The last few months of 2017 I spent in a small town in Eastern Uganda called Mbale. It was a pretty spontaneous decision on my behalf being very comfortable working and living in London within photography mainly within the fashion and advertising bubble.

 

However I got itchy feet and got bored working within these circles and wanted to shake things up and throw myself out of my comfort zone. I wanted to create work and meet people that excited and interested me and that were more authentic. I ended up going to Uganda to work alongside a company called Balloon Ventures that works with micro businesses and entrepreneurs to create sustainable change and impact within their communities.

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Rather than some other options I had I felt that this was going to allow me to witness and meet people with hustle, drive and improvisation skills as well as learn some transferable business and life skills. I chose this over some other organizations that were more likely to leave me feeling disheartened by what I had seen.

 

Originally I had planned to shoot a project based around the idea of entrepreneurship in a small town in Uganda. The term entrepreneurship that is often associated with high flyers in the tech industry or people who make millions through start up’s and who are plastered all over our screens. I felt this had potential to be an interesting and contrasting take on this topic.

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However after a while I verged off from looking at that specifically as in all honesty it was turning into a bit of a clean cut commercial and ‘unicefy’ style that didn’t really fit with me, who I was and what my work and interests are all about. I set out then to dig a little deeper into the town itself and the people that make it up.

 

What I found was a place filled with people who made family, education and religion extremely pivotal to their everyday lives and this reflected in the entrepreneurs that I worked with. Lots of them were highly driven individuals and demonstrated large commitments to these areas in their lives and their family’s lives. A place where the Premiere league is as big a religion as any other, a place that would burn their all their rubbish but where there were solar panels everywhere you look.

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People in Mbale had a very close relationship to the land and animals around them. In the UK there is quite a distance especially in larger towns and cities between the land they live on, the way there get their food and their relationships to the animals and their local environment. Lots of Ugandans having been brought up around livestock as children and still doing it in various ways at home it was not unusual to see animals roaming everywhere you looked or to have a chicken below your seat in a taxi.

 

There was no shortage of music, performers, market traders and people setting up stalls and trying to hustle their way through the day on every corner. I spoke with lots of people of all backgrounds and ages in my time there. So many filled with life, drive and ideas. Not everything was positive and encouraging as you can imagine a small town in eastern Ugandan had its flaws and wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

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Not everyone was bright, driven and a saint as you can only imagine. But I want to focus on the parts that made me enjoy my time there and the positive and memorable conversations I had with the people there.

 

As much as there was poverty everywhere you looked there was also people striving for more, areas were run down we’re also full of life. People there still had an obsession with music and fashion in the same way they do here. Electricity wasn’t reliable yet people still managed to run their businesses and used innovative ways to tackle these sorts of problems.

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The resourcefulness to try to create and thrive in an environment that raises so many challenges I greatly admired.

 

I hope you can gain a perspective of all this through these pictures as much as I did. This project is dedicated to my friend Jake Taylor. He was a great example of taking struggles in life and turning them into strengths. He also showed me that life is short and you’ve got to do less talking and more doing.

 

Gray

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