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

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

it takes a village: tony

Tony, 2006

Tony, 2013

I have known many of the children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage since 2006. I've watched them grow stronger, smarter, faster, more creative, more confident, more determined, more accomplished and more appreciative of what Change the Truth is providing them. I feel like a proud mom when I consider how much positive change has taken place in the lives of these young people.

Tony is one of these kids. He barely spoke a word when I finally corralled him into a classroom during my first trip to Uganda in October, 2006. He only looked at me when he thought I wasn't watching. He seemed dejected and forlorn. His clothes were always ripped. He didn't seem to have many friends. He didn't say much.

One day I saw him playing football (soccer) with some other boys. He was quick and agile, his long legs stretching out underneath his small frame as he made his way up and down the hard dirt field. The ball he was kicking was homemade -- a bunch of wadded up plastic bags wrapped in twine. His unbuttoned shirt flapped furiously as he maneuvered that ball between and around the other players. All the while he was playing, a smile stretched across his face.

I liked Tony from the moment I first saw him. He was creeping around the building I was using to record the children's music. He'd peer in through the window, then quickly scoot away if I looked in his direction. He intrigued me. I wanted to know his story, and I wanted to get to know him.

I made it my business that October to meet Tony and spend a little time hanging out with him. He was clearly a very smart kid. But he was guarded, cautious and fiercely independent -- so not in need of an old white woman or anything she might be offering up.

I kept working on Tony, and over the years, he has become my very dear friend/son. We take long walks together when I'm at SMK so we can talk about all sorts of things - family, goals, friends, education, disappointments, loss, fears, what makes us happy, where we'd like to go, who we'd like to meet, what makes us laugh. Now Tony is a budding saxophone player, a true leader among his peers, a good student, a helpful and loyal friend and someone who aspires/works hard to make his dreams come true. I love this kid.

Last year Tony graduated from primary school. I had always told him that if his grades were good enough, and if he fulfilled all the requirements for a CTT secondary school sponsorship, that Papa Eddie and I would pay his school fees. He and I just had that kind of a relationship. It seemed like the natural thing to do to make that offer. He nodded, became quite serious and then told me he would try his best.

Tony has just completed his first year of secondary school. He attends Turkish Light Academy. He is a day scholar, which means he comes back to SMK at the end of each school day to do his homework, his chores, to see some fiends, but mostly to practice saxophone. He is a member of the "Five Stars," a self-named group of young sax players who are coached and nurtured (both long distance and in person) by their beloved Dutch music teacher, Monique (who was a member of CTT Team 5).

Eddie and I split Tony's school fees with his pen pal's family. Tony and James (a boy his age from Chicago who happens to be very smart, loves playing soccer and truly rocks the trumpet!) have been writing letters back and forth for several years now. James' family wanted to help with the school fees, too. So we are a consortium, I guess you'd say.

Between his music mentor Monique, our CTT social worker Melissa, SMK administrators Rosemary, Joseph and Joan Faith, James, James' family and Eddie and me, Tony has quite a few people in his corner. We are forever cheering him on. He is doing well. He is happy and confident, sweet natured, polite, funny, artistic, one heck of a dancer, a mighty horn player, athletic and handsome. He is doing well in school. He dreams of becoming a professional musician and music teacher. Or maybe even a doctor.

Sponsoring a child from the orphanage in Uganda is a commitment. I am here to tell you, though, that the rewards and the satisfactions and the pleasures and the feelings of pride trump any feelings of slight financial sacrifice. Tony tells me he loves me when we see one another and when he writes me letters. I tell him I love him, too. We can be together for hours, walking the red dirt roads of Kajjansi saying absolutely nothing if we don't' feel like talking. We just walk in step, enjoying the sun on our faces and feeling safe and complete in one another's company.

You can't put a price on that.

If you would like to consider sponsoring one of the children at the orphanage, please get in touch with me. I'll answer any questions you might have.

I'm pretty sure you'd like the experience!

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