Archive for the ‘Documentary Photography’ Category

Paperless: Living in Limbo   Leave a comment

A defining practice of Western governments is to construct groups of outsiders as Other to restrict immigration.

In Norway one such group – which has no ethnic or religious boundaries – defined as Other are paperless immigrants who have lost their asylum status. Individuals who make up this group remain in the country illegally after the government twice ruled against their asylum applications; the problem for many of them is that given the situations they fled it’s not possible or is dangerous to return to their homelands.



Najah Alnasrawi, 46, an Iraqi asylum seeker, waits for the brother of a friend to drive her to a location where she has some of her belongings stored.


From 2000 until 2010 such refugees openly lived and worked in Norway. However, in 2010 regulations were changed which made it illegal for twice rejected asylum seekers to remain in Norway. Increasingly, because of nationalism in Europe, and North America, governments are unwilling to deal with challenges posed by asylum seekers. In Norway this is evident by its policy of doing less for asylum seekers to establish that the country is not a good place to come. Asylum seekers as Other are a liability, a threat, don’t belong.

Najah Alnasrawi, a 46-year old Iraqi, arrived in Norway in October 2015 and received her second rejection for asylum two years later. Consequently, she like other twice rejected asylum seekers adopted a nomadic lifestyle to avoid arrest, deportation or becoming a burden to friends. She lived for several days at a time (a week or two if lucky) at the homes of friends she made while assigned to Norwegian refugee camps; these are friends who received asylum. “I never remain at one residence too long for fear of wearing out my welcome,” said Najah. While she had an assigned room at a refugee camp, she – like others in her situation – did not sleep there for fear the police would show up and arrest her. An official at a camp confirmed it isn’t unusual for the police to show up looking for someone who immigration authorities have decided it’s time to leave.



Najah gathers her belongings from behind the sofa while chatting with Majda Awad, 62, left, a Palestinian from Turkey and Hafida Bazi, 30, from Morocco; the three friends met at a refugee camp in Norway – only Majda has been granted asylum. Najah, since her second rejection (in October) for asylum in Norway, has taken on a nomadic lifestyle; she lives for several days – a week or two if she’s lucky – at a time with friends she made at refugee camps. Here she’s at the apartment of Majda, who permits her to sleep on the sofa, where she stores her belongings on its side and underside. Majda has family visiting for the holidays from Sweden and told Najah that she needs the space.


Officially it is not known how many rejected asylum seekers live in Norway. A representative with People in Limbo, a Norwegian NGO that works on behalf of rejected asylum seekers, indicated their numbers were estimated to be in the thousands and difficult to determine because of the underground existence of such people. Rejected asylum seekers are also referred to as “paperless” – lacking residence or work permits.



Najah an Iraqi asylum seeker, moves her belongings into the home of a friend for another temporary stay; the microwave was given to her by a concerned and supportive friend. Before her second asylum rejection Najah’s room, at a refugee camp, contained several household items. However, given her nomadic lifestyle she distributed everything to friends – on this day she gave away the microwave.


The paperless have no opportunity to integrate into Norwegian society for fear of being caught, so are denied access to jobs and health care. Najah interacted almost entirely with people from Arabic countries – people who provided a sense of community as well as a place to stay. Interestingly, she received a small monthly stipend from the Norwegian government as long as she remained in the asylum seeker system; she did so by signing a register at her assigned refugee camp once a month.



Najah attends a party with friends from several Arabic countries. Despite her inability to safely socialize outside the Arabic community, Najah makes the most of her situation by performing in a local theater and volunteering at cultural and pro-immigrant events that are sponsored by non-governmental organizations.



Protesters (Norwegians and rejected asylum seekers) gather outside the Parliament to demand the Norwegian government address the needs of refugees who live paperless (lacking a residence permit that entitles them to be in Norway); without a permit asylum seekers can neither work nor access health care.



Haudar Hammodi, 45, center, a twice rejected asylum seeker from Iraq, and other protesters gather outside the parliament to demand the Norwegian government address the needs of refugees who live paperless. Haudar has lived paperless in Norway since 2008.


According to Najah, the Norwegian government viewed her as having fled a problematic domestic situation (which she admits to) and did not believe her story. She told immigration officials that she’d been in an abusive 20-year marriage, and after demanding a divorce the abuse became unbearable with her ex-husband claiming she’d bought shame to his name. She stated that the physical beatings and threats were such that she took a one-year leave of absence from work to avoid going outside. Eventually after fleeing to Turkey, she was forced to again flee (February 2015) because its largely Muslim population viewed her as not being respectable because she left her husband. A family member who traveled illegally to Europe convinced Najah to do the same. However, she discovered that contrary to what she’d heard Norway was not a favorable environment for asylum seekers. Its center-right government won a historic re-election during September 2017. It became the first right-wing administration to gain two full terms; it’s the most right-wing elected administration in Norway’s history and has been advocating both anti-immigration rhetoric and policies. Given the unwelcoming nature of the government twice rejected asylum seekers’ lives are filled with fear and uncertainty. Najah longed for the financial security and professional stimulation she enjoyed in Iraq as a journalist. As a mother of four she missed her children – ages 8, 18, 22 and 24; two are studying on scholarships in Hong Kong and Canada. A third is a dentist in Iraq.



With knowledge that the government is closing the Hurdal Refugee Camp, Najah returned to her room to begin removing some much needed items. As a twice rejected asylum seeker she – like others in her situation – does not sleep at the camp for fear of arrest and deportation.



Najah keeps photographs of her children and a handmade sign with the letters FYMK (which stands for the first initial of her children’s names – Forqan, 24, Yaqeen, 22, Mohammad, 18, and Karkash, 8) in her room at the Hurdal Refugee Camp.


While contemplating the mess her life had become Najah recounted a conversation she had with an immigration official: “I’m an educated woman who was working on a Masters in psychological counseling in Iraq. I had a good job. Why am I here crying everyday for my daughter (8-years old) who is in Iraq. You’ll give me money to return ($2,000 USD plus a paid flight). My ex-husband wants to kill me. I can’t return yet you tell me to return. I’m not lying. I told the truth. Here in Norway I have no job, no family and no money – I miss my daughter. You think I prefer to be in Norway. Well, then I’m crazy since I don’t have a reason to stay. Why am I here? You think I like this weather?”



Najah waits at a bus stop, near Hurdal Refugee Camp, along with two asylum seeker friends from Afghanistan – both have been twice rejected. The three arrived and met at a Norwegian refugee camp in October 2015. The younger of the Afghans (left) is 18-years old. He’s planning to “escape” Norway and seek asylum elsewhere.


She considered leaving but said it was not feasible. “Some people had told me that Norway is better for asylum, but I’m thinking about leaving. Many other rejected people have done so but it’s difficult, very hard. Maybe it’s easier without friends, without money if you’re a man. I’m a woman. If I go I’m lost again,” she stated. “I don’t want to be so vulnerable again. I’m scared. It’s difficult for me to trust anyone,” she said referring to the ordeal she endured traveling from Turkey to Norway. From the outset the journey was dangerous she explained: in Turkey a small rubber boat, carrying 30 to 50 refugees, took on water and began to sink; they were headed for a small island off mainland Greece. They quickly returned to shore and several hours later boarded another small rubber boat. She would travel through seven additional countries before arriving in Norway.

Najah’s options for going elsewhere were bad because Norway seized her passport. A common practice with many European countries is to retain the passports of asylum seekers to prevent them from “asylum shopping” (being rejected one place and going to another).



Najah listens as an elderly Iraqi man (as she described him), with Norwegian citizenship, offers her a solution to her status as a paperless person: “Marry me”. He has a pacemaker and needs a caretaker. At this hastily arranged meeting in a cafe he assures her, in front of five of his Arabic friends, that theirs would be a friends only relationship based on her having a permanent place to live and being his caretaker – no touching, intimacy or sex. She refused because as a rejected asylum seeker she’s not eligible to marry in Norway.



Najah views the landscape outside her window as Jocelyn Houghton, an official at the Dikemark Refugee Camp responsible for an information program, stands nearby.



Dikemark is a former psychiatric hospital which once held 800 patients in a complex of 20 buildings; a section of it is used to house asylum seekers.



Najah breaks down in tears after settling into her room at Dikemark Refugee Camp. She was not happy with the overall state of the facility, particularly the shared bathroom and kitchen. “This is the fourth refugee camp I’ve been moved to since I arrived in Norway (October 2015); I want to be treated like a human being; it’s unfair,” stated Najah. Like many other twice rejected asylum seekers, she will not stay at the camp. To do so invites arrest from the police who occasionally go to camps to remove – for deportation – twice rejected asylum seekers. She has a roommate (they haven’t met) who’d already checked into the room but who also sleeps elsewhere.



After securing most of her belongings in her room at the the Dikemark Refugee Camp, Najah  tearfully walks to a bus station to return to Oslo. There she will stay with a friend.



Najah reviews her asylum case with lawyer Ahmad Taha, a Norwegian born Iraqi; on this occasion she signed with him to represent her.



After a long day spent traveling to and from the Hurdal Refugee Camp, Najah falls asleep on the train to Oslo.


On Friday, 6 April 2018, at 4:00 a.m., two police officers used a key to enter Najah’s room, at a refugee camp, turned on the light and announced, “you’re under arrest.”

Two weeks before the arrest she lost her room at the Dikemark Refugee Camp, along with a monthly stipend from the government, because of her refusal to sleep at the camp. Shortly thereafter she was given a room at a different camp where the arrest took place three days after she moved in. Twenty-four hours after her capture she was placed on a flight to Iraq. However during a stopover in the Netherlands it was discovered that her paperwork wasn’t adequate to continue the journey, so she was returned to Trandum Detention Centre in Norway.

During the first five days of incarceration Najah was under the influence of valium, which was provided by a doctor at Trandum. The effects were evident as her speech was painfully slow and her facial appearance drowsy. After the shock of her arrest wore off she was able to decline use of the drug, and with a clear head reflect upon the uncertainty that had characterized 2-1/2 years of life in Norway: “It has been a hopeful yet painful experience. A return to Iraq means embracing – against my will – an environment that’s familiar, unwanted and dangerous.” Najah is now in Iraq.




Trandum where Najah was held before being deported.



Forty-eight hours after being arrested Najah (under the influence of valium) wearily shakes her head side-to-side in frustration inside the Trandum reception area.

Additional photos from Paperless: Living in Limbo can be viewed at


Other (continued)   1 comment

The following photographs represent a continuation of the previous post “Other,” a series of images that represent simple moments in the lives of women, children and men who are often narrowly defined:



Lima, Peru – Peruvians position themselves to view the procession of Senor de los Milagros.



Mock State Burial

Nairobi, Kenya – Kenyan activists gathered at Uhuru Park’s Freedom Corner for a march to the parliament building, where they held a mock state burial and burnt 221 caskets, which represented each member of parliament. The mock burial symbolized the public’s rejection of hefty perks that the members of parliament were demanding.


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

Lapul – Ocwida village (Pader district), Uganda – Nodding Syndrome patient, John Kitanya, 16, waits outside for his name to be called at the Lapul – Ocwida Health Centre II.



Bor County (Kondai Village – Makuach Payam), South Sudan – Wal Garang Dhiek, 42, (background) uses a stick embedded with a stone to keep birds from feasting on his sorghum field, as his family relax (left-to-right: his mother Nyaroor Kok Ajok, 70, wife Ayen Nhial Piel, 25, holding their son Nhial Wal Garang, 7-months, a young neighbor and his son Bil Wal Adhik, 5).



Nairobi, Kenya – Pedestrians in the city center.


Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Nairobi, Kenya –  A young boy waits for friends in the Mathare slums.



Nyakahama Village (Katoosa Parish), Uganda – After placing a pot of food under a flame, Rose Mbabazi, 20, sits quietly outside her kitchen with her children and a neighbor.



Tocana, Bolivia – A worn and faded hand-drawing, created by Dayana Rene Ballivian, 9, hangs outside her family’s home reads: “My mother is negro, my father is negro and so am I. I am proud.” In 2009, Afro-Bolivians won a moral victory when the Bolivian government – which had always denied their existence – formally acknowledged them.



Ntarama Sector, Bugesera District, Rwanda – Students read during class at Nyirarukobwa Primary School.


Early Childhood Development In Nairobi

Nairobi, Kenya – Stephen Maina, 2-years-9 months, falls asleep during a baby class, while 3-year old Isaac Muriithi works; teacher Nancy Vivian Obanda, overhead, prepares to wake Stephen.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Refugee Camp), Uganda – Achiek Agok, 6, observes as his brothers play soccer. They are a family of 12 from Jonglei state (Bor town) in South Sudan. After being forced to flee because of the war the family arrived in Uganda in January 2014.



Esmeraldas, Ecuador – Ariana Renteria, 6, peers at partygoers while her sister Nahiffer Renteria, 9, dances to the music.


Other   Leave a comment

Worldwide the identities of women, children and men are constructed around lies associated with being “Other.” These lies call into question their humanity and eliminates the identity of the individual.

I grew up as Other in the United States and since my departure, in February 2009, I have felt far freer in foreign lands than I ever felt at home. Specifically, in East and Central Africa, I’m recognized as Other based on my country of origin as opposed to my dark skin. Hence, there are no adjectives associated with my existence when people view me; I’m a man as opposed to a black man. Before Africa, my journey took me to various countries in South America where the dynamics of being black can be problematic. However being American provided a measure of protection against being looked down upon.

In childhood my orientation as Other began when I was questioned and searched by two overzealous white cops in my hometown, Harlem, New York – it was an unpleasant and senseless experience; I was ten-years old but looked younger because I was very skinny. Little did I know then that as an adult I would be racially profiled while driving in every city I worked: New York, New Jersey, New Orleans and Los Angeles. On one such stop a white police officer, in response to my voice, asked with an incredulous tone, “did you go to college or something?”

As a pedestrian, on a couple of occasions, my presence caused drivers to lock their doors and roll-up windows, and white women to clutch their handbags. I looked at them and shook my head while marveling at the ability of such Americans to ignore a fact: historically it has been blacks who have had to fear whites – innocent blacks have suffered physical and psychological harm by white Americans and are brutally overpoliced.

In an era when political discourse is increasingly characterized by xenophobic policies and woeful ignorance, people whose humanity is challenged based on such otherness labels as refugee, immigrant, Muslim, transgender, black, Latino – nonwhite – are at odds to find acceptance. And why? Well, it has much to do with a failure of white people to police their fears. However, the true problem isn’t fearful and malicious conservatives, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Thus, it cannot be overstated that to be silent in the face of how Others are demonized is to contribute to a lie.

The last eight-plus years have taught me how to comfortably embrace my otherness – the difference that I represent – and move beyond documenting stories that give credence to unchallenged mainstream opinions. The novelist Chimamanda Adichie gave a Ted Talk in which she warned, “if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.” Indeed, no people (or country) are one thing. It’s important to note, there’s a beauty to being Other when we appreciate differences and strive to be conscious of life’s complexities, and the situations Others are born into.

The following photographs are simple moments that characterize the daily lives of women, children and men who are often narrowly defined. These are wonderful individuals who permitted me to share in their lives:


Mutonya Village (Butiiti Parish – Kyenjojo District), Uganda – Kabahuma Esther, 18, plays with her son, Kazora Titaus, 8-months.



Nyakahama Village (Katoosa Parish), Uganda – Rose Mbabazi, 20, right, and her niece, Revecart Kengonzi, 12, peel cassava grown in their garden.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – Three South Sudanese children stop along a road which runs parallel to a field of maize grown by their parents.



Debeka Village, Ethiopia – Gumi Ayantu, 45, brews freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee beans in a Jabena (a boiling pot made of pottery). On the right her grandchild is entertained by a family member.



Katooke Town Council (Kyenjojo District), Uganda – Imelda Gafabusa, 70, exhausted from working in her field, falls asleep near her front door while waiting for heavy rains to end.



Tocana, Bolivia – Juana Vasquez, 71, heads home after picking coca leaves in the lush hills of the Yungas Valley; a tiny community made up mostly of Afro-Bolivians.



Bagua province (north Amazon), Peru – Gilmer Ugkaju Intakea Edad, 20, bottom, an Awajun, ferries passengers across the Chiriaco river.



Langata (a suburb of Nairobi), Kenya – A rainbow paints the sky.



Ayachucho, Peru – Children enjoy lunch.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – South Sudanese children play a game called “Father or Mother,” which involves hopping around a grid.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – Helen Agok Ageri, 5, candidly strikes a pose bringing her family to laughter.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – A group of South Sudanese girls play a game called “Sikadibaba,” that revolves around chasing and tagging.



Mutonya Village (Butiiti Parish – Kyenjojo District), Uganda – Angela Kabahenda, 21, prepares two of her children, Marian Nabbumba (six-years), right, and Junior Mayalla (four-years), left, for school.


A Child Labors for Gold

La Toma, Colombia – Margie Cecilia, 11-years old, labors for gold with family members at an open-pit mine.



Nyanza district, Rwanda – After an extended peroid of walking and standing Gasaza Siliveri, 97, sits and rests before going out for a scheduled trip.



Nyakahama Village (Katoosa Parish), Uganda – Rose Mbabazi, 20, surveys her garden while picking carrots and sweet potatoes.



Tocana, Bolivia – An Afro-Bolivian girl washes her hair.


May 26, 2009 - Tocana, Bolivia - An Afro-Bolivian hunter returns home at dusk.

Tocana, Bolivia – An Afro-Bolivian man returns home from hunting.



El Carmen, Peru – Peruvians participate in a procession honoring Our Lord of Miracles (Senor de los Milagros). It’s a widely attended religious event.


Mother's Day - Peru

Lima, Peru – Peruvians place flowers and clean their mother’s hard-to-reach burial sites, at The Angel Cemetery, on Mother’s Day.



Nairobi (Kilimani), Kenya – Muslims pray at a mosque.


Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Nairobi, Kenya – A Kenyan woman carries basins and buckets to collect water in the community of Mathare.


Dilemma of Education

Obira Village (Nwoya District), Uganda – Timo, 9, (he has no last name because he has not been baptized yet) helps his mother, Joyce Pacoryema, 42, cover their family’s maize with a tarp; it’s about to start raining.



Yapatara, Peru – In the northern section of the country several Afro-Peruvian men play cards.



El Carmen, Peru – Neighbors relax in their communty.




Rwandan Genocide Memorials   Leave a comment

See “Faces of Genocide:”


Murambi Genocide Memorial

In 1995, the remains of more than 18,000 men, women and children were exhumed from mass graves at the Murambi Technical School, now known as the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre in southern Rwanda. Although many bodies decomposed completely, the intense heat formed in the pits allowed some of the skeletal remains to be preserved. Most of these corpses were reburied in in common graves at the memorial centre. However, nearly one thousand corpses were further preserved in lime and placed in the school buildings where they were killed.


Murambi Genocide Memorial

On the walls at the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre are photographs of victims.


Murambi Genocide Memorial

Ground workers depart the Murambi Technical School, which is now known as the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre in southern Rwanda.


Murambi Genocide Memorial

Clothing of genocide victims.


Nyamata Genocide Memorial


In remembrance of the estimated one million victims killed during the 1994 genocide hundreds of memorial sites are maintained throughout Rwanda. This documentation project covers four of the official national sites as well as the Kigali Genocide Memorial: Ntarama Genocide Memorial, Nyamata Genocide Memorial, Murambi Genocide Memorial and Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial.

Murambi Genocide Memorial

“Over 800 bodies of Tutsis genocide victims were pulled from this mass grave,” said Musoni Protais, a site manager at the Murambi Technical School, which is now known as the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre.


Rwanda Genocide Memorials

Visitors in the Children’s Room at the Kigali Genocide Museum where photographs and stories of a few of the thousands of children who were killed in the 1994 genocide are on view; below each photograph is a short bio about the children: Patrick, 5-years old, Favorite sport – Riding bicyle, Favorite food – Chips, meat and eggs, Best friend – Alliane, his sister, Behavior – A quiet and well-behaved boy, Cause of death – Hacked by machete. Uwamwezi, 7-years old, and Iréne Umutoni, 6-years old, Relationship – Sisters, Favorite toy – A doll they shared, Favorite food – Fresh fruit, Behavior – Daddy’s girls, Cause of death – A grenade thrown in their shower. Rwandan families donated photographs of their children for the memorial. The memorial museum honors the estimated 250,000 people buried on the site in mass graves.


The visuals provided at the national sites are thought provoking, unforgettable and haunting. Visitors (local and foreign) are strongly encouraged by the government to share in this unconscious chapter of Rwanda’s history.

The Rwanda Genocide was a slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by members of the Hutu majority. From April to July 1994 an estimated five hundred thousand to one million Rwandans were killed. The genocide grew out of an ongoing civil war between the then Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was largely composed of Tutsi refugees, whose families had fled to neighboring countries following earlier waves of Hutu violence against the Tutsi minority.

Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial

A collection of skulls from local victims of the 1994 genocide are displayed at the Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial site. Referred to as the Nyarubuye massacre, an estimated 2,000 Rwandans were killed on April 15, 1994 at the Nyarubuye Roman Catholic Church, where they sought refuge from Hutu attackers.


Today, ethnic identification has been banned by the Rwandan government: there are no Hutus and Tutsis – only Rwandans. What remains from the conflict are grenade damaged churches, mass graves, tattered clothing items, remnants of Tutsi identification cards, skulls, bones, mummified bodies and memories – painful memories.


Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial

Several local children loiter outside the Nyarubuye Roman Catholic Church. In April 1994, Tutsis from several communities gathered at the this church seeking refuge but instead met their deaths, at the hands of Hutu attackers armed with machetes, traditional/crafted weapons, guns and grenades.


Ntarama Genocide Memorial

The skulls of these genocide victims display signs of a bullet wound and a blow from a blunt object such as a club. They are displayed at the Ntarama Genocide Memorial.



The worn national identity card of a young woman, whose family name was Uwimana, is kept in a storage container on the grounds of the Ntarama Church, which is now the Ntarama Genocide Memorial. According to the memorial site manager Uwimana was killed on these grounds along with 5,000 other Tutsis on April 15, 1994. During that period national identity cards were marked to label the ethnicity of the bearer; after the genocide such ethnic classification was banned by the government.


Ntarama Genocide Memorial

Although 5,000 victims are said to be buried at the Ntarama Genocide Memorial mass grave, the memorial wall only lists 260 names. The memorial site manager stated this is due to the challenges of identification: Many families were killed leaving no one to identify remains. Also, many Tutsis seeking safety came to the Ntarama site from the surrounding area – because they didn’t live in Ntarama they were unknown.




Nyamata Genocide Memorial

A coffin containing the body of Annonciata Mukandoli, 32, is displayed along with skulls of genocide victims at the Nyamata Genocide Memorial. The memorial is at the site of Nyamata Parish Catholic Church, where according to site manager, Rachel Murekatete, 45,354 genocide victims are buried. “10,080 Tutsi died inside and outside the grounds of the church on April 13 -14, 1994. Ms. Mukandoli was chosen to represent all the women who like herself were raped by multiple assailants and viciously killed.”said Ms. Murekatete.


Rwanda Genocide Memorials

Visitors tour the burial grounds at the Kigali Genocide Museum where an estimated 250,000 victims, who were killed in the 1994 genocide, are buried in mass graves.


Rwanda Genocide Memorials

A visitor to the Kigali Genocide Museum views an exhibit of photographs of people who were killed during the 1994 genocide.


Rwanda Genocide Memorials

Ntarama Church displays signs of grenade damage that occurred on April 15, 1994.


Ntarama Genocide Memorial

A large sheet of white paper in the bible studies room, at the Ntarama Genocide Memorial, gives visitors an opportunity to write their thoughts.

To see more photographs by Ric Francis please visit

Posted March 26, 2016 by documentedAwareness in Documentary Photography

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Dilemma of Education   Leave a comment

Northern Uganda is still recovering from twenty years (1986 – 2006) of armed conflict that led to a major humanitarian crisis: 1.8 million people – almost the entire population of its Acholi sub-region were displaced.

An estimated 25,000 to 28,000 children were abducted during the period as the result of an insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army, 80-percent of whose fighters were children. According to the Ugandan government 250,000 children dropped out of school during the peak of the war, as a result of the closure of 737 schools in northern Uganda.


Eight years after the 2006 ceasefire agreement the region is still in recovery mode. Poor quality of educational infrastructure and the lack of qualified teachers are major problems for the large numbers of returning children. Other obstacles for children wishing to go to school are the long distances they must walk, poor prospects for post-primary education, and the key role of children in livelihood strategies of income for labour constrained households. Consequently many families are faced with a dilemma when it comes to education: do they spend much needed family income on school uniforms, books and school fees to send their children to inadequate schools, or keep them home and permit them to concentrate on developing livelihood skills such as farming.


In Pader district (northern Uganda) Alex Opira, headmaster of Acutomer Primary School with an enrollment of 365 students, stated, “the challenges to schooling also include inadequate scholastic reading materials, the lack of housing accommodation for teachers who live far away, and high dropout rates due to negative attitudes by parents who don’t value education, as well as early marriage for girls.” According Mr. Opira, “the education ministry is trying to address our needs but has thus far failed to do so; we’re told by the government that it wants to help but doesn’t have the money – it has similar request for educational funding from other counties.”


Students in northern Uganda are far less likely than their peers in Kampala to be  provided a basic quality education. Given the lack of preparedness to compete in Uganda, to say nothing of a highly competitive world, children in the region – especially girls – are in danger of being left very far behind.






Dilemma of Education


Dilemma of Education




Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Mysterious & Devastating – Nodding Syndrome   Leave a comment


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

Lubiri Village (Pader District), Uganda – Nodding Syndrome (NS) is a mysterious and devastating neurologic condition which stunts growth, causes its victims to nod (repeatedly dropping their heads forward), have epileptic seizures (resulting in badly bruised faces and bodies), and causes cognitive deterioration. In severe cases it can result in death. Also at an advanced stage the syndrome causes its victims to wander aimlessly, hence families will tie the person with a rope or chain to prevent them from getting lost, injured or in the case of a young woman raped.


The condition mostly affects children 5-15 years in northern Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania – although apparently there are no active cases in Tanzania. According to Komakech Paul, a senior clinical officer at the Atanga Health Centre III in Lubiri Village, Uganda, NS is concentrated in Pader, Kitgum, Lamwo, Lira and Gulu districts in northern Uganda. It has been active in the region since 1997 and the first really bad cases began to appear in 2006, said Mr. Komakech. “It’s associated with river blindness which is linked to blackflies. Blackflies breed in fast flowing fresh water. Sub-counties in the aforementioned districts, which are along the Aswa, Pager and Agago Rivers, are where the families affected by NS live. The link to river blindness is an assumption that’s still being investigated,” stated Mr. Komakech.

New research, presented in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, suggest that blackflies, infected with the parasite Onchocerca volvulus (the parasite that causes river blindness), may indeed be capable of passing on a secondary pathogen that is to blame for the spread of NS. This new study is from the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium. It documents how the use of insecticides and application of larvicides to rivers (keys to controlling the blackfly population) have affected the rates of NS in areas like northern Uganda.

Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

This supports claims by officials at the Atanga Health Centre III, that the area has not seen any new cases of NS since the government launched an intervention program in 2012. Under the program river dosing was started: chemicals that kill blackflies have been used to treat rivers (it continues today). As a second part of the program village health teams administered ivermectin (the anti-parasitic drug used to prevent river blindness) to people in affected communities. The drug clears filarial worms from the body; the larvae from the worms enter humans via blackflies stated Mr. Komakech. Health officials at the Atanga Health Centre III are attributing the absence of new cases to these interventions.


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

Nevertheless, despite the absence of new cases health officials have an existing population of young people who require treatment for NS. The primary drug of treatment is sodium valproate. Unfortunately not all patients respond to the drug. It is not a cure. While some children have recovered to the point that they lead normal active lives, if they cease taking the drug they revert.

Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

The aforementioned new study while not providing a cure does provide possible answers regarding how NS is spread. The report on the study cites the following: NS epidemics come and go because indigenous populations may become immune to the NS pathogen over time, but that when forced migration moves a non-immune population into an area with a large number of blackflies, NS cases erupt. “Population displacement resulting from civil conflict has preceded NS outbreaks in both northern Uganda and South Sudan,” states Robert Colebunders, MD, PhD and head of HIV/STD Unit, Department of Clinical Sciences at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Antwerp.

Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

So while the new study is informative the search for a cure continues. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), in the United States, has been actively involved in trying to discover a cure for NS since 2011, said Mr. Komakech. He went on to describe how officials with the CDC took ten Ugandan children from one family (in Lamwo district) to the U.S. to be examined: five of the children had NS and five were unaffected. The results have not yet been released. “We’re working with something that’s still not well known and our community desperately needs to be informed,” concluded Mr. Komakech.

Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at













Beyond Coffee – Livelihood Diversification   1 comment


Ethiopian coffee farmers are involved in a five year program to teach them to diversify their source of income: The Livelihood Diversification for Smallholder Coffee Farmers program.

The program, funded by the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and supported by Catholic Relief Services, is also being implemented in Kenya and Rwanda. It’s designed to increase food security and access to financial services through the introduction of small ruminant (sheep or cow) rearing/fattening, oxen fattening, bee keeping (honey production), Farmer Field Schools and Savings and Internal Lending (SILC) groups.

What follows are photographs (20) of Ethiopian coffee farmers and communities involved in the program:


Oromia region (Gelan District) – Workers at the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU) Ltd. processing coffee beans.


Oromia region (Gelan District) – Men at OCFCU process sacks of coffee beans for cleaning.


Debeka Village – Ayele Dergaso, 65, with assistance from his son Astarke Ayele, 25, digs up sweet potatoes.


Debeka Village – Ayantu Gumi, 45, makes Ethiopian coffee by first roasting coffee beans. Afterwards the beans will be ground in a wooden mortar and then brewed in a Jebena (a pottery boiling pot).


Debeka Village – Freshly roasted coffee is brewed in a Jabena.


Debeka Village – Neighbors and family members relax over coffee and sweet potatoes.


Debeka Village – Martha Wakayo, 18, Ayantu Gumi, 45, and Tamru Ayele, 12, converse with other family members and neighbors.


Debeka Village – Ayele Dergaso, 65, right, shares coffee with neighbors Adane Washola, 15, left, Tamrat Gelgele, 24, third from left, and his son Fekadu Ayelel, 14.


Debeka Village – Children go about their way on a very hot afternoon.


Magala Lemefa Village – Abbiti Shorre, 6 (foreground), Abreham Shorre, 8 (center-blue shirt) and Gete Shorre, 10 (directly behind Abreham) walk to school.


Bochesa Village – Abiti Tariku, 8, plays with a one-week old lamb on the grounds of his grandmother’s coffee field


Magala Lemefa Village – Hirbaye Shorre, 46, stands idle after trimming False Banana trees on the grounds of her coffee field, while her cow feeds and a grandchild plays; she owns two coffee fields in separate villages.


Bochesa Village – Hirbaye Shorre herds her cow and sheep home after they grazed at her coffee field.


Bochesa Village – Hirbaye Shorre walks around her coffee field picking the few coffee  beans that were not harvested, while her grandson plays in a tree.


Magala Lemefa Village – Bekelech Shorre, 15, collects an empty coffee cup from her four-year old cousin, Jaleta Tariku.


Ejersa Fora Village – A farmer displays green onions and ginger for sale at the Wacheray Market.


Ejersa Fora Village – A farmer sells peppers to a young girl.


Ejersa Fora Village – Adnech Gocha unties rope from the legs of her sheep.


Ejersa Fora Village – Before the start of the Livelihood Diversification for Smallholder Coffee Farmers program, locals would informally gather to collect money to loan to one another; after the program began they converted their traditional money collecting methods into this Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC) group.


Ejersa Fora Village – Adnech Gocha, 42, sells Kocho (a food made from False Banana trees) to customers at the Wacheray Market.

Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Ethiopian Coffee Farmers – Farmer Field School   Leave a comment


Buoyed by rhythmic chants the farmers swung their labor intensive agricultural hand tools in unison, each motivating the other to move swiftly, tirelessly and happily as they prepared a field for seeding at the farmer field school (FFS) in Fogi Village, Ethiopia.


It is late morning and the sun bathes the farmers with its rays, yet despite the heat and hard work it is apparent these men and women could not be happier. As members of a farmer field school they’re linked by camaraderie and an urgency to improve the lives of their families. Eighteen members of the Wolda Misoma Group (a Savings and Internal Lending Community Group – SILC) own and operate this school, created with the assistance of the Ethio-Wetlands and Natural Resources Association (EWNRA), as part of the Livelihood Diversification for Smallholder Coffee Farmers program in Ethiopia. The program is funded by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) and supported by Catholic Relief Services (CRS). This five year program, which has also been implemented in Kenya and Rwanda, is designed to increase food security and access to financial services through the introduction of small ruminant (sheep or cow) rearing/fattening, oxen fattening, bee keeping (honey production), Savings and Internal Lending  (SILC) groups and Farmer Field Schools (FFS).


Farmer field schools fall under the category of farmer groups which are informal organizations whose members have similar interests. Farmer groups also include SILC, Seed Growers, Marketing, and Irrigation Users. During an interview with members of the FFS, Getu Jebo, 25 (head of the school, married with five children), and Bikila Tero, 25 (married with four children), they discussed how the school grew out of the Wolda Misoma (SILC) Group. Before the creation of the school EWNRA trained field agents (such as Mr. Tero) to organize SILC groups in the area. Afterwards EWNRA searched for a strong SILC group through which it could execute its idea for a farmer field school. The idea for the FFS came from a need to ensure the sustainability of different interventions, implemented by the Livelihood Diversification for Smallholder Coffee Farmers program.


This meshed perfectly with Wolda Misoma Group members who recognized the importance of diversifying crops and income while providing their village with vegetables. “In this area consumption of vegetables has not been a firmly established part of our diet. We saw vegetables when we visited urban areas but we didn’t understand their importance. Our attitude has changed because of the FFS,” stated Mr. Tero. He and Mr. Jebo agreed that all of the group’s members have benefited from the school learning how to grow a variety of vegetables, e.g., carrots, cabbage and onions, while also becoming more efficient as coffee farmers through the use of improved spacing techniques.


The members were excited about the idea of starting a FFS and receiving training that would otherwise be unavailable individually. So after calling their interest to the attention of EWNRA, this implementing partner made an agreement with local government administrators and secured rented land (0.35 hectare for three years for 3000 Birr – 19 Birr equals $1.00) for the school. Initially EWNRA provided training to four FFS members who then shared the knowledge with the group. The project has provided the school with seed, farming tools, watering cans and experts on how to properly plant, manage and harvest crops.


The school provides the added benefit of educating passing locals who observe how vegetables are grown and replicate the lessons at home. Every tuesday and thursday the eighteen members work collectively in the field from 9:00 a.m. until noon. Daily they work in pairs, each responsible for watering three beds of coffee seedlings mornings and evenings; there are 33 coffee seedling beds.

 The school embodies the concept of “each one, teach one.” “We commonly work happily together. We use songs to motivate one another and to tease, particularly if someone is having a low-energy day,” said Mr. Jebo laughingly. Everyone is rewarded for their efforts with free vegetables; if there’s a surplus harvest it’s sold at the market.

“In the future we plan to expand production to utilize all of the school’s land to include maize, and fence the area off through the creation of a live fence,” stated Mr. Jebo. The live fence would be made using elephant grass which could also serve as feed.


The concept of “each one, teach one” is indeed the essence of the farmer field school.

Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Empowering Youth In Kenya   Leave a comment

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

In December 2013 approximately 400 youth bunge (Swahili for parliament) members from Garissa, Kenya met to elect local representatives. Garissa is a predominantly Muslim (Somali) town. It is a hub in the ongoing humanitarian food aid program into the northeast of Kenya.


The country’s youth bunges serve as a counterweight to political apathy and unemployment while helping to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow. The youth come together from different villages to join as bunge members. The bunges serve as a youth-owned, youth-led and youth-managed space for young Kenyans to develop leadership skills and promote decision-making about their priorities.

 Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

The bunge model was introduced by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), based on significant research into the causes of Kenya’s post-election violence during 2007/2008, where youth were both victims and perpetrators. “The research showed that youth had no confidence in civil society or in the existing public or private institutions in Kenya. They wanted to run their own organizations and to help strengthen Kenya’s post-election recovery. Simply put, they wanted to be empowered,” says Dwaine Lee, director of the Education and Youth Office at USAID/Kenya.


Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

According to Kenya’s 2009 census over a third of the national population, that numbered 40 million, are youth (defined by the government as 18 to 35) and the vast majority are out of school with no regular work or income. Bunges give them an opportunity to coalesce around what they need and expect from Kenya’s elected leaders.

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Elephant Orphans and Ivory   3 comments

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Since 2012 the poaching of elephants in Africa has been on the rise, fueled mostly by Far East countries, notably China where much of the material ends up on sale. The number of elephants being poached is now at the highest it has been for two decades, according to a United Nations backed report. Orphaned elephants are one of the effects of the ivory trade.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Elephants also become orphans after they become trapped in wells or due to human related disasters. The most successful orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world is The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The Trust has 26 orphaned elephants at its elephant nursery in Nairobi, Kenya.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Baby elephants are extremely difficult to care for and so are attended to 24-hours each day. They are attended to by a team of “Keepers” who represent a family and replace the orphan’s lost elephant mother. Working as a team the “Keepers” prevent the orphaned elephants from becoming too attached to just one person; the animals mirror humans in terms of emotion.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Eventually all elephant orphans are rehabilitated back into the wild elephant community of Tsavo National Park when grown, a transition that is made at each elephant’s own pace; it usually takes between eight to ten years. They live for approximately 70 years in the wild. The Trust’s fostering program is key to the success of its orphans’ project. For a minimum donation of $50 (per elephant) individuals may foster an animal for one year. The program is of great importance given the problem of poaching.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Despite a 1989 ban on international trade in ivory elephants continue to be killed for their prized tusks. According to a BBC report, last year saw the highest number of large seizures of illegal ivory for more than two decades. In several African countries a fierce battle is being waged by African law-enforcement and conservation groups against poachers.

 Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Kenya is a major transportation hub for ivory. Reportedly, nearly 85% of ivory seized from around the world, that could be traced, had come from or passed through East Africa, much of it via the international airport at Nairobi. Its destination? “Ninety per cent of all the people we have arrested at the airport ferrying ivory are Chinese,” said Julius Kipng’etich, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service. “The destinations of all contraband ivory are always neighboring countries around China.”

Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

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