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

Sunday, September 04, 2011

evalyn's story

One of the Ugandan children who had a profound impact on Team 4 member, Avis Smith, was a young girl named Evalyn. Avis wrote an account of her new friend a couple months ago and sent it, along with a photo she had taken, to me via email. I've been saving it for a special occasion on the blog.

Today is my birthday, and that's a special occasion in my life. I'm posting this story about Evalyn because she probably has no idea when her birthday is. There are tens of thousands of children in Uganda who have no idea when their birthday is. So, on the occasion of mine, I'd like to wish them all, especially Evalyn, a happy birthday today. The fact that you were born, Evalyn, is actually something we should all celebrate each and every day.

Here is Avis' moving description of the birthday girl, Evalyn:

‘Sheela, my daughter, open the door to your mother… Sheela, my daughter, open the door to your mother. She-sheela, She-sheelah… I’m around.’

This is the chorus of a song embedded in an African folk tale that Evalyn taught me one morning at SMK. The story does not have a happy ending. The daughter, left without her mother’s protection, is eaten by a hungry lion. The story resonates deeply with Evalyn. She, like the child in the story, no longer has a mother who ‘is around.’

Evalyn is 12 years old and has been at SMK since she was 7. She is a quiet, shy child.

Evalyn never knew her father. He died around the time of her birth. Her mother was killed by the rebels, and their village was burned while Evalyn and her two siblings hid in the bush. The children were eventually united with their grandmother and lived with her until she became too ill to care for them. Evalyn reports that her aunt eventually brought them to SMK.

Evalyn’s story and song tumbled out as she drew pictures of her past life. Then she began to draw her present life at SMK. It was filled with simple items: her school, her bed, her blanket, her sandals, all bursting with color and activity. Of SMK, she wrote: ‘Here, life is changed. We sleep well.’

As the noonday sun bore down upon us, Evalyn worked on a third art panel depicting her life going forward. Then she wrote: “’n the future, if I grow up, I want to live in a flat and become a nurse.’ That tiny word ‘if’ took my breath away.

Evalyn already knows that life is hard and sometimes frightening and unpredictable. She takes nothing for granted. Not the past or the present or the future.

Yet she has a quiet spirit that runs deep. She moves in the shadows of SMK, making sure her siblings and the younger children are well cared for. She is kind and generous and loving. She has not given up on life. She is planning and dreaming of the future, but living life fully and completely in the present.

In my future, I want to be more like her.”

- Avis Smith, member of Team 4 and board member of Change the Truth

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