Children holding clay replicas of cameras pretend to take photographs in this picture, taken by Karen Sparacio during one of her visits to the Acholi Quarter in Uganda. When Sparacio first flew there in 2005, her goal was to bolster her portfolio to increase her chances of getting work taking pictures for relief organizations. Instead, moved by the plight of the people she met, she wound up founding a relief organization of her own called Project Have Hope. (Photo courtesy of www.photosbykisp.com)
|Photographer Karen Sparacio poses with the paper beads made by the women from the Acholi Quarter in Uganda. Sparacio sells jewelry made from the beads to raise money for the Acholi women, many of whom need help. (Daniela Caride photo)|
|This photograph, entitled “School Children,” depicts a host of young children from the Acholi Quarter, all dressed in blue garb, making their way across a stretch of land dotted with grass. Sparacio described the quarter as a heavily populated slum where “people live right on top of each other.” (Photo courtesy of www.photosbykisp.com)|
|“Stone Quarry,” one of the arresting images in Sparacio’s collection of Project Have Hope photos, displays her gift for capturing the emotional resonance of charged environments like the Acholi Quarter. (Photo courtesy of www.photosbykisp.com)
Karen Sparacio had a mission when she flew to Uganda in 2005. The photojournalist wanted to complement her portfolio to start working as a documentary photographer for relief organizations. But things didn’t go as planned.
She ended up founding a relief organization of her own.
It all started when Sparacio, 37, visited the Acholi Quarter — an area about five miles away from Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The quarter is home to 10,000 people from an ethnic group called the Acholi, who are banned from their original homelands in northern Uganda and southern Sudan by civil war.
Life isn’t much easier there. During a recent interview with the Banner, Sparacio described the Acholi Quarter as a heavily populated slum where “people live right on top of each other.” Most of the houses along the area’s dirt roads are made of red mud. Some families have installed corrugated iron roofs, but many still cover their small, frail homes with branches and plastic.
Amongst poverty, sickness and ignorance, Sparacio said, humanity still abounds.
“The people were so generous,” she said. “Every time someone was eating, they would [ask] me to join them. And in any meal, it’s not they will prepare more food — it just means they will all eat a bit less.”
The kindness touched the photographer.
“How do you look at people like that and just walk away?” she asked. “You just feel compelled to try to do something to make their lives better.”
And that’s exactly what she did.
Before Sparacio left Uganda, she bought handmade paper bead jewelry from several women and promised to come back. Like many other groups nearby, Acholi women produce paper beads out of reject paper from a printing press in Kampala. They cut long triangular strips and roll them tightly, glue the tips of the beads, string them and dip them in a clear lacquer. The women then unstring the beads and restring them into necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other jewelry.
It takes a whole day to make one necklace, Sparacio said.
When Sparacio returned to America, she sold nearly $500 in necklaces and bracelets at church events.
“They sold so quickly,” she said.
She returned to the Acholi Quarter three months later with the money from the beads — and thousands more from her own savings.
That’s when Sparacio started Project Have Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides education to 100 Acholi women and their children, and helps them establish viable local businesses.
Several visits to Uganda followed, and for two and a half years, Sparacio has been adding new ventures every time she spots an essential need. And there are plenty; as Sparacio talks about her work, the phrase she uses most frequently is, “It’s not enough.”
Sparacio first gathered 100 women to become members of the project and provide her with beads. She sells the beads each week at farmers’ markets in the town of Arlington and in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, and at other events on weekends. All told, selling the wares takes her more than 50 hours of work every week.
Marcia Ahearn, one of many customers who bought a necklace on a recent Wednesday at the Arlington Farmers’ Market, said she was driven by both the jewelry’s beauty and Sparacio’s cause.
“I knew it was for charity,” she said of the necklace’s $12 price. “That’s an extra, and it does feel good to help somebody.”
The money paid by people like Ahearn is helping Acholi women, most of whom are caring not only for their own children, but also the children of relatives who have died of AIDS, Sparacio said. So, as the photographer sees it, the math is simple: The more beads she sells, the more people she helps.(p2)
The photojournalist's Web site offers examples of her work in a variety of settings, from weddings in the Commonwealth to children playing in the Acholi Quarter. More »
Sparacio's nonprofit organization works with a group of 100 women in the Acholi Quarter of Uganda "and helps them transform their lives," according to Project Have Hope's Web site. At the nonprofit's online home, visitors can meet the women's children, view and purchase the paper bead jewelry the women make, and learn more about the project's fundraising efforts. More »
"This work ... needs to be done — and not just by people who are able to do it, but by people who have the compassion in their heart to do it," Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi said. "The children, they will know if you don’t have love in your heart. They can just look at you and tell.” More »