Rafal, who grew up in sub-urban New Jersey, used his $1,750 Locher grant to travel to a conflict zone in northern Uganda where more than 20,000 children have been abducted by guerillas in a 19-year civil war. Once there, he took a “by any means necessary” approach—including providing local authorities with false identification—in order to photograph and interview child refugees.
Rafal’s trip took an ugly turn on July 9, 2005, after he’d been in Uganda for about a month. As he recounts the story, he traveled to Pabbo on his own and entered the camp without official permission. He wandered the streets taking photographs, a crowd of children following wherever he went.
Late in the day, Rafal was confronted by an army officer who took him to his office and interrogated him. The officer accused Rafal of being a guerilla collaborator and a journalist, of taking pictures of Pabbo to make the government look bad. On a previous visit, Rafal had signed into the camp as “Dean Moriarty” working for “the Locher Group,” an alternative media organization. This time, he was carrying no personal identification.
After hours of questioning and threats, the officer brought Rafal in front of camp residents and told them he was a terrorist and guerilla supporter. The officer then put Rafal on a truck crowded with refugees heading back to Gulu, saying soldiers would meet him there to examine his passport. When the truck stopped on the outskirts of town, Rafal fled to the home of a Ugandan friend, Patrick Oola, who hid him. Rafal came down with malaria soon after, and spent several days delirious in the hospital before being released and returning to the United States.