- Posted September 28, 2011 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Photo essays: Your stories in pictures
African One-Acre Island Home to Over 400 People
Makusa is an island located off the shores of Entebbe, Uganda, resting on the waters of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Victoria. It is just about one acre in size, and is home to more than 400 people who live in tiny huts crammed together, one after the other. On the island, there is no running water, no electricity, only a few small bathroom structures, and hardly any grown food. Fishing is the main occupation, and the men use small, weathered banana boats to travel between islands and the mainland. Life is simple and restricted on this football-field-sized piece of land.
In May 2008, Makusa suffered massive damage from a fire started by an accident with a candle. Nearly the entire island was burnt, leaving scores of people without homes and possessions. An article on AllAfrica.com stated, "The fire was reportedly caused by a candle, which came in contact with petrol when an unidentified woman tried to refuel a generator in a video hall..." It started at night, and spread within minutes, sending the entire island running for safety. Miraculously, no one was hurt. The Uganda Red Cross society said, "According to a June 1st, 2008 assessment by Entebbe Red Cross Action Team (RCAT), no person died but all property on the island was destroyed. The island has a population of 450 people."
Much of the reason for such quick destruction was because of the island's condition. Theirsmall houses were made of wood or polythene paper, and because of how closely they're crammed, it caused the fire to spread easily. Red Cross donated materials for rebuilding, and as of now, there is no evidence of fire damage. Still, however, poverty is exceedingly present.
Many of the residents had to rebuild since they couldn't move back with families elsewhere, for lack of transportation and jobs. But even still, most of them chose to stay on Makusa Island. The fishermen want to stay near the deep waters, where fish are more present. From this island, they have easier and closer access to the water with their boats. A member from my team asked one man why he chose to live on the island. "Because the fishing is good!" he said. It's hard to imagine such a harsh reality, especially realizing the conditions he and all the others are living under.
I stepped onto Makusa Island on June 29th, 2011. I was with my missionary team from Believers World Outreach, and we were preparing to reach out to the community and help teach about sanitation. We had been forewarned that what we were about to see was difficult, but nothing could quite prepare us for the magnitude of what is there.
As we approached the island, I stared at the speck of land, wondering when it would get bigger, and trying to imagine the fact that 400 people live on it. The homes are fit together like Legos, dilapidated and seemingly sinking into the lake. Small fishing boats line the tiny shore. We were carried or carefully assisted onto land by the natives, avoiding the contaminated water that is laden with debris and bugs.
The brick or wooden huts are filthy, smelling of waste and garbage, which is made worse with the humidity and suffocating heat inside of them. Sometimes there is but a mere two feet in between the huts as you walk across the island.
Then finally, apart from the physical conditions, we focused on the people. As a photographer, I am greatly interested in learning and observing all around me. I soaked in the details, especially since it was my last day in Uganda. And as a missionary and girl personally passionate for the African community, I reached out to the people and learned as much as I could. They are poor and without adequate food. They lack medical care, schooling, and churches. The island is filled with disease and contamination, and clean water and sanitation is a stranger to them. Children are naked or wearing ripped clothing that is often too large for them. Men work hard at fishing and travel between islands or the mainland for business and supplies, and the woman take care of everything from cooking to laundry to cleaning. Its one community existing on one very small piece of land, but is not unlike so many areas in the villages and slums of Uganda.
Entebbe itself is just one city inside a country that is starving for economic growth and political rest. It is a place of need and sorrow, but it is also a beautiful place. Many of the people are full of love and joy, and their lives illustrate a contentedness and patience that we Americans could only hope to imitate. They have nothing, but many of them live as though they had everything they need. The reality is both inspiring and convicting.