1. Story gathering inside one of the busiest hospitals in the world.

    Good story telling with your camera is more than just capturing a shot of what’s in front of you. You need to use your ears as well as your eyes. It isn’t just what makes a good photo, you need to understand the context, understand how your photos will be perceived and importantly how your photos can make the biggest difference.

    Just about everyone has access to a good camera these days in one shape or form and photos can be uploaded to the internet in just a few clicks. Whilst this is a great opportunity for sharing images, make sure you think about what the story is and how you can best tell it.

    We’ve recently returned from a story gathering trip to Uganda with Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). In the lead up to the trip we had been told by several sources that we wouldn’t be allowed to take our cameras in to Mulago Hospital. Whilst we would never try and force the issue, we have enough experience to realise that no doesn’t always mean no. Mulago Hospital was an integral part of the story and so we needed to get access, if at all possible.

    RCOG in Uganda

    As we sat and listened to Doreen, the Director, it became clearer why they weren’t keen for us to film; Mulago has been the centre of criticism on numerous occasions for a number of issues, including overcrowding, insufficient staffing and high mortality rates. She explained that 60% of the patients were referrals from other hospitals as the cases were too complicated or emergencies or those hospitals didn’t have the facilities or staff resources to cope. On the day we filmed, there had been 77 births in the last 24 hours – more than triple the number of babies arriving in a busy central London hospital we worked in recently. Many of these births involved surgery and at least two or three days recovery, yet there were fewer than 30 beds.  Often those that bear the brunt of criticism are the staff; one nurse told us, “we are used to being crushed”. All we witnessed were kind and hardworking staff trying to cope in hugely challenging circumstances. Rather than being criticised it felt to us that the staff deserved medals!

    It would have been very easy to go into that hospital and take photos of the overcrowding, of patients lying on the floor, of women in labour in the corridor. But you have a choice when you frame a photo of what to include and what to leave out. A slight bit to the left and you could have huge numbers of patients and no nursing staff. Point it down at the floor and there might be a huge puddle of blood, zoom in a bit and you have cropped out the mop clearing it up. When pulled together this could paint a very different picture to what is actually going on. I’m not saying Mulago doesn’t have its challenges, but by listening and looking instead of just seeing you learn so much more. Mulago’s crowded wards with patients lying on the floor is part of a wider story of health care across Uganda.

    The fact that Mulago Hospital wouldn’t just let us walk in with our cameras, is exactly how it should be. This is a hospital after all and patient safety and confidentiality must come first. Thank you to everyone who helped us gather these photographs and footage and keep up the good work. Here are a few more photographs from Mulago hospital.

    RCOG in Uganda


    RCOG in Uganda

    RCOG in Uganda

    RCOG in Uganda

    RCOG in Uganda

    RCOG in Uganda

    RCOG in Uganda

    Below is the first of three films that will be produced from this Ugandan trip. It’s being used to help launch RCOG’s Global Health Strategy and outlines some of the challenges and how RCOG members and fellows can support.

    There is also a 36 panel exhibition in RCOG’s head office in London, which is being used to inform and inspire staff and visitors about their international work. RCOG is committed to working alongside colleagues in Uganda to address some of the issues we learnt about and to help develop the lower level rural health centres to ease the flow of referrals and take the pressure off Mulago Hospital.

    Please follow the link to find out more about our story gathering services and sign up to our blog to be the first to hear about our story gathering tool kit, packed with useful information about getting the most out of your stories.

    As always we would love to get your comments and hear what you think below, thank you.

    1. Sarah Turley

      What a thought provoking blog. I like the way you’ve made a distinction between hearing and listening. It is the difference between looking and really seeing. It sounds obvious, but as charity story gatherers we have to do more than just document facts; we have to show context – the story behind the facts. The challenges, successes and even the failures. The heartache, hard work, tears and joy. Your photos here do this brilliantly.

      • Ben Langdon

        Thank you Sarah. That half an hour sitting and listening to Doreen was absolutley invaluable, as not only did it get us the permission we needed but we learnt so much of the context of what we were about to go and see. Often when you are working to very tight timelines the temptation is to wade straight in there and capture as much as you can. It’s amazing how scenes can look very different when someone else lends you their eyes.

    2. A thank you to Mr Nigeria | Blog | Mile 91

      […] and the accepted narrative on certain places and situations. You may have read Ben’s blog on Mulago Hospital in Uganda a few months […]

    3. Mwene Barironda

      Dear Ben and Catherine;
      I would really request that I get this story published in a Ugandan newspaper! With your permission of course. Please say yes and let me know.
      You can send me the photos (used here) showing the good side of the works in their original form and the story. Send them Ben. I will get the story published. Thank you. Aggrey

    4. Dignity in storytelling and photography – Blog – Mile 91

      […] a value we embed deeply in our storytelling work, especially when telling stories about places like Mulago Hospital in Uganda. We believe that you can maintain the dignity of individuals even when showing the poverty in which […]

    5. International Women's Day | Introducing Deodata – Blog – Mile 91

      […] Sulphine Twinomuhangi (centre) works in one of the busiest maternity wards in the world. Whilst we were visiting there were 77 babies delivered in 24 hours. Mulago hospital, […]

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.