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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

young artist featured in kutuuka: oscar

“Dear Friends,

My name is Oscar. I am 11 years old at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood. When I was still young, my mother died. I was in grade 1. When the Change the Truth team came they gave us many games. We enjoyed our holiday. We drew many pictures. I like to draw. I thank all the Change the Truth members for the wonderful work they do for us.

From your friend, Oscar.”

Osacr's drawing has already been sold.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

young artist featured in kutuuka: latifa

“I am Latifa, 13 years old. I am in Senior One from Uganda at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood. I have my mother, but she is not working and she can’t afford to pay my school fees. I have four sisters and one brother. Even we don’t have our own house. My mum is poor and my dad died in the war. We came to St. Mary Kevin because of war and poverty, We had no food to eat and we were sleeping in forests.”

Latifa's framed drawing is 19" x 23". If you'd like to purchase it, along with a signed and numbered hardbound copy of Kutuuka, you can do so for a donation of $500.00 to Change the Truth. Please contact me if you are interested. Latifa just began her studies in secondary school; your contribution will help Change the Truth fulfill its committment to paying her school fees.

June 11th - this piece has sold!

Friday, May 29, 2009

young artist featured in kutuuka: ivan

“My name is Ivan. I grew up in northern Uganda and am now thirteen years. Before coming to St. Mary Kevin, I had a family where I lived. My father was an artist. He made pots which were made from the soil. One day it was nighttime and the rebels came. They shouted! They took father. I was five years. My mother said let us move from here to another place. In 2002 my mother died. She left me with my grandmother. My grandmother got a job in Kampala selling brooms. One day my grandmother went from Kampala up to Kajjansi. She showed me that place which is St. Mary Kevin. I started studying there and living there.”

Ivan's painting has already been sold.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

young artist featured in kutuuka: geoffrey

“Dear Friends,

My name is Geoffrey. I am ten years old. If I grow up, I want to become a pilot. And also I like to draw because if I see pictures I am happy. That is why I say let me study drawing.

Love to all of you.”

Geoffrey's framed painting is 19" x 23". If you'd like to purchase it, along with a signed and numbered hardbound copy of Kutuuka, you can do so for a donation of $500.00 to Change the Truth. Please contact me if you are interested.

(In case you are wondering, Ugandans go by their last names first and their first names last. That is why Willy's painting is signed Okecha Willy and why this is signed Opio G. Okecha and Opio are Willy's and Geoffrey's last names respectively.)

May 31 -- this piece is now sold!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

young artist featured in kutuuka: willy

“I am Willy, aged 16 years. I am in grade seven. We are five boys in our family and the first born is Jimmy, then Brian, Oscar and Enock the last born. All of the family loves art, drawing, painting and modeling things out of clay. I started loving art since I was still young. I started by drawing pictures which made children to laugh at them, but they liked the drawings and they started buying them from me. But since I came to St. Mary Kevin, my artwork was being put in power, wherby I can paint things that are amazing. I am glad to hear that the artwork that we did has been put into a book that you are going to publish in the world. That is a really wonderful job that is going to make us famous. I wish you blessing in what you have done. I am hardworking at school. I like playing games and having fun with friends. Apart from art I love computers, typing and drawing pictures on a computer.”

Willy's framed painting is 19" x 23". If you'd like to purchase it, along with a signed and numbered hardbound copy of Kutuuka, you can do so for a donation of $500.00 to Change the Truth. Please contact me if you are interested.

June 17th - this piece has sold!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

young artist featured in kutuuka: rachael

One of the artists whose work is included in my book is Rachael. Hers is one of the drawings that is available as part of a limited edition set. The children who are represented in the book by their artwork are so excited! They keep thanking me for making them “famous.” I thought it might be nice for you to hear about some of them in their own words.

“Hi. My name is Rachael. I am thirteen years old. When I grow up I’d like to be an accountant. And I like art because art can take you far away. If you’re an artisan you can get money by putting badges on uniforms or designing people’s schools. I like to draw art because if I will not be an accountant, I can be an artisan. I am an orphan. I was young when my father died. Mum Rosemary is the one who cares about me plus the Change the Truth group. I love my talent because God is the one who gave it to me – and it is a part of my life. Always remember this book.”

Rachael's framed drawing is 19" x 25". If you'd like to purchase it, along with a signed and numbered hardbound copy of Kutuuka, you can do so for a donation of $500.00 to Change the Truth. Please contact me if you are interested. Rachael just began her studies in secondary school; your contribution will help Change the Truth fulfill its committment to paying her school fees.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

melissa returns

I received this email from Melissa written when she got back to KC:

"Leaving Uganda was very hard...harder than I initially thought it would be. Some of the kids were able to escort me to the airport, and I was able to chose the kids. Of course I would not allow Henry (my Ugandan mutabani/son) to leave my side on Friday, and others to join me in the adventure to the airport were Joan, Saka, Nicky, Tonny, Issy, Rachel, and Petra. Although the trip to the airport was quick and they stayed only long enough to say goodbye and unload my bags, it was a special send off for me having my loved ones with me to the very end. The children were marveling at the airport, for many had never seen one before. It was also very funny to hear some of their master plans to sneak on the plane with me (including becoming an insect in my bag, hiding under my shirt, squeezing in my bag rolled in a mat, etc.). Having that final send off from SMK will forever remain with me.

There seems to be one little girl that captures my heart every trip. I loved reconnecting and spending time with my other girls, Doreen and Tina. However, this trip it was Petra that literally stole my heart from me. Petra is the younger sister of Opio Nicholas and Kiden Isabella, who are two of the most phenomenal and multi-talented children that I have ever met. These children lost both of their parents to rebel fighting in Northern Uganda. Petra has joined her older brother and sister just this last term. Ah, just thinking of Petra makes me smile. Initially she was a little shy, but quickly became my Princess. She loved to cuddle as much as I loved to cuddle her. Petra took my leaving rather hard and spent some time on Friday crying in my lap for me to stay with her or take her with me. Talk about a knife through the heart to explain that neither could happen.

After this trip, I have no doubts that Uganda and SMK will continue to play a major role in my future and planning. I know that it was necessary to return home, but it was done rather reluctantly on my part. I missed little to nothing (except my son Antwain) in the states (not running water, hot showers, modern conveniences, my bed.)

I only wish that each of you could have (if you have not already) an equal experience that brings out all of the bests in you. In Uganda I feel free enough to be my very best (without the daily pressures of life), and it felt phenomenal to love as well as be loved, appreciate as you are appreciated, and live each moment to its fullest."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

change the truth friendraiser/fundraiser

It's happening two weeks from tonight! You won't want to miss it. We are going to have a great African market, wonderful artwork by the children from the orphanage, Lynne Melcher's new movie "Changing the Truth", drummers from Operation Breakthrough and the release of the book that is a collaboration between the children and me. There will be food, a cash bar and valet parking. The event is free and open to the public. Bring your friends and family! 6 - 9 PM at the Screenland Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

what does one do with 1000 books?

Hopefully, one sells them. But in the meantime, one will put them in a rented 5’ x 10’ storage unit.

The final, final, final sign-off on “Kutuuka” took place yesterday after I received and okayed the trimmed and assembled signatures. One hundred pounds of ink, a shameful amount of paper (the printing company does thankfully recycle all the printed proofs that didn’t quite meet my standards) and a lot of blood, sweat and tears later, the book is now on its way to Boston for binding.

In a couple of weeks a truck will pull up to the rental unit, and the books will have a home. Hopefully, they won’t live there for too long.

Monday, May 18, 2009

letter from melissa, halfway through her stay at the orphanage

“With the short amount of time that I have at the computer I will attempt to convey just a fraction of the pure happiness and contentment I am feeling with my family in Uganda. Perfection and bliss would be the closest adjectives that I can find to express how peaceful I feel and how at home I am feeling.

I have also started a group with the younger boys. I have been so partial to the girls and older boys, that I wanted to find a way to know them, too. Boys are boys no matter where they live...these boys live to play, have short attention spans, and love to tease each other. I have started teaching them American games (they love Red Light, Green LIght), teaching them to play songs with some Boomwhackers (plastic tubes that can serve as musical instruments...Ann, please tell Beth thank you for the music), hacky sacks. The boys like to run around the compound playing soldiers or police. They have given me many laughs.

There have been a couple of days that speakers have come to the school. It has been very interesting to hear their message (when it is in English). Joan arranged for community workers (police and organizers) and graduates/former teachers to SMK to return to speak to the children about their bright futures and encouraging them to be helpful members of tomorrow's Ugandan society. The children did a good job listening to the message, but children will be children.

Many of the children have continued to study during the holiday, particularly those in Primary 7, Senior 4, and Senior 6. Each group will be taking National Exams in either October or November, and these exams are VERY important to the children's futures. Their results will determine the type of school they can attend and their future course of study.

As much as I have loved my girls, I have reveled the moments with my big boys. On Friday, which was Billy's last night at the school, the boys and I ventured into Kampala for dinner. The places that I know are very few, so we ended up eating at the Speke Hotel (pizza, chicken, and chips were well-eaten that night). It was probably the best dinner I have had in quite a while. We were equally proud to be amongst each other's company. Nelson, one of the older boys, shared that he had walked by the Speke many times wondering about what it would be like to eat at such a place, and he was beaming to be on the inside. His pride equaled mine at their manners. Ugandan boys like American boys have stomachs that are bottomless pits. Afterwards we took photos in the lobby, and they were almost giddy with excitement.

This trip feels very comfortable. I have enjoyed the new experiences (negotiating transportation, traveling to new places), but the comfort of returning to SMK and my beloved Ugandan family has been better. I am not ready to think about Friday... although it is just a pipe dream, I would give all of the shillings in the world for time to slow down. I shall return with many photos, videos, pen pal letters, and love from the children at SMK.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

last day on press

Two twelve hour days down and one more to go. The book looks really good. And I am feeling really good about doing this work, especially in light of the email I received this morning from Joan at the orphanage:

“Mama Gloria,

Thanks for working so hard. There really is such a difference in the children because of Change The Truth. They are looking so healthy, beautiful and strong, all with smiles on their faces. Thanks for changing the truth (past) in these children's lives. Please never stop coming to SMK.”

That’s enough to make one hop out of bed and put in another long day at the print shop, isn’t it?

The kids are ever on my mind now, as I am constantly looking at their faces and studying the colors in their drawings on each proof page that rolls off the printing press. If only they were here to see this happening; I am pretty sure it would send them dancing down the hallway at Meridian, their warm smiles heating up the place.

The printing will be finished later this afternoon. The forms will be shipped off to the bindery in Boston, then the bound books will be sent to Kansas City in a couple of weeks.

I’ve been going through images from the most recent trip to the orphanage and will share some of those that kind of slipped through the cracks of my original edits with you now.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

melissa in uganda

"Arriving here in Uganda has been beyond my expectations. I was greeted at the airport by Rosemary, Joan and the big boys (Henry, Billy, and Edward). It was truly like arriving home with them. We have been comfortable with one another getting caught up. The school looks very good...the children and staff have maintained a clean area. There is new grass growing in the compound, vegetables sprouting from the garden, buildings have been kept up. Peter, one of the teachers, has taken over duties as the Head Master. He is fair and very active with the children. It has been a pleasure and privilege to sit with Rosemary and Joan and discuss the school. I have been asking many questions and getting some valuable information about the children's progress in school.

The children have been taking very good care of me. The girls had my bed ready for me, and they have decorated it with their most valuable possessions. My posse of girls has grown, and I am making great efforts to get to know the younger boys. They are great fun and so silly. It makes me miss Antwain, cause I know that they would have great fun together. The children have been constantly entertaining me with dancing, singing, modeling (even the little boys modeled for me last night... seriously so funny).

The time has been planned well, but the days are passing too quickly for me. I am savoring every moment with my most beloved friends, and I am grateful for this time with them."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

printing the book

The making of “Kutuuka” has been quite the collaboration. Working with essayists, a designer, an editor, proofreaders and printing project manager has comprised a good portion of the past four months. Now that I am at Meridian Printing, the notion of collaboration has really kicked into high gear. There are pressmen involved - Kevin, Jim, Steve and Dave. They run the very large Heidelberg printing press like ship captains and first mates. Then there’s George, who oversees the press-room, including the massive machinery, the pressmen and each printing job. Mike, who did all the pre-press work (tri-tone and color separations) helps make sure the printed job accurately reflects my original intentions. Finally, Adam, with whom I have been working long distance every step of the way – from bid to proof reviews – keeps the whole show running smoothly.

These guys take their job very seriously and are committed to making this book look the very best it can possibly look. They are master craftsmen. They are also really patient and kind.

The press can print 7,000 pages per hour. It’s a monster. It has more rollers and ink fountains than you can shake a pica stick at, and it hums with magnificent power and grace.

We got the ball rolling at 8:30 a.m. Carol and I were ushered into a nicely appointed lounge, where we both promptly set up our laptops, started sipping bottled water and munching on various snacks. Eventually, Adam led us into the press-room to take a look at the first “form” (which will become a signature) from the black and white section of the book. In all, there will be seven signatures made up of sixteen pages each. With the first one, there was a lot of adjusting required to reach the desired density, weight and contrast of the images. Once we nailed that, there was an issue with banding (faint streaks) in one of the images. That was corrected by changing several of the rollers on the press. By lunchtime, I had signed off on the first form… literally. Not Barack Obama signing a bill into action, but close.

It’s a slow, tedious process. Carol and I spend a lot of time waiting. Once a form is approved by me, it takes a half hour or so to print it. Then, the plates on the press need to be changed over to the next form, and the whole process begins again. After about two hours, we are called in to look at the next form and determine what tweaks need to be made. This can take another half hour to hour.

We didn’t leave Meridian until 9:00 p.m. It was a long day.

But it is beyond exciting to see the book get to this point. And it is very cool to be printing it in the hallowed halls of Meridian, where people like Richard Avedon, Lee Friedlander, Judith Joy Ross, Annie Leibovitz, Emmet Gowin and John Szarkowski have also sat around waiting to approve forms that have just rolled off the press.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

more from mother's day

There were many wonderful elements to the Baker family Mother's Day family gathering in Lexington this past weekend. One was welcoming into the family the newest addition, the first great grandchild. We gather on this weekend each year to remember our mom at a concert held in her honor at the University of Kentucky. Thinking of (and missing) our mother and looking over at (or cuddling) baby Sydney was a powerful reminder of the cycle of life.

Monday, May 11, 2009

mother's day

Hope all you mother readers had a wOnDErfUL Mother's Day. I got to be with all three kids, which was a treat and the first time it had happened in a year an a half. Now I'm on my way to East Greenwich, Rhode Island to be "on press" for my new book, "Kutuuka." I'll be sharing that three-day process with you, but want to first post these photos of my family on Mother's Day, playing ball in our dress-up clothes.

Friday, May 08, 2009

want to get a smile on?

Here's another short video about the power of music - children and music, in particular. It was passed along to me by a friend, who noted that the YouTube title for this three minute slice of magic is "Remind me again why music shouldn't be in public school?"

These fifth graders will make your day. I guarantee it.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

playing for change

"The act of playing music with people of different cultures, religions, economics and politics is a powerful statement. It shows that we can find ways of working together and sharing our experiences with one another in a positive way. Music has the power to break down the walls between cultures, to raise the level of human understanding." ~ Mark Johnson, founder, Playing for Change

Bill Moyers called it a remarkable example of "the simple yet transformative power of music... to touch something in each of us." Variety acknowledged it as "a great showcase for just what incredible, thoroughly accessible popular music is being made worldwide. Utilizing innovative mobile audio/video techniques, Playing for Change (PFC) records musicians outdoors in cities and townships worldwide. They've travelled from post-Katrina New Orleans to post-apartheid South Africa, from the remote beauty of the Himalayas to the religious diversity of Jerusalem. Their talents are captured in myriad environments: under the sun and beneath the streetlights... in public parks, plazas and promenades... in doorways, on cobblestone streets, amid hilly pueblos. Their performances are subsequently combined in allowing them to collaborate - albeit separated by hundreds, or even thousands, of miles.

Several readers have sent me info about this remarkable collection of music; I figured it was time to share, though most of you have probably already been turned on to it. Check it out (this is just one of several songs on the CD) for the first time or for the fortieth time. It's good stuff.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

i am virgo, hear me roar (i mean, fret)

I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I have had making my new book and also how much sleep has been lost over it. I nitpick and fuss a lot when it comes to major undertakings such as this. I can’t help it; I’m a Virgo.

Basically, I have no control over what happens at 3 a.m. when I hop out of bed, head to the computer and begin rearranging sentences in the opening essay. It is simply out of my hands when I call Lindsay, my book designer, minutes after I have signed off on the placement of photos on a page to tell her I need time to reconsider. As painful as it seems to those of you who are not Virgos, I actually relish reviewing my highly organized sock drawer, um, I mean endless drafts of the book.

Some quick research has turned up facts that may help explain why the “drop dead deadline” for the book has passed, and I am still fretting over whether or not to put some of the words on the acknowledgement page in bold or italics.

“A Virgo is a perfectionist. When you tackle a project, you do it right, to the nth degree. You believe you have to be the best at it, so you study, you practice, you go the extra mile, you apply all your little advantages—smarts, hard work, and especially analysis—to get that edge.”

This may explain a few things to those of you who are not Virgos - particularly those who have suffered from my craziness. (You know who you are.)

“You are also very observant and have an eye for detail. This is, of course, how you get your reputation for being fussy and nitpicking - you can see things that other people miss. You are a perfectionist and details are important to you.”

And why they get calls and emails from me (at odd hours) about commas and semi colons.

“You have a great work ethic—you're disciplined, highly organized, punctual and tireless.”

And why it’s pretty much all I’ve thought about and talked about for the past four months.

“There is a painstaking quality to the Virgoan performance that might put a Renaissance iconographer to shame. It is part of the perfectionism that this sign is commonly known for. Virgo is the sign of the master artisan who cares about what he or she is creating. Virgos make the most marvelous artists and architects, possessing an innate eye for detail, perspective, structure and form.”

As I’ve said, this has actually all been great fun for me. Incredibly, I delight in the challenges of assembling all kinds of puzzles, and making a book is just that. Do I have hair left, is any of it still brown, what are these dark things that have formed just beneath my eyes? Ha! It’s not that bad, but I think you get the picture. The “Virgoan performance” is a heavy burden to bear. But, I feel really lucky to be the one doing the bearing. And the feeling I’ll have when the presses start rolling next week, and that first image is put in front of me, glistening with ink and full of so much promise? Well, it’ll be euphoric.

Unless I suddenly begin wondering if a different image should have gone on that page. Which, of course, I will.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

building libraries in uganda

One of the really lovely benefits of being involved in a not-for-profit is getting to know others who share similar passions. I have been truly lucky to come into contact with many people who, for one reason or another, have actually spent time at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage. Small world, really, considering the mind blowing number of orphanages that fill the landscape of Uganda.

The wonders of the Internet have brought me in touch with people from all corners of the USA who have traveled the same dirt road up to SMK. One such person is from Illinois. Connie landed at the orphanage shortly after my first trip there and found me through a Google search. We have corresponded regularly ever since, and she has become good friend to Change the Truth. Here is her story:

“I was part of the group that built the library at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage in 2007. I wish you could have seen that process. Most of us had never been to Uganda before, it was late in the day when we got there and had only a few hours to get all the books into the boxcar that had been made over into a room with shelves. We had already finished another library that day so were all pretty tired and hot. As you know, late in the evening is when the mosquitoes come out to play and we had no electricity so had to use a generator for a small light. We had no fan so the women lined up in the boxcar and passed books to each other for shelving and the men stood by with large pieces of cardboard fanning us to keep the mosquitoes at bay. What a hoot. Not at the time, of course, but after we finished and had time to think about it. We finished shelving the last books just as the generator ran out of gas. Perfect. The next day we went back and the men made those great benches that I've seen in some of your pictures while the rest of us went into class rooms and hung out with some of the kids. The only problem is that because we do all of these libraries in such a short time, we don't have a lot of time to make real connections with people. Because our group is so small this year we're hoping to have more time just to get to know people.

There are actually two teams going this year. The large group will be going two weeks ahead of us and will be putting libraries in two large schools in Mbale. Then five of us from Illinois will be going in on June 29 and will restock a library in one school, build a library in a high school, and then go to an orphanage between Kampala and Mbale to build a small library for sighted as well as blind students. From there we will go on to Mbale and will train the teachers and students about how to properly use a library. As you can imagine, the idea of a lending library is something that they don't fully understand, so it can be a challenge to be sure the library is used in the best way to suit their needs. The idea of borrowing, reading, then taking the books back, and trading for another one is hard for them. And, of course, many of them don't have homes to take the books to so we are building cabinets at the schools so they can be left there as well. This year, we are taking hundreds of globes and maps to take to the schools as well. If you'd like to learn more about all of it you can check out their web site at www.librariesoflove.org.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

mail call

It’s a great day when my mail carrier delivers a package of letters from St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood. The one that arrived this week was ripped and torn and had been stuffed inside a plastic bag somewhere along the way. It was a mess, and it had taken a long time to get to me, but was I ever happy it made it! Reading the letters evoked a range of emotions, mostly just really good feelings. I’d like to share excerpts from four of them. These are written by children who will be featured in my book, Kutuuka, either as part of the Dream Series or with a drawing they made. Nicky and Isabella are brother and sister, both very good artists. These photos of the children were taken in 2006, 2007 and 2008. See how they’ve grown and changed!

To my special Mama Gloria, the pearl of St. Mary Kevin,

This is to thank you for all the great things you have done in my life. I am really being a good boy and reading hard to pass my exams. The drawing materials you brought are still here and we are not wasting any. I am having another sister here with me now. She’s called Petra. She’s third born in our family and she’s in Primary 1. She’s talented in drawing too. Greet for me all the Change the Truth organization.

From your faithful son, Nicky (age 12)

Dear Mama Gloria,

Let me hope everybody if fine at home. It was really fun to have you at our home, Mama. Thank you for our mattresses, blankets and bedsheets. They really changed our standard of living. Thank you very much for my school fees. Mama, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be in school. Send greetings to all the friends of Change the Truth.

I remain yours, Joseph (age 14)

Dear Mamy Gloria,

How are you these days? Thank you for all the things you have done for us. I am happy that you sent me a letter. I am requesting you to thank for me all the friends we are having. Thank you for the band which you have brought for us. We are training some of them and some of them are perfect and some of them are becoming good. Thank you for all the things which you have done for us like mattresses, band, friends, food, clothes and nets, etc. May God bless you.

Thank you, bye bye. I am your son, Tony. (age 11)

Dear Gloria,

It was so wonderful to see you at St. Mary Kevin in December. Thank you for the love you have shown us. And I want to thank all the Change the Truth team for their kindness. Thank you for teaching us how to use watercolours. You are a good teacher.

I miss you. Love to you from Isabella (age 11)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

kc studio article

Lynne and I were interviewed recently for an article in "KC Studio" a magazine which supports the arts community in Kansas City. Click here and flip to page 34 if you'd like to read it!