Hello friends and fellow Christians. I write to you from my former bed room at Light in Africa, in northern Tanzania. Today is March 2nd and I've been here for 6 days. I started my travels on January 31st on assignment in eastern Uganda photographing for BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee). BRAC is doing some great work in the areas of micro-finance, sustainable agriculture, and community health. My assignment was to photograph their success stories and ultimately to illustrate their annual reports in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Tanzania. As the NGO operates with senior Bengali staff, it was interesting to
witness the differences between BRAC and a western-run NGO. The staff live in much simpler conditions with lower salaries and many of them know first hand what poverty is like. Hence much more funding gets to programs, amounting to greater efficiency. It's also throwing Africans for a loop to see Bengalis, instead of white westerners, doing development work on the ground.
Sierra Leone and Liberia were a different dynamic than I've experienced before, both having come out devastating civil wars in recent years. Infrastructure was at a minimum and everywhere you looked there were reminders of the unsettled past, from bombed out buildings to UN troops patrolling the streets.
Overall the shoot went well. I had budgeted some time in between countries to process photographs and write captions so that less than 36 hours after shoot was over, I had the entire assignment off to head offices in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They like the images and are already talking about lining up another shoot. Praise God that he sees fit to allow me to earn a living documenting development and progress in the lives of the least of these here In Africa. God also really worked things out perfectly on this shoot so that after traipsing thousands of kilometers across the continent from Lake Victoria to the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean, I would end the assignment just a day's drive from Light in Africa, where I was needed to enroll Boniface, Baraka and Fredy in school.
The process of enrolling the boys has been some work. Light in Africa wasn't able to take the initiative to do so before I came out and not much had been accomplished by the time I made it up here except to fill out the application forms. After several official stamps, certifications, letters, 3 haircuts and one small bribe to the Ministry of Education (standard protocol) the boys began learning in their new school on Monday, March 1st. Their first day went splendidly and I can tell they like going very much. None of them complained that learning in English was a difficulty, which was one of my greatest concerns.
Whether it was the brighter classrooms, better lunches or the fact that they get to ride in a taxi to and from school everyday I don't know, but they all unequivocally shook their heads when I asked them if they'd like to return to their old school. I won't forget the look of privilege and wonder they wore on their faces when receiving textbooks this weekend for the first time in their lives. After thumbing through his new math book on Saturday Boniface exclaimed, "Jake, this is easy!" I am confident that they will succeed despite the challenge ahead of them.
I ask you all to remember these boys in prayer. I believe so much in its power. I know that answered prayer has carried these boys into early adolescence. Despite the tragedy of their backgrounds, they are kind, honest, caring, smart, independent, and witty. They have so much to mourn and yet they are almost always hopeful. I hope that you all will remember to pray that these boys will succeed in their endeavors so that they can offer their children something they've never had: a strong and healthy family.
I feel I am at the place where God wants me to be right now. Truthfully, I was a bit resentful that I wasn't off shooting in Haiti in January after being offered an extended assignment there the night the earthquake happened. I had already agreed to the BRAC shoot that occupied me for the month of February and my passport was tied up in Washington awaiting visas. I have always wanted to break into newswire photography and covering the earthquake would have been my chance. But had I gone there my heart would have been with my career and not the Haitians I would have been photographing. I am so glad that God has brought me to Africa this year. Truly this is where God has called me and I feel so privileged to be doing his work here. I know that there are great opportunities ahead.
I leave tomorrow for Uganda. I will send another update when I am settled in Amuria and begin working with the school there. Nate, when you come bring my guitar and the black hoodie I left on your couch.
Love in Christ,