July 15, 2024

Event Coverage Highlight

David Kaplan Award Winners from VICE News Share Background on ‘Uganda: Orphanage Inc.’

Clockwise from upper left: Terry McCarthy, Hind Hassan, Julia Lindau and Joe Hill.

by Chad Bouchard

Last year, an investigative team from VICE News Tonight started looking into the shifty world of illegal orphanages in Uganda and began to unravel a thriving industry that garners up to $250 million in donations from rich countries like the U.S. annually.

In a 10-minute video piece, correspondent Hind Hassan and her team revealed that corrupt Ugandan officials profit from these facilities through bribes to overlook their operations, which actively recruit children – including many with living parents – to bolster numbers and draw more donations.

That story, “Uganda: Orphanage Inc.,” won this year’s David Kaplan Award for best TV or video spot news reporting from abroad for what judges called “disturbing, haunting, top-notch reporting.”

On July 9, the OPC hosted an online discussion with Hassan and two other members of her team: Joe Hill, associate producer and researcher; and Julia Lindau, producer. The moderator was Terry McCarthy of the American Society of Cinematographers, who served as head judge for the Kaplan Award.

Panelists talked about the complicated matrix of exploitation that profits from children that most often come from poor families seeking help for education and services their government does not provide.

“What actually happens is these children are used as pawns and props to show off to people,” Hassan said. “And then the money is used somewhere else and doesn’t actually go in to helping these children.”

Hill said that a global network of donors and charity programs has incentivized the recruitment of children to live at the orphanages, with money and other forces at various levels of a system that pressures those involved to maintain the industry.

“We’re talking about millions of dollars in Uganda,” Hill said. “And there are these tourist trips where people come and visit, and you play with a few children at an orphanage, and you build a well or go on a safari, and then all that money is just constantly coming into the country.”

The panelists discussed a scene in which a local official was supposed to crack down on one of the illegal orphanages, a supposed raid that was stalled and became confrontational while the crew was still filming. Producers soon discovered that there had been collusion and a bribery arrangement with law enforcement.

“Slowly, a bunch of employees started coming out. Someone had a machete, and kids were watching. It was a super tense environment,” Lindau recalled. In the end, the probation officer in charge of the operation “basically tried to escape, and Hind pinned him down and forced him to react, asking if he was just going to leave the kids who were there illegally after being accused of taking bribes to allow them to keep operating.”

Hassan added that local Ugandan organizations who fight poverty and provide services children need are frustrated by the flood of poorly administered funds from abroad.

“People need to look into what they are doing, and what funds are going into. What you’re doing could be doing more harm than good.”

You can watch the award-winning video piece on YouTube here.