For over eight years, I have been documenting the citizens in Kasese Uganda. I had travelled there initially to develop essays about women managing the AIDS pandemic in Sub-Sahara Africa, as a part of a personal project entitled ‘ANGELS at the edge of darkness’. The stories that have emerged from my trips varied from ‘reluctant’ sex workers who are HIV-positive women who enter the trade out of desperation to climb out of the mire of poverty, through to very young orphans living rough, and teens suffering from loneliness and stigma because of their HIV+ status. All highly intimate stories, which could not have been created without access provided from a small group of its caring community who have become intimate friends. To mention a few, Sister Anna who is the head of nurses at the Kilembe Mines Hospital, along with a family who founded a local educational support organisation for orphans and HIV positive residents.
I have made more than dozen trips over these years. From the onset, my fixer, John Burihose has been the lynchpin to ensure everything was organised and mostly his knowledge of the region and people, which has proven invaluable.
Tragically, on the first day of May 2013 in Kasese, relentless thrashing rain fell on the soil eroded Rwenzori Mountains. Its fury cascaded down into the River Nyamwamba bursting its fragile banks creating flash flooding, leaving a disastrous trail of destruction in its wake. As the floods continued to decimate the region, My fixer, John Buricose sent an urgent email advising me of the situation. I travelled there to witness what had occurred and also hoped through my imagery, could create a platform to attract support for recovery.
Catastrophically, this remote region in Uganda has no programme to either rectify the damage or mitigate the causes of this natural tragedy.When I visited the crippled community to document its coping with the aftermath of the flooding, I witnessed the breathtaking courage and determination of the Kilembe Mines Hospital staff to reach normalcy in their daily lives.
Sister Anna, the head of nurses at this devastated hospital said:
“Immediately after the disaster occurred there was support from the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, the Ugandan Red Cross and other United Nation’s Agencies. Within a few months they departed with disappointing follow-up, support, or any mandated plan and funding to alleviate the cause of this natural disaster fuelled by a combination of climate change and the footprint of man. Most urgently, there was not enough money allocated for critical supplies that were lost in the rage of the floods. Bed linens and uniforms were ravaged and not replaced. The tangled twisted debris of metal beds and other equipment are stacked up creating a breeding place for vermin, an eyesore that clutters the grounds. Our wards are over crowded; at times, four adults share beds and many are on mattresses on the concrete floor. Some patients are forced to sleep outside the wards because of over-crowding. The hospital is on a recovery mode but we are desperate for further funding to rebuild the nurses homes. My entire staff were displaced and now are suffering from acute financial pressure as they have had to find alternative homes for their family which is hugely expensive and tragically, many, have not been paid their wages for over 6 months forcing them to take loans from the local bank at exploitive rates. We feel abandoned and forgotten. The wider world had never heard of the Kilembe Mines Hospital, other disasters and the presence of terrorism are what capture the headlines in the global press.”
In spite of acute shortages and compromised reconstruction, the hospital operates serving its community with a high standard of care with very limited resources. Spending times in the wards, I observed the commitment of the dedicated staff in the knowledge of their heart wrenching personal trauma since the loss of their homes and the financial burden. I spent a few days just listening to each of their stories to have insights into their hardship. Some trek to work walking for two hours with their babies strapped to their backs because they cannot afford carfare to come to work.
It is the rainy season now and once again the banks of the rivers are being flooded – this news from my fixer Johnson. With the world media focussed on the earthquake in Nepal, it is a distant dream that the global media will provide coverage of this repeat flooding. I plan to return to Kasese this August to progress some of the emotive personal stories and perhaps through crowd-funding, generate financial relief for the hospital and especially for its beleaguered staff.