MALIYAMUNGU MUHANDE - Making a difference in refugee children's lives

Making a difference in refugee children's lives with the FujiFilm XT-10

One’s pain can never be measurably compared to another’s- we have all been hurt and most of us are in dire need of a therapeutic outlet. This heartfelt realisation was the basis for a trip focused on making an impact through art, in the lives of some whose glares were turned from seeing the richness around them…refugee children in Uganda. By getting them to interact in a creative capacity with a curriculum I had planned for them, I hoped to help them uncover the innocence and freedom found in their youthful expression. Having been as prepared as I could have been: having readied all the execution material for the various activities we were going to do (at the Nakivale refugee settlements), having crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” I needed to ready myself- a 12hour journey to Entebbe (a town approximately 37kilometers southwest of Kampala, the Ugandan capital) would definitely ensure I would be. My flight from South Africa came to an end at 12am, but I still had to travel an hour out of the city to Lubwawa, where I’d be spending the night. Like the ellipsing dots on an Indiana Jones map, my passage would have me trek a further 4hours to Mbarara (290 kilometers from Kampala). With all my prescribed collectedness, none of my gathered composure could surmount the natural wonders exploding from this country. From the instant I woke up my balcony framed the epicenter of an unfiltered courting, where I fell in love with this place in a manner absent of all subtlety. Standing in unfenced awe, I ran for my camera and with inspired gratefulness took the ice-breaker shot.

Having driven a few hours, I had to ask that we stop [by which time we had reached the equator line, on Kampala-Masaka Road]. Now, I had done a lot of design research affiliated with the region but I was glad that I left the natural elements to surprise, because not once was I disappointed.

We then also drove past Lake Mburo National Park, which is situated on the highway connecting Kampala to Western Uganda, where we were headed—this is when I really fell in love with how easy it was to get a hang of the FUJIFILM XT-10. As a first-time FUJIFILM camera user (with no training or tutorials), I was able to capture amazing shots of the beautiful animals that were in our presence. The drive gave me time to familiarize myself with the aperture, shutter speed and ISO dials [which are terms that I also vaguely understand]. My love for photography is very much driven by a passion for capturing moments and sharing them: this camera enabled me to do this to an unimaginable degree.

I wanted a picture inclusive of the green scenery as well as the animals; this is the moment I discovered how awesome the auto switch is on the XT-10. I handed the camera to my friend, to take a snapshot of me with the manual settings. The first picture was blurry. I was happy to find out that I could switch the auto on and retain all the custom settings when I turn it back to manual.

After this amazing encounter [with two amazing shepherds, sheep, special cows with special longhorns (that are called the ankole-Watusi), Zebras and Uganda Kobs] the steady push toward my final destination was soon underway. It’s very important for me to emphasize the fact that my new best friend (FUJIFILM XT-10) wasn’t on auto mode and that I was very impressed with how easy it was for me to understand her, and for her to deliver the images exactly how I foresaw them captured. I wanted to portray particular insight into the softness and vulnerability of nature; the XT- 10 helped do just that. I was very close to these animals and could sense a distinct energy being projected from their body language, as if to suggest that we were welcome as long as we kept a fair distance. In a certain humility characteristic of the African soul, they exhibited an unprecedented respect for our being there and carrying on about their business, side eyes constantly fixated on us, our intensions had their undivided attention. After 4 hours of driving from Lubwowa, we arrived in Mbarara and at the refugee home being built by the Kamran Farid Foundation. This is where I would be living for the following two weeks, to do some design research and implementation of the ‘therapeutic creative curriculum’ I am creating for the refugees.

Part of the curriculum entails creating a coloring book for the children, one that is made up of drawings by different people (strangers, family and friends); a vast network of people wanting to make an impactful difference in the lives of these precious ones. Before each contributing hand drew their images I asked them to hold one prime question in mind…what would they have wanted to colour in as a child? It was interesting to see how this exercise had an equal effect on the participants— they too were undergoing their own personal transformations through this process. The purity of art is one that transcends age, race and background. Knowing that what they were creating was going to help another break through whatever marginalized limitations placed on their life, proved to be a therapeutic outlet, one that the children could engage in as they coloured outlined drawings in any way they saw fit.

The gear that FujiFilm provided came with an extremely handy bag that was always strapped to my jeans. I partnered the camera body with the FUJINON 18-135mm lens, and I have to say that this union felt extremely light. Seeing that my trip was two weeks long, I dedicated to visit the Queen Elizabeth National Park, where I had the most amazing time with the XT-10. I love this camera and since my trip I recommend it to everyone! She is a great travel partner, she’s light and her battery life lasts and charges really quickly. I will be writing another blog post with amazing elephant, butterfly and tree climbing lion shots ALL TAKEN WITH THE XT-10. I am a strong advocate for a unified Africa and this project is a true reflection of that. The drawing was therapeutic for the drawer and will be for the refugees that will originate from The Republic Democratic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia! Beyond seeing an Africa that is one, is my dream of highlighting the true meaning of humanity: the fact that we are all connected and need each other. This project went as far as branching out to the international community, having received scanned drawing donations from America, England and Belgium!

Having the XT-10 there to freeze every moment was truly a priceless commodity. With the images I am able to visually share the power of humanity, the power of unity (to all the drawing contributors) and I am able to immortalize the impact they had on these children. Through the project, we as a whole, were able to spark (within the children) a creative confidence that will equate to pride, joy and hope in themselves and the bright futures ahead of them.

By Maliyamungu Muhande
Facebook | Instagram | Twitter 
Copy Editor: Katleho Mapetla