Friday 10 September 2021 3:40 pm

Opportunity International exhibition is both harrowing and hopeful

Tucked away in the secluded Southwood Garden of St James’s Church, just off Piccadilly, you will find a new outdoor photography exhibition hosted by the charity Opportunity International. 

It consists of a series of large, freestanding portraits of Ugandan refugees taken by the award-winning photographer Kate Holt. Each one comes with a harrowing story: artist Gentil was forced to flee his home when he was accused of using his art – expressive portraits and ceramics – to corrupt the local youth; Mary, whose husband was murdered in front of her by the police, who then raped her, infecting her with HIV.

The intimacy of the portraits seems at odds with the harrowing stories, with acts of almost unimaginable brutality described in casual terms. “I came home and found [my entire family] dead with their throats slit,” says Fatuma, a cafe-owner originally from Somalia.

The stories also contain a little spark of hope, detailing these men and women’s dreams for a better life. One woman wants to open a hair salon, another a market stall, Gentil an art collective. This is where Opportunity International comes in, working with the refugees to provide them with loans and training to enable them to work their own way out of poverty. 

Uganda is one of 20 countries supported by Opportunity International, which provides access to financial products and services to over 19m people across it’s global partners. For 50 years, Opportunity International has been developing and delivering financial solutions that enable people living in poverty to increase their incomes, send their children to school and transform their lives. 

“I have lived and worked in East Africa as a photographer and journalist for over 20 years,” says Holt. “This trip to Uganda to gather these stories is one of the last I did before Covid struck, yet the power of the stories we were told back then and what I learned from the people I met is more relevant than ever.

“All the refugees we met had experienced traumatic events, extraordinary upheaval and loss. But they all remain determined to make their lives better by running a business to improve their lives and those of their families. They aren’t asking for much: they are asking for an opportunity.”

The exhibition is open daily from 8am to 5:30pm from 1-12 September, and from 20 September to 8 October.

• For more information about Opportunity International visit the website here