|Tina, Rita, Josh and Queen|
My trip to St. Mary Kevin Orphanage in 2012 was a genuine revelation. Coming to Africa, Uganda, this orphanage for the first time was filled with surprises at so many levels. While blogs, photos and videos prepared me in advance for many aspects of my visit, I wasn’t prepared for the powerful impact these young people would have on me one at a time and what the trip taught me about our universal capacity for emotional connection – for friendship and love.
This year’s trip has been an affirmation, both as I reconnected with my friends at St. Mary Kevin and as I watched my wife and twin sons as they experienced the same sense of discovery of and affinity for these wonderful kids. Coming back a year later also has made my sense of SMK more dynamic. The “snapshot” experience of 2012 was made far richer by reuniting with these children and seeing their emotional growth, academic progress and even learning of their personal challenges in the intervening year. A quick example. When we arrived last year, 10-year-old Queen wrote a touching letter to Leah on our first day, asking to be her friend. We both spent time with her each day, and at the end of our trip, there was no sadder moment than saying goodbye to Leah’s first friend. Waiting for us when we arrived last week were new letters to each of us from Queen. They were no less touching than the first, but I was amazed, not only by the beauty of the sentiments, but also by the gracefulness and maturity of her writing.
After last year’s immersion, I’ve also been struck by many details I missed last year. There is a magic about the lives we see at SMK, but that doesn’t come about magically. The security, joy, optimism of and opportunity for these children has been hard-won over nearly 20 years by Rosemary Kavulu and her husband Joseph, the SMK staff, and, more recently, by Gloria Baker Feinstein and Melissa Mosher of Change the Truth and CTT supporters.
Watching the talent show on Christmas Day, and seeing Queen, Nicky, Claire Faith, Joan and others with their energy, pride, grace and genuine talent, I was reminded of what struck me so powerfully when I arrived last year – these kids are so very, very special.