I own a portrait photography studio in Menomonee Falls, in southeastern Wisconsin, and in addition to that, I have a passion for traveling to far away places to learn of cultures other than my own. My wish has always been to combine my passion for photographing people with my love of travel, to work as a photojournalist and give a voice to those who don’t have one.
I was accepted into the Workshops with Purpose program in November, 2013, when I decided to extend my stay in Africa and use my skills as a photographer to work as a volunteer. I found CARITAS For Children, a Catholic charity, through a business contact and from there have built a wonderful working relationship.
Prior to this trip I had traveled to Third World countries on several occasions as a tourist; however, I had never worked as a volunteer outside of the United States. I flew into Entebbe, Uganda in November 2013, not knowing what to expect, and I left Uganda in December 2013, a different person than when I arrived.
I stayed at the Mother Kevin CARITAS For Children Residential Learning Center located on the Stella Maris Boarding School campus where I was met with open arms by Flavia, Prossy, and Scott. I immediately felt at home and was comfortable throughout my entire stay in Nkonkonjeru.
My job while there was to capture still photos and video footage to tell the story of CARITAS as well to tell stories of sponsored children. To do this we visited the homes of sponsored children where I met parents and relatives who were so very thankful to receive monetary assistance to be able to send their children to school. Many parents have to choose between feeding their family or sending their children to school; and some of the families have to decide which one out of three children will be the one to go to school as they can’t afford to send all three.
We visited schools and orphanages where we met with teachers and caregivers. We heard stories of struggle —many of which broke my heart —and we visited homes in the bush looking for children who weren’t enrolled in school but so desperately want to go. We sat with these families, listened to their stories, and took their photos in the hopes of finding them a sponsor.
Along with each meeting came a deeper awareness, a deeper understanding of the people, politics, and community struggles —there are so many layers to a person, a place, and a culture. With each meeting came smiling faces, stories of resilience, and friendships were made.
Even though many Ugandans face a hardship you and I will most likely never experience in our lives, they are happy. They are strong. They figure out a way. Kids go to school barefoot in tattered clothing if they have to. Parents work harder to raise money. They live with less. They do the best they can with what they have available to them.
Which is why I feel such a pull to travel 7,700 miles to volunteer. Even though I see the struggle, I also see hope. I see hardworking people who are just like us in that they want a better life for their children. I see doctors, teachers, parents, and community leaders putting new projects in place to educate their people that are making a positive impact for a better future.
I have seen sponsored children with a sparkle in their eyes as they talk about how thankful they are to have been given this opportunity, as well as how hard they work so as not to waste it. I met hundreds of children during my month long visit, and many of them proudly told me that they were working toward becoming a doctor or a lawyer so they can one day help others. It makes me smile in knowing that because one family has the heart to help one child, so many others will be affected by their generosity. We are all connected after all.
In two weeks I leave for Haiti, and although some of the stories may be similar to those I heard while in Africa, I’m again walking into a country not knowing what to expect —it’s a different place with different challenges. But I will listen and take photos and learn as much as I can while there so that I can be a voice for those who don’t have one.
This type of volunteering isn't easy, but it's so rewarding. It gives you the opportunity to go deep within a culture, to meet people, and to go places that you wouldn't otherwise get to see as a tourist. I encourage those of you who have considered this type of work to give it a try because it'll definitely change your life.
And if you feel pulled to sponsor a child but are met with hesitation, know that you are not only changing one person’s life, but all of the people who that one person touches.
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