Our fast races to gain money and accumulate things that show who we are limit our perspectives. In Africa, you don't need much: just your name and who you really are.
— Cecilia Guridi
To photographer Cecilia Guridi, Africa is a different world. "In some remote places, time stopped and never advanced," she said. "To encounter this helps you gain perspective on so many things we got probably very wrong in our world." In 2015, the photographer and travel writer spent four months in Central Africa, Uganda and Rwanda. Accompanied by her husband, a consultant psychiatrist, half of her trip was devoted to working at the Kisiizi Hospital, in the southwest region of Uganda, in the Rukungiri district, where her husband was invited to work in the mental health ward. With an obvious enthrallment at photographing various people and realities, Guridi jumped at the chance to partake in a photographing the lives of those residing at this rural African hospital, nestled in the hills, hours away from any major forms of urban culture.
Reality hit Guridi hard as she accounted for her new surroundings. As a photographer working on the ground, Guridi was privy to doctors' conversations regarding the severity of chronic patient illness, and she also witnessed a first hand account of suffering men, women and children, which she says deeply affected her emotions. "The community of Kisiizi is very poor, and I couldn't help but think, 'Why is this happening in Uganda? How can I help as a photographer?'" Guridi said. After a conversation with the superintendent of the hospital, who is a licensed pediatrician, Guridi came up with an invaluable solution to spread the word about the efforts of Kisiizi Hospital—she would create a book detailing the lives of the nurses, doctors, residents and the community as an ultimate tribute to her experiences in Uganda.
The book, titled A World of Difference, Portraits of Kisiizi, features photos and text illustrating daily life and experiences in a rural Ugandan hospital. Reflecting on the title of the book, Guridi credits the work of the superintendent, whose familiarity with the geography of the land and a strong sense of community were two strong deciding factors. "The vast rural geography in a way, forces the hospital staff to form a unique family bond with one another," Guridi said. "When we arrived he (the superintendent) mentioned: 'You will leave a different person after this experience,' and he was right; every visitor and volunteer falls in love with the place, the kids, the staff, and the bonds are strong and life-long relationships become established. It felt like a different world."
With free and unrestricted access to the entire hospital, Guridi limited her presence so as not to intrude on daily activities to better capture a legitimate, un-staged reality of Kisiizi Hospital. "For the first two weeks, I barely took any photographs," Guridi said. "I visited every ward, familiarized myself with the people, the patients, the rhythm and schedules of things, then slowly took out my camera and walked around. Everybody initially looked at me curiously and asked many questions. I wanted my photographic gear to be an extension of me and not invasive to the environment."
As Guridi settled into her surroundings, slowly, trust was established between herself and the hospital community. Guridi accredits a certain sense of transparency and invisibility to her work, noting that the act of photography became more and more natural as the days went by. "In a hospital, you often photograph pain, anxiety, fear and sadness, which is not an easy task," Guridi said. "I often try to learn a few words from the native language to interact with my subjects and provoke laughter and a more natural state of the human body."
In a rural hospital, life is not all fun and games, as her book illustrates. There is a shortage of medical help available, even with a full staff. The neonatal unit is small, especially with the average woman raising six children. Kisiizi Hospital also has a primary school institution on site and a community health insurance scheme that helps 600 orphans every year. For over 50 years, Kisiizi has continued to develop. It now also has a school of nursing, which trains approximately 200 students of nursing and midwives every year. "Realities like this really open your mind," Guridi said. "Sometimes you really want to escape and talk about something different. TV doesn't exist, Wi-Fi is very limited, so there is only time to work and bond with the people around you."
At times, Guridi witnessed traumas in the hospital, which made her second-guess the nature and credibility of her own existence as a photographer, but her determination to help empowered her to move forward with the project. "If I show the reality of this rural hospital, somehow I may be representing the reality of so many hospitals struggling in the rest of Africa," Guridi said. "There is so much to do."
This was not Guridi's first time to Africa and her love for the culture has impacted her immensely as a photographer, as she recognizes the wealth of life experience and the difference of a materialistic economy. "Our fast races to gain money and accumulate things that show who we are limit our perspectives," Guridi said. "In Africa, you don't need much: just your name and who you really are. You can hate it or love it. There are people who still touch your hands not wanting anything in return, and that is totally pure. In the small communities, they do not have a clue who Brad Pitt is or even what a magazine may look like. I will return to Africa because of it's beauty. Africa is raw and somehow I felt at home."
Guridi's book is available for purchase online, with all proceeds going directly to Kisiizi Hospital. Donations will support local initiatives within the hospital to secure crucial necessities and healthcare for young mothers, children and chronically-ill people living in rural Uganda. Though this is not her first book, Guridi says the project was special to her as she worked to express the special efforts of hospital staff trying to make a difference and reduce pain in the hopes of bettering the lives of those in need. With this message in mind, Guridi's book aims to tell the stories of lives touched by the efforts of the hospital. "With resources or lack of them, no person has been turned away from this hospital," Guridi said. "Every case is a serious one, and it's incredibly important to appreciate and be aware of small hospitals doing similar work throughout Africa while illustrating the beauty of humankind despite race, age, colour; we are all one."
To purchase a copy of Cecilia Guridi's book, click here.