Photo exhibit displays daily life in Uganda

Pulitzer Prize winner brings new project to Pittsburgh

Written By Carley Bonk

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is hosting a photography exhibit by Pulitzer Prize winner Martha Rial called “In Uganda, A School to Call Home” at the 937 Liberty Gallery.

The photographs feature the organizations Bright Kids Uganda and the Great Kings and Queens Children’s Center and their humanitarian founders, Victoria Nalongo Namusisi and Medi Bugembe.

The exhibit is located at 937 Liberty Ave in Pittsburgh from Friday, Sept. 23 through Sunday, Nov. 13.

The exhibit has already received a lot of recognition.

“The opening night Gallery Crawl was one of the best yet,” Cultural Trust Public Relations Director Shaunda Miles said.

Rial estimated over 700 people were in attendance at the gallery crawl.

Rial’s photographs contribute to the Cultural Trust’s desire to feature artists and their work in a global perspective.

“All of our programs have a global focus; even our performing arts have an international appeal,” Miles said. “We’ve featured internationally renowned artists such as Chang Jinlee of Korea and Finnbogi Petursson of Iceland.”

A Pittsburgh non-profit, the ASA Social Fund for Hidden Peoples also sponsored a community forum on Thursday, Sept. 29, which proved to be a success according to Rial.

“The community forum went great. Over 130 people showed up from all walks of life,” Rial said. “Victoria and interns from Bright Kids Uganda were there. People were interested in international development; they cared, they were engaged.  It says a lot about our community.”

Pauline Greenlick and her husband, Louis Picard, have been financially funding Bright Kids Uganda since 2008 through their non-profit organization, ASA Social Fund for Hidden Peoples.

“ASA financially supports the many programs Victoria has started, including a school for the disabled, support for those who have been victims of gender-biased acid attacks and the distribution of micro-loans to encourage self-supporting small businesses in Ugandan villages,” Greenlick said.

They were inspired by Namusisi humanitarian efforts to save her country from suffering.

“Victoria grew up in poverty, her father a fisherman,” Greenlick said. “He instilled in her the importance of education, which she now does for her children. She saw the devastation of the war in the north as a journalist and politician.”

The organization had small beginnings but has grown tremendously over the years.

“What started out as a scout program for 13 girls grew into a program that educates, shelters, feeds and clothes over 100 children from birth to 18,” Greenlick said.

Namusisi’s adopted son is also in the focus of Rial’s project.

“Medi Bugendi was an orphan Victoria had adopted as a child from the streets,” Greenlick said. “Now, at 20, he runs his own orphanage that shelters over 400 children.”

Namusisi has also received a $50,000 sustainability grant in order for her organization to begin the process of becoming self-reliant.  Through micro-loans, her villages will be able to rebuild themselves into centers of commerce and education. Donations are still crucial for the survival of this movement, according to Greenlick.

Rial said the struggles in her career have been worth it, looking back on her many journeys up to this point in her photography career.

“My career, like many, is a series of defining moments: being hired by my first newspaper, being hired by the Post-Gazette, them giving me the opportunity to pursue interesting subjects and winning the Pulitzer Prize,” she said.

Rial had some advice for students who are interested in the field of journalism.

“Don’t give up,” Rial said. “There are roadblocks everywhere. You have to do it for the right reasons.  You don’t get into this business for the money. You do it because you’re curious, because you want to always continue learning.”

Point Park photojournalism student Trevor Kirby was impressed by Rial’s project, and “definitely” will visit the exhibit this month.

“These photos show how countries that don’t have as much as we do are progressing,” Kirby said. “Other people need our help.”

Kirby has done similar assignments as a photographer.

“We had an assignment to photograph our city. Everyone went out and photographed buildings,” Kirby said. “I photographed homeless people and interviewed them with a thermos full of soup. It’s really hard stuff, but it’s moving. It hits home. I’d love to do something like it again by working for National Geographic or joining the Peace Corps.”

Point Park School of Communication professor Helen Fallon will be taking her honors students to the gallery on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 1 p.m. to listen to Namusisi and Rial speak.

“I encourage all students to attend,” Rial said.

As for her next endeavor, Rial is turning her focus to the Pittsburgh community.

“Public art is the project I’m working on now,” Rial said. “I want to feature the unsung heroes and strong women in our community. I have a poster on display on Penn Avenue of the last valedictorian of Wilkinsburg High School before it closed down. I call it. ‘Beyond the Ceiling.’”