
“The last three weeks, every night I’ve been dreaming about the home and being there. My brain is in a completely different space, it clearly wants to go back.”
The event details for Voices Unheard can be found here.