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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

team 6 post by josh: kony's legacy


"One of my most memorable exchanges during our week at SMK took place with a brother and sister I only spoke with once or twice. David and Oliva, like many of the SMK kids, were planning to go home in January. I asked David how long the trip took, and he told me six hours. ‘Will there be someone to pick you up?’ ‘Maybe.’ ‘If not will you walk home?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘How long will that take?’ ‘Two more hours.’

I came to Uganda with many questions, and left with many others. One question I struggled with is why so many of the kids at the orphanage had guardians – mothers in many instances. Why would a parent put a child in an orphanage? I figured that with all the hardship in Uganda, they just weren’t able to handle their kids, but I still struggled with the idea.
A disproportionately large number of kids at SMK are from the north, including many from Lira. If you have teenagers in your family, you may have experienced the viral craze earlier this year that relates to these kids -- Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army. A video about Kony by Jason Russell received more than 100 million views in a period of about six days in early 2012. It describes the devastation caused by Kony in northern Uganda. A few days later, the video was highly criticized because it seemed to suggest that Kony was still operating his army in northern Uganda when in fact he’d been gone for years.
Kony is no longer in Uganda, and the country is largely peaceful now. But the kids we met at SMK represent Kony’s very real and deeply tragic legacy of destruction. Many lost parents during Kony’s war. And a note little Oliva gave me when we left helped me better understand why she and her brother were in an orphanage, even with a parent still living:
 ‘Dear Josh
 Happy new year.
I am Oliva. How are you these days and how was life in Uganda and at SMK.
I think you enjoyed it very well.
I would like to tell you the story about my father. One day there was a war in 2005 up to 2006, and our father died in the war of 2006. We were at our aunt’s home. They took us there to protect us. When he died they called us and we go for the buriel. From there up to now we are staying with our mother. When our father died his people from their home came, and they took everything from our mother, starting from the land, house, animals and now she stays with her friend. She gave her a little land for digging…
 I am 12 years old.
Let me hope that you will come back. Please write back
Oliva David’s sister’”

Friday, December 28, 2012

team 6 winds down its visit

front row: leah, melissa, suzanne, natalie, holly
back row: anna, jennifer, josh

It's time for Team 6 to start heading home. Each of these amazing people has given their all to the kids at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage. I can't thank them enough for taking the time and energy (not to mention the resources) required to make such a journey. These are special people. I admire them, and I will be forever grateful to them.  

Here are a couple more posts from team members, as well as the above awesome picture of the handsome and happy group.

“As I watch Douglas help the student to the exam table it is already apparent the she is ill. ‘Holly, come here, have you see this?’ asks Douglas.  I feel her forehead as the thermometer registers almost 105. ‘This is malaria. Almost all the children in Uganda get it at one time or another.’  The treatment is very familiar to Douglas and administered right away.  This is one of many experiences that leave me grateful for my clinic time in Uganda. To work with Douglas, to give physicals and organize new supplies in the clinic are blessings close to my heart.
The children are curious and helpful during physicals.  The eye exams seem to be extra fun for the children to perform. The oxygen saturation monitor I place on fingers bring about quizzical looks. Sweet Rita asks with concern if it will bite her. I reassure her it will not.  Most are soft spoken, and I cherish the one on one time with the children.
Other snippets:
Joanne, a soft-spoken 13-year-old, asks me questions about President Obama. We discuss the topic and move on to many others. Her quiet curiosity and enthusiasm for knowledge is exciting. I see her later in the day playing Simon Says and her commands are hysterical! ‘Simon says cry.’  The group pretends to fake cry only to erupt in laughter after they hear each other fake crying.  Joanne, you have my heart.
Rose, 14, drops by the clinic often to help me. Her help includes sweeping and washing the floor - unsolicited. I am touched by her devotion and love our visits as we work.    
SMK - you have given me more than I could ever give back.”

- Holly

“People use the word joy at Christmas time pretty freely. We sing songs about it. We wish it upon our friends and family. It is often scrawled across the fronts of greeting cards we receive from those in our lives we hear from only once a year. But to take the time to appreciate the power that relishing joyous moments have on the spirit is pretty rare in our often busy lives. If I have learned anything from the children at SMK it is to savor the little things that bring you joy. Somewhere along the path to adulthood, in the pursuit of our goals, I think we forget about our dreams. We forget the magic in play. We forget that we are all in this world together, so we might as well enjoy it with one another. We forget that sometimes, just sitting in silence holding the hand of someone dear to you really is the best use of your time. Thank you to Tina, Erias, Claire Faith, Nicky, Norin, Daniel, Solomon, Rita, Beatrice and all the other very special people I have gotten to know over the past two weeks for sharing your joy with me. Thank you for holding my hand. And thank you for reminding me what it's like to be a kid.”

- Natalie

Thursday, December 27, 2012

team 6 posts: jennifer and anna

"I’ve noticed most mornings I’ll awake around 3 – 4 a.m.  At first I tried to fall back to sleep as quickly as possible, as I knew the days would be long. But soon I learned to enjoy the sounds around me. First, there is music playing late into the night.  If I wasn’t so tired from the day at SMK, the rhythms make me want to venture out to find their source.  It is the rainy season here, so most nights I listen to the rain. Such a soothing sound. Then around 5:00-5:30 there is the call to prayer from the mosque— a unique and soothing sound.  Many mornings I can also hear the songs of praise from nearby churches.

Then, of course, there are the sounds of the boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis), wild dogs, birds, bush pigeons and roosters (and I swear there is a rooster that knows exactly when I fall asleep just to wake me up!).

These are the sounds of a village awakening…. bringing on a new day.

As my days are coming to an end at SMK, the sound of the children’s laughter, playing games, random singing, or quiet moments with a child wanting to share his or her story will forever be ingrained in my heart.  There is nothing like the squeal of laughter when a child sees her own photo from your camera.  I would never tire of hearing that sound.

To capture and put into words the experience over the last few weeks is almost impossible. The sounds of Africa will always remain close to my heart."

- Jennifer

"The past couple days have been wonderful. Relationships have blossomed between particular orphans and me. I can truly say that they have my heart. I can honestly say (I mean this from the bottom of my heart, I’m not trying to be phony/bubbly/cheesy/fake) every single orphan, even the secondary students, seem innocent and pure. Takia, Miriam, Solmon, Faswila and Sandra are the orphans I am closest with. Sandra wrote me a whole letter and gave me two bracelets today! She has no idea how happy she made me. Takia and Faswila are Muslim. As I walked by the Mosque earlier today, I heard someone calling my name. As I looked back I saw that it was Takia, and my heart melted.
My favorite moment was when we were eating dinner outside under the stars at Melissa’s house; there was music and laughter coming from the teenagers in the art room. I was in awe of their happiness. I can’t say for sure why that moment has me thinking so much.
Today three young girls were sitting by me (the ones mentioned above) and asked, ‘Anna, are you coming back to SMK next year?’ The question caught me by surprise and made me think. Each day I get more attached to the orphans… which is both a blessing and a curse, considering Saturday is my last day. I am so happy that I have spent my Christmas break surrounded by such energetic and happy people! I love Team 6, and I love Uganda! The orphans will forever be a part of my heart."

- Anna

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

thin mints, handprints, a mudslide and kazoos

I was so happy when I checked my email this morning to find a long post from Suzanne. And lots of pictures! 

"Sorry for the lack of email updates or photos, but with all the rain we have been having here, the internet has been practically non-existent the past two days.

Here is the latest update on the past two or so days:


Went to Peter's Village. Our driver, Moses, was not able to come through as his car was in the shop. So Plan 2, Ambrose, friend of Melissa, with a smaller car (Melissa could not go then) came, and away we went through Kampala traffic to Peter's Village. It was a cozy ride. Great team building!! We chatted, took in all the visual art around us and ate snacks. My Girl Scout Thin Mints were a hit with the team, and now Ambrose is another Girl Scout customer. I have one more sleeve of cookies to send with the team and Ambrose for Thursday's trip to Jinja. Peter's village was great, of course, despite the rain and Leah's mudslide. The gifts we brought were great for the kids and his parents.
The two craft markets we visited were fun as well, and then we had dinner at the Speke Hotel!

Monday - Christmas Eve

In the morning, Jennifer, Saka, Ronah and Matron Evelyn decorated the P7 classroom with the kids ‘stars’, chain hearts and balloons. It looked MARVELOUS. Even Joan Faith said it looked the best ever. Brian, Nicky and Antwain drew on the chalkboard the Christmas message, which was directed by Enock and Erais. It too looked great!!

Dining Room was next for decorating. Jennifer, Saka, Antwain, a bunch of kiddos and I all helped with hanging the Toilet Paper Art on the walls, which once again, looks awesome. A whole new room.

Natalie & Anna were learning how to make Banana Dolls with the girls.

Josh was hanging out with Nelson and some of the boys in the computer room.

Leah was hanging out with Claire Faith and some of the girls.

The installation of new mattresses took place in the afternoon. It was organized chaos but it somehow worked. The little boys dorm was the crazier one of the 3 dorms.

Christmas gift assembly was next and that went well. We did the same system as last year, which seemed to work well. Pizza at Mel's under the stars in the courtyard. We ventured home complete with headlamps, flashlights and lots of laughter.

 Tuesday: Christmas Day

Team slept in a little, and we made our way to SMK to be there by noon. We hung out with the kiddos while we waited for Joan Faith to arrive and start the fun.

Then we had Christmas meal & band playing, acrobatic performance, Tonny's sax players, Nicky and Billy on guitar and then the annual Talent Show. I did a little skit with the girls. They taught me a song, and we danced and sang together. The team played kazoos - "We wish you a Merry Christmas." There was a game that was then played. It was definitely rigged in that the team members somehow had to get up answer a question and then pick someone to dance with. It was fun!

The band escorted us to the courtyard and then the gift giving began. The kids were so thankful. Lots of hugs, kisses, and then a mean game of water gun fights broke out and yes, you guessed it, Boy-Boy was the ringleader. It was a fun and joyous celebration. The team ended up leaving around 7pm. We ate dinner and crashed.

Everyone said it was a great day, some, their best day.

Ok… that's the update from SMK.

Oh, Josh and Leah's last piece of luggage finally arrived 2 days before they leave!"

- Suzanne

Monday, December 24, 2012

wise words from mama rosemary and daddy joseph

The directors of the orphanage, Joseph and Rosemary, are still in Canada visiting their daughter. They sent this message to the children at SMK today... to be posted around the grounds for everyone to see. 

I think it's a good message for all of us to consider. 

Merry Christmas from Change the Truth! And thank you for standing by our side as we work hard  to improve the lives of some very special kids.

"Dear Children,This is Director Mama Rosemary talking to You

Merry Xmas, and
A Happy New Year
To you all, and
To your Families, Guardians, Friends and Neighbors

Let us all be Happy & Merry, and wish for Prosperity and Development
Happiness means –
Sharing & Caring, Love & Laughter, Joy & Forgiveness and Fine Games
Plenty of tasty Food, Uplifting Gifts, Smiles & Interaction
Plus Helping the Needy & the Elderly – in all ways you possibly can
If you are happy alone – then you are not truly Happy

As the New Year shows its fresh & graceful face, we should –
Thank those people who have made Life comfortable for us
Sponsors & Counselors, Parents & Guardians, Teachers & SMK Team

After we clap 3 times for them, --- We should all – Promise
To Work harder on our Education – the Key to our Future
To Improve our Character, Obedience & Respect, and Value of our Lives

We miss you ALL, and we Love you
God Bless you all during the festive season

 - Mama Rosemary and Daddy Joseph

team 6 post: josh

"The orphans of St. Mary Kevin span all age groups, but my initial impressions were colored by children toward the extremes – some of the youngest and some of the most mature. As we took the first steps in a tour by Rachel and Sheila, two of the older girls beginning to prepare for university entrance exams, a group of small children swarmed around me taking my hand and vying for the most fingers to hold as we walked from building to building. Since my own boys are at an age when regular such shows of affection such as handholding are a fading memory, the attention from these children was a real treat. The warm feeling lasted even when, after a while, the kids (all boys but for one adorable girl – Gloria) seemed to be using my hands and arms more as a jungle gym/launching pad for jumps and game playing with one another than as a source of warm human contact.

Their affection and silliness was a nice contrast to the earnest enthusiasm Sheila and Rachel displayed both about SMK and their academic ambitions. Commenting on my height, Sheila let me know she was very interested in genetics and would like to pursue a career in medicine. She wanted to know whether my sons are tall too. Rachel is interested in studying law. They both described grueling preparation for tests they will need to pass if they are to have the opportunity to advance to the next level pursuing their goals. They are mindful that such a degree of academic achievement is rare for women in Uganda and is made possible to them, at an orphanage, because of the generosity of Change the Truth supporters. In the end, their contagious excitement was no less innocent, no less endearing that the group of boys (plus Gloria) still giggling and dangling on my arms as we completed our tour."

- Josh

Sunday, December 23, 2012

team 6 post: leah

"When I first walked through the gates at SMKOM, I was overwhelmed by how welcoming all the kids were. The first half of my day was spent with Rachel and Sheila, who gave a tour of the orphanage. After that, we walked around the village and took pictures with my camera until lunchtime. After lunch, I was having a conversation with a younger girl named Queen when she told me she had to get something for me, and then disappeared for maybe two hours. During those two hours, the children welcomed us with dancing and band playing while little Gloria sat on my lap. The dancing was really amazing, and many of the kids had beautiful voices. It feels a little silly to write 'kids', since many of them are as old or older than I am. A bit later, when I was walking around with Rita and Joanne, Queen returned to give me two bracelets and a very sweet card.

Day 2 was a lot cooler than the first day, and it rained a bit. The girls had a fun time turning my hair into a poof-ball for their salon, (Queen topping it off by adding a very pretty flower) and painting my nails yellow and blue. That afternoon, I was worn down from playing tag with the very young kids, and when I got back to the hotel I fell straight to sleep. My father had to wake me for dinner. I have had such an amazing two days, and I can’t wait to see what surprises the next few will  bring."   

- Leah

Saturday, December 22, 2012

post from team 6: holly

"Big smiles, open arms. So many children ready and willing to share their hearts with me, a stranger. Now it's been three days, I'm less of a stranger and the hugs and smiles continue and come from children with whom names I am familiar. These children who have so little have so much to give. Some moments the reality of life at the orphanage takes my breath away because there is so little and so much all at once. 

In a program the children put on today, there was singing and dancing all to the festive beats of drums. By the end of the program I was taken by the hand of a child to join in the dance. So blessed to be joining in the dance with the children at SMK."  

- Holly

Friday, December 21, 2012

a few quick nuggets from suzanne's recent emails

Some tidbits from Suzanne regarding the past couple days at SMK:

Natalie finally got her luggage! Six days in the same pants, and she (who rarely wears pants) was actually thrilled to be reunited with her recently purchased pair of cargo pants!

The dining room has a beautiful fresh coat of paint. Tomorrow the team will put the children’s handprints on the walls, along with some uplifting messages.

Team member Leah learned how to make banana dolls and made her own with the help of SMK orphan and sponsored student Sheila.

There was apparently a wild jump rope scene at the end of the day, including some crazy moves by headmaster Moses and nurse Douglas.

Holly is busy doing medical check-ups on all of the children.

Josh has been busy teaching computer skills.

There is a project the team is calling ”toilet paper art” which has gone well. (I have no idea what it looks like. Hoping for pics soon.)

Melissa’s new nickname is “Team Queen.”

There are lots of friendship bracelets being made, and there are lots of new friendships being made, as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

post from team 6: anna

"As I awoke this morning I realized I was in Uganda, a tiny little country in the middle of Africa. All of the preparing, the 24 hour flight, getting donations; it all came down to this. The walk to the orphanage from the hotel was completely sublime. I was amazed at how green everything was, how many chickens and goats were on the side of the road. It was picturesque seeing a group of little Ugandan kids smiling and waving at us ‘Muzungus’. The orphanage is beautiful. The kids are beautiful. The red dirt, due to so much iron in the ground, is beautiful. It adds a uniqueness to this already unique village. I have rarely been around so many energetic, kind, spontaneous, curious and smiley people than at the orphanage. I was truly taken by their kind and innocent faces. It was a magnificent day to say the least. I have two weeks left on this journey, and I want to make as big as a difference as humanly possible. I am touched by the love of the kids at the orphanage."

- Anna

so thankful for suzanne

Several people have asked me how it feels to be here in Kansas City while the team is in Uganda sans moi. Well, it's kind of hard to explain the mix of emotions, but what I'd really like to say is: I'm so glad the team has a leader like Suzanne!

She has kept me in the loop with daily emails and photos.

She has been (over the course of just a few days) a therapist, nurse, plumber, photographer, travel agent, tour guide, teacher, writer and organizer extraordinaire!

I know she is thrilled to be there, happy to be with her special young friends at SMK and happy to be surrounded by the beauty of Uganda and its people. But this, her third trip is quite different from her others because of the added responsibility of team leader. She's handling it with competence and grace.

I may be struggling now and then with the fact that I'm not there, but I am so pleased that Suzanne is. What a wonderful team leader.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

team 6: natalie

This is the email I've been waiting for today. A missive from Natalie. I knew she had arrived late. I knew her bags were missing. I knew she was tired and emotionally spent. I also knew she would "get" this experience early on and be transformed by it. I only wish I was there to see her face as all of this washes over her.

"Every plane I took to get here was delayed.  I was forced to run, full sprint, down the halls of multiple airports. My luggage has still not arrived. I'm still wearing the same underwear I put on Sunday morning. And none of it matters.

What does matter? Upon arriving at the orphanage I asked some of the girls to show me their favorite thing. I was immediately taken by hand to the small library. I left for lunch today to return to find that quiet, bashful Erias had drawn, quite skillfully I might say, a picture of the two of us. Later this afternoon I was pulled away so that Noreen could slip the friendship bracelet she made that spells out the word sisters onto my wrist. Before leaving for the comforts of our hotel, the marching band led us out of the school, playing loudly and making us all feel like royalty.

I have never in my life felt as blessed, loved and welcomed as I have by the people of Uganda and the children at SMK.

My heart is full."

- Natalie

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

another post from team 6: lessons quickly learned

"Laughter is good for the soul and I’ve had to laugh at myself a lot these past few days getting adjusted to jet lag and getting used to how things work here in Uganda.  I’ve been known to use the phrase ‘just sayin’, and I’ve had a few ‘just sayin’ moments over the past few days—some lessons learned recently some easier than others—but keeping a smile and laughing at oneself is key.

 Lessons learned, the hard way:

  1. Always have your flashlight near you as power outages are frequent. It will save you from trying to find your way in the dark.
  2. Mosquito netting.  Day One, forgot to put netting around bed. Day Two, mosquito netting really isn’t attacking you as you try to find the opening to get out of bed at 3am.
  3. When power does go out, turn off the light switches.  It will save you from jumping out of bed in the middle of the night when the power decides to return!
 Lessons learned, the good way:

  1. Travel with Suzanne…she knew the spot in the Amsterdam airport that was like an oasis—complete with lounge chairs so we could lay down for a bit before completing another leg
  2. Be hands free:  Keep hands free at all times as children will always want to grab them and walk with you.
  3. Be prepared to explain several times what ‘angel kisses’ aka freckles are!
  4. Melissa really does make awesome guacamole.  Avocadoes here are so tasty!
 Finally, the children will out laugh you, out play you, and out hug you.

Just Sayin’ "

- Jennifer

learning to give at an early age

It is always inspiring to learn about young people who are able to move outside of themselves and think about others, especially at this time of year when acquiring more "things" seems to be the goal. 

Change the Truth has many young friends who understand that giving feels better than getting. Here are just a few examples of emails I've received recently from parents/grandparents of some of those children. Hurrah for these wise and compassionate children - and for their parents, too. (After all, it's up to us adults to encourage this way of thinking.)

"At our Hanukah party, I showed some parts of the Change the Truth film to my grandchildren and nephews who range in age from 7 to 17. We then asked them if they would consider giving some of their money that they had just received to the orphanage. The littlest one said 'I will give to charity’ and he held up $50, and then they all followed. This was 50% of their gifts."
- Gerry

"Violet is having her birthday party in early January, and instead of presents for her she wants to ask people to donate art supplies for the kids at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage. 

Encouraging kids to realize the benefit of helping other kids is so important. I take your shining example of how to better foster that understanding to heart. It takes a bit of reprogramming the parents, too; we all want to give our kids the things in life that will make them happy, nit just in terms of short-term satisfaction, but deeper long-term joy in knowing that they are doing something for someone other than themselves. Not always an easy thing to do, given our hectic lives. It's wonderful to be part of a community that supports and encourages us all to uphold these ideals."
- April

"My daughter Corrin has recently come back from volunteering for CURE in Tanzania. For Christmas she has asked us not to get her a gift, but to donate to a children’s charity in Africa. I would like to sponsor a Change the Truth child for vocational school in Corrin’s name."
- Steve