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

Monday, December 29, 2014

team 8: farewell party

It's hard to believe that Team 8's trip is coming to a close. Today the good folks at St. Mary Kevin threw quite a farewell party for the team members, most of whom are heading back to the US in at the next couple days.

Here are some pictures of the day's festivities. Looks like it was quite a fun celebration!

Sponsored student Samarie, Gus, Wyatt, Anna, Holly, Alan, Joan Faith and Maria

Dawn, Suzanne, Holly, Rose, Emily and Anna

Wyatt in the middle of the dancing circle

Back row: Joan Faith, Gus, Alan, Wyatt, Suzanne, Anna, Emily, Maria, Natalie
Front row: Melissa, Holly, Joseph, Rosemary, Dawn

Sponsored student Kate, Dawn, Anna

Sponsored student Issy, Suzanne, Holly

Suzanne, Joan Faith

Sunday, December 28, 2014

team 8: anna

"I did not know love came in so many forms. From practicing Arabic with Takiya, to watching 'Frozen' with Juliet, and even to riding on a boda boda with Noreen. I cannot fully express in words how special each and every one of these children are. It is also amazing how much everyone has grown since I was here last! Today My dad, Gus and I went with a group of SMK students to tour Makerere University in Kampala. It is a huge campus, as large or larger then my university. The tour was lead by Billy and Nelson, recent graduates sponsored by CTT. They were extremely proud of their University. It was awesome to see them so proud.

During the afternoon, we played bingo back at SMK with all of the kids-I had never seen so many kids get more excited, animated and happy when Natalie called out a number they could put there beans on.

The day ended with taking Joan and Evelyn out to a pizza place off of Entebbe Rd, they ordered their first ever milk shakes! Our family loves ice cream. They fit right in.

One of the more defining moments of this trip to SMK was on Christmas when a SMK student came to me and said, ‘Sandra sends her greetings and love. She had to go to her home village because one of her younger siblings died.’ When I was here two years ago, I got particularly close with Sandra. I was very devastated to hear this news. It was a reality check; their life is tough. Yes we have our own losses and struggles, however in many ways these kids carry extra. This trip has gone by incredibly fast and I am so thankful for this experience, renewed friendships and my time in Uganda."

- Anna

Friday, December 26, 2014

team 8: gus

"Our fourth day here at SMK was Christmas Day! The day started a little later than usual, arriving just after 11am. However, Suzanne woke up early and arrived at SMK around 8am, to help set up decorations for Christmas dinner and the talent show.

By the time we arrived at SMK the whole court yard was decked out in holiday decorations! We helped finish stringing up ribbons and paper snowflakes made by Suzanne and the children the day before.

We started the day’s festivities with Christmas dinner. The cooks, with the help of the children, had made matoke, 'Irish' potatoes, turkey, beef stew, rice and chicken. I have never seen such little people eat so much food in one sitting. It was incredible.

After dinner, we started with the annual SMK talent show. The show kicked off with the SMK girls’ choir, followed by the SMK 'Shining Stars,' performing a dance, and many other entertainers including, Rosette as the MC, the Gucci Band, and of course Nicky. As we were rolling through the show it started raining, which quickly turned into a bit of an ordeal that threatened to soak all of the music equipment!  So, the show had to be put on hold.  After the rain let up Team 8 performed a hilariously unrehearsed rendition of the '12 Days of Christmas,' that turned out better than any of us expected.

The best part of the day was without a doubt giving the kids their Christmas presents. Everyone had a group of children they were responsible for. Wyatt and I gave the secondary level boys their gifts. It was so much fun having the opportunity to give these guys their Christmas presents. The guys were so grateful. All of the boys made a point to give us a hug and thanks after all the Christmas presents had been passed out. I’m so thankful to be a part of Team 8; easily the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever experienced."

- Augustus Cobb

Thanks to Joseph and Alan for the pictures!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

team 8: wyatt

"Today was not only my favorite day at SMK so far, but one of the most impactful days of my entire 18 year old life. My arrival this morning was met by hugs and laughter followed by Jonah handing me two very impressively crafted bracelets that read ‘Wyatt’ and ‘Wy-Wy’ (my nickname since as long as I can remember that many of the kids have taken to calling me.) Today also saw the continuation of music lessons to many of the eager piano players. Ronald is a particularly quick learner and I had a moment of absolute jubilation when only ten minuets after I taught him how to tell what key he was in or how to differentiate between major, minor, major 7 and minor 7 chords he was teaching the exact same thing to Jonah. Ali continued my daily lesson in Luganda and I still struggle to learn the language although it absolutely fascinates me. Today a group of the kids took me down to collect firewood with them which was also an incredible experience. As I would pass the locals many of them would shout comments and I would ask Brian or Jonah to translate. Most comments were particularly hysterical and ranged from ‘he said you have hair like a girl’ to ’they are surprised we are making an American work!’ Today concluded with dinner with the team along the coast of Lake Victoria and was absolutely beautiful. Today is also my father’s birthday and my mother was sure to buy him a cake so we could all celebrate. Today has been an extremely special day and one that I will cherish for a long time. Christmas is tomorrow and I am excited for the joy and happiness that the day will bring."

-Wyatt W. Cobb

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

team 8: post from holly

Alan, Anna, Suzanne, Gus, Natalie, Holly and Wyatt

While the members of Team 8 wait for Dawn and Emily to round out the group, they have been quite busy. Below is Holly's account of their experiences yesterday. She and daughter Anna were on Team 6 and have returned this year, bringing along Dad and the boys. The Cobb family will have special memories of Christmas 2014, that's for sure.

"What a great day at SMK!

We started the day by walking the mile-long road we all are becoming familiar with - we know to watch out for boda-bodas and vehicles!! 

Suzanne and the Cobb Family were able to go with the students we sponsor (through CTT) to visit their school. Our students Joan and Rose, along with the Headmaster, gave us a wonderful tour. We are so proud of Joan and Rose for all their hard work and effort. SMK Administrator Joan Faith joined us on the trip to the schools, and it was a highlight being able to visit with her and learn more about SMK and all the good things they are doing. It is a special place run by special people. 

In the afternoon I was able to spend time with children in the clinic. The children are easy to work with and are grateful for the nursing care.

We stayed past dark and watched a movie under the stars with the students. Perfect weather and lots of smiles watching 'Frozen.'

And I must mention Anna and I road a boda-boda for the first time. We had Joan, Kate and Maria with us - just a short ride to the market area.

It is so good to be back here for the second time. I am so grateful for the warmth and smiles the children share with my family and me."

- Holly

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

team 8 blog post: alan

"Report from Change the Truth Team 8
December 22, 9:15 p.m.
Nearly all of the members of Team 8 are asleep or nearly asleep as I write this.  It’s been a long but very rewarding day!

The five members of the Cobb family (Alan, Anna, Gus, Holly & Wyatt) arrived last night at Entebbe, went through an uneventful and quick Customs processing and then were greeted with big smiles from Team leader Natalie Boten who was so nice to arrange to pick us up and our eight bags of supplies and luggage.  There was a smooth trip to the Lodge and just a teeny bit of winding down before everyone was out for the night.

We started the day with breakfast at the Lodge with Natalie laying out the proposed schedule and being joined by Suzanne Garr, who arrived a few days before.

For three members of the Cobb family, (Alan, Gus & Wyatt) this was the first trip to Uganda and SMK.   No one could have adequately explained the warmth and love we all felt from the residents, students and staff.  I don’t know if I have ever met friendlier people who truly appreciated our presence. 

All members of Team 8 were also greeted with a special, handmade sign from one of the students. What a nice touch.

The morning was highlighted by a birthday celebration for Oliva who turned 11 today. Suzanne made the special effort for a great birthday cake!

It rained much of the day, but that didn’t stop Anna, Suzanne and Holly from working with the children on a craft project organized by Suzanne, including returning post cards from dozens of pen pals in Wisconsin.

Natalie and Melissa spent a lot of the day organizing Christmas presents and the bags of supplies brought by the members of Team 8.  There is a lot of stuff!  Thanks to all who donated the many school,  medical, health and bath supplies.

Wyatt and Gus played hacky sack in the pre-school room.  It was raining hard enough that some of the rain made its way into the room.  That was only a small hindrance to batting around the hacky sack.

What better to do when it is raining then to play indoor games?   Wyatt and Anna played Trouble with many of the students while Gus and Alan played many rounds of the game Monster.  It is exactly like 'Uno' only better because it is with a real deck of cards.  Thank you to SMK student Brian for teaching us how to play!  Claire Faith added some fun competitive attitude to the game!

Wyatt and Gus listened to Nicky’s recent recording of his musical composition and look forward to jamming with him in a few days. 

Rosemary, the founder of SMK, came by and graciously thanked the members of Team 8.   It was an honor to meet a woman who vision has led to the great things at SMK.   Joan Faith, the administrator, also expressed her appreciation. 

We ended the day watching some of the students play badminton. (Natalie and Wyatt joined in).

Then it was back to the Lodge for a wonderful meal prepared by Alex. 

We look forward to another wonderful day at St. Mary Kevin!" 

- Alan

Anna in the hair braiding salon (brother Wyatt looks on)
Kansas is well represented at SMK by Antwain, Alan and Anna

Monday, December 22, 2014

christmas at operation breakthrough

There are many services offered by Operation Breakthrough throughout the year, but at Christmas they come fast and furious. This past weekend close to 750 Kansas City families saw their children's "wish lists" for the holidays actually materialize. Each family is "adopted out" to another family who has offered to take the wish list and actually shop for the toys, games, clothes, etc. The goodies (plus wrapping paper, of course) were distributed to appreciative moms and dads Saturday and Sunday in an extremely well-orchestrated and smooth operation involving a lot of committed volunteers and donors. Here are a few pictures I took of the goings on.

Friday, December 19, 2014

young artists from smk get opportunity to visit art galleries

"Today I took Willie, Oscar, Brian, Nicky and Issy to a couple of art galleries in Kampala. Art teacher Michael had arranged for a guided tour at the University Gallery at Makerere, and we got to meet with the gallery director. I wish you had been able to see our young artists' faces as they walked around in awe. It was pretty darn cool. The gallery director even took us into their art storage that was recently updated with funds from the U.S. Embassy. It is small, but it was fun for me to get to share a little of what I do at the Nelson-Atkins with them.

I had asked for her to address the business end of being an artist. It was… interesting to say the least. She talked about how galleries worked, and then she mentioned some of the prices the works were receiving when they sold. The kids got so excited, until I had to explain how rare having gallery shows are for an individual artists, how much work you have to put into making then happen and how most artists also have a regular full time job as well. I'm not sure anyone believed me, until the director at the next gallery and Michael said exactly the same thing.

Overall, I think everyone really enjoyed it and left inspired to try some new things." - Natalie

Issy, Brian and Michael


Nicky and Oscar

Willy, Brian, Oscar, Nicky, Issy, Michael and gallery director

Thursday, December 18, 2014

blog post from team 8 leader natalie!

Among her other star qualities, Team leader Natalie is also a very good writer. I think you'll find her first blog post from Uganda both entertaining and poignant.

"Having visited Uganda twice before, I left this time feeling like I knew what to expect. I have my favorite things to eat. I know what shops to visit in Kajjansi to make sure I get a fair price on my afternoon Fanta. I even have a favorite driver to take me to all the places I want to visit. So I have to admit, when Melissa told me that we would be going into Kampala today to finish up Christmas shopping for the kids at SMK by taxi, and then taking a boda boda back to school with our heavy packages of undershirts, bras, and vasoline, those anxious feelings of not knowing what to expect, or how to behave, that I had prior to my first visit crept back in. 

Taxis here are not like in any other city I have ever been in. They are closer to small buses with designated routes. They aren't marked with their destination, and you kind of just need to know which one to get into. Thankfully, as Melissa says, this is how she rolls, and I really didn't need to figure any of these things out for myself. It was, however, for this newbie, still quite an adventure as we drove down Entebbe Road into the heart of the city.

Sponsored student Rachael helps shop at the market

In order to purchase the items on our shopping list we make our way through the wholesale market. This crowded alley was filled, stories high, with shop fronts selling literally everything you can imagine. In bulk. Think Costco, on a busy Saturday at Christmas time, but with large trucks making their way through the aisles as you are trying to carry your purchases without the aid of a large shopping cart. Then multiply that by five. It's overwhelming at best, but I couldn't help thinking the whole time what a treat it was to have the opportunity to do something so new to me.

We made it back to Kajjansi with all of our goodies, and got off at our stop that was still  more than a mile from home. With no other option, we hopped on a boda boda--in other words, a motorcycle taxi. Well, Mel hopped, I sort of hesitantly sat down after carefully explaining to my driver that I had never been on a motorcycle--ever, and he need to go slow. Very slow. His good nature obliged and we made it through the village in one piece. I can't say that this is my favorite mode of transport here, but I did enjoy the short ride for the new experience it gave me.

So feeling pretty proud of myself for trying all of these new, slightly intimidating, things, I unexpectedly encountered another 'first' as I sat down to recount my adventures. A gentleman who works at the hotel came over, and after chatting for a bit, he asked me if I went to high school. Naively, I was taken aback. Well, of course I went to high school, I thought. I actually went to college. And graduate school. Then as immediately as the thought entered my brain I remembered what a luxury attending high school in Uganda really is. Most kids don't. And of those that do, only about 30% actually finish. 

And that is why I am here. It is what CTT is working so hard to provide for our kids. Not just the opportunity to go, but a support system that encourages them finish. I'm under no grand illusion that CTT alone will be able to provide every child that needs it with a high school education. But I do know that for those we can assist, it is a lasting gift that will continue to benefit them, and their community, long after they have left the security of SMK. This year, our team members will proudly get to celebrate with three wonderful young women who have attained this goal. Racheal, Catherine and Shelia have recently completed their Senior 6 exams and have a lot of new 'firsts' in their futures. And it is because of this, that I am really so incredibly excited to be back in Uganda. - Natalie

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

what happened after this picture was made

This photograph has become a favorite for many who view my work from Uganda. It never fails to elicit a smile. I thought it would be nice to share once again the tale of my encounter with the bra salesman. The following is a re-post. If you've already read it, feel free to resume your web surfing.

My Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Maurice owned a top notch clothing store in Lexington, Kentucky, my hometown. I bought all my clothes there, I worked there when I was old enough, I even got to go on a NY buying trip once, and I was always treated like royalty by the Tots 'n Teens salesmen and women. My aunt Evelyn was a force with which to reckon - a self assured and successful businesswoman who took no crap from anyone. When it was time for my first bra, she was the one who noticed the tiny breast buds, she was the one who put me in a dressing room at the store and called out to the sales ladies "get some training bras for my niece to try on!" and she was the one who pronounced my first flowered cheesecloth bra a perfect fit (much to my sheer terror and embarrassment).

Every woman I know has a "first bra" story etched into her mental scrapbook.

Early one morning while in Uganda a couple weeks ago, I was riding a boda (motorcycle taxi) along the dirt path leading to the orphanage. I spotted two women sitting by the side of the road - both had huge piles of clothing in their laps. I asked my boda driver to stop. I hopped off, thanked and paid him. I was curious about these large stacks of clothing.

Turned out they were bras. Hundreds of them. The woman explained they were selling them to the villagers.

A man soon approached on foot. The display of bras that hung from his arms was almost too much for me to bear. It was one of the weirdest, loveliest, most heartbreaking, poignant, comical sights I had ever seen. I knew I had to make a portrait of the bra salesman, and he kindly obliged.

Of course, then he wanted me to buy a bra or two.

We walked along the road together for a while and talked. I told him I might just might be able to round up a few customers for him.

By the time we reached St. Mary Kevin, word had already spread that Mama G. (that's me) was striking a deal with the bra man. Within five minutes, a gaggle of girls had gathered outside the SMK guest house. More streamed in as my new friend set up shop. He quickly realized it was his lucky day.

What ensued over the next fifteen minutes was pure joy. Girls giggling. Girls squealing. Older girls looking down the shirts of younger girls (sizing). Beaming young girls trying on their first bras. Girls adjusting straps. Girls laughing. Girls giddy. Pink bras, lacy bras, flowered bras, polka dotted bras, sports bras. Girls sharing. Girls admiring. Girls approving. Girls clucking. Girls delighted. Girls grateful.

Girls without their moms or aunts or grandmothers there. Just Mama G. and the other adults who had gathered to see what all the estrogen-driven commotion was about.

The girls tried on the bras over their clothes. They were each others' mirrors. Unbelievably, amid the chaos (arms reaching, hands searching, fingers snapping hooks and adjusting straps, heads nodding) each was able to find just the right bra - the perfect size and color.

The bra man was grinning ear to ear. He had hit the jackpot.

We quibbled over a the price for a few moments, I paid him (a whopping 50 - 75 cents per bra) and then the girls lined up to thank me, one at a time. My face ached from all the smiling I had just done.

It was one of the sweetest, happiest mornings I've ever experienced.

Monday, December 15, 2014

a feature on feature shoot

I'm happy to report that my Uganda work is on Feature Shoot today.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

congratulations to nelson!

Along with Billy, sponsored student Nelson will graduate from Makerere University next month. Nelson's degree will be in Computer Science.

In a recent email, Nelson wrote, "Born as a nobody, very soon I will be somebody flying that black graduation hat in the air."

Following his last exam this past June, our industrious and talented young friend worked with AidData.org for three months, helping with geo-coding and analysis. Once that internship expired, Nelson began working as an intern doing Microsoft SharePoint development for ACTS, a Florida based company. He spends his spare time working on his start-up company, Sodzo Limited and as a Research Assistant at Makerere in the Artificial Intelligence Development Research Group.

Regarding life after college, Nelson wrote, "I thought leaving college would avail me with enough time to sleep, watch football or visit friends, but NO. Maybe I was wrong. Waking up at 6:30 AM and going to sleep at 1:00 AM has been my daily routine since I finished classes in June. Trust me, if you're in college, there is plenty of time to waste - more than in the real world."

Those of us who know Nelson know how determined and focused he is. Once he sets his mind to something, he is halfway there. We are so proud of his accomplishments, which have included two trips to the US to present research findings. We have no doubt that Nelson, who has been sponsored by CTT since secondary school, will fly very high after graduation, right alongside his graduation cap. In his own words:

"I have worked really hard. When I finish college, I should get high pay. In the real world, payment is commensurate with skill."

We'll keep cheering you on, Big Nels. And we couldn't be more happy for you. You're doing what you love, and you are succeeding on every level. Bravo!

Friday, December 12, 2014

meet team 8!

Team 8 leader Natalie is just about ready to head to Uganda. Not far behind her will be the other members of this awesome group. They will be carrying over 450 pounds of art supplies, medical supplies, gifts, clothing, games, school supplies, soccer balls, frisbees and more - all to make the holidays a fun and memorable experience for the 180 kids at St. Mary Kevin.

The team is made mostly of returning volunteers, which says so much about how profound these connections are.

Holly and Anna Cobb were part of Team 6. They had such an amazing time that they have convinced the rest of their family to join them on the journey this year. Alan, Gus and Wyatt will soon get to meet the special children they've heard so much about from Holly and Anna for the past two years. This will make for a truly unique family volunteer vacation, just as the Soslands experienced last year at this time. CTT is lucky to have the support of families like these!

Suzanne Garr will be making her FOURTH trip to St. Mary Kevin! Suzanne was smitten by the kids the minute she walked onto the grounds back in 2010. Thanks to letter writing, Facebook and Skype she has maintained close relationships with many of them. They love her dearly and can't wait to see her again. Suzanne is an important and active member of the CTT family. She sponsors two children in secondary school and led Team 6. Her enthusiasm and compassion is contagious. We look forward to hearing all about Spirit Day this year, Suzanne!

New board member Dawn Taylor will be making her third trip to SMK. Her traveling companion and fellow volunteer will be daughter Emily, who will be visiting for the second time. These girls are counting the days til they can get their arms around the kids, all of whom will be ecstatic to see them again. It means so much to our kids that their friends from American do not forget about them and do return.

The fearless leader of Team 8, Natalie Boten, is eager to get this party started! She's been planning for months and has some great surprises in store for the kids this year. She has promised to submit blog posts regularly so all of us can keep track of the team's experiences. Since we can't stow away in their duffel bags, this will have to do. Natalie will be landing on Ugandan soil for the third time, and she can hardly wait!

Safe travels and good luck to Team 8. You're a fantastic group - each of you has something very special to offer the kids. We'll hear more about those things as your blog posts roll in.

There will be a big old love-fest starting up pretty soon in Kajjansi, Uganda.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

meet the new change the truth board members!

Fred Grossman

Fred is a clinical psychologist who transferred his practice from Kansas City to Portland, Oregon in 2010. He has been in practice since 1977.

In addition to his work as a psychologist, Fred has volunteered in a variety of settings, including a women's shelter, an AIDs clinic and an adolescent diversion program. He has also worked with clergy to provide more effective delivery systems to parishioners. Fred has traveled to Africa twice to volunteer for Change the Truth.

In his down time Fred enjoys hiking, traveling and spending with with his wife Cheryl and hits children erica, Ian and Dennis.

Jennifer Smith

Jennifer is a career educator with 20 years classroom experience. Honored to be selected a Regional Finalist for Kansas Teacher of the Year in 2014, she currently teaches 8th graders American History in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas. A devoted Royals fan, Jennifer is also an avid reader, loves to cook, and travels with her husband, Jeff, as much as they can.

Jennifer has visited Uganda as a member of Team 4, during the summer of 2012, and as Co-Leader of Team 7.

Dawn Taylor

Dawn has spent her career in the nonprofit sector, primarily in fund-raising and executive leadership in the arts and architecture field.   Her career has encompassed 17 years in roles at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and in 2010, she was named Executive Director of American Institute of Architects Kansas City, where she leads one of the country’s top AIA chapters. 

Her volunteer career has focused on three distinct but equally beloved parts of the world:  Kansas City, North Carolina, and Uganda.

In the Kansas City community, she is an 11-year volunteer at Operation Breakthrough and a past board member of Quixotic Fusion and Kansas City Artists Coalition.  Dawn  is a devoted and active Duke University alumna and is involved with the school on a local and national level in several leadership positions.  Her volunteer contributions were recognized in 2009 with a national award from Duke Alumni Association.

She has traveled three times to Uganda (Teams 5, 7, and 8) with Change the Truth.  She cherishes the relationships she has made with the children at St. Mary Kevin and the other team members from around the world.

Dawn credits her first trip to Africa in 2011 with her desire to pursue a social impact business to benefit people in the developing world.  That venture is Red Dirt Shop, launched in April 2013 with a business partner.

Dawn grew up in a family that donated their time, talent, and treasure to many causes. Dawn wants to model this same devotion to helping others for her two teenage daughters, Sarah and Emily.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

emmet gowin

Emmet Gowin has long been one of my "photo heroes." I told him so at the book signing following his lecture last week in New Orleans. His talk was dreamy. Meeting him was the same. Here are just a few of his pictures that have motivated and moved me over the years.