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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

snapshot marathon part 1

Tom and Irene

Saka and Annet trying out the new trombones

Max drumming with the boys

Linda and Tina



Sam taking a break in the garden



Lynne and Sandra

Billy and Bobbi


art room

Melissa and Doreen

Freddy's Team: Edward, Saka, Billy, Nelson and Henry

Fred and Joan dancing

lunch time

Gloria, Melissa and Fred at the market

Tina, Gloria, Ivan and Leku

Julius and Fred

Carol and Rosemary

Monday, December 29, 2008

back in the u.s.a

The past four weeks have flown by.

Now that we have said our tearful goodbyes to the staff and children at SMK, we are on our way back to our lives in the US. We have all been changed in some way. And so have the kids.

The work done by Team 2 was magnificent. I thank each member of this hard working crew from the bottom of my heart, and I thank the friends of CTT who provided us with enthusiastic support and encouragement every step of the way.

Team 2 (minus Carol and Fred plus little Otim)

During the past few weeks, we managed to accomplish the following: a garden was designed and planted on the grounds of the orphanage, and a team of kids learned how to cultivate it and tend it. Practically every child received a medical checkup and good advice on healthy African living. Many children spent time in therapy, visiting their painful pasts, but also learning to place an emphasis on where they are now in tandem with hope for the future. Children were given the opportunity just to be children – learning to play Go Fish, Sorry and Twister and competing in friendly games of basketball, volleyball and soccer. Their dorms were given a fresh coat of paint, and their beds were outfitted with comfy new mattresses and colorful, warm blankets. A marching band evolved before our very eyes as we equipped the children with trombones, bugles and drums. (Once the musicians/marchers are ready for prime time, the band will be able fetch up to $100 US per performance.) A couple of faulty, old computers were repaired, a lot of wonderful art was made, old friendships between CTT team members and the children were deepened, and new connections were made.

When we said goodbye yesterday, it was the boys even more so than the girls who broke down. They wept on our shoulders, knowing that it will be a long while before we meet again. They (especially the boys, who tend to stoic and strong on the outside) have so appreciated the attention and love we have given them; they really understand now that there is a group of people in the USA that cares for them, thinks about them and does everything it can to provide meaningful assistance and support.

We have a group of true friends now in Uganda. On our last night there, we went to a traditional African dancing and drumming performance that Douglas (the young man being sponsored in nursing school by CTT) starred in. I looked around the table and was so moved by the presence of those assembled: Henry and Billy (two older boys from the orphanage), Joan (assistant director at SMK) Peter (our extraordinary friend and escort), Moses and the members of Team 2. Quite a group… different histories, different races, different religions, different socio-economic levels, different ages (12 through 62!) and different prospects for the future. The amount of respect, admiration and compassion for one another was so obvious – and absolutely awe inspiring.

So now the team members will begin the process of sorting through all that we have gleaned from this amazing journey. We will post more as we make our way through that experience. In the meantime, Happy New Year to all!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

max/ uganda is all kinds of fun

This is a picture of my new Ugandan family :) Like my brother on the left always says when he wants a picture, "take a snap, take a snap!" His name is Habib. Douglas is in the USC band shirt, Nelson ("Big Nels") is in the CTT shirt, and Jacob, my newest drum student, is in the Yankees shirt.

Here’s an excerpt from an email regarding my trip that I sent to a close friend (I also borrowed the title of the email, above). I think it might make for a more interesting read, as it’s more stream-of-consciousness instead of formal writing:

It's really interesting and eye opening to get close with a bunch of kids who have lost either one or both of their parents, and who are extremely poor. Many of the orphans have only one outfit and don't own much else. Some of them seem to be pretty happy, and others are clearly very disturbed. Some of the guys I’ve become friends with, most of whom are close to my age [20-ish], are particularly intelligent and have a great understanding of the kind of education and networking required to be successful. Almost all of them are incredibly kind and warm individuals- like most other Ugandans I’ve met. I've heard Uganda referred to as "the friendliest country in Africa," and I'm pretty certain that's true. It's crazy different from everything we're used to, from the orphanage to the villages to the city.

And on another note, it's really bizarre and somewhat annoying to be among the few non-blacks here. We get a lot of attention from everyone. Many of the street and village kids have only seen a few white people in their lives, and anyone trying to sell anything calls us out, almost to the point of harassment, since they assume that most white travelers have a lot of money. Overall, it's a great experience and a lot of fun. And just as important as the visit to Africa itself, it's great to spend time with my mom.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

sarah/ buying the musical instruments for the next world renown marching band of smk

When we got to the store we met a man named Robert, the owner of the instrument store. He showed us to a back room were he stored the instruments. That day it was really humid, so being that sweat was dripping down our foreheads. It wasn’t great that we weren’t able to maneuver. Unfortunately we were in the room for a while because of all the mayhem that occurred for what felt like hours. First, Robert had given Rosemary a list of the prices for the instruments, but then said that the prices that we had were changed to higher prices after a period of time. Second, Robert gave Musa (Max’s second new and improved name) a drum that when tuned, Musa founded a dent in the drum and we gave it back to Robert. Then Robert gave us a second drum that was fine - or so we thought. After Musa tuned the drum he put it on the ground. A few seconds later there was a faint “cling”. We all looked down to see that a piece of the drum had fallen off. Musa picked the piece up and saw that the drum was made out of junk. Then Robert looked at the drum and said to Musa “What happened?” Musa replied “ I was tuning it with the key and when I put it down it fell apart. Robert exclaimed “ You tightened it to much.” “No, I didn’t. I tightened it ever so slightly.” Third, my mom, beginning the lawyer she is, tried to negotiate the prices down. She explained to him, “Bring the prices down. It is for children at an orphanage and it is for Christmas. They will love you.” “ I am Muslim” Gloria laughed and looked at me. Then she whispered“ Did he just say he was remodeling and he couldn’t bring down the price?” “No,” I laughed “He said he is Muslim so he doesn’t celebrate Christmas” My mom and Gloria soon explained that we were Jewish and were helping the kids have a Christmas anyway. Then he explained he didn’t have all the instruments we asked for so we would have to go to another shop.

As we were paying at the first store for the things we already had, Robert looked at one pile of the money, picked it up and said “ I don’t take money that is not mine.” He handed back the extra 500,000 shillings that we had mistakenly given him. I think my mom really changed that man and made him a better person.

There wasn’t really any problem with the second store except for trying to bringing down the price for the keyboard and waiting for Peter’s van. Generously, Musa chipped in with his own birthday money to close the gap and we thank him very much. Sadly, since we had emptied our wallets for the day, we weren’t able to buy the keyboard but soon SMK will get the keyboard and I will be sure of it.

On the way to SMK we had a little adventure when Gloria decided to eat a fried grasshopper. It was so funny, and I keep on watching the video on my camera again and again, and I can t stop laughing.

When we finally got to SMK it was like the kids had been waiting there all day. They started to bounce up and down and when we finally got all the instruments out of the taxi they began to sing and march. It was incredible as I started to march with the kids and listen to their beautiful voices. Rosemary called me, Musa, my mom and Gloria up and told the kids that we bought the instruments for them. At that moment when the kids began to applaud and sing a real feeling of happiness rushed through me. That was when I felt I was giving everything they needed but they were giving something much more precious, heart. I feel that the wait and the bargaining was all worth it for their heartfelt thank you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Again I am awakened by the sun as it comes through my window, and again I look outside to see the colorfully streaked sky and the two storks whose hulking perches are always silhouetted against it.

Having been here for close to four weeks, there is a predictable rhythm to my days now.

There are predictable faces to see as my morning progresses, the same people to greet and from whom to receive greetings, the same driver to navigate the traffic on our way to Kajjansi, the same children to hug, the same grounds to roam, the same classroom in which I set up my “art class” and the predictable sounds and smells of St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood. It is comforting.

Being here at Christmas has had its pros and cons. We have definitely created an emphasis on “things.” We arrived with a lot of clothing and even more gifts. The public distribution of the clothing yesterday caused me to question the sense it made, as some children received two shirts, their friend only one – or a child really wanted a white ball cap but was given an orange one – or a child really needed a pair of shoes and there was not the right size available. It was a chaotic scene; I am not so sure our involvement in handing these things out ourselves was the right way to go.

Today is the day the gifts will be distributed, and I have asked Rosemary to do this without our participation; after all, they have done this before and know the best way to proceed. Of course, Team 2 will be there to watch and see the joy on the faces of the children, but I realize that we don’t need to step in where their rhythm has already been established after years of doing this.

Of course, some of the children are very, very sad this time of year. “Celebrating” any holiday without their mom and dad is difficult, to say the least. There are a lot of long faces.

But there are moments of joy, as well. Yesterday the children performed song and dance for us. Randy (our gardener extraordinaire) had formed a singing group made up of the kids who helped him clear the land and plant it. The “Carrot, Eggplant and Cucumber Singers” led by Randy sang several songs, and the looks on the faces of the children in the audience were amazing. Then, Tom and Randy sang IN LUGANDAN a Christmas song. That they had taken the time to learn it and perform it made the kids feel extra special. They were jumping out of their seats, and their faces were beaming. We adults were pretty darn impressed, as well.

Now THAT is a gift we all could share.

Linda gave a presentation about Chanukah and lit candles. I’m not sure how much the children understood, but it was nice to include that history and point of view, given that several of us on Team 2 are Jewish.

We set up a game room and we, along with the kids, decorated the grounds with sidewalk chalk drawings and a hopscotch game.

On the way home in the van last night, each of us physically and emotionally drained, those of us in the “back of the bus” sang Christmas carols. Our voices rose up in unison, breaking with each pothole our driver hit. We sang every carol we could think of, looking at the throngs of people who were outside our windows, gathering in the darkness of the Kampala night.

Another joyful piece of yesterday: the children had decorated their dorm rooms. They had gathered leafy branches to put on their bedposts, flowers to adorn the doorways, and they had fashioned Christmas trees out of foliage. Their rooms were tidy, their colorful blankets neatly tucked under the edges of their new mattresses. Some had found balloons somewhere and had strung them from the wooden rafters with banana fiber, twine and toilet paper. It was one of the sweetest scenes I had ever laid eyes on.

And on a personal note – one other piece of joy: sharing all of this with my son, Max.

We should all have the opportunity to step out of our comfort zones with our children at our side. I feel so lucky to have him here with me. He has created his own rhythms, his own set of contributions, his own friends and even a little family. Douglas is his “older brother” and Tonny, Jacob, Habib, Nelson, and Nicky his younger ones. They walk around holding hands.

There were tears shed yesterday, both by kids and adults.

I am learning that this is part of the cadence of being in Africa.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I’ve been given the privilege of doing therapy with some of these kids. They tell their very tragic stories in a tray filled with moon sand, using little figurines that represent the people, places, and things, animals, etc… of the past. They are very difficult to hear, and I can’t imagine how hard it is for them to tell us what happened to them. We spend time processing the stories, and loving the children. I ask them, then, to do another one that tells the story of their future…their vision of what they want when they grow up. These children do have vision. They want to be doctors, nurses, accountants (lots of accountants), pilots….

I fell in love today. I fall in love each moment with each kid, but one kid got my heart today. His name is Sam. He did a sand tray about his father being killed by the rebels. The rest of his family, and other villagers, ran to an ambulance, which took them to another town. They stayed with his uncle, but there were too many people there. “I was not schooled, and a man came, and said we could go to a place and learn.” So he and his 2 sisters came to St Mary Kevin. He’s 11. He’s beautiful. He wants to be an engineer, doing drawings of airplanes. He wants to live in California. He did that picture in sand, and with some blue sand, he made a swimming pool (took time to make it a perfect rectangle) in the middle of his self designed home. Douglas, a former student there and my assistant (he’s got my heart as well) who has been his math teacher, said he’s his best student. Very smart, very wise, and a very old soul. I know he’ll be an engineer in Cal. And I WILL swim in his pool….I’ve been invited.

Monday, December 22, 2008

quite a day

Yesterday began with frustrations, delays, heat, a lot of walking, crowds, sweaty back rooms, damaged goods and endless haggling as we purchased the musical instruments for the SMK marching band. Let’s just say, doing business in Kampala is very different from doing business in Kansas City!

After a long, trying few hours, we emerged victorious. Sarah, her mom Linda, Max and I helped load up the van with a bass drum, some side drums and with a few trombones, bugles and trumpets.

We arrived back at the orphanage late in the afternoon to a royal welcome. The children knew what we had been doing, and their excitement was sky high. We were mobbed as we got out of the van. The instruments were passed through the crowd and eventually neatly arranged on the stoop that is the podium for school assemblies. Rosemary stood there and announced to the gleeful children that the SMK marching band could now become a reality. Clapping and cheers followed.

Next Rosemary told the children that it was Sarah who was responsible for this great gift. Sarah, who is the same age as many of these kids, has taken on SMK as one of her Bat Mitzvah projects. Not only is she here helping, she is raising money to pay for these musical treasures. She has learned early on how important it is to assist those in need, and she really “gets” what this is all about. (The rest of Team 2 often forgets that she in only 12!)

So then Sarah was mobbed. She is tall and towers over kids who are even older than she is. As they swarmed around her, there were hugs and high fives and hooping and hollering and a smile on Sarah’s face that I doubt any of us will ever forget.

The drums, cymbals and a trumpet were unwrapped and handed out to a few select kids (including my sonny boy, Max.) Next thing we knew, there was music. And the rest of the kids started marching. And then we were all marching, and the giddiness of the children spread to the members of our team. A riotous celebration ensued as we marched around the grounds of the orphanage, stepping in time to the pounding rhythms. (Dr. Tom later reported that his last patients of the day claimed they were absolutely fine and bounced right out of their examining chair so that they could join in the fun that was happening on the other end of the campus!)

We were all simply overjoyed.

And then the reality of it all came slamming into me. One of the older girls, Samalie, came to me (just after I had done a showy twirl accompanied by a high stepping maneuver) to say that there was some sad news. She led me to her dorm, where I found Pauline lying on her bed crying. I learned that Pauline’s uncle had died. Both of her parents are already gone; her uncle was her guardian. Now she is alone.

The girls in her dorm (her family, really) were hovering. One was stationed at the door; one was making sure she was comfortable in her bed. One had come to get me. Others were coming and going just to check in. Some were crying. They know this pain all too well. They were sad for Pauline; they are also sad for themselves.

I sat for a long time with her. The merriment outside our door continued, and I was able to clearly see the profound juxtaposition of joy and sadness.

Melissa had said the other day, “At the end of the day, these children are still orphans.”

She was so right. As much as we do here to provide happiness, an escape from their reality and an opportunity to move beyond their desperate situations, these children have a hole in their hearts that we can’t really fill.

Another older girl, Rosette, had told Lynne recently (when Lynne complimented her on her active, outgoing, engaged and joyful personality) that she just had to keep moving and doing and living, because if she stops, she might get stuck too deeply in her pain and not be able to move.

Pauline left just before dinner to go to her uncle’s burial. She had spent a long time in the arms of Melissa earlier in the day and with me later in the day and with her girlfriends (who are truly her sisters) and hopefully she will be able to begin to figure out a way to just keep moving when she returns to SMK on Wednesday.

The celebration of music continued for a long time. I have never seen such happy children!

randy/ digging with the kids, manure tea and lessons learned

Gardening in Africa is a dream I have had for a long time. How could I know that it would happen with the help of DIG and a group of smiling, energetic Ugandan orphans and would include learning how to make a special organic fertilizer called manure tea.

Little did I know a year ago when I met Steve Bolinger at a San Diego fundraiser for DIG (thanks to my friend and workout partner Adam) and bought a t-shirt that says “I worked for DIG in Africa” that it would foretell the adventure I find myself in. Steve co-founded Development in Gardening (DIG) to develop gardens in Africa as a way to help those affected by AIDS. A simple inquiry for guidance from Steve as I began to prepare for this trip and the next thing I know DIG is committed to working with Change the Truth at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage. Steve volunteered his expert assistance and last Thursday on Day 1 of our garden project change began to happen. Steve helped us figure out what supplies and tools we would need – the list was long and not all of it so obvious. In addition to the hoes, rakes and shovels we would need soap, garlic, onions, hot peppers, rice bags, tobacco, twine, 50 meters of black plastic, a tape measure, charcoal and twine. Most of these items we would have to buy using donations to Change the Truth from many of you reading our blog – fortunately there were some important things we would not have to buy like chicken manure, sticks and large rice bags.

There was organic pesticide to make (we can provide the recipe to any of you who are interested) and, oh yes, manure tea. The rice bag becomes your tea bag and the manure becomes your tea. You tie up what looks like a very, very large tea bag and soak it for 10 days in water - - constantly shaking the tea bag in the water each day to get just the right strength. But all of this was only for feeding the seeds we intended to plant and keeping them safe from critters.

The plans for the garden beds themselves seemed so complicated. Each bed would be 25cm deep, 90 cm wide with a 60 cm path in between each row. After we dug the grave-like holes there was more to consider – we needed to line the beds with plastic, put holes in just the right places and then create a mixture on the bottom of 10cm of soil, charcoal and chicken manure. We got on our hands and our knees and mix we did – yours truly with gloves! Then we could fill up the beds with the rest of the dirt, trim the excess plastic and finally get to pick what to plant. Steve was only going to be with us for one day of planting and I must admit I worried – would I remember all of it and get it done right. We had hardly finished our first bed before my worries melted away. Steve and I looked around to see that our energetic young workers, Amanda, Catherine and Bibian to name a few (Steve had already told me the girls would outdo the boys) left any concerns we might have had in the dust so to speak. They missed not a beat. If you ever think that kids are not paying attention and listening think again. These kids could not be stopped - they were on to the next bed – remembering ever step of the way and working together to make it happen. We just needed to get out of their way. It was a good lesson for me. Never underestimate what children can accomplish. They only needed us to provide them the tools and the “know how” - they can and will take it from there. Kids helping each other to do

Sunday, December 21, 2008

team 2

randy, peter and tom


gloria playing netball

max and rosemary

melissa and tina

lynne and otim




“I had a dream and it was when somebody was running after me, and I was afraid. I looked behind me and I saw a man with a panga and an axe. I ran as fast as I could.” – Miriam, age 12

“I dreamed that I was going to dig in the garden to plant my mother’s crops.” – Geoffrey, age 10

“I dreamed I was kicking the ball. I shot a goal. Then the night dancer came and then I woke up.” – Bishop, age 9

“We were in the dormitory, and it caught fire. We shouted for help. Everyone was asleep, so there was no hearing for anybody to come and help.” Cissy, age 12

“I had a dream that I was in the airplane. Then mummy told me to sit properly because I will fall down out of the airplane, and I told her that I can’t fall out of the airplane because it is locked. Then I laughed and woke up.” Rosette, age 16

“One night I dreamed that robbers were coming to attack me, but I ran. Both of them had knives for killing me. I was running back home and found a big, big dam and when the robbers were getting near that dam there was the tall-grassed bush. So I hid away from those two robbers, and they could not find any way to attack me.” – Jacob, age 12

Saturday, December 20, 2008

dr. tom

“Why do girl’s armpits smell but boy’s feet smell?” That was one of the questions from the discussion I had with the children today – but more on that in a minute.

When preparing to come to Uganda to do medical work with the children at St. Mary Kevin orphanage I was unsure what to expect… I was concerned about what facilities would be available and what kind of resources were accessible for problems identified. It didn’t matter – we basically started from scratch. I was shown what would be the clinic: a room with beans covering the floor and a large generator, intended to power the flour mill, in the middle of the room. But by the end of the first day, with the help of the children, the room was cleared.

Each child is being seen for a general physical exam and any specific problems they are having. There are no health records, immunization records, growth charts and very limited family histories for children. While the children speak excellent English for the most part, they are VERY soft spoken and tend to answer “yes” to every question.

The general health of the children is remarkably good, given the sanitation conditions. Even more striking is the cheerful disposition and happiness of each child. There are a few children that are known to be HIV positive and have access to a clinic where they are provided antiviral medications at no cost. All of the children have the same three complaints: headaches, cough and abdominal pain. Malaria is very common here and most/all of the children have been treated for it at some point.

My biggest mistake so far was handing out eyeglasses that we brought (thanks to Amy) to several of the children who had difficulty reading their books (rather than waiting till the end of our visit.) Now EVERY child I see complains of eye problems because the glasses were such a big hit!

When seeing some of the older children I realized that many of them had the same questions about their bodies changing and “personal things.” So we had a group discussion with them this afternoon where we talked about everything from body functions (hence the question at the beginning of this entry) to the basics of disease prevention and STDs.

Nurse Jane and I have seen about 1/3rd of the children so far but I have still managed to sneak time in for some games of volleyball, basketball and check on the progress of the garden that Randy and Steve (a friend from Development In Gardening) have created.

It has been an incredible experience so far – and we’ve only been here for three days! I’ve still got some time to learn and practice my Lugandan language lessons.

Friday, December 19, 2008

max/ first Impressions

I thought that marching with the USC drumline was akin to rockstar status. Let me make it known that the energetic kids at St. Mary Kevin put our marching band fans to shame! My relieved mother, accompanied by a mob-like gang of kids, enveloped me with hugs, handshakes, and ear-to-ear smiles as I stepped off the plane in Entebbe. But to believe that my airport greeting was grand would be a mistake- at least compared to the madness that ensued upon my arrival at SMK…

As we rolled through the gates and entered the courtyard at SMK, the first thought in my mind was that neighbors would certainly call the police. At least, that’s how discontented residents around LA handle excessive noise and partying. I’m not kidding- an overjoyed mass of kids swarmed our vehicle as if we were royalty. However, “kingly” is the last word I’d use to describe my treatment- the most impressive aspect of my greeting was how each person treated me as a friend. The unending stream of more hugs and smiles instantly allowed me to enmesh myself in their family.

The night continued with energetic dancing, drumming, and singing. My new friends, including Habib, Peter, and Nelson, provided great insight on everything that I witnessed. I’m so thankful for the warm and heartfelt welcome that I received. The whole evening was absolutely surreal. This trip promises to be extraordinary ☺ More to come later…

melissa/slumber party

Very early in the trip planning process, we made the decision to experience SMK overnight to get the full impact of daily life for the children. So with Lynne armed with her video camera and several flashlights (“torches”) for video lighting) and Melissa stocked with toenail polish and card games, the “slumber party” at SMK began. We chose a day of great excitement for the children…the day their new beds arrived.

Little did we know that the kids were planning for our stay as well. The kids were abuzz with the news that we were actually staying at the school. The younger girls chose special beds for us to sleep in side by side in their newly painted yellow and purple room. The older girls came in to make our beds with clean linens and put down our mosquito nets. And the older boys planned a dance party and campfire.

As the sun went down, darkness descended very quickly on the school campus. Within the dormitories and dining hall there is some basic lighting. However, most of the campus is shrouded in darkness. Many children shared they are used to the darkness, for most of their villages did not have lighting after dark either. They have the paths of the school memorized and usually travel the grounds in pairs.

Once everyone had their dinner of sweet potatoes and beans, the music began to play. The older boys hosted a dance party with a mix of mostly Ugandan music. Although we did not understand a words being sung, the enthusiasm and persuasion of the children along with the beat of the music made it impossible to stand still. In the cover of darkness our bodies were dancing with a large group of children taking turns to show us their best dance moves.

After much dancing, the campfire began. Neither of us knew what to expect. In America campfires usually entail smores and scary stories…at SMK it entailed drumming, dancing, singing, and chanting. Kids took turns sharing their village chants and dances with one another. The older boys took charge of rallying the younger children around the campfire in a playful exchange of singing and dancing. With the stars bright in the sky, the blaze of the fire, and the engagement of the kids, we could not help to be mesmerized by this rare experience.

Then the music and dancing began again until the wee hours of the morning. As children got tired of dancing and were ready for bedtime, they went into their beds. With all of the singing, dancing, and general merriment, it may have been easy to overlook that these orphans were putting themselves to bed. Friends were telling other friends good night (“sulabulugi” in Lugandan) and proclaiming their love and well rest to one another. The lights never went out during the night, and the occasional cough would break the silence of the night. Overall it was a very peaceful night’s rest on new, comfortable mattresses and warm blankets to cover the chill at night, and we awoke ready for another day with the children at SMK.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

extreme makeover

Have I ever told you about the huge storks that fly overhead here in Kampala? Their wingspans are humbling to those of us walking around below. Usually, they are perched in the treetops, but periodically they launch themselves into the sky. I just woke up, and between the streaked colors of the sunrise and a performance by these powerful but graceful birds, the sky outside my window could not look lovelier.

Yesterday at the orphanage was kind of a very big deal. I am still processing it all as I watch from my hotel window this new Kampala morning spring to life.

The mattresses and bed covers were delivered!

Thanks to a generous donation by a CTT friend, one who specified that she wanted the dorm rooms “made over” with color and comfort, quite the scene unfolded on the ground of SMK yesterday afternoon.

First let me show you what the old mattresses and covers looked like.

Vans arrived - stuffed to the gills with 180 thick foam mattresses, encased in plaid, striped, colorful slipcovers. Then there were the blankets – soft ones dominated by bold colors and patterns. Before we volunteers could really get a sense of what was needed to be done to get these items into the (freshly painted) dorm rooms, an organized system quickly fell into place. The staff began writing “St. Mary Kevin” in black sharpie on each mattress and blanket. The children (every age) lined up to get a stack of mattresses to carry to the dorm. With giddiness in their step and on their faces, they marched with their beautiful new mattresses, in their bare feet across the dusty grounds, placed them where they needed to go, then turned back for another load.

Once the mattresses were in place and the plastic covers removed, the children lined up for the blanket parade. (I was thinking about those plastic covers – how as a parent I would have taken them immediately from my children, popped holes in them and then thrown them away far out of sight. The “Mama Gloria” in me thought about doing that, but by the time I started to address it, many of these children had already fashioned the pieces of plastic into dresses, headwear, belts and shoes and were proudly showing off their new “clothes.”)

The kids then made their beds. The sound of laughter and excitement rising up out of the freshly painted blue, orange, purple and pink rooms was pure music to our ears. I walked into each room and clapped. The kids joined in, and we all stood there for a few moments applauding and simply admiring the extreme makeover that has happened to their home over the past few days. We all just looked at each other and grinned.

The older kids (plus new ones coming up) whose secondary school fees are being paid by CTT were then given a mattress/blanket set for their own to take with them to school. Rosemary asked them to line up after they had received their gifts. There they all were – the young adults who aspire to succeed, who want to become teachers, accountants, lawyers, musicians, nurses, engineers and doctors. They stood in a long row and looked so small as we all had to step back to make sure they would fit in the pictures we were snapping. They raised their hands up as a sign of victory and of appreciation, and as I looked at them through my viewfinder, I realized that this is what it is all about: preparing bright, eager and hopeful children - who came here with nothing and no one to call their own - for a future of which they can be proud.

Team 2 changes shape now. Carol and Fred have left. Six new members will arrive over the course of the next three days. We did manage to get this group shot just before Fred (he is actually known here as “Captain Freddy”) left for the airport.

And then, before we got in the van to leave after such an exhilarating day, I asked Mel to take a photo of me with the children who were walking me there. We were all in a very happy place (and you can see one of the plastic “runway” designs.) I just love these kids.

Thank you to the donor who made this day possible. You have a done a very good thing.