Until last year, going to the hospital in remote Budondo, Uganda meant traveling 12 miles over a bumpy dirt road. Now things are different. A new local health center does everything from malaria testing to delivering babies.
A nonprofit helped make it happen, but this isn’t the typical nonprofit story of outsiders coming to Africa to solve a problem. The Suubi Health Center was created by a local family. Mama Hope–a San Francisco-based nonprofit that focuses on community partnerships–just helped provide a little cash and support.
The nonprofit is known for its viral Stop the Pity videos, designed on the premise that when other organizations list tearjerker statistics to play on Western guilt, they miss sharing the true potential of the people they’re trying to help. And they miss seeing Africans as fully dimensional people, not victims.
A stunning new website tells the story of the Suubi Health Center from the perspective of the founders, a Ugandan couple who just wanted to help their community. As you scroll down the page, you’re immersed in their world, starting as the dawn rises over their home, birds chirping, and their toddler eats breakfast.
Ryan LeClyuse, the interaction designer who created the website, left his job at Google X to spend three months living in Africa to tell the story. “I saw people doing work that resonated with me, and I made a proposal for how I might be able to facilitate that story, and they were game,” he says.
He appreciated Mama Hope’s desire to portray places like rural Uganda differently than the pity-inducing approach that some other nonprofits take. “People are perpetuated as passive vessels that are waiting to be filled with our support,” he says. “It disconnects us from a global context of why and how these imbalances came to be. And it can make us want to support charity for the wrong reasons, to feel better about feeling bad.”
Instead, he wanted to just show who the Mukisas–the family behind the new clinic–really are, and how they really live. ” My time with the Mukisas was only inspiring,” he says. “I simply wrote about and filmed that. In the end, an honest portrayal had nothing to do with ‘pitying’ anyone. As far as I’m concerned, this ‘clean’ lens could be applied to any story. Easier said than done, of course.”
Mama Hope wanted to share the story of how community leaders can quickly get local projects running on their own. “We really wanted to show that impact in real-time, and also be able to tell the stories of these visionary leaders without really any presence from our staff or any Westerners, so they could 100% tell their story,” says Katrina Boratko from Mama Hope. “Ryan would be there as an amplifier of their voice, with nothing in between.”
Before he took out his camera, LeClyuse spent time trying to make himself useful and help on various projects, gaining the trust of the community. “I feel like that comfort and familiarity allowed for things to unfold naturally and be captured honestly,” he says. He took hundreds of hours of video–even after twice contracting malaria.
The site tells the story simply through a series of videos and voice recordings. “I just really want people to see it,” LeClyuse says. “Bernard Mukisa is an incredible storyteller and he shared many stories with me. His stories would often be about something that had happened in his life, but I could always derive some larger meaning based on why I thought he told them. That’s what I want for people: to experience the story and have it resonate on whatever personal wavelength available.”
When he shared some of the clips–the first of what will be a series of three projects taken from his footage from Africa–at a launch party in San Francisco, a group of previous fellows from Mama Hope was moved to tears. “Everyone who had lived there for several months at a time said it fit the feeling of living in that village, living with that family, perfectly,” says Boratko. “At a deep level. I think that’s the best praise that could possibly be given.”