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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

team 9: post from scott


Practice, ritual and traditions are important. They keep us grounded. They remind us of things we must continually work to improve. They remind us of times past that we'd like to honor with memory. Things that we put value in, and would like to carry forward in our lives. They make our time better because we choose to include them.

On Christmas day we shared in new and old traditions at SMK. Kajjansi was full of the sounds of music and worship. Families dressed in their best to celebrate. So could be said for the experience within SMK. Our boys and girls looked great, each bringing their own style and smiles.

The events started with balloon animals and hats for all. We had a visitor, Brian from California, spend the day with us during his travels in Uganda. Although his stay could only be one day, he proved to be an excellent addition to the team (and quite the balloon hat expert). Such a joy to see all the little ones with their hats, skipping around SMK.

Lunch was served -- matooke, potatoes, rice and beef (with soda/pop!)

The day's program included a talent show, play and gift exchange. As you likely know, we have MANY talented dancers and musicians. How amazing to see the boys and girls challenge each other in a dance "battle". Each took to the center to show their moves, riff off each other's moves and just LAUGH (as the sole judge I had to tip my hat to the girls. They brought their A-game). 

Nicky and band treated everyone to "All I want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey

Melissa directed what may become a new tradition at SMK, an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty written by Joseph Kavulu himself. This was the first time the boys and girls have presented a play like this. They did a great job with creating scenery from nearby branches and fabric and costumes from construction paper. The audience watched as Prince Philip awakened Princess Aurora from a prick of a cursed tailoring machine that had put her to sleep.

As the sun began descending, the gift-giving began. Each of the older boys and girls had selected names from a hat to create a "secret santa" type of gift exchange. I found out about this tradition the night before as I joined some of the boys to anxiously search the town vendors for an appropriate last-minute gift. This was their chance to come up to receive their gift and and read the name they'd pulled. Of course, each was required to dance as they approached the front. So much style in one room. 

CTT team members were touched to receive appreciation gifts from Joan Faith on behalf of SMK. The Kavulu family was presented with a beautiful framed painting (created by Willy!). 

To bring a close to the day's events, each boy and girl was presented with a gift from CTT -- a calculator or torch (flashlight). 

It was touching to see the traditions of SMK and Uganda, and be included in both. 

- Scott

Friday, December 25, 2015

the thing about tears

I've been wondering why Team 9 keeps sending emails about their tears, why my recent Skype call with the kids ended with me in tears and why whenever I run into people who've made the 
trip to the orphanage, they shed tears as they recall their experience.

I remember the first time I cried during my trip to Uganda in 2006. I had been spending time with a very poor family in a rural village in the southwestern corner of the country. After several days of photographing Margaret and her many children, it came time for me to board a bus and head back to Kampala. Margaret and the kids walked me to the main road and stood with me as I waited for my ride. We could barely communicate, but Margaret and I knew something important had shifted in our lives that week, and tears were rolling down our faces. Then, just before I got on the bus, I was presented with a bunch of freshly picked bananas, two sweet potatoes and an avocado, all neatly arranged in a basket Margaret had woven from palm fronds. She had nothing but a one-room mud hut, a small square garden out back and one dress she wore every day. Still, she insisted on sharing what she had, and she did it with dignity.

 I cried off and on all the way back to Kampala. And I've shed countless tears during my many subsequent trips to Uganda.

Why all the tears?

To be honest, I often feel ashamed of the excess in my life. That I can and do shove more than Margaret's annual income across the counter at Nordstrom for yet another pair of boots that I have to squeeze into my overstuffed closet. That the money I spend on one chai latte would feed five of Margaret's children for the whole day. That I keep my extra possessions in a storage unit that charges the equivalent of sending three of those kids to school for an entire year. Maybe the tears represent a gnawing sense of emptiness that I can't seem to fill regardless of the number of things I buy.

To be honest, I often feel that relationships are conditional. That I'm not sure where I stand with someone because of something said or not said, something done or not done, something felt or not felt, something given or not given. Maybe the tears represent the sense of frustration and loss that come with conditional love.

To be honest, I often feel that I judge too much. That I appraise people too quickly based on appearance, social status or educational background. That I criticize people before putting myself in their shoes. That I don't reach out with an open hand often enough. Maybe the tears represent a sense of embarrassment over not accepting people as they are.

All of these emotions rise to the surface when I'm in Uganda (and I sense that present and past team members may feel the same way).

The children I've met there will love you even if you don't live in a big house, even if you don't wear makeup or jewelry or fancy shoes, even if your pockets are torn and empty, even if you aren't Hollywood pretty or Harvard smart. They love you just because you show up... and because you open your heart. They joyfully take your hand when you first meet, and they never let go.

Maybe that's the thing about tears. Maybe they flow when we simply open our hearts. Maybe they run down our cheeks because we forget about ourselves, all those clothes in our closet, the cars in our garage and the electronic gadgets in our living room. Maybe they flow because we take a break from trying to impress, compete and do what's expected of us. Maybe they well up in our eyes because we realize what's important and what's really not. That perhaps we're wasting too much of our precious time running in circles (the literal translation for mzungu, which is what those of us with white skin are called, is "aimless wanderer"), acquiring, accumulating, counting, measuring, weighing and judging - and not enough time being kind to ourselves and one another, not enough time loving.

Which is what Margaret and her kids, and all the children I've met over these many years of travel to Uganda have tried, without really trying, to teach me. Be present, be kind, be simple and open your heart... and let those tears go right on flowing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

team 9: a big batch of pictures!

The team: Melissa, Scott, Lynne, Rebecca and Jackie

Lynne with Daniel and Wasswa

CTT sponsored students

SMK dancers are the best

Scott brought along a bubble maker!

Spirit Day!

Team Lynne took top prize in the competitions



Photo class with Jackie and Scott

Lynne and Tonny

Scott and the next great SMK dancer

Jackie and her sponsored student Shine

The students gave the team a tour of Kajjansi Progressive Secondary School

Rebecca and the Big Boys

Francis, Rebecca and Scovia

Claire Faith, Lynne and Steven

Rebecca and her fan club!

Christmas party for the children at the Lake Victoria Serena (given by the hotel)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

team 9 photos

Marching band members

Jackie and photo kids preparing to make cyanotypes

Melissa and driver/fixer Ambrose buying CTT Christmas gifts for the children

Nicky and Leo

Photo class

Photo students: Aaron, Emmanuel, Wise, Geofrey and Rashid

CTT sponsored students Scovia, Alpha and Joan with Rebecca

Kawinnie in the kitchen

Shine, Joann and Oliva with Rebecca in the market

Our cute little boys: David, Gregory, Wasswa and Daniel

team 9: blog post by rebecca

What a place! The last week has been nothing short of outstanding. Each child and person I have met has amazed me and stolen my heart. I am having trouble even deciding what event to write about, because every interaction I have had is one that I want to share and remember forever. These children are remarkable. I have been so lucky to spend most of my time here with the senior girls and more recently the senior boys. With these kids as my travel partners and tour guides – from the first day I loved Uganda, and I loved them. #ugandaloveit has become the title of my trip.

Scoiva and Alpha as my guides from the airport and through the school the first couple of days was perfect – it felt like a first day or school for me – I was so excited and a little nervous that the girls would not like me. But Scovia and Alpha changed that in less than a minute. Grabbing my hands and introducing me to everyone – I had two new best friends that were going to be my security blankets for the entire trip. Through these two beautiful girls, I met the senior girl class, and felt like a part of the clique. Over the next few days we shared so much – and what I wanted most was to learn about their plans for the future. And each girl has a plan and a dream. With their determination and the support of Change the Truth, I can see each of them reaching their goals.

Having a few days here with some extra time, I wanted to see Uganda and I wanted to see it while getting to know the kids of SMK better. With a trip to the beach with Rose, Claire, Evalyn and Rebecca  - just a few hours splashing and a soda or two later, we had plans to teach me a dance,  a debate over David Blaine’s ability to breathe underwater, and a mad dash back to school for a performance.  

Scovia and Alpha also were so gracious to accompany me to Mbale, a 4 hour drive away (which turned into 5), where we visited a Jewish village, met with the Rabbi and were shown the community. While this was something special for me, the girls were interested at every minute. We turned the 7 hours drive home into an excursion of its own – with a stop by the Nile in Jinja, a couple of tire changes with the awesome Ambrose (driver of the year) and a late night dinner and photoshoot. The girls heard Rabbi Enosh showing me his welcome sign, reading  “Shalom” – saying he wishes people to come in peace and leave in peace. Later in the car the girls asked me about this word – and by the end of the conversation I had sung them a little song that is a part of my Jewish life called “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu” – a song about peace around the world. And today – the girls had taught ten of the young ones the song and made a dance. The performance had me in tears. Hearing these girls sing something that meant so much to me and having them work to teach it to the other children – made my heart beat so hard that the people sitting next to me could feel it. #ugandaloveit.

In the past, I have traveled with the mission of providing health education abroad, most commonly HIV education. So with the relationship built, and with the encouragement of Melissa, I gave a few sessions on HIV and health. Each session was mind blowing – the amount of knowledge and inquisitiveness coming from both the girls’ sessions and the boys’ sessions were higher than I have ever experienced.  But even though these conversations are hugely important to have – they served another purpose for me as well. I got to know the kids even better. After my session with the boys, we decided to take a trip together like I had been doing with the girls – hang out and maybe visit a clinic and teach them even more about healthcare and HIV. I could feel my face light up when they asked me. It gave me the courage to approach some of them one on one to talk like I have been with the girls, asking about their future and talking about what they can do to help themselves reach their goals. And let me just say – this place might be producing some of the worlds future artists, music producers, journalists and so many more. With the impact each of these kids had on me – I can imagine the impact they might have on the world’s stage!

More than one individual has found me on their own to take me aside and thanked me for talking to them about HIV, or thanked me for just being here and listening to them – showing me that SMK and CTT have raised children that are intelligent and grateful.

I have three more days here at SMK, and I can’t believe the time has gone as fast as it has. I find myself thinking about my next trip already – hoping to come and see these seniors take the next steps in their lives and #ugandaloveit.

- Rebecca