2009 — student runner-up
Bryan was born in Michigan in 1988. He graduated from Western Kentucky University with a degree in photojournalism in 2011. In 2008, he began a project documenting the plight of Uganda's youth along with their commitment to improving Uganda. He is currently based in Kampala, Uganda.
For the youth of Uganda, survival alone can seem an insurmountable task. Compromised by civil war, government policy and illiteracy, Uganda’s youth stand at the brink of self-sustenance with a world of obstacles in their path.
When the international debt crisis hit the third world in the early 1980s, Uganda was struggling with the burdens that accompany fledgling independence, attained from Great Britain a mere generation before. Years of political repression under General Ida Amin Dada have exacerbated internal violence. In the North, the Lord’s Resistance Army battles the government for land and power.
As the country labors for economic and political progress, its citizens wait in the leeway. Diseases considered archaic in the first world such as cholera and leprosy, poor healthcare paired with uneducated doctors and nearly unattainable education leave the majority of the population below the poverty line. With an average income of $300 per year, the majority of citizens live without electricity, with poor or nonexistent sewerage and improper nutrition. Corrupt spending practices of government officials leave this resource rich country with a workforce that’s either chained to menial jobs with unlivable pay or, for the 30% of the population that are unemployed, destitute.
The average life expectancy for a Ugandan hovers near 50 years old, leaving over half of the population under age 15. Ugandan youth comprise the majority of the country’s workers. Children enter the workforce as soon as possible cutting sugarcane, mining granite, making bricks or other labor-intensive jobs. The Ugandan workday starts at about 6:00 a.m. and ends before 9:00 p.m., leaving those youth that can’t find work vulnerable to the nation’s swiftly growing drug problem. The government provides few programs geared toward social welfare, and many orphans as young as five and six years old find refuge in gangs, begging for their living expenses.
Education, as for many sub-Saharan countries, is a luxury reserved for the rich. The few government-funded primary schools are only available in the country’s major cities and teach outdated information from the Cold War era. Without an education, the Ugandan faces a lifetime of hard, dangerous work with no job mobility. Without an accessible credit system, many potential entrepreneurs have no means with which to establish a business.
For those growing up in northern Uganda, forced recruitment to the Lord’s Resistance Army is a fate feared by all. Child soldiers are forced to kill men, women and children in some of the most grotesque ways imaginable. Used as weapons of torture, these children are easily discarded by their superiors. These fearful children submit to their captors, who are often responsible for the destruction of their villages and the death of their families.
Though the odds may not be stacked in their favor, these young Ugandans have potential to begin a healing process that can alleviate the pains of a broken people. Through education initiatives and proper resource management, Uganda can fit its title as the "Pearl of Africa.”
In the summer of 2008, I began documenting the struggles of Ugandan youth in the St. Kizito School in the Bugalobi district of Kampala, Uganda. I experienced a young population drained by corruption and poverty and inadequate education. If awarded the Alexia student grant, I plan to return to Uganda in the summer of 2009 to document this generation on a precipice. I’d focus not only on the plight of these young adults and children but the triumphs as well. I plan to share a story that provides influence and understanding. Many have turned a blind eye to Africa, overwhelmed by problems that seem endless and unsolvable. Uganda’s quandary is immense, but it is by no means hopeless, and I wish to imbue my viewers with a heightened sense of awareness to their personal powers of change.
Through the continuation of this project, I hope to raise awareness of a complex culture and an equally complex socioeconomic condition. I plan to document the lives of these children and young adults as well as those industries and mechanisms that influence their situation. The Alexia student grant would provide much needed funding for transportation and living expenses as I pursue the completion of this project.