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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

final days at smk for team 7

One thing that really stood out to me about SMK was how talented the students were. The art room at the orphanage looked like a professional exhibition, and the marching band of the students was fantastic. These kids just seemed inherently great at anything they put their minds to. It took the CTT team several hours to learn and practice a performance of jingle bells on Boomwackers, while the older kids at SMK flawlessly performed intricate dances for over 20 minutes. These kids are certainly a special group! - Sam

We feel so blessed to be part of an organization that is truly changing the truth for so many children. We are honored to have represented CTT as a part of Team 7. - Jennifer and Jeff

Spirit day was a huge success! We were able to successfully contain the kids' competitive nature and bring out the best in them, and they had great fun. You will see a fun activity called "Hit the Mazungu" which was a sponge toss at Max's head. He was such a good sport. Our good-bye program was quite a big deal with the brass band playing 3 or 4 songs, and gifts were presented to us by Joan Faith, Rosemary and Joseph. Speeches were also made, and letters were handed to us by some of the kids. It was sad to say goodbye, especially for me. - Jane

Monday, December 30, 2013

looking back: the ctt teams

It's that time of year when we get bombarded with the highlight reels of 2013: best books, movies, political moves, news show blunders (have you seen that one?!), albums, fashion statements, etc. Looking at the gorgeous photo of Team 7 has caused me to drift back to all the other team photos that have graced the CTT gallery walls (that would be the hallway at Melissa's house).

So, this isn't a best of 2013; it's the best of CTT team trips…. which includes every single one!

I can't adequately thank these generous, adventuresome and caring people. They have made each trip a resounding success. These folks not only took the trip, trusting me implicitly, they have become lifelong friends to CTT, to me, to the children and, in many cases, to each other. Here are the members of the CTT family who have taken the plunge and ventured to east Africa to meet the remarkable kids at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood.

Front row: Lonnie Powell, Jane Voorhees, Gloria, fixer and friend Peter Damba
Back row: Carol Joseph, Lynne Melcher, Ann Thomas, Melissa Mosher

This trip was memorable because it was the very first group I took to Uganda! Our specialties were: art lessons and therapy (and the making of the first of several documentaries by Lynne). Since I had only been to Uganda once before, it was still new territory for me, and this patient group kindly put up with all my missteps. 

Front row: Linda Gerstel, Sarah Joyce, Bobbi Newman, Lynne Melcher, Max Feinstein
Back row: Randy Clark, Tom Maddox, Melissa, Gloria

This team was very fun for me because my son, Max, was on it! Our accomplishments included: starting the SMK marching band, providing medical care and therapy, gardening and drumming.

Joseph Kavulu, Lynne, Fred Grossman, Melissa, Gloria, Rosemary Kavulu (not pictured: Carol)

We were a small, but mighty team that spent time at SMK before the rest of the team (pictured above) arrived. It was a special treat for us muzungus (white people) because we got to dress up in traditional Ugandan finery and attend the wedding of Joseph and Rosemary's son. We also played a lot of basketball and volleyball, painted the dormitories and provided new bedding for all the children.

Front row: Antwain Mosher, Eddie Feinstein, Laura Houston, Christy Radecic
Back row: Sara Hjalmarson, Gloria, Melissa, Kaley Herman (not pictured: Bobbi, Carol)

Yes, that's my hubby, Eddie! Having him there made this trip extra meaningful for me. This was an important journey, as it was the one that solidified in Melissa's mind the fact that she wanted to move to Uganda. Once she saw that her son, Antwain (our youngest team member ever) was comfortable with the place and the people, she knew it would be just a matter of time before they left Kansas City. Luckily for CTT, Melissa has been living and working at SMK now for over three years. The specialties this team offered included: reading groups, art lessons, lots of arts and crafts, computer and sports. This was the first year of the Annual SMK Christmas Day Talent Show!

Front row: Gloria, Avis Smith, Suzanne Garr, Bobbi, Emily Collins
Back row: David Muhammed, Jeff Mildner, Jennifer Smith

This was the first year we moved out of our Kampala digs so we wouldn't have to spend so much time in the van traveling back and forth to SMK. We stayed at a lavish resort on Lake Victoria. While it was awesome to be so close to SMK and to come back at the end of the day to really hot showers, the option of a massage, very comfy beds and a spectacular views, we realized rather quickly that there was too huge of a disconnect between where we were during the day and where we retreated to at the end of each day. (Live and learn.) The teams do return to The Serena Lake Victoria for a special dinner one night now. This team's offerings included: therapy, sewing, yoga, photography and computer.

Front row: Gloria, Bobbi, Avis, J. Leroy and Michelle Beasley
Middle row: Shane Evans, Lynne, Suzanne
Back row: Monique Udo, Dawn Taylor

This year saw our first international team member: Monique from the Netherlands. She started a fantastic music program at SMK, which she has quite admirably continued on her own. This team was a lot about music, yoga, art and therapy. It was a lively and creative group! This was the first year we started staying at the Lodge, which is now officially CTT's home away from home. It is walking distance to SMK, and they treat us like family there.

Team Jeff and Jennifer

Jeff and Jennifer returned to SMK on their own during the summer. Because CTT's social worker/liaison Melissa lives on the grounds of the orphanage, we are now able to send people or groups on their own schedule. Jenn and Jeff were the first to do this. They stayed in the guest house at SMK. School was in session, so they did a lot of teaching.

Team Gloria and Bobbie

That's my sister! She and I went to SMK on our own in August. It was incredibly special for me to finally share all of this with Bobbie. She hit the ground running with yoga and art classes. She and I also snuck away for a few days to do a gorilla trek, which was an experience we'll never forget

Front row: Leah Sosland, Melissa, Suzanne, Natalie Boten, Holly Cobb
Back row: Anna Cobb, Jennifer Schoenwetter, Josh Sosland

This was the first year someone other than me led the trip. Team 6 was in the very capable hands of Suzanne, who has been an integral part of CTT in many different ways since her first trip in 2011. The team's specialties were: medical care, sports, computer, reading and arts and crafts. This was the first year of Spirit Day, a day of fun and competitive games that has now become an annual tradition.

Strings for Uganda
Amaya Camacho, Lindsey Weaver, Nick Jarrett and Hannah Ho

This was the second group that traveled to SMK on their own. They stayed in the guest house and spent 10 days teaching violin to the children. The lessons continue, thanks to the generosity of this awesome group. A teacher from the Kampala School of Music comes to SMK one day a week to give lessons to 20 kids. The budding violinists love having this opportunity!

Team Gloria Natalie and Lynne

I made my annual trip to SMK in the month of August again this year, knowing that the December team would be led by the dynamic duo Jennifer and Jeff. Lynne and Natalie joined me, and we had a magical time! Lynne worked on a new CTT documentary (which will debut at our annual fundraising event in Kansas City this March), I taught photography and Natalie did, among other things, arts and crafts projects and a field trip to Parliament. We may or may not have watched a lot of episodes of "Glee" with many of the older kids in Melissa's living room.

You've no doubt noticed that there is an impressive return rate on these trips. Lynne and Bobbi have been to SMK four times; Carol, Suzanne, Jenn and Jeff have all made three trips; Avis, Natalie, Josh, Leah and Dawn have gone twice. I have no doubt there will be more team members returning in the future. 

The kids pull us back - time after time after time.

Happy New Year to all! Maybe a trip to meet the children at SMK will be in your plans for 2014!

the gang's all here (there)

Front row: Dawn Emily, Leah, Sam
Middle row: Cynthia, Jane, Josh, Max
Back row: Jennifer, Jeff, Melissa

Sunday, December 29, 2013

team 7: dawn and emily arrive!

Dawn and her daughter Emily have made their way to SMK and beautifully round out CTT's Team 7. Though they will overlap with the the majority of team members for only a couple days, I believe Team 7 has come together as one of the best groups to ever make the trip, because the children at the orphanage are so happy to have four young team members - kids who are close to their ages. That is a first, as is the fact that there are four guys!

Check out the fabulous welcome signs that greeted Dawn and Emily.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

team 7: josh

Tina, Rita, Josh and Queen

My trip to St. Mary Kevin Orphanage in 2012 was a genuine revelation. Coming to Africa, Uganda, this orphanage for the first time was filled with surprises at so many levels. While blogs, photos and videos prepared me in advance for many aspects of my visit, I wasn’t prepared for the powerful impact these young people would have on me one at a time and what the trip taught me about our universal capacity for emotional connection – for friendship and love.

This year’s trip has been an affirmation, both as I reconnected with my friends at St. Mary Kevin and as I watched my wife and twin sons as they experienced the same sense of discovery of and affinity for these wonderful kids. Coming back a year later also has made my sense of SMK more dynamic. The “snapshot” experience of 2012 was made far richer by reuniting with these children and seeing their emotional growth, academic progress and even learning of their personal challenges in the intervening year. A quick example. When we arrived last year, 10-year-old Queen wrote a touching letter to Leah on our first day, asking to be her friend.  We both spent time with her each day, and at the end of our trip, there was no sadder moment than saying goodbye to Leah’s first friend. Waiting for us when we arrived last week were new letters to each of us from Queen. They were no less touching than the first, but I was amazed, not only by the beauty of the sentiments, but also by the gracefulness and maturity of her writing.

After last year’s immersion, I’ve also been struck by many details I missed last year.  There is a magic about the lives we see at SMK, but that doesn’t come about magically. The security, joy, optimism of and opportunity for these children has been hard-won over nearly 20 years by Rosemary Kavulu and her husband Joseph, the SMK staff, and, more recently, by Gloria Baker Feinstein and Melissa Mosher of Change the Truth and CTT supporters.

Watching the talent show on Christmas Day, and seeing Queen, Nicky, Claire Faith, Joan and others with their energy, pride, grace and genuine talent, I was reminded of what struck me so powerfully when I arrived last year – these kids are so very, very special.

- Josh

Friday, December 27, 2013

team 7: photos from jane

Jane has been so great about passing along photos form Team 7's trip. She has no idea how much it means to me to open up her emails and see these lovely, shining faces! It is so clear Team 7 is bringing much joy to the children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

team post: jeff

OK, I have finally had a good cry. Thank you, Jeff.

Tubagala Nyo

My wife Jenn tells me I like to ham it up with the best of them. While I like to be a cut-up and have good clean fun, I wouldn't put musical performance in the same category. In fact, if I were on Dancing with the Stars I would probably be told I lack musicality. I've tried various musical instruments throughout my life, all resulting in failure, and have never found I can carry much of a pleasing tune vocally. I share this because on December 20, my first full day back at SMK, I found myself with several of the resident musicians having a jam session.

I played two notes with a couple of boom whackers we had brought with us while Nicky was on guitar, Antwain and Brian were on percussion and others played various items. It was tremendous fun and as Antwain would say "you have to feel the music, yah!" Somewhere along the way we broke out into freestyle rap and Nicky decided I would perform with the group during the CTT Team 7 welcome ceremony a few days later. As it turns out Nicky and I rehearsed a little number, threw in a little rap on my part, and performed for 160 plus at SMK.

Our song, which was an adaptation of one of Nicky's, was called Tubagal Nyo (We Love You Very Much). How could I express anything less when all my apprehension and layers I arrived with were so easily peeled away by the love and affection of everyone at SMK. Who needs musicality when the children will accept you as you are, invite you to be fully involved and love you every step of the way. For this I will always share with them Tubagala nyo!

- Jeff

team 7!

Team 7 (Dawn and her daughter Emily will round out the group in a couple days) has been having a wonderful experience at SMK. I am so happy for them!

Here they are dining at The Lodge, CTT's home away from home. (Their guest is Nelson, one of our sponsored students.)

And here they are performing in the annual Christmas Day Talent Show. I don't know what song they played on the boom whackers, but I'm hoping someone got it on video :)  Jennifer is definitely concentrating very hard.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

day five: leah

Yesterday, Tina asked me a question, out of the blue: “Leah, what does ‘change the truth’ mean”? To tell you the truth, I had a lot of trouble answering that straightforward question. Earlier today, Claire Faith asked me the same exact thing. Seeing that I was having some difficulty formulating a coherent answer, she tried to help me out a bit. She described how many people consider the “truth” of an orphanage in Uganda to be a place where impoverished orphans spend their childhood, always feeling alone. Changing that truth is what Gloria and everyone involved with CTT does. Not only does CTT change and improve certain aspects of SMK’s challenges, it changes the way people think of orphanages.

When I think of SMK, I think of beautiful children who are in a place of love and support. Take Maureen. When little Maureen came to SMK, she had no one, and simple activities like eating and walking seemed like too great a burden. That is not the Maureen I met a few days ago. As Jennifer says, Maureen walks around SMK like she owns the place. She is playful and giggly and loving. Everyone is friends with her, and it seems like she feels comfortable with just about anyone she spends time with. By coming to SMK, and having Melissa and CTT friends and all of the other children, Maureen’s truth has been changed.

The truths of the thirty-two sponsored students have been changed by CTT. The truths of every single student at SMK who receive three meals a day, and countless other things have been changed by additional CTT support. Yesterday, Wasswa Nelson showed Team 7 a power-point presentation about (and a demonstration of) his award winning safe water app. I am amazed by the things that Nelson has accomplished. He is one of the most hard working, dedicated, and bright people - a great inspiration for those of us who have met him. He spoke to Bill Clinton on the phone and may meet with him next year! Nelson’s truth was changed when he was sponsored by CTT to go to school and to travel to America to compete against app developers from schools such as M.I.T. and Berkeley. CTT provides kids and young adults with the tools they need to accomplish great things, not going in and doing everything for them. People like Nelson are contributing to Uganda solving Uganda’s problems, which is invaluable. Someone may interpret the words 'change the truth' however they want. I think that to change the truth is to build a foundation for greater things in the future that wouldn’t have been even imagined before.

- Leah

day four: from orphanage director rosemary

"The children are glowing in the love of the visitors."

Monday, December 23, 2013

day three: photos

Here are a few photos sent to me by Jane. It's pretty clear her children are making some new friends at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage. I love how little Maureen has found her way into nearly every picture! If you would like to read more about her, check out this past blog post.

Claire Faith, Leah and Maureen

Nicky, Brian, Sam and Jonah

Maureen and Leah

Maureen and team leader Jeff

Daniel and Max