Had I known what I was getting into, the whole truth of it - the challenges, the disappointments, the heartache and the frustrations that invariably seem to go hand-in-hand with running a not-for-profit - would I have started one? I think back to the days of my photography gallery. Had I known what I was in for - the long stretches of bleak winter weather and dismal sales, the challenges of convincing people that photography is indeed ART - would I have chosen to open the doors of the Baker Gallery?
It's difficult to know how to do my current job. I've never done it before, and I never took a class in it either. Come to think of it, I have been sorely untrained for just about every serious job I've ever had: mother, gallery owner and, for the past seven years, director of a not-for-profit.
I guess I fly by the seat of my pants most of the time. I do seem to manage, however, to surround myself with people who can help me figure out stuff as I go. I've been really lucky in that regard.
Just as there were specific kinds of ups and downs with the gallery business, there is a unique set of roller coaster dips, swerves and curves in the non-profit world. Honestly, I don't know what is going to come my way any given week, especially since I am thousands of miles away from the physical location and the actual people we are helping. So I simply strap on my seat belt, do the best I can with the navigation system I'm inventing as I go and let things rip.
Happily, the frustrations and disappointments that inevitably occur are outweighed by the good things that end up happening. I define good things this way:
a shy, sad, not-so-trusting young girl who is afraid to look us in the eye or murmur any words at all, transforms - and after our two-week visit (complete with hugs and hand holding) tells stories, sings (quietly), dances (when she thinks no one is looking) and with shaky, but new found confidence, implores us to please return again next year.
an orphan with a serious case of worms and malaria lost his grandmother and was brought to the orphanage. after some weeks, he makes a best friend. together they navigate their way through the meal lines, the lonely nights, the long days of schoolwork and chores and the strict discipline from teachers and matrons. the boys can be seen walking hand in hand, talking. or kicking around a ball made of tied up plastic bags and laughing every now and then when the ball plops into a muddy puddle.
a seven-year-old, figuring that since her parents had died she had no hope of ever going to school, is presented with her first school uniform and school shoes, some books and some pencils. she can hardly believe her good fortune, and she turns away to hide her tears of joy.
four brothers lose their mother and then are abandoned by their father. they end up living at the orphanage, where they have a bed on which to sleep each night, three meals a day, medical care and the chance to go to school. their talent for art and music is soon discovered, and before they know it, they are playing trumpets and painting canvases.
a teenager loses all hope for her future when her guardian, her last living relative, is hit by a car on the main road and dies. she turns to her brothers and sisters at the orphanage for strength and support, and she gets it. she is seen walking arm in arm with four of her girlfriends; they steady her as they move slowly in unison across the red dirt that leads to their dormitory.
a 23 year-old parentless high school student, smart as a whip and equally as determined, is given the opportunity to attend school. he discovers a love of all things related to computers and technology and makes it his business to excel in these areas. quickly, his talents are recognized, and he is granted an opportunity to get on a plane for the first time in his life and travel to america to present his ideas about an application he's working on. its one that will detect clean water. it's one that will help the people of his country who don't have access to clean water on a regular basis. he sees it as a way of giving back.
These are examples of the beautiful things I get to witness in my life as director of Change the Truth. These are the things that keep me moving forward, despite set-backs and mishaps. These are the things for which I am incredibly thankful.
There is so much good we have done for the children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood in Uganda. The board of directors, the donors, the teams that travel to Uganda, our on-the-ground- social worker, our event volunteers, the people who gather pens, paper, cough drops, jump ropes and sidewalk chalk for the children, the people who sew dresses and britches from pillowcases, the people who raise money through bake sales or who deposit their dimes and quarters in jars they've set out on mantels in their living rooms. All of these people continually restore my faith in humanity - and my belief that all of us are good and just want to know how to be good at being good.
So, yeah, if I'd known how deep into the pool I was going to eventually wade, I might have been scared away from this job. But I could say the same for being a mom and a gallery owner.
And these three jobs have been the best possible ones for me. I'm lucky to have (or have had) them…very, very lucky.
I just recently came across this video collage Lynne made for me after our 2008 trip to St. Mary Kevin Orphanage (the year my son Max was on the trip). It seems like a perfect accompaniment to this blog post. (Thanks, Lynne.)