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Project to End Human Trafficking volunteers help Uganda |

Project to End Human Trafficking volunteers help Uganda

| Sunday, January 25, 2015 10:33 p.m
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab and a group of children at the Bright Kids Uganda orphanage outside of Entebbe, Uganda.
Maranie Staab
Hanifa in Entebbe, Uganda, on Dec. 13, 2014.
Maranie Staab
The village of Opucet outside of Soroti, Uganda, on Dec. 6, 2014.
Maranie Staab
A woman and a child on a hike to Supi Falls in eastern Uganda on Dec. 10, 2014.
Maranie Staab
A portrait of a young girl in Soroti, Uganda, taken Dec. 5, 2014.

Their eyes spoke to Maranie Staab more than their words.

“Their situation is hard, but they are so strong, so resilient,” Staab, 27, of Regent Square said of her recent trip to Uganda with the Pittsburgh-based Project to End Human Trafficking. “They are some of the strongest, most beautiful people I have ever met.”

Staab and other volunteers with the nonprofit organization traveled to Uganda in December to raise awareness about human trafficking and help communities better respond to the ongoing crisis.

“We tell people that they have rights,” said Mary Burke, a professor of psychology at Carlow University in Oakland and the project’s founder and director. “This is a huge issue, and it is still happening today.”

Project volunteers work with some of the thousands of children who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which kidnaps boys and turns them into soldiers and turns abducted girls into sex slaves, Burke and Staab said.

Staab, an aspiring photojournalist who works as a global sales and client manager for Xerox Services, documented the trip for the project.

Her images are often closely cropped portraits, she said, because “their faces are so striking. Their eyes tell their stories.”

In one village, she approached a woman named Hanifa, whose husband poured acid on her, leaving Hanifa scarred and disfigured. The attack left her unable to breathe through her nostrils because they melted together, Staab said.

“I told her that I would love to photograph her. I told her she is beautiful,” Staab said. “She wants people to know her story. She wants to change history. She took the most violent thing and turned it into a beautiful thing.”

In the village of Opucet, the project installed a well. Villagers gathered to watch the work, Staab said, then wept when water began to flow, providing them with their first clean source of water.

The well cost $7,000; the Penn Hills Rotary donated the money, Burke said.

Staab recalled a small girl she and Burke encountered on a hike. The girl was sitting on a dusty mat. As Staab approached, she tried to hide in an oversized jacket. Only her leg, broken and encased in a cast, was visible. A makeshift crutch made of a stick with a plastic water bottle on top sat within arm’s reach.

The girl’s mother explained that a crutch would cost $7 — a fortune in Uganda’s poorest villages. Burke gave them the money.

“It gives you a renewed appreciation for everything, and I mean everything,” Staab said.

Volunteers will return in June to continue work on a school house in the village. The foundation is laid, but they need more donations to complete the structure.

Staab’s photos will be displayed in September at Square Café in Regent Square. She hopes her work inspires others to get involved.

“If used correctly, photography can change the world,” she said.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or

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