Josée Uwimnana and her son, Christian 21, 1 child, 3 months old Soonga, Rwanda
“I get respect because of this child. But his father doesn’t like this child. He left when he discovered I was pregnant. He has done this to other girls too. He does not help with the child and only came back to give him his name. But I like being a mother, I thank the Lord for giving me this child…. When Christian grows up, I want him to be a reader.”
I am not yet a mother, and truthfully I have always feared the day when I will become one. The pain, the diapers, the strollers, and the sacrifice of my time and attention seem too much to handle. My stubborn aversion to the delivery room changed the first time I visited Africa.
In Africa, most mothers struggle and sacrifice more than I can comprehend. There are mothers in Uganda whose abducted children are lost as child soldiers, mothers in Rwanda who carried their children to the mountains as genocide swept through their country, and mothers throughout Africa simply trying to feed their families every day. Yet despite all of these seemingly insurmountable challenges, there is a keen sense of hope, optimism, and joy in their eyes. They continue despite their challenges and overcome the nearly impossible. Every day, they conquer poverty without pocket change, disease without medicine, and violence without weapons.
I found that African mothers believe in their families and the future of their children. They know that education is the future of their continent. Many of them have taken in children left orphans of sickness and war and loved them as their own. Above all, African mothers find joy in the simple aspects of motherhood and strength in the unity of their families.
The differences in our lives may seem remarkable, yet through this project, I have found a deep and powerful connection with each woman I photographed. I found strength in their perseverance and selflessness. I found sorrow in their trials, but hope in their futures.
I grew up just outside of New Haven, CT. My interest in art began in high school where I had a fabulous drawing teacher who let me come in to the art studio any time I wanted. My junior year, my dad bought a DSLR, or a digital camera with interchangeable lenses, for an international trip he was going on. He might as well have bought it for me because I used it way more than he did and I quickly fell in love with photography. A couple months later, I got my very first job and used my first paychecks to buy my own camera.
When applying for college, I applied to Rhode Island School of Design and to the photography program at BYU. I didn’t think I had any chance at either, but I actually got into both. I chose BYU over RISD because I knew that this is where the Lord wanted me to be and where I would thrive personally and artistically.
In 2011, I married the best man out there, Ryan Hill. Ryan served his mission in Malawi and Zambia, which was a major inspiration for this project. At about the time that I was working on the concept for my BFA project, he started trying to convince me to go to Africa. I was very hesitant at first, but I still remember one day walking down the halls of the HFAC and the idea for this project just came to me. Every day since, I have had small confirmations that this project is what my Heavenly Father wanted me to do for my final show.
I will be graduating in August and after that I’m not quite sure where I’ll be headed. My husband is applying to graduate schools around the country, so our next destination is currently undecided. I know that wherever we go, photography will always be a part of my life and the stories of these women will always stay with me.