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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

more jajas

Rosemary, director of the orphanage, has always made it a priority to provide for the widowed, old and/or ailing grandmothers in the community surrounding SMK. She gives them food and supplies when needed and offers a place at the school for their grandchildren. The Jajas adore her and consider her a hero of sorts. They consider SMK home... a place they can always come for respite and support.

Rosemary has introduced me to these women over the course of the past couple weeks. It has been a wonderful experience for me. The women invite me into their homes and sometimes even offer me a soda. They usher me to a couch, chair or woven mat on the floor. They have very little. They get by somehow, usually while taking care of countless orphaned grandchildren and great grandchildren.

All of the neighborhood Jajas were invited to SMK for Christmas. They arrived early, dressed in their best clothing. They sat in the the hot sun (in a row of chairs set out especially for them) for hours before we finally got started with the day's program. They sat for so long, some got very hot and tired and moved to the shade to take a nap on the cool concrete. Once the festivities began, the Jajas sat in the front row for the talent show. Each clutched a purse in their lap, held their heads high and were pretty stoic during most of the program. They watched as the kids performed dances and songs. Then they saw their new friend, Mama Gloria, teach the crowd the "Hokey Pokey."

After a few rounds, some of them started smiling and actually began to participate. When I encouraged them to "put their right hip in" they did! What a sight it was for me, standing at the front of the room, singing the Hokey Pokey with my fellow talent show singers, leading the group in the song and movements and then finally seeing the older women in their Sunday finery move one hip, then the other as I encouraged them to "shake it all about." Now that's a memory I will keep with me for a very long time.

Here are a few more of the Jaja portraits I have made. Enjoy!


"Three-hour tour

Field trip African style to Lake Victoria we went, Team member Dawn, 12 children and me. It was your typical sunny, hot day in Uganda. The kids were excited to go. They were eager to show us the way through the fields and over the streams. We walked single file along the red clay path. Dawn and I kept asking the kids how much longer and somehow no matter how far we walked the answer was always the same, ‘not too far, we’re almost there, it’s very close, close.’

Eureka, we finally see water! We arrived at Lake Victoria, and within seconds the clothes were off and you could hear the splash of water as they ran into the lake. Giggles and excitement filled the air.

It was mid-day now and the sun was baking the troops. The trek back to SMK was a long one, even with a shortcut. The pace was slower as the kids had exhausted their energy playing in the lake. Along the path the kids found mangos, jack fruit, and sweet potatoes to refuel their weary bodies. It was a three-hour tour that Dawn and I will not forget. Not because we were dripping from the heat, but because the sheer joy of playing in the water is something every kid, big or small always remembers.”

- Suzanne Garr

[This photo of Suzanne was taken just after she returned from the beach trip, sunburned face, wilted flower and all.]

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

the okecha boys

If you've ever been to one of the CTT fundraisers, you've no doubt been captivated by the amazing artwork of one of the Okecha boys. There are five brothers, four of whom always actively engage in the art making process when the team is at the orphanage. All five of the boys are talented and never fail to blow team members away with their artistic and musical gifts. This trip is no exception.

Mande (not pictured) is the oldest. Then there is Willy, who will turn 18 in February. Brian is 16, Oscar is 13 and Enock is 11.

The boys' mother, who passed away some years ago, liked to sketch. Willy told me she was not very talented, but that she derived much pleasure from it. Brian said he remembers a drawing she made of a family sitting together. Their paternal uncle, on the other hand, was a very good painter. Willy and Brian both recall a large canvas (made by the uncle) of a zebra that used to hang in their home. The boys both told me the painting always inspired them when they were young.

These guys are not only talented; they are extremely gentle and kind. They are good students, strong leaders among their peers, and they are kind and humble souls. The Okeche brothers always help make our visits to SMK an even more inspired and enjoyable experience.

(Photo: from left to right are Oscar, Willy, Enock and Brian)

Monday, December 26, 2011

team 5

It's hard to believe, but already it is time for one of our team members to head back to the USA.

This has been a fantastic team with which to experience the journey to Uganda. I can't thank these wonderful people enough for giving of their time, love and creative energy... especially at this time of year when it is nice to be at home with family.

We'll miss Dawn! She's lively and fun and full of positive energy.

Here's a quick glimpse at her and the rest of the members of Team 5 doing their thing here in Uganda these past few days. What a great group of people!

Sunday, December 25, 2011


"Do you remember the slogan 'the toughest job you’ll ever love' from a few years ago? I think it was for the US Army recruitment. Well, Change the Truth’s Team 5 'recruits' take that message to heart during our stay at St. Mary Kevin.

It’s indeed tough here in central Uganda. The roads are tough. The lack of clean, running water is tough. The access to opportunity is tough. The loss of parents and siblings is exceedingly tough.

The sun blazes, the traffic snarls, the electricity vanishes.

But there is so much life and love here. The streets are alive with people at all hours and on every square inch of this dry, red ground. Cows and goats and chickens roam close to cars and trucks. Cooking fires light the day as well as the night. Young children carry heavy loads (literally and figuratively) on their heads.

There is a rhythm to the children’s daily life that is a wonder to behold. With very little supervision, the SMK children wake up early, do their chores, bathe, brush their teeth, and start their day.

During the kids’ holiday break (December and January), the rhythm is quite different. Children walk around SMK with their friends, they play football and cards, they tidy their bed and [few] possessions in the dormitory, and they eagerly soak up time with the Change the Truth team. It will be tough for them when we leave.

I am loving this tough job and loving these special young people. I know it will be tough for me when it’s time to leave Kajjansi. But my heart has been filled with incredible love and a special bond that will stay with me forever.

Perhaps you will 'enlist' in Team 6 next December. I guarantee you’ll love it."

- Dawn Taylor

a natural talent

Suzanne and I have been teaching photography to young Tony. He hardly needs any instruction. Though he has never worked with a camera before, Tony has a instinctive feel for composition, an appreciation of light, an understanding of texture and a sophisticated way of framing. He's been shooting with a Canon Power Shot, one of the donated cameras our team brought over. He is very deliberate when shooting; he takes his time composing. These images are not simply happy accidents. Tony really seems to know what he is doing.

Yesterday I introduced him to PhotoShop. Together we selected his images that looked the most interesting. Already he seemed to be a good editor. I showed him how to lighten and darken, crop, spot and desaturate. His friend Francis, who has also been attending some of my little photo classes, looked over Tony's shoulder and chimed in now and then. The three of us came up with the following "exhibition" - Tony's first.

I asked Tony to write something to include with his pictures. In his own words:

"About Tony With the Photos"

On the side of the photos, when I photo a good photo, I feel like I am not the one who has made that photo. I feel so happy, but in my heart I ask myself am I the one who has made that? And if I hold the camera, I feel like I am not the one who is holding the camera."


Saturday, December 24, 2011


"We went to the beach today. It was a great adventure, just watching their faces, seeing their smiles and their fascination from seeing the world through just the taxi ride there alone. My Girls and I took a picture looking out over the water, all in our own thoughts. I wish I knew what they were thinking. I look at them and wonder what their futures will be like. Who will they be in ten years, and how can I help shape that future? I ask myself will these beautiful souls have a chance to soar and become what they dream. It's hard to imagine for them, but then I think... if I can get others involved just maybe one of their dreams will come true. It saddens me to say just one but I've learned that saving just one can mean a lot."

- Michelle

Friday, December 23, 2011


It takes a huge amount of preparation to make the Team trips happen. With the help of Melissa this year, we have had every detail covered. Mel even produced a calendar for each day - outlining what time the team meets for breakfast, how we’ll be transported to the orphanage, what time projects begin and end and which older child will assist which team member, what we’ll have for lunch (she and a group of older girls, along with one of the SMK staff members have been preparing delicious spreads each day for us) what afternoon presentations will take place (performances by the choir, the marching band, etc.) and where we’ll have dinner.

The only thing the advanced planning cannot take into consideration is who’s going to get sick when. It’s inevitable that a minor injury (last year Bobbi split her toe open) or a physical ailment will strike one or more of us. We always try to be smart about what we eat, but invariably team members have to resort to Imodium or, worse yet, Cipro.

It was my turn yesterday.

Which was a big bummer because it was the day we assembled the Christmas gifts for the children. That’s a pretty big job, especially when you’re talking about 150 – 180 kiddos. Team members had carried over a lot of the gifts in our extra checked duffel bags, including the adorable dresses and shorts that were hand sewn by “Little Dresses for Africa” and a Kansas City group of seamstresses from St. Andrew’s Church. We brought beanie babies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, silly bandz, hand made knit caps, necklaces and bracelets, decks of cards, t-shirts, etc. Once here, Mel helped us purchase lotion, soap, flip-flops and the washbasin into which all the gifts will go.

So, the team had to carry on without me yesterday. Melissa called last night to say that I would have been very proud of them! Of course, this work can all be done without me now since we have so many veteran team members, but still, I was happy to have confirmed that my absence didn’t slow things down a bit!

Monique (Amsterdam) and Shane (Kansas City) have finally arrived, so our team is complete. We have installed new mattresses and sheets in the dormitories, painted and freshened up the Big Boys dorm, taken the kids on field trips, held art classes, provided therapy, played games, taught music, offered yoga and photography classes and toured one of the secondary schools our sponsored students attend.

And we have so much more to do!

Team 5 consists of an unbelievable group of people, and I am indebted to them for the amazing work they are doing with the kids at SMK. It’s obvious that some really wonderful relationships have already been established between team members and with so very many of the children. Wish we could slow the days down. We’ll be leaving all too soon.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

portraits of some of the children

Working with the new camera and loving the results.

emerging artists

Yesterday I broke out the watercolor paper, brushes, watercolors and pastels and invited a group of young artists to the art room. Usually this room is occupied by the older, more established artists (primarily boys) such as Willy, Nicky, Geoffrey, Issy and Brian (some of you have no doubt seen and/or purchased their artwork at our annual fundraisers).

The young ones I rounded up have shown a love for art and definitely have talent! They include, among others, Elias, Kato, Irene, Diana, Petra, Enock, Margaret and Leo. I first asked them to paint the friend sitting next to them. Then I asked them to draw an animal of their own creation. They spent a long time working and took great pride in what they made. The results are delightful!

The really exciting part of this is that two of these young artists are Beatrice and Evalyn, children who previously have been quiet, shy and lurking in the shadows. They were befriended last year by Suzanne and Avis respectively. Because of the love and attention these team members continue to shower on Beatrice and Evalyn, the girls have really blossomed. They are engaged, more talkative - and sometimes I even catch them smiling!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

all is well!

Our official welcoming celebration yesterday was the best ever! The marching band performed, the choir sang, the sponsored students introduced themselves, and, yes, there were some speeches Ugandan style. The team members were thanked over and over again for their tireless efforts and the sacrifices they have made to be here over the Christmas holiday. We all felt wonderfully appreciated.

And then there was a huge throng of hugging, which turned into dancing, which turned into general merriment! All incredibly joyous. The kids are so happy we are here.

And we are happy, too. Can you tell?

Team members are keeping very busy. Leroy has made it his business to whip the BIg Boy's dormitory into better shape. He has made local contacts and purchased paint, lumber, tools, and other supplies and has gotten his "construction company" up and running. New windows and doors will be framed in, leaks in the roof and holes in the floor repaired - and a few coats of paint will finish it all off. The boys are working hard under Leroy's firm and loving guidance. It will be an amazing and exciting transformation to witness.

Dawn has done everything from play football (soccer) with the boys to taking a group of children on the very long, hot walk to the beach. She has quickly made herself at home here and always has children near her side. Suzanne had done some fun art projects with the children and is always doling out her huge amount of tenderness and love. Avis is working her miracles with therapy and helping the children make paper beads, Michelle has treated the young children to art classes, Bobbi has picked up where she left off last year with yoga classes and pen pal letters and Lynne is working hard to film it all!

We are really making an effort to include all the children in a field trip or something as simple as a long walk. It's a great way to let each child know we truly care about him/her; they are grateful for the time and attention.

I feel we are making such a difference in their lives.

Melissa has been a super star! She is organized, calm, efficient, gracious and thinks of EVERYTHING! The details and logistics of the trip are so well planned and executed with her at the helm.

This afternoon I took six young artists to the beach. They wanted to time it so that we would be there for sunset. It was a lovely setting, and the kids seemed so happy to have the opportunity to experience it. They sketched and painted, dug their toes in the sand and waded in the water. I rode on my first Ugandan bus. It was a great adventure for all of us!

Some lasting friendships have already been formed. This is a great team, and the children already understand that.