(Photo above by Laura Watilo Blake @elbeestudio)
Joseph Ssekyanzi didn’t have a name until a few weeks ago after I tracked it down via emails for weeks across the globe to the small village of Mulajji, Uganda. This place is as rural as it gets, and Joseph’s hut is deep in the village.
I met Joseph during a day of visiting village homes of the students who go to St. Bonaventure/ St. Charles learning about water issues, water collection, water access and the survival mode of this village on the equator. I wanted to film the real deal of what life is like for individuals there and Joseph was the child that will be embedded in my memory forever.
As I approached Joseph’s home with the film crew and local school teacher Madame Maria and our brother Gonzaga, I saw what seemed to be parents and some napping children on the red dusty earth. As we approached, we realized language was once again not English and Madame Maria would have to communicate for us. She knew Joseph’s father (standing against a tree) was an alcoholic and the mother was very mentally ill. As the mother sat mumbling random sentences on the ground cutting casava root with a mashete using a seperated Jerrycan as a bowl, I started to gather more details about the situation of these children as I looked around and listened.
Two of Joseph’s siblings lie barely breathing on the earth-Madame Maria had to check for a pulse. I could tell she was having a hard time talking with the parents. Skin and bones, little Jospeh approached me and all I wanted to do was hug him-but I was honestly afraid I might hurt him. His stomach was very large from sickness (or malnutrition) and flies were eating away at his poor little body that was severely dehydrated and left void of energy. I remember asking Laura to come photograph his little fingers and toes- the flesh was so retracted that he had lost nails, and flies were attacking what remained.
I am not certain if this child had ever been bathed, hugged, or eaten meat. Joseph’s parents could not even remember his name; I am not joking. I can also assure this child did not have water access NEAR his “home”; Gonzaga confirmed. I am not certain Joseph, or his siblings, could survive much longer in those conditions. Survival mode for Joseph was more than most of us could ever handle.
Before the tears busted out of my eyes, I walked away to look at some nearby piglets. I heard something behind me, and it was the mother mumbling, holding her large machete high in the air kneeling to greet me. I’ll be honest, I was getting my “Africa” skin (thicker skin), but this still scared the daylights out of me. All I could think was “please don’t move your hand with the machete” and “please someone come rescue this kid in the yellow shirt from his crazy parents, from this hunger, thirst and pain”.
Never in my life have I ever felt so HELPLESS. I had to remind myself I CAN bring water to the school that his sibling attends, but I cannot save everyone.
I understand this photo may look like just another sick, starving child in Africa to most people-but that is exactly why I want to share my moment with you. I think of Joseph DAILY and only knew him for a few brief moments of my life.
The beautiful people I was privileged to meet all have names, dreams, personalities, and life. They are REAL and they all mean a lot to me.
I realized not too long after being back from beautiful Africa, that filtering the experience when people ask “how was it?” is not an easy task. There are too many moments and photos that hold a million emotions; to me, each one is important. So, instead of saying “the trip was good” or ” the trip was life changing”, I want to bring all of you into the world of Africa though my experience. I want to tell you about my favorite photos contributed by Laura Blake, myself, and Tom Kondilas.
Thank you for meeting Joseph with me.
See more photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dldt