The Story of Project Have Hope
In October of 2005, I traveled to Uganda to volunteer my skills as a photographer to help several relief organizations. While there I was invited to visit the Acholi Quarter. On my first day there I met many of the residents, mostly Acholi who had been displaced from the ongoing civil war (Uganda has the longest ongoing civil war in the world).
I was taken to meet with 3 women and hear a bit about their lives and hear “their story.” A woman, Nora, translated for me. I sat and listened to the first heart-wrenching story from a woman who was beaten near death and then carted by bicycle to escape the north. The second woman told me of her experiences being held captive by the rebels. As she told the story, she sent her grandson to fetch me a Coca Cola. The price of that Coke would be the equivalent of half a days work in the brutal conditions of the stone quarry. By the time I entered the home of the third woman, I could no longer hear the words being translated to me. My mind had tuned out and I was trying to figure out how I could help.
Each of these three women shared such personal, often horrific details of their lives with me, a stranger with a camera. And each maintained a beauty, grace that I cannot forget. Despite their ordeals, the tragedies inflicted upon them and their families in the north, and their continued struggle as displaced refugees living in a slum outside of the capitol, they had a freeness of spirit, a way of embracing and appreciating, and living and loving life, that renewed the spirit. They did not harbor and dwell on their difficult experiences, but instead showed their endurance and will to move forward. I wanted to help them create a better future.
I spent 2.5 weeks photographing in the community, meeting people, creating friendships. I saw the beautiful, colorful beads they crafted from recycled paper and saw that as a means to help them raise themselves out of destitution. I brought back a small bag of these beads when I returned to Boston in November 2005, and sold them right away. I returned to Uganda in January 2006 and formally organized the group, 55 women who wanted to be identified as “the group that has hope” – “bed ki gen” in Acholi. Thus, Project Have Hope was born.
PHH now counts 100 women as members. But our impact goes far beyond that. Including their families, PHH assists nearly 1500 people. Additionally, we provide “community outreach” to other members of the Acholi Quarter who are not among the 100 women, when help is needed.
One artisan, Labuka Santa, gave us the highest compliment, “Thanks for taking us from nowhere to somewhere.” Hope, and a little help, make all the difference.
Karen Sparacio, Founder