Growing Peace: A Story of Farming, Music, and Religious Harmony is about the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian families in a Ugandan village who created a Fair Trade Coffee Cooperative. In this uplifting photo-essay, we learn how families live and work together peacefully despite their religious differences. Author and photographer Richard Sobol takes readers on a journey to Namanyonyi through his beautiful photographs. And to learn more about his experience, we’ve asked him a few questions about his creative process.
What was your inspiration behind Growing Peace?
Once I learned of the Mirembe Kawomera coffee cooperative—and the idea that it was created to show Muslims, Christians, and Jews working together—I knew it was a story that was important to share. Since I had done a lot of work in Uganda and knew that life can be very challenging there, I felt that this was a unique opportunity to present a hopeful message from a rural village in Africa.
As a photojournalist, what do you aim to capture in your photographs? Is there anything you like to take pictures of the most?
I am always looking for a sense of place and to add references and details that help share the experience of being in a new environment. I spend a lot of time in the editing process, adding photos that help to tell a broader story. I am excited equally with telling stories about people and about wildlife. When I do make stories about endangered animals I always include people in the narrative too.
What unique challenges did you face when taking pictures, if any?
The first challenge is to gain trust and be accepted by the local people. Their lives are busy and focused on earning a living and bringing food home to their families, so it is important that I work quietly without interfering with their jobs.
What do you hope readers will take away from Growing Peace?
I am hoping this book will fill a niche for classrooms, teachers and parents looking for ways to find an example of interfaith cooperation. It is sad that we are confronted daily with many stories about conflict and mistrust between religious or ethnic groups. From this small corner of Africa these struggling farmers have a big lesson to teach. They are not professional politicians or policy makers yet their actions set an example for the rest of the world.
Tell us about your research process. Did you face any challenges?
Since I often travel far, I do spend a lot of time planning and researching in advance. I have to be certain of many things once I get to a new place. The first challenge is to be sure that I am welcomed and that the local community or wildlife conservation project is interested in sharing their story with a wider audience. I am very upfront in letting them know that my goal is to make a book and that will also increase public awareness. That has to be their choice and most often they readily agree and are so happy to share. The main challenge once I am on location is working through my extensive shot list to make the photos that I think will tell the story, and at the same time being open to the many surprises and unplanned adventures that always come up.
How is the cooperative doing today?
There have been improvements since I’ve been involved with the cooperative community. They have grown in number from a few hundred members to over one thousand. There are more outside visitors coming to see them and a small tourism business is being developed. The farmers are learning more advanced growing techniques and sharing better tools and equipment but nature is still one of the most important elements to all farmers. They still need rain and sunny days for a successful coffee crop each year.
Learn more about Growing Peace: A Story of Farming, Music, and Religious Harmony here.
Richard Sobol is an award-winning photojournalist who has created more than a dozen photo-essays for young readers. His books explore a wide range of wildlife, conservation, environmental, and cultural topics. While visiting Uganda, Sobol learned about a village where people of three faiths had come together in harmony in the aftermath of 9/11, and he was inspired to tell their story for children. Sobol’s photographs have also appeared in several publications, including The New York Times, Audubon, People, and National Geographic. When not traveling and photographing the world, Sobol can be found in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he lives with his family. Find him online at richardsobol.com.