The girls are all between the ages of 14 and 18. They are AIDS orphans who go to St. Andrews Secondary School in Matale, a community outside the village of Kalisizo, which in turn is three hours south of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda in East Africa. The school is partially supported through the efforts of the Harambee Centre, a Portland nonprofit whose mission is to connect the people of the Pacific Northwest with the people and cultures of Africa. The word itself, “Harambee,â€? means “let’s pull togetherâ€? in Kiswahili.
Julie Resnick traveled with the group this summer to Matale. Julie, a consultant who makes her living providing cross-cultural training to professional people moving around the globe, is well-traveled and a self-styled photo journalist, but this trip was a personal journey and one she did in her mother’s memory. She took 12 disposable cameras with her to do a PhotoVoice project ” one that has the traditional subjects of documentary photography step behind the camera and create the pictures that tell their stories. The girls in Matale had never held a camera and as Julie explained its inner workings she apparently struck a chord with the sound of the word “zoomâ€? ” a word the girls kept repeating and is now the name of the project ” ZoomUganda.
Julie snapped the first photo on each camera to record the image of the girl who would take that camera home. The faces of these young women are open and sweet with generous smiles that immediately remind you to think twice next time you think your life is tough. Each girl was given the task of taking a camera for a day and bringing it back with photos that would show her life in pictures ” photos of day to day activities, photos of the people and things most dear to her ” so that other people who would never meet these girls would know something of their lives. Julie gave each girl a small journal as well and asked them to write a description of each picture. The journal entries are both matter-of-fact and affecting. “My grandfather is sick, he cannot do anythingâ€? writes Mary Nampima of this picture. “So I have to look after him.â€?
The work of the girls of Matale will be exhibited on the second floor of the Ecotrust Building in Portland from December 20, 2006 to January 14, 2007. ZoomUganda will travel to additional venues and all proceeds from the exhibit will help fund a science lab at St. Andrews. The exhibit will eventually find its way into the Portland schools so that the students here will have a chance to learn about life in this remote corner of Africa and connect with their counterparts in Matale.