True story: Inspired by Uganda’s agriculture, a couple makes a documentary

Ansley West Rivers, a documentary filmmaker and photographer based in Uganda, shares how she met her husband, fell in love with agriculture and found the subject of a new film, “Mothers of a Nation,” in this amazing personal story:

7. Rain Dance

I first traveled to Uganda in 2007 as a photographer with UAPO, the Ugandan American Partnership Organization. I quickly fell in love with the beautiful town of Jinja at the headwaters of the Nile River. I returned to the USA but knew I had to return to Uganda. I had recently gotten back together with the love of my life, after a four year separation. We were living in beautiful Wyoming, which he was reluctant to leave for an unknown place and worried about moving with no job of his own.

Listen to an interview with Rafe and Ansley in this 15 minute podcast:

Rafe, who is now my husband, is an organic farmer, but at the time was working in property management. He was farming once a week at a local farm in exchange for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. He was eager to pursue his passion in agriculture but needed the right opportunity.

Uganda is an agrarian culture steeped in farming traditions. He knew that many of the country’s farming techniques and seeds were centuries old. Ugandan farmers held a wealth of knowledge that he wanted to learn.

Take a look at some of her beautiful photography in this photo set:

Development in Gardening (DIG), a non-profit introduced to us by UAPO, offered him a farming position with their organization. We both made the decision to move in pursuit of our separate passions unaware of the parallels that would ensue.

8. Stairway

We arrived in Jinja with a vague idea of our responsibilities and directions. We moved into a campsite on the riverbanks of the Nile and began working closely with DIG.

I started shooting a documentary on the history of Jinja with a focus on the inhabitants of the past and present colonial architecture that lie in ruins through out the town. The subject matter intrigued me in the beginning but lacked the soul and purpose I felt I had returned in search of.

10. WashingDishes

Two weeks into our move, circumstances arose that forced the leader of the DIG organization to leave the country. Rafe was now the sole member of DIG working in Uganda, so I began working alongside him. We became the country leaders of DIG within weeks of our arrival and this change of plans was challenging but led us on one of the greatest adventures of our life.

DIG built a demonstration garden at TASO, The AIDS Support Hospital, in Jinja. We took over responsibilities of the project and was introduced to a woman named Florence who had learned about the garden while receiving her medications.

Florence is an avid farmer but through the demonstration garden became interested in organics and diversifying her own fields. Florence saw the health benefits to her immune system and the monetary opportunity organic farming afforded her. We quickly became close to Florence as she initiated a home garden project for the women’s group through our work at TASO. Florence’s house was our first farming project outside the demonstration gardens. Our experience with her women’s group introduced us to a lot of the incredible women in the community. Working side by side, we were given the opportunity to get to know people on a personal level.

As we became closer to each woman, they opened their homes and lives to us. I became intrigued with the stories that were slowly being revealed to me and I realized that I was there to help these women tell their stories.

I began shooting 16mm film and interviewing each woman with separate sound. The project slowly evolved into a more focused storyline about Florence, Alice and Sarah who are not only farmers but empowered women’s leaders in the Jinja District. I returned the following year with digital equipment to shoot the feature film, which we are now in our final stages of editing.

All three women taught us not only about agriculture but also the power to create change within one’s self, family and community. The ingenuity personified through each woman is a remarkable example of how a piece of land can offer a way out of poverty and isolation. In a country where women are second rate citizens, Alice, Florence and Sarah have defied cultural norms and created lifestyles that stand as positive examples for women across the world.

Stay tuned for more stories from the “Mothers of a Nation” film makers on the ONE Blog. And take action for small farmers like Alice, Florence and Sarah by calling on the G8 to roll out a bold global plan on sustainable agriculture now.