"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Thursday, November 29, 2007

fellow traveler: melissa

I work at Operation Breakthrough, which is a daycare and family service center in the urban core of Kansas City, MO. My job at Operation Breakthrough is to coordinate our School-age Program and Betsy’s Kids Program. Operation Breakthrough has over 674 children (ages 6 weeks-17 years old). Operation Breakthrough offers before/after school care and holiday care for over 300 school-aged kiddos.

Working with the school-aged kids is definitely a high-energy job…there is never a dull moment during the day. I am constantly amazed at the talents and capabilities of our school-aged children, and honestly, sometimes I get very sad at some of their personal circumstances. Several children who attend our program are homeless, in foster care, or from working poor families, who are struggling from paycheck to paycheck. However, most of the times when you walk through our doors, there are more smiles and hugs than any one person can fathom.

One of the primary reasons for my travels to St. Mary Kevin’s in Uganda is to engage with the school-aged children there. I can only imagine, like our very own children here at Operation Breakthrough, there is an abundance of smiles and fun to be had in spite of the extremely tough, painful circumstances that have brought them there. It is my eventual hope that bridges can be built between the children of St. Mary Kevin’s Orphanage and the school-aged children at Operation Breakthrough. Many of the children have similar interests, such as jewelry making, singing, and dancing. Our center’s children appear very curious about life in Africa; and I am hoping that African children feel the same about American children. It would be so wonderful to connect these children and their two worlds.

While I am having the adventure of a life-time in Africa, my son, Antwain, will be staying here. Antwain is 8 years old and the light of my life. Antwain is excited about my journey to Africa (although he is disappointed that I will not be sleeping with the elephants). Antwain and I enjoying playing football together. I also enjoying reading in my free time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

digging a deep well

The Ferguson book arrived on my doorstep the other day. It’s a beautiful tribute to a tremendously talented artist/teacher and colorful, complex human being. It’s called Talking With the Wheel, published by Silver Gate, Inc. If you are relatively new to my blog and would like to read the previous posts about my experience photographing Ken for the book, please go to the archive on the right and click on his name.

This passage, written by Ken, has left a deep impression me:

“My students have often heard me say, ‘You have to dig a deep well.’

The problem people have understanding the phrase ‘digging a deep well’ is that people don’t realize that it doesn’t have to be within the world of ceramics, and it doesn’t have to be about ‘art.’ ‘Digging a deep well is an experience, a challenge, something you’ve done or that you’ve faced which forced you to make a decision. You had to decide where to focus. Are you going to get the best of it, or is it going to get the best of you? These things make you a stronger, more sensitive, more passionate person; a person willing to be tolerant and understanding, able to focus on work and less critical of other’s work.

It has to do with intellectual curiosity. An afternoon spent observing the phenomena of nature and then drawing it, studying it, examining it, trying to figure out how it happens, why it happens and the answers to all of those questions. You go outside of yourself. You have a new experience, and you try to understand it.

Why is it important to dig that well deep? Long term, the reason is that you may run out of ideas. It’s very easy to do. There will be a demand on you for new ideas. It’s one of the most hateful, terrible things about the art world – artists are always asked, ‘Any new things?’

You want new ideas to come out, and you hope they do. I remember talking to Akio Takamori, and he said, ‘I don’t have any ideas. I’m out. I ran out. I just reached a point where I don’t have any new ideas. What do I do?’ I told him to go back and revisit his old ideas. Look at them and think, ‘Did I really take this as far as I could? Is there more to it?’ You want to have these ideas – they keep you going.”

Ferguson’s well was indeed a deep one. As I am in the process of digging my own, I will reflect back on his thoughts, his work, his accomplishments, his humor and his ballsy, blustery way of being often. He was never my teacher, but in the brief period I spent with him working on photos for this book, I think I learned more than I would have cared to admit to him at the time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

beautiful bags from uganda

When Michael came to visit us last May, he brought me many gifts; among them were these beautiful cloth bags made by his mother. I have asked Michael’s mother to make more of these so that I can sell them on the Change the Truth website. According to Michael, she is now busy sewing so that I can bring them back with me in December. Thanks to Ann’s brilliant suggestion, “Mum” is sizing them so that laptops will fit neatly inside. Stay tuned to the website upon our return to find these in the store!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

planned trip to northern uganda

"A longstanding civil war in Northern Uganda has shattered livelihoods, destroyed healthcare and schools and left a legacy of fear. Despite a recent truce, over 90% of the rural population remains crowded into 200 squalid and unhealthy refugee camps." 
 International Rescue Committee [IRC]

Last year IRC officials took Senator John Edwards and his fellow delegates to IRC projects in the district of Kitgum, where nearly all the people now live in government camps. He was also taken outside the town of Lira, where some people displaced by the war have begun returning to their homes. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp near the Kitgum district made a huge impression on Senator Edwards, leaving him with memories he says he'll never forget. 

”There is a current humanitarian crisis and unimaginable suffering in the northern part of the country, of which too few American citizens are aware,” Senator Edwards said. "The living conditions were awful — open sewage, little water, malnourished children." He has said many children are living with high HIV/AIDS rates themselves while having to see their parents die of the same deadly disease, leaving them behind as orphans.

The rebel army known as The Lord's Resistance Army [LRA] have abducted some 30,000 Ugandan boys and girls and forced them to serve as soldiers and/or sex slaves. They have robbed thousands more of their parents. During the protracted and vicious civil war in Uganda, they have forced innocent children to commit unspeakable atrocities — sometimes even forcing them to kill their own siblings.

While in Uganda, three of us will make the trip to Northern Uganda with a driver/guide named Jonathan. These arrangements have been made by Rose Mary and Joseph, directors of the orphanage. Jonathan will take Carol, Lynne and me to some of the displaced persons camps, and we will see for ourselves this dire situation. Terrible, recent flooding in this part of the country has caused many of the displaced to be once again displaced, as their camps have been wiped out. They have nowhere to go. I can only imagine what we will witness once there.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

fall in kc

This has been a crazy week of family, friends, food, football and foto shoots. It’s always a little hectic just before I leave town, and this time around has been no different. One week from tomorrow we’ll be heading toward Uganda. Before then, though, there is a lot of portrait work to wrap up. Here’s one of my favorites, shot yesterday at Loose Park.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

color my world

Awhile back, I mentioned a wonderful essay that was sent to me by a woman who lives in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Her website is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are in the mood to have your consciousness raised. Click on "Tallgrass Tales" to read Marva's collections of essays, poems and stories. I think this particular essay should be required reading for all.

COLOR MY WORLD by Marva L. Weigelt

Right from the start, the coloring seduced me. First came the eight fat primary crayons, chunky and imprecise, wielded in my infant fist like weapons against the unbearable blankness of rough Manila paper. There were no lines to stay inside of yet; in the beginning, I defined my own boundaries.

Eight was the magic multiple for Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith, the geniuses behind the invention of Crayola® crayons in 1903. Seven days of creation, days of the week, notes in the musical scale, seas on the earth, but eight crayons, as if that one extra stick of color conferred the potential to construct the eighth wonder of the world. The distinct fragrance of paraffin wax and pigment is to the present day a referential scent I associate with contentedness, creativity and abundance.

As I grew, the spectrum allotted to me increased correspondingly with my maturity: 8, 16, 24, 32, 48 colors—with which size the coveted built-in sharpener arrived—64, 72—and here the growth paused until I was in my 30s. My advanced age did not stop me from buying the 80, 96 and 120-count boxes, although I was bitter over the retirement of two of my favorite colors—raw umber and maize. I refused, however, to purchase the 150-Count Telescoping Crayon Tower, not because of the profanity of such new colors as Jazzberry Jam, Razzmatazz and Macaroni & Cheese, but because Hallmark, which now owns Binney & Smith, has violated a fundamental Law of the Crayon Universe—150 is not divisible by eight.

Crayons ruled the bold, bright, waxy domain of primitive design in which fine delineation was not yet required. Subtlety came later, when they took away our recesses, but permitted us to render with colored pencils. I recall loving geography class for the maps in our textbooks and the larger-scale U.S. and world maps that pulled down like window blinds in front of the blackboard, but even more for the blank maps fresh from the Ditto machine, still damp and reeking with the heady scent of solvent. So faint and fleeting did the aniline purple appear on the page that I hurried to embark upon the assignment, fearing that the borders of the African countries might disappear.

I dutifully copied out the country names and capitals in as neat a hand as I could manage, but in my haste to get to what I considered the heart of the task, I fear I missed the point. I carried the mapmaking art to new heights, placing the pebbled cover of a hardback book under the oceans and other textured surfaces—placemats, doilies, a block of wood—under the countries to give the illusion of raised relief to my maps. I drew in rivers and mountains, tastefully decorating the continents from sea to shining sea—I colored the world with flair. What I did not do particularly well was learn world geography, except in the most rudimentary way.

I took a few geography quizzes on the Internet to assess my knowledge base. I only missed one question on the World Quiz (where is the Southern Ocean?)—identifying continents and oceans—but otherwise, the results were dismal. I scored 24% on the Africa map quiz, 38% on Europe, 59% on South America and 90% on the U.S. state and capitals geography quiz. I was afraid to try the Asia quiz. How could I have executed so many beautiful maps and learned so little about the world?

In my defense, the tests are on flat, featureless maps with only the outlines of continents and countries. I think I’d have fared much better with a few rivers and mountain ranges thrown in for orientation. I was musing on my geographical shortcomings when, ironically, Jane handed me a passport application last night. I am among the 80% of Americans who, up until the recent issuance of new Homeland Security mandates, did not have passports. I have traveled just over the border into Mexico once and into a few of the Canadian provinces, but I have never been off the North American continent. When I consider that about 64% of the world’s 232 countries and self- governing territories are smaller than the state of Kansas (heck, the 75 smallest would all fit in Kansas together with room left over), it’s easy to see why I’ve kept plenty busy for almost half a century exploring and memorizing the geography of my own homeland. Incidentally, you don’t need to know anything about the world to get a passport.

Thomas Swick, in an article lamenting our Americentric geographical illiteracy, noted this irony:

We eat sushi and dance salsa and practice yoga. How much more cosmopolitan can we be? Well, cosmopolitan enough to be able to name and locate on a map the places from which those three things came. [Via magazine, May 2007]

“The world we know is the world we’ve seen,” Swick concludes, and I agree, with the exception that I believe it’s possible to develop at least a measure of familiarity without actually traveling. What is necessary is a connection of some vitality—lively stories and details, the particular sounds and scents of a place, the undulation of the landscape, the lilt of the local tongue—a sense of human habitation and significance. What I notice as I look at unlabeled maps of the world is that I can most readily locate the countries from which I have met someone—Stephen from Ireland, Leon from Poland, Raija from Finland, Ton and Ans from the Netherlands, Prathiba from India—because I’ve been given a reason to care, the shape of a human heart to associate with the boundaries of a country on the map.

With this in mind, I went in search of names, faces and stories to connect me to new places. As synchronicity would have it, my friend Don sent me a link for a Kansas City photographer’s blog. The entry at the head of the page was accompanied by a photograph of crayons, markers and colored pencils that Gloria Baker Feinstein and others will be taking to the St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood in Kajjansi, Uganda to use in art classes this December. I felt a physical jolt, as if two wires had been connected to complete a circuit.

The blog led me to the website for Change the Truth, a not-for-profit Gloria launched after a 2006 trip to Uganda brought her attention to the plight of a few of the 2.2 million Ugandan children who’ve lost one or both parents to civil war or HIV/AIDS. A compelling video on the site introduced me to Henry Semanda, Vincent Emma and Shamim Nambatya, young teens whose stories flew me across the continents and oceans on the wings of compassion. These are the hearts I will use to humanize my map as I color my world in a new way—one country at a time—starting with Uganda.

Two checks sit on my desk as I write this, awaiting deposit in the bank. Again in the spirit of synchronous divine timing, it seems clear that these monies are meant to travel to Uganda. Together, they are enough to pay for one year’s school fees for a child whose world and possibilities will expand as a result. I hope I will someday know that child’s name.

In future, I shall keep my map close at hand, and when I meet someone new I will ask them to mark their homeland on the map and tell me a story, so that even without artful techniques for shading and stippling, my map will acquire color and texture, taking on a life—many lives—of its own.

©2007 Marva L. Weigelt

Note: Since Marva wrote this, she has indeed made a contribution to Change the Truth and is now sponsoring and writing to a young girl named Zaber. How cool is that?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

heavy lifting

Ta da! Here they are: four bags chock full of crayons, markers, sketch pads, canvasses, paintbrushes, acrylic and tempera paints, colored pencils, models, journals, clothes and neatly wrapped gifts for pen pals. Each of these bags weighs exactly fifty pounds, meeting the weight restrictions imposed on us by the airlines.

So, here you have it – 200 pounds of delight heading straight to the kids at St. Mary Kevin’s Orphanage Motherhood. Thanks to each and every one of you have helped make this delivery possible.

Excuse me while I go load up on my Wheaties.

Monday, November 19, 2007

pen pal letters

Two young friends of Change the Truth have kindly agreed to share their first pen pal letters with us. They were so excited to receive them!

“Hi Rebecca,

How are you? My name is Enid. I was born in 1998 and my birthday is on 9th February. I am in primary six and my best subjects are English and Science.

I have a little brother called Harold and he is 18 months old.

I usually speak and write English and enjoy reading good stories. My best dishes are chips, liver and fried cabbage. My best fruit is a berry.

Things I like most, I like going to church, singing and making friends. Thanks for my good letter. May God bless you and nice to hear from you again. Bye.

Your new friend, Enid”

“Today is Sunday, 2rd September, 2007

Dear Georgia,

My name is Adrienan Liz. I am five years old. My brother is Tendo. I like swinging. I have a big sister is Shirley. My grandmother is Rosemary. I like her very much. I like eating ice cream and chips with tomato sauce and having new friends like you. Bye.


Liz included a page of drawings, including a cup, box, chair, flower, bag, tin, window, pot and mango.

Both Rebecca and Georgia have given me small gifts to take to their new friends when I return to St. Mary Kevin’s. I know the girls on the other side of the world will be so happy to receive them!

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Our empty nest is not quite so empty this week. Abbie has come to town! She is teaching me how to make sushi tonight. She has also injected some youthful energy into our home, which is nice.

If you’d like to see what Abbie does when she is not singing or gardening or cooking or garage sale shopping or hanging out with her cute hubbie, Sam, check out her website. Abbie is the K-4 art teacher at Sacred Heart Academy in New Orleans. The work she gets out of these children is pretty wonderful.

Friday, November 16, 2007

fellow traveler: lonnie

Lonnie Powell is a native of Kansas City and a graduate of Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Missouri where he studied under the late James Dallas Parks.

A long time activist in the African-American art community, he has been an educator, critic, agent and gallery director. He has held positions in numerous organizations such as Black Archives of Mid-America and Friends of Bruce R. Watkins Culture Heritage Center. He co-founded Euphrates Gallery and founded The Light In The Other Room, a collaboration of nineteen African-American Kansas City based artists.

Powell has exhibited in numerous group and solo exhibitions; his work is part of several private and corporate collections including Sprint Nextel and H & R Block. His art is also in the permanent collections of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, American Jazz Museum, and
Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

Lonnie and his wife, Brenda, have been married for forty-one years and have a son, Gregory, a daughter-law, Tava and a granddaughter Jaden.

“I look forward to working with the children in Uganda and motivating them to create beautiful artwork. I am also excited about visiting the continent and taking lots of pictures. Hopefully, the pictures will provide inspirations for my paintings.”

Thursday, November 15, 2007

fellow traveler: ann

One of my favorite sayings is, "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."-Plato

Children (and adults) create from what they have experienced. Play is the language that expresses stories and experiences. Toys and games are the tools used to express this language.

For me, taking toys and observing the children of St. Mary Kevin play
will be equivalent to listening to the intimate and detailed stories of
these children's lives. Stories that often can not be told because of
the lack of verbal language, or intense emotion that the events carry.
Often times the hurts and pains that children have suffered can be more
manageably shared through the safety of play rather than by talking.

I am honored, excited and immensely curious to see the play of the
children and discover how others can offer support and education to
mitigate the pains they have endured. I have spent 11 years learning
the language of play through some fabulous children at Operation
Breakthrough (and 9 years learning it from my beautiful girls!). This
trip is an amazing opportunity to take what the children of OB have
taught me and share it with the staff and children in Uganda. To me
this is an amazing exchange.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Given my competitive nature (come on over for a friendly? game of ping pong, scrabble, boggle or poker sometime) you can imagine how pleased I was just now to learn that Change the Truth raised more money than any other non-profit group that has participated in the 10,000 Villages events. Great work, everyone! High fives all around…

power shopping/power giving

The fundraising event at 10,000 Villages last night went really well. Many friends of Change the Truth attended; some I got to meet for the first time. Everyone seemed to love the store and left with some nice treasures. Thanks to all who were there! The staff at 10,000 Villages commented on how nice everyone was. They also said we will be happy with the numbers, though they can’t share that information until they total it later today.

Monday, November 12, 2007

fellow traveler: carol

Having spent my career as a lawyer specializing in real estate finance in NYC, I always envied people who devoted their time and energy to helping others in the world. When I would watch the news and see tragic events brought into my living room through the media, I was in awe of people who plucked themselves out of their worlds and fully gave to help others. When I learned about Change the Truth and St. Mary Kevin Orphanage which it supports, I was immediately drawn to its simple goal, to help children in need. And when chatting one August afternoon with Gloria about her anticipated trip, I knew I wanted to go. At that moment, I decided I would pluck myself from my world and for a few short weeks, see another reality, put myself in the place where I could feel and touch the children. I am joining with people so very talented in working with children and creating art and I look forward to learning, expanding my world, exercising my passion for helping children and making them laugh.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

fellow travelers: jane and lynne

I am pleased to introduce you to the talented, compassionate and adventuresome souls who will join me on the upcoming trip to Uganda. In this installment, you will hear from Jane Voorhees and Lynne Melcher, respectively.

I earned my BFA from the University of Kansas and my MA in printmaking from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I teach printmaking and painting at the Kansas City Art Institute and show work regularly around the country. I am preparing now for my fourth New York solo show.

We all look at things differently. What I see is dictated by where I live and where I travel, dreams I have, who I talk to, music I hear, books I read. My work is shaped by daily life and the love of art that feeds and nourishes the work I produce.

The Uganda trip will certainly give me much to draw on for my art, but much more than that, if I can affect a child in some way through art causing a smile to cross their face, then the entire trip will be worth it. Hopefully, I will see many smiles.

I am an artist- a painter, ceramicist, and textile designer. I have had the privilege of traveling the world working with artisans from the bustling city of New Delhi to the tiniest of villages in Vietnam, Bangladesh, and South Africa. Overwhelmingly, it is the people I have met who have been my greatest inspiration, and my greatest teachers.

As this fascination and curiosity about people has developed - their lives, their cultures, their stories, I have begun to explore the art of documentary filmmaking.

When I first heard about Change the Truth, I was immediately drawn to the stories about the children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage. And when Gloria told me of her plans to visit, I felt compelled to participate in some way.

Though I have only been working in this new medium (digital filmmaking) for a few months, I hope to capture the grace and courage, the heartbreak and the happiness, that lives within each child.

Specifically, I plan to document, in video, Lonnie and Jane teaching art, and Ann and Melissa engaging in various therapies with the children. In addition, Gloria, Carol and I plan to head north for a few days. Once there, we will spend some time in a relief camp, where we will hopefully find a child who we can safely bring to the orphanage.

By limiting my focus to a handful of children, I hope to share with you the transformations that surely will take place as we attempt to “Change the Truth” for these beautiful and innocent young people.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

round two

Exactly one year ago I returned to Kansas City after my three-week stay in Uganda. Three weeks from now, I leave to go back. A lot has happened during this year. A lot about me has changed.

So now we move on to Chapter 2 of the Uganda blog posts and the Change the Truth blog posts. The beginning of the next chapter of Uganda posts will be similar to those of Chapter 1 – I just starting taking my Typhoid pills, I am loading up on granola bars, hand sanitizer and extra batteries. I have gotten my visa, made my plane reservations, arranged for pickup from the Entebbe airport. I am trying to figure out which comfy shoes to take.

But Chapter 2 will be written by a person with a changed perspective.

Those of you who have stuck with this blog from the very beginning (thank you!!) will recall my enthusiasm, excitement and anxiety from last year as I was getting ready to depart. This time around, I feel like I have a real sense of purpose - a mission, if you will. I feel determined. I feel certain of what I am doing and of what lies ahead. The relationships I established in Uganda last year have been carefully and lovingly nurtured; I feel as if I am on my way to visit old friends. And the new relationships I have been treated to during the past year as I established Change the Truth fuel my desire to do this work for the kids at St. Mary Kevin’s and remind me that I am not alone in the effort.

So many people care and want to help. Once I got the ball rolling, so many have figured out their own ways to help provide assistance to these children. I feel kind of like one of those commercials I see (too often) on TV where the mobile phone server (I can’t even recall which one) follows its client around with a team of hundreds. I feel like the team that is the Friends of Change the Truth will be behind me every step of the way on this trip. With shoulders like that to stand on, I feel very tall. With a foundation that broad, I feel very strong. Thank you for being there for me and for the kids in Kajjansi. I can't help but believe we are all richer for the experience so far.

Not to mention the team I’m actually taking with me! My fellow travelers, Carol, Lynne, Lonnie, Jane, Melissa and Ann are each so excited to plant their feet on the grounds of the orphanage and begin to do their work. Their eagerness to stand with me has been mind-boggling. I feel truly honored that I will get to travel and work in their company.

So, here we go – Chapter Two… Hope you’ll stick around for the read.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

express yourself

The therapy area at Operation Breakthrough is now lined with a wall of expressions. I wrote about this brainchild of play therapist Ann Thomas once before on the blog, but now I can show you what the final installation looks like. Ann’s idea (yes, this is the Ann who is going with us to Uganda!) was to provide the young ones with visual cues that would help them articulate and show their feelings. She selected several from the many photographs I have made at Operation Breakthrough over the years that she felt really zeroed in specific emotions. Once they were printed and framed, she found Dave Walker who could (graphically and artistically) spell out those feelings. She added mirrors (all of this is at kid level, of course) so the children can practice expressing an emotion, seeing what it looks like on their own faces and comparing it to that which is conveyed in the photograph. It’s such a great idea, and Ann reports that it has been working extremely well. I couldn’t get a good shot of the entire hallway, but here is a little piece of it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

are you right or left brained?

Check out this really interesting article about photography and the sides of the brain we tend to use when making pictures. Thanks to Dan for sending it my way.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

letter from rose mary at the orphanage

Dear friends of Change the Truth,

Thanks very much for everything
And your efforts and love.
We received the one thousand dollars proceeds from balls and jewelry.
This money has been used to buy food for the children
And also to pay staff salaries.
Our brick-making project is progressing smoothly
And we have now upgraded the piggery project to thirty (30) pigs.

Please send our warm regards & greetings to everybody.
Eagerly waiting for your visit on Dec 3.

God bless
Regards and thanks

Rosemary Kavulu

Saturday, November 03, 2007

ten thousand villages

Ten Thousand Villages in Overland Park, Kansas will partner with us on the evening of Tuesday, November 13th. They will donate 15% of the proceeds made from sales during these hours. Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit fair trade store, which supports groups from over thirty developing nations, giving their unemployed and underemployed artisans a place to sell their products and tell their stories in North America. PLEASE JOIN US! Select from gifts and collectibles, holiday decorations, home decor and more. Let your gifts give twice this season, and make a difference in the lives of people all over the world. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 5 -8 PM, 7949 SANTE FE DRIVE, OVERLAND PARK. Refreshments will be served!