In an interesting sort of way, my initial tour of the orphanage this morning took me back to the impressions I had of the some of the concentration camps I visited a few years ago. The "dorm" rooms in which the children sleep are much like the barracks, the "kitchen" an outdoor fire pit, the "project" area" where the children make bricks to sell not unlike the labor areas in which prisoners were forced to work.
I know that seems severe, and you're probably thinking that my imagination has got the better of me, but I must tell you that I have never seen anything like what I saw today.
When I arrived, the orphans were eating their breakfast. They sat on the ground, some of them barely clothed, some of them obviously ill, some of them smiling broadly, some of them haunted, putting spoonfuls of porridge into their mouths. I learned that for lunch they would have a corn mush of some sort (that they make on the open fire pit) and then for dinner, the same corn mush, but this time with beans and ground up silverfish (for protein) stirred into it. In the photo, you can see Peter's hands holding some of the silverfish before and after they are ground up. Peter was one of my guides. I was greeted like royalty and treated to a very informative look around by Peter, Rosemary (the founder and director), as well as two others. The grounds are humble and primitive, and my tour guides were so proud of each hand built brick classroom, each pig, their recently donated cow, the dilapidated library, etc. You have to understand that to even get to this orphanage/school, we had to drive up a rutted, red earth road. (Once there, it rained like mad, so you can guess what the trip back down was like.)
Following my tour, the children put on a quite a show for their American guest. There was lots of singing, dancing and drumming. They even invited me to join them in one of their dances. (Even though I received much applause, I was no Madonna, that's for sure.) The kids were fantastic. In fact, I have borrowed an audio recorder so that when I return tomorrow I can capture three or four of the songs that I will then run behind the digital presentation of my pictures that I'll give on the last day of the workshop.
I will also record some of the orphans telling me their stories. Many of the children are from the northern part of Uganda and were child soldiers or street kids. They have much to tell, and they have already clearly experienced more horrors than any human being should ever be subjected to. I will put the childrens' voices in my presentation, as well.
I plan to return in the morning and spend the day there. We shall do our book shopping at some point, too. The kids and teachers alike are thrilled about all the new text books and workbooks that the money I have brought from the U.S. will provide them.
The joyful spirit of most of these children - and each and every adult in charge - was almost too much to bear, given the cards they have been dealt. There are many lessons here for me to learn.