Three days, 22 people, 10 countries and many untold stories

Uganda, August 30, 2010

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After a long day of traveling almost the entire length of Uganda — from the shores of Lake Victoria nearly all the way north to the Sudanese border — we arrived in the sweltering city of Kitgum last night. This is where, for the next three days, I am teaching a Mercy Corps-sponsored writing and photography workshop with my colleague Thatcher Cook.

The 22 workshop participants with whom we shared a bus on that upcountry ramble, on dusty roads through bustling towns and tiny villages, come from all different parts of Africa — 10 countries altogether. Two participants came from West Africa: Liberia and Niger. Another came all the way from Zimbabwe. The rest are from Mercy Corps offices in East Africa: Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia and Uganda. None of them are full-time writers or photographers; rather, they are program officers or field staff who are out on the front lines of our projects every day. Most of them were born in the countries where they now work for Mercy Corps. All of them are deeply committed and connected to the work they're doing and the people they're helping.

So Thatcher and I are here to help empower them as storytellers, to give them practical and philosophical advice on how to take more compelling photos, conduct more in-depth interviews and write stories that connect the work they do — and the people they serve — to the wider world.

Over these three days, we will lecture in the classroom and take tough questions from very enthusiastic participants — in fact, in the writing session I taught this morning, I fielded a couple dozen questions that had me really thinking. We will travel to villages to interact with Mercy Corps program beneficiaries, which will help participants hone their documentary field skills. They'll write stories from their notes and choose their best photographs to share with these newly-met colleagues. Then Thatcher and I will help them edit and polish that work.

And in the coming days, we'll share all of that work here, on this website: a portfolio from 22 participants who hail from all across Africa. I'm anxious to help them bring you their stories — both from our work together here in Uganda and when they return home to some of the world's most challenging and fascinating places.

I hope you'll come back soon to check it out.