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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

day nine

Last night we threw a dance party. In a hot, steamy classroom. The throbbing music was provided by a handful of older boys on some borrowed equipment. No one got ready by primping in front of a mirror. The clothing was casual, to say the least. No one wore shoes. There was one lonely bare light bulb dangling in the middle of the room. No decorations anywhere. No chaperones or punch. No sneaking outside for booze. Older kids making sure the little ones had fun. (There may or may not have been some twerking involved.)

We all danced our hearts out and had the best time ever.

At one point, Natalie and I went outside to cool off. We were watching the scene through the metal bars of the window. She turned to me and asked, "Have you ever seen such joy?"

I'm not sure I ever have.

A roomful of joy. Spilling out into the black, starry Ugandan night.

We have been so lucky to be here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

day eight

I hadn't been to the equator since my first trip to Uganda in 2006. It was great fun yesterday to take a little road trip there with three of CTT's sponsored students - all lovely young women! Rebecca, Nahia and Fionah joined us as we played road trip games ("I'm going on Noah's Ark" and the alphabet game, just to name a couple), ate lemon cream cookies, laughed a lot and admired the passing scenery. Once there, we took the obligatory tourist photo and then enjoyed the art galleries and shops. We watched the cool demonstration about the flow of water just north of the equator, just south of it and then directly on it (spins one way, then the other, then does not spin at all). It was a very fun morning for all of us.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

day seven

A lot has been going on! We are getting to know our young friends better, providing some fun experiences for them and learning about ourselves, as well. Nothing better than a few days at SMK to put everything back into the right perspective.

Natalie took these secondary students to Kampala for a tour of Parliament and a yummy lunch

We surprised Melissa and Antwain with a cake to celebrate their three year anniversary of living in Uganda

Melissa and her ever growing family

Lynne is working on a short film to show at CTT's March fundraiser

Sponsored student Catherine makes good use of the art supplies we brought, making a friendship bracelet

Leo and his drawing

Issy continues to blow us away with her incredible drawing skills

Mama G. teaches one of her photo students the meaning of "photo bombing"

The younger artists are doing a drawing exchange with Kansas City 6th grader Gaston Meya

Natalie is usually always seen with her new friend Maureen

The children clean the compound every morning before breakfast

This one was proud of the all the leaves she had picked up

Sponsored student Evalyn


Roderick, Frank and a friend

Fred still wears his felt necklace CTT gave him for Christmas. Many of the children do!

day six

I took a few of the children to the beach yesterday. Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa (and the largest tropical lake in the world). Most the the kids have never seen it or stepped foot in it.

It's always such a treat to watch them splash about in the water and bury each other in the sand. For a couple hours, they had not a care in the world. Personally, I love how water makes me feel weightless and free; I have a feeling it was that way for Oliva, Fred, Queen, Leo, Benjamin and Sarah during their time at Kisubi Beach.

I made a new photograph for my portfolio while there.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

day five

Today we were officially introduced and welcomed at an outdoor assembly. A few short speeches later, we were ready to hand out the gifts we brought: wooden tile necklaces that say "you are loved." 

We want the children to know that, even though we may not be here very often, we think about them everyday, and we love them from thousands of miles away.

Lines were (sort of) formed, and we placed a necklace on each child - one at a time. I suppose it looked kind of like an anointing or a blessing, but it was really just a special way for us to show each child how much CTT cares.

After all the hugging, I explained what a "love fest" is and told them we were having one. Then Mama Rosemary and I hugged, and she asked the children to hug whoever was standing next to them. Then it turned into a major love fest.

Of course, no such festival should be without music, and there is always a lot of that around here!

Monday, August 26, 2013

day four

Much to the delight of the children (and me), Natalie and Lynne have arrived!!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

day three

Of course, I am making my own pictures while here. I try to set aside a certain amount of time each day to work on my “Uganda” portfolio.

After all these years of schlepping my gear pack around the village, people now kind of expect me to pull out my camera. I have established a nice rapport with many of the women and their children. They are, for the most part, extremely generous toward me. Mothers are usually flattered that I want to photograph their children. They are so proud of them.

Once I return to KC, I try my best to make small prints of all the portraits I take and send them back to Kajjansi with the next Change the Truth volunteer(s). It is rare that a villager can afford to have a nice portrait of a family member made locally, so it’s a pretty good gift, I think.

I always tell CTT team members (and even my young photo students here) to try and ask before taking someone’s picture. It’s common decency and courtesy, and when children are involved, it is simply goes without saying these days. The act of shooting becomes more of a collaborative effort... sometimes even like a dance.

Here's one of my new images. It was taken at a home right next door to SMK.

Friday, August 23, 2013

"feel at home"

It’s weird, but coming to Uganda is kind of like coming home.

One of the reasons is that I’ve been here so many times before, but another is that when my Ugandan friends say “you are welcome” or “feel at home” I know they really mean it.

day two

I've been working with some young artists today, teaching them photography. Nicky, Brian, Rosette and Issy all have a natural talent for drawing, painting and working with clay. I wasn't the least bit surprised that they are tremendously capable of making some really nice photos, as well.

First we spent time looking at the pictures I had on my laptop, then just talking about light, composition, framing, SEEING, etc. We couldn't find any point and shoots that worked, so I gave them a basic overview of my Canon 5D and the iPhone. They worked in two groups, taking turns to use the cameras, pointing out things to one another and generally having a wonderful time!

We finished the day by reviewing their work on my laptop. We talked about editing, and I showed them how to crop and desaturate their images. We have not had time to work on the iPhone pictures yet.

The goal today was to get these young students to think about what it takes to become keen observers of the world around them. Today was all about looking and framing, noticing light shadow and having fun with the camera.

Here are a few of their best efforts. Pretty stellar. I told Nicky I wish I had taken this first one.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

day one

Greetings from Uganda!

It is wonderful to be at St. Mary Kevin once again. The grounds and buildings look great. The new kitchen is sort of miraculous. The gardens are flourishing. The dorms look clean. The children look taller and more filled out.

There were lots of warm hugs and smiling faces today, and they alone made for a terrific start to my trip.

Monday, August 19, 2013

a few last minute ctt tidbits

Tuesday afternoon I will head to Uganda for the eighth time. This is pretty hard for me to believe. That I've been so often. That is was so long ago when I took the workshop that first got me there. That I fell so hard for the children there. That the priorities in my life have changed. That I have met so many amazing people on this Change the Truth journey. That the emphasis of my work has shifted so much. That I have gone through so many positive changes.

I am very thankful for many people who have also fallen hard for the kids at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage. Volunteers, team members, big donors, small donors, kids who bring me their piggy banks. Fellow artists. Board members. It's kind of mind boggling when I think about how far we've come since a few folks showed up in my back yard on 58th Street to hear about the plight of the children half a world away.

Just shows you how easily a few good souls can band together and really make a difference in the lives of a few other good souls.

So, as I get ready for the looooooooooonnnng schlep to Entebbe, let me share what's on my desktop tonight.

Team members, sponsors and pen pals have done a great job of staying in touch with the kids at SMK. I spent some time last week gathering letters and small packages to take with me. In the photo above, Team 5 members J. Leroy and Michelle Beasley pose for a pic with me on their front porch. I had just picked up a letter that I will hand deliver to their dear friend Rachael. I hadn't seen them for a while, and it was nice to catch up. All the past team members are an important part of the CTT family, and I feel like each is part of the Feinstein family, as well.

OK, so this is really special. One of the packages stuffed into my duffel bag is addressed to sponsored student Evalyn. Her loving sponsor tucked a few small gifts inside a manila envelope and wrote this to Evalyn:

"Please look around SMK or your school and give these small gifts to young people who are going through a rough time or just need to know that someone cares about them." 

The sponsor hopes it inspires Evalyn to share what she receives and make someone else’s day a little brighter. 


And finally, there will be a big bag full of tile necklaces that will zip across the Atlantic. Each child at SMK will get one. The tiles simply say:

Certainly not a new refrain, but something these children need to remember when we are not there. Because, in the end, when I think about the greatest gifts we have given the kids, it's not  flip flops or stickers, wash basins, clothes, food or school fees. It's hope,

and it's love.

Thanks for helping me spread those things around. 

I am really, really lucky to have two terrific travel mates for this trip. Lynne Melcher, who will be making her fourth trip to SMK and Natalie Boten, who'll be returning for her second time. Please follow along with us here on the blog, as we share our experiences with you.

OK, Uganda, here we come!