Archive for June, 2010


about aya

With today being World Refugee Day, I thought I would share the story of my friend Aya.  In early May, I participated in the Magnum Workshop Toronto at this year’s CONTACT Photography Festival.  I was frustrated with the progress of the particular story I was working on for my week-long project and decided to take a walk.  I ended up on Gerrard Street East where I came upon a thrift store.  Not one to miss out on a unique find, I couldn’t pass by without going in.  I’m glad I did because my unique find…was Aya.

Aya is from Gulu, a city in northern Uganda, about 100 km northwest from Lira, where I was in February.  For about 20 years, northern Uganda was plagued by the ongoing insurgency of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group.  This army, primarily made up of child soldiers, raided many villages in the north, often murdering or mutilating villagers, enslaving women, and kidnapping children to add to their troops.  Very few people in this area have been untouched by the rebel activity.  Aya doesn’t know what happened to her husband – he disappeared.

In 1995, Aya fled the conflict in Gulu, leaving her young daughter, Joanne, with relatives in Kampala, and claimed refugee status upon arriving in Toronto.  Having nothing but a woven bag with a few articles of clothing, she stayed at Sojourn House for two months where they helped her through the settlement process of getting all her necessary documentation, introduced her to a community of other refugees, and found her a rooming house in Kensington Market.  She found where to buy familiar foods, adjusted to the cold winters and with the help of two new friends providing her with credit, she bought some furniture and established herself in her new city.

Over the next several years, Aya worked hard and saved up enough money to buy herself a house; 4 years ago she sponsored her daughter to come to Canada.

After getting laid off from her job at Goodwill, Aya took courses through the Ontario Self-Employment Benefits Program which helped her open up her own business.  The Kiden Thrifty Store has been open for about 9 months now.  In the few days I spent with Aya in her shop, there was a steady flow of people coming and going, many of whom were immigrants or refugees themselves – some came for household items or an article of clothing, others for tea and a chat. 

In the end, my time with Aya in her shop and in her home having breakfast of tea and millet porridge became the story I wanted to tell in my week-long photo project. She was eager to hear my stories and see my photos from Uganda and I felt very grateful that she shared some of her stories with me.  I hope she is willing to share more.


exhibit at ryan’s well foundation open house

In the Kemptville, ON area this Sunday? The Ryan’s Well Foundation staff are hosting an Open House from 2-4pm and I will be exhibiting a selection of photos. There will be a silent auction including African gifts and one of my framed prints.

Click here for more information. Hope to see you there! :)

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Thank you so much to the following supporters! I really appreciate your contributions to help me get to Uganda and Kenya with the Ryan's Well Foundation!

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