'Happiness as a basic need' is a photography project I produced in Uganda. It is a project that depicts the difference between the true beauty of happiness and the consumerist mantra so many have developed as the driver of happiness. Seeing the way the children were playing, the empowered stance everyone took when I photographed them and the feeling of openness and radiating unity, was something I hadn't experienced before. Forgetting I was in a country riddled with a dark history of corruption, genocide, child labour and exploitation, I felt life in it's most raw and real state.
Whilst I was there, I began to delve into the stories around artisanal gold mining. In Uganda, many gold miners use mercury to extract the gold. Through my research, I found it was mainly women, the panners, who were exposed to the deadly chemical which was also contaminating the villages water supply where children play and drink from.
A few weeks before I arrived in Mubende, government officials forcefully removed everyone from their mines with tear gas and seized people’s land, land that they had bought with all their money in hope it brings them and their family prosperity. 51% of the mines where owned by Ugandan citizens, now they had nothing. The government said this was to protect the people from the use of mercury and start implementing a safer process. The miners, including children who are on site, were given 2 hours to leave and were not allowed to take any of their possession. Many left the village, many became homeless and children were left behind. The government gave no information for when the mines would re open.
Prior to artisanal gold mining, most people worked in agriculture however, due to the difference in profit available from gold mining people changed their industry. Villages grew along with their economy and infrastructure. The community was happy and thriving. People became more independent, school fees where able to be paid and women and the elderly had jobs.
However, the government take over, that some say is due to the government wanting to privatise gold mining to sell to foreign countries, many communities were destroyed. The headteacher of Bukuya said, "since the gold mines stopped, soldiers are still around and we are scared, there is no care for some children. Some children don’t even have accommodation as the miners have left and been arrested and they have left children behind with no parents."