Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Summer Worth of Tweets

Below are Fount of Mercy's Tweet's from Uganda. Read from the bottom up for chronological order.

* Kampala's main taxi park is very overwhelming to walk through.
* @Mishellj 's photos from Uganda with @fountofmercy are absolutely stunning. So proud of her work (via @Kevin_Slack)
* Currently reading: http://michellejohnston.tumblr.com @fountofmercy (via @Dr0id)
* Pic of a proud Ugandan women showing off her new necklace design to be sold in Jinja.
* Founts vocational development team just taught a group of Ugandan women a new necklace design & made a connection w them w a local store
* Fount's community health team spoke w older Ugandan women about menopause, news for many of the women

* This past week Sewing Hope (a fount of mercy program) held a 2nd men's tailoring class with the organization Care and Share.
* The woman of Care & Share sang us a song of celebration the first day we visited them.
* Getting the chance to skim through Uganda photos. this is hard & overwhelming. im going to have to take baby steps w this. (via @Mishellj)
* @mishellj taught a photography class today in makindye, Uganda
* Here's a beautiful pic from our visit to murchison falls in Uganda

* Back from the safari. It was amazing!!

* Our educational development team leaves today for safari. Super excited to see giraffes, elephants, hippos and lions.
* Today the Sewing Hope team taught women from the village of Lawanda how to make bags & mens shirts. One women completed an entire bag today! Tue Jul 27 13:35:25 2010
* Today I visited a school started by 1 of the orphans fount has suported for yrs. We are so proud of him! Tue Jul 27 13:28:28 2010
* Founts girls camp was a huge sucess. Over 50 women, we discussed puberty, sex ed & misconceptions. Sun Jul 25 14:21:27 2010
* We just donated curriculum to Roc Primary School in Lawanda, Uganda Fri Jul 23 11:30:12 2010
* I'm wearing a skirt that was made by one of the Ugandan vocational developments projects we support. Fri Jul 23 10:34:31 2010
* Pic of Becky and Jamie leading gymnastic activities Fri Jul 23 00:49:53 2010
* Pic of @mishellj showing deaf students how to frame a picture with her camera. Fri Jul 23 00:41:33 2010
* Last day with the deaf students was wonderful! They gave each of us a sign name. Fri Jul 23 00:39:30 2010
* Yesterday we attended a vocational womens group meeting. Our translator translated all the gossip :)
* Awesome day w deaf students!! These children are the most affectionate children in the world! Huge hugs! Wed Jul 21 12:24:43 2010
* Fount dancing in the beautiful Ugandan rain Wed Jul 21 12:03:22 2010 via

* Sad news, last night one of TAOST students, Joshua, died. Although school continued today, their was a sense of mourning. Tue Jul 20 12:47:39 2010
* I got my two-year work visa! The work continues in Uganda - Lori Mon Jul 19 13:27:53 2010
* The sewing hope team has confirmed that difficult machines exist all over the world. But our students are overcoming them and making shirts! Mon Jul 19 13:22:35 2010
* Today our community health dir, spoke w a principal. The topic is the need for public health in his school. Mon Jul 19 10:27:33 2010
* @mishellj reading with little Dan today at TAOST Mon Jul 19 10:21:23 2010
* Met a nice Ugandan man who works for USAID. We shared stories. He thinks our model is solid. He said "I am proud of Fount" So encouraging!! Sun Jul 18 03:52:40 2010
* 5 members of our team are white water rafting the Nile today! Sun Jul 18 03:20:25 2010
* Want to read about our work via our volunteers perspectives? Please follow Fount of Mercy's travel blog. http://fountofmercy.blogspot.com Sun Jul 18 03:12:49 2010
* Pic of Sewing Hope busy at work (Sewing Hope, a Fount of Mercy program, provides vocational development) Fri Jul 16 06:28:30 2010

* This week our vocational dev team has been working w local sewing teachers, teaching new skills to share w their classes in their villages Fri Jul 16 05:22:43 2010
* Met w teachers from a new school. To teach 4 grades they only have 1 English & 1 math book. Were going to buy them 1 subject book per grade! Fri Jul 16 05:19:15 2010
* Today we wrked w 20 visually impaired kids. It was so rewarding to sing, read w & play w these children Thu Jul 15 11:50:27 2010

* The resturant where we are eating tonight looks like a medieval times! Ha :) jousting competition soon Thu Jul 15 11:44:40 2010
* Beautiful jinja Thu Jul 15 11:38:22 2010
* @Mishellj our community health dir is excited to use the anatomy posters u donated. Theyll be used during this months puberty camp. Thanks Wed Jul 14 12:10:09 2010
* Pic of Jamie leading a math strategies discussion with TAOST teachers (the AIDS Orphan Support Trust) http://yfrog.com/j0of2qj Wed Jul 14 11:50:48 2010
* The Internet is back :) it had been gone since Sunday. We are safe in jinja and really enjoying our work. Wed Jul 14 11:37:40 2010
* Great day in the village, singing and dancing with the sewing group. Sat Jul 10 13:43:42 2010
* @luartfan good news, through a grant we have filled the shelves with Ugandan text books! They defiantly could use childrens story books. 1:55 PM Jul 8th
* Taught Hope Academy yoga today. They loved it! Also taught compare & contrast using the original and new version of the 3 little pigs. 1:27 PM Jul 8th
* Hope Academy in Iganga, Uganda graciously cooked us lunch today. Beans, cooked pumpkin leaves & poshu (a corn meal dish) It was really good 1:21 PM Jul 8th
* Woke up this morning to a beautiful thunderstorm. 11:45 PM Jul 7th
* We watched the game last night with some Ugandan friends at a restaurant called 2 friends. The place was packed and the energy so much fun. 11:44 PM Jul 7th
* Great day today. Taught Ugandan students the musical alphabet, gifted the school w curriculum and discussed strategies for teaching reading. 10:30 AM Jul 7th   

* From the safety of my room I just watched three monkeys fight over a papaya. The little one won! 8:54 AM Jul 5th
* We made it to Kampala. Its great to be back! Once the rest of our volunteers arrive this afternoon were off to Jinja to start work tomorrow. 3:10 AM Jul 5th

Monday, August 9, 2010

Reverse Culture Shock

Culture Shock
I didn’t feel like I had that much culture shock when I got to Uganda, I was seeing a lot of things I expected to see and looking at things in a critical way as a photographer.  Sure I definitely faced some but not as much as I have found myself experiencing reverse culture shock. I wish it was the other way because coming home and facing this reverse effect has been difficult and strange. While I am so happy to be back, I can’t help but feel torn. Guilty for leaving, for having all the things in life that I have, and a hundred things that I don’t even need. I had 7 outfits in Uganda, I didn’t wear makeup or jewelry, and I carried a backpack around. Coming home and seeing a bag of makeup was scary. I felt overwhelmed by my options and found it easier to just not deal with it. I got some earrings while in Uganda, and when I opened my jewelry box to put them in I felt nauseous by all my options. I have so much. I know this doesn’t make me a bad person, that we work and have things because we can and because it makes us happy, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by all of the things I have. They all seemed unimportant and like a burden at that moment. I’m sure this will change in me again, I will go back to enjoying these things and wanting them, but right now its strange and seems unnecessary to me, it’s a weird feeling.

Getting myself back into the city life is another story. In my home I am safe, its mine, I don’t have to see or experience the attitudes of other people. Walking back onto the streets of New York is an entirely different story. Just going out to get coffee and a muffin with Kevin on Saturday while on the way to the dog park was a challenge. I cried after getting my coffee. I could have cried in the shop but I held myself together. I can’t say exactly what I was crying over either. How nice everything is, how many options I have, just how elaborate and expensive looking things are. How people that don’t know what I know, or haven’t seen the things I’ve seen most likely surround me. I felt so alone in that moment standing in the coffee shop and I guess that’s why I cried. Because I cant get those faces out of my head and someone else doesn’t even know they exist, and how much help they need. Instead we are getting coffees and have many other concerns.  This is no fault to anyone else of course. I was warned that it would feel like a dream. That I would come back with this life changing experience and everyone else would be the way they were and everything will exist as it did before I left, except that I would be changed. My former concerns in life seem so small, for the most part problems I thought I had before don’t even seem like problems anymore. I don’t think I can ever complain again about not having money or being broke. I will never truly know what that is. And probably none of us will. Despite we may have $20 in our bank account more than likely another check is coming around and even if it wasn’t, we would have someone to lean on. That is a luxury.  My first day back at work was good. I was nervous that I would want to kill the people that populate SoHo or that I would get overwhelmed by questions.  It was a peaceful day though and im grateful for that. I shared stories with those that were interested and didn’t feel as vulnerable as I worried I might be. It’s hard to spill all of this on a person. It takes a lot of energy to acknowledge, process and then talk about it. I felt myself at times wanting to turn into a ball at first but the more I spoke about my experience the easier it became. It was good to show people the light and hope it brought into me, rather than the tears.  But I wont lie, coming back was tough, just ask Kevin who watched me just sit in bed crying, crying over coffee, crying over everything that whole weekend.  I think it was important for me though. I let it all in, and I let it absorb into this life I have here, trying to find a way to live with the things that are now a part of me. It is all a part of the journey that I would never take back.

-Michelle Johnson

Sharing One's Experience Through Facebook Status

‎One Volunteer's Experience Via her many Facebook Status Updates

40 hours and we finally hit a bed... Slept like a rock! So happy to be in Uganda.... Weather is awesome and people are marvelous....African tea and eggs... We will get acclimated today and then head to our first town tomorrow to work... Will keep you posted!

First person I saw this morning saw this morning was my widow friend Evelyn. She has beautiful beads this year and tomorrow I will post pictures of the beads and her! She was so happy to see us and she said God has blessed her so much this year that she actually has been able to use some of her blessing to help other ladies in need. Pay it forward! I love it.

Traveled to a village today. Met with about 50 women. These are women that have a copop sew and bake. Did medical assessments. The stories are heart wrenching. 90% widowed most have aids and malaria. Some without shelter.

All have horrible arthritis heart issues and terrible eyes. They are learning to bake bread. 1300 rolls a week made and sold. Total of 104 women in all. We have funds for a new oven from many of you generous people. This will double their earning capacity.

They are learning to sew and we will teach jewelry skills while here too. Those that can see will do these skills. Practical ways we might be able to help: mosquito nets, reading glasses and education as most complain of ulcers and diarrhea. Poor food safety, need to boil water.

They sell a dozen rolls for .50. Some only make $5 a month. They have as many as 10 children in a home to care for and feed. All on thier own. Digging or farming by hand for land owners is their other source of income. Hence the arthritis. I shall never complain.

Last note of the day.. I met with Bernard tonight. Owns a jewelery store in Jinga. We discussed ideas and looked at African materials for new designs. We will meet again On Thursday and he will teach me the stringing technique and then together we will make a few designs to teach the women at Care and Share. If we can get them proficient, it will be another means of income, as he will sell them in his store!

Hi again! We went to Iganda, about 1 1/2 hours away. We went to do assessments on the woman in the village. We are trying to get demographics and then seeing if there are specific trends among them. This information will be used to help starting the CHI, Vanessa Crowley's baby. Its the Community Health Initiative of Fount of Mercy, and... will be used for education purposes for the women in the villages regarding health and hygiene.

It is obvious there are specific trends that can actually be addressed and with education, many can be alleviated. The major health issues though that require medical assistance, require money, which most can't afford. Carol and I have found that the women our age (actually a decade younger) are experiencing menopausal... symptoms! But don't understand what is happening to them.

I only have one picture of some of the ladies journeying into to the area. We were very busy, both of us with an interpreter and didn't get many of the ladies. I know Carol may have gotten a few and did get a little video. Another group from California is here and has been in this village for several days.

The other group was doing teaching with the children. They divided them into groups. Younger and older. They were really excellent with them and the children are learning colors, numbers and sentences in English. The older group was learning about emotions today. One made the sentence that she was hopeful when her mother had food for her.

Another said she was embarrassed when her mother whipped her! One said 
he got excited when he passed his exams! They understand a lot for sure.
enjoy the pictures of the children today. Thank you for the prayers. 
Until tomorrow!

A great day in Jinja today. Learned some African jewelry making technique from Bernard who is a genius and so creative! We all will go to the village tomorrow and teach the widow ladies so they can make and sell. It was definitely an eye opener, and let me say I have a lot to learn.... so much fun today...

Getting ready for bed. It has officially been a great day and we have adapted to the pace and the time zone. Again I am impressed with the simplicity of life and the creative nature he has given these people. It is survival for most here, but happiness exudes each one we come in contact with. Night!

Outstanding day today! Back to the village with the ladies and the bread baking. They are a group of "guineas" as Bill would say! what fun, listening to them fellowship and chat together. We women need our friends for sure! Jewelery making a huge hit! Bread making: loaves and donuts for the first! Interviews and health teaching: another home run.

Vanessa taught on personal hygiene, hand washing, body etc. and also food cleanliness after handling raw meat. I taught on water and why it is so important to sterilize it and drinking plenty is so important. Also on mosquito nets and where malaria comes from. Carol did menopause! They knew so little and truly enjoyed ...the education. They also asked really good questions!

You would be surprised what we take for granted informational wise. They have many misconceived ideas passed down from many generations. I have truly been blessed by them and their sweet spirits and friendships. Tomorrow we will return for a day just like today. Many more come each day we re here. By the way we have had interpreters all week!

It has been so fun this year for me and Carol. Working with the women is new for us and we feel like we really have clucked lol clicked with them! Get a bunch of women together and there is alot of clucking even if you don't understand. It's been good.

we've been away from wifi few days. Great time again with the women of Iganga on health assessments and sewing, jewelry and bread baking. These things are really empowering the widows of this community and it all begins here. I have learned so much this year about the culture, good and bad and the health trends they have.

Without money for medical care these women suffer tremendous pain and illness along with the children. I was truly surprised at the lack of knowledge of the body they had and knowledge will help to begin the change in generations to come. This is the goal of FountOfMercy.org the organization whose umbrella we are under.


Last day of class with the ladies! I can’t believe that it’s already finished! As the women finished their shirts, we gave them some other jewelry making projects to do which they loved. For lunch, we had a local restaurant cater in some delicious African food: poshu, rice, beans, avocado, and greens. It was so good. The African appetite is insane. They literally pile their plate up with food and devour. Peter said I was being rude since I didn’t take much and left a “disgraceful” amount on my plate. After, we had a small ceremony in which we presented the women with certificates of completion and accomplishment as well as “Sewing Hope” necklaces. They really loved them. We went through some basic business skills with them especially in regards to how to make a profit. We regularly see these women charging only the amount that they think a person can pay. We taught them how to take pride in their work. The understood and were interested in hearing how much they could charge for a quality garment like the one they made in class. They said such beautiful words of thanks to us and told us that we have changed their lives immensely in finance and knowledge. I am so honored to have been a part of that. We also had a small “fashion” show in the back. Tara brought in the garments that were shown at the fundraising fashion event in NYC this year. She bought fabric here and designers design garments for the show. Everyone hammed it up and we all had such a good time!

Written by Lindsay Dorcus

Friday, August 6, 2010

Girls Camp

Let me start off by saying sorry for all the horrible typos and grammar mistakes. typing on this computer is like being a monkey. i have to slam each key down and the backspace doesn’t really work. i give up at a certain point so bare with me!

Today we started our day early! Went headed out to Bujagali Falls. Basically an amazing view of some rapids where people kayak and white water raft down the Nile. We drank smoothies and sat on a beautiful balcony overlooking the Nile, a small island in between and a completely amazing luscious view of nature.  We journey closer to the falls where many people were watching and waiting for people to float on by, it was peaceful and beautiful. I also found 2 amazing  green jewel beetles (dead! yes!) and tons of HUGE ants. They were kid of scary so i left them alone.  I also had a small attack by red ants that swarmed my feet while standing near a cliff over looking the falls. it hurt like hell and i ran away throwing my shoes off to get them away. A little boy can over and helped me get them off. We did a little shopping ate some lunch over the Nile and say thousands of butterflies. Most people who know me know how much i love insects. I’ve seen many things i recognize from work along with many i’ve never imagined. They are everywhere! I see hundreds of dragonflies a day. They must be the most widely populated insect in this country. They are constantly swarming us. All the others girls have started keep their eyes open now as well. We found numerous caterpillars as well! besides insects, another thing i love about Uganda is the food. AMAZING! i’ve loved everything i have consumed so far! i’m definitely going to miss the food!

After having a beautiful morning Vanessa, Michelle, Dana , Rita and I headed out to MOHM to talk with the children from the orphanage and church members about “girl issues” . We called the lesson “girls camp” AKA puberty camp. Dana and Vanessa are nurses in the state and created a lesson plan to help educate these woman, ages ranging from 9-25 on becoming a woman, sex, sanitation,pregnancy,STD’s and everything in between.  It is extremely taboo for the parents of these young woman to get any advice. They never talk about it, or when they actually do, its fairly ridiculous the things they are told. The meeting was formatted so that the ladies could anonymously submit any question they have. This went over really well. Everyone had a question, many of them more than one.  We explained menstrual cycles, when to determine when you can get pregnant and preventative measures. Vanessa and Dana were amazing at both explaining and addressing the issues that concern these woman. We had some amazing education posters donated from my work that were key tools for explaing and showing visualization for these woman.

We heard a lot of crazy questions, though, im grateful the woman felt comfortable enough to ask them.  We also learned from the girls trip out to find condoms to use in class that getting a condom in Uganda is almost virtually impossible. Every market they tried said they were out and not sure when they would get more. They told them to visit the hospital where even THERE they weren’t sure they had any. I think its safe to say that not only can these people not afford condoms but even if they wanted to, they are almost impossible or extremely difficult to even get a hold of.  It was strange to see little girls some even aged as close as 7 years of age to be taking notes on preventing AIDS. this was a hard thing to watch. I wanted to tell her, “no! you dont need to worry, you are 7 you shouldnt have to worry about AIDS or sex or anything for that matter.” She should be worried about who she will play with after school. But its not the case. She is worried about ever finding a real home. she is worried about if she will be able to continue to go to school, when she will eat, and getting AIDS. She does need to worry, and the saddest part is that she is just one example.

I’ve heard some taboo things here so far but none as much as things i heard today. Rita told us that growing up she was told to never clean herself with warm water. That it is bad for girls. ONLY GIRLS. men can clean themselves in warm water.  When we asked Rita why they said this, she said they gave no reason.  Others believed and were told that condoms actually CAUSED sexually transmitted diseases. Again, thinking of how this spread is a scary thought. another asked if it was true that if you drink a glass of cold water after giving birth that you would die!  These are just a few examples of what were many questions and comments.  Some believed they would get AIDS from washing the clothing of another person whom had AIDS. It was obvious during the meeting that these woman had a lot of questions and concerns.  Tomorrow is my day off, but i want to head back for the 2nd day of camp. We are going to finish answering questions, showing the girls how to make pads, and have condom train lessons along with more information for the older woman. by this i mean about 11 and up. It’s scary to realize how little these woman know, but more rewarding to know that they want help, are seeking it and that we can provide it.  This has felt really important to me. If their mothers or teachers wont do it, than who will? it feels good to say that we will.

Posted by Michelle J on July 25


written by Michelle J on July 24
Friday was the mark of a full work week here in Uganda. However it feels anything but that. Each day in Uganda feels like a week, and if you told me i have been here for 5-6 weeks i would believe you.  Not that its a bad thing, its just a different pace here. I never check a clock here, because to be honest it doesnt really matter what time it is. In Uganda there is a very very slow pace. This start when they start and they end when we are done.  You can be waiting to hours for a Mutatu and thats just the way it is. Coming from New York I thought this pace would kill me. Waiting for people to move from the subway steps or realize that the light is green and to walk would drive me into a frenzy at home. That constant need to MOVE AND GO!! i havent seen that once from anyone here. I’ve embraced the pace in life, knowing that i am only here for a short time. i think any longer and i might start to have the “okay lets meet on time and actually end on time” mental “Eileen subway freak out. It’s been relaxing but im sure that is the reason for the week long days.

Friday Michelle, Jamie, Sam (a Ugandan film intern and translator who has been spending everyday with us),Becky, Rita (another translator with probably one of the most amazing stories of strength and overcoming i have heard here, maybe i’ll tell it later) and myself headed to Care and Share. Today the children were there! Some of the most adorable kids i have seen yet. And a bit more reserved than the rest, no running up and embracing us hugs from these kids.  In fact Michelle and I had to show them a hug and then with a bit of pressure urge 2 or 3 to hug us. They giggled and covered their faces in embarrassment. Eventually they lossened up. It was pretty amazing to not have children curious about my camera or wanting to see it, that was a first. The children started school running around singing songs that mimic the teacher. They appeared very smart and were speaking very good english with ages ranging from about 3-8 and what appeared to be mostly boys.  While Michelle and Becky continued their education and P.E. lessons I was able to go with Robert, the leader of Care and Share to visit some of the homes of the 104 members of the group.

Care and Share is both a school and vocational training program. All of the woman in this group are widows due to death by motor accident, AIDS, or being left by their husband so he can marry numerous woman at a time (fairly common here).  Some of these woman are single parents while others have adopted.  Often members of a family will die and a Sister or Aunt will take in the orphaned children. Care and share is currently working with nursery to P2 students and not any higher. Robert wishes to continue to build and fund the school so that the children can continue to study.  They dont have the resources to teach them any higher nor the money.  Often these children dont go to school once they reach this point. Robert is hoping to change this. I;ve noticed how most of the what appears to be loving and stable families here want to keep their family together.  I envy the sense of community here. Within these villages and groups the people watch out for each others. Everyone greats everyone and they give what they have.  I am amazed at the strength of some of these woman.

We walked throughout Lawnda (the most beautiful little town nestled on what appears to be a mountain of exotic plants and trees filled with sugar cane and corn.) You can see mountain in the distantance, and it’s GORGEOUS. We visit about 10-15 homes,( I lost count) and each woman welcomed us and told us they felt blessed to have us in their homes. It is an honor to be invited and for them to have a guest. Robert said other woman would be upset we werent able to come see their homes.  This adventure was a lot to take it. Generally in America if we have a messy home we dont want people over, let alone if we lived in a hut made of sticks and mud, we would never invite company. That is not the case in Africa.  Some houses were made of brick, though had their many flaws and often no roofs. While others were complete mud huts. These were pretty incredible. The husbands build the house, but often for the case of some of these woman, their husbands die before they are able to finish. This leave the woman alone with her 5-9 children and unfinished home. Generally the men provide the income here, and without them the woman are a bit lost. Well, some. These woman i am meeting are making an effort to change their lives and the lives of their children both naturally and adopted. They are taking sewing, knitting and baking classes to learn a skill and make money at the markets. They all seem really excited about what they are doing and eager to learn. That is a great trait and attitude to see. The homes were small. Most of the woman have bed bugs and living in a one room hut with 5-9 people. Sometimes one bed for them all, or at the most from what i saw, 3 beds. and by bed, i dont always mean frame and matress. I mean blanket on the dirt. There are no bathrooms here, you just go out and be one with nature to put it nicely. there was often a small room that held their kitchen supplies and water jugs. Most of the homes had a seperate hut where the woman would cook.  Chickens , cats, cows, goats, etc. were all over these huts and like everything i have experienced in Uganda.

I will definitely be taking away a new respect for the sanitation we have in our lives. I wont go into detail about the things i have seen and experienced about this subject. It’s both unappetizing and disturbing.  Fount is working to educate people on this matter though, and the people seem very excited to learn and talk about there health concerns.

Today we are heading out to Bujagali Falls and then off to our “girls camp” a.k.a. puberty class for the young woman of MOHM. another organization Fount partners with.

Lots of love from Uganda,


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Peter's Poem

This poem was written last week by one of our AMAZING translators, and our friend, Waiswa Peter. You can look back and see him in other posts, as he has been working with us for 3 years now. He recently came to me and expressed how valuable he thinks this summer's work has been, as we are finally "touching the places that can bring income". I agree. Here are his words...

Sewing Hope, Sewing Hope
By: Waiswa Peter, July 2010

Hum! Hum! Hum!
Goes the over worked sewing machine
With millions gazing zealously
The ambition to learn for a better tomorrow.
Though crippled by the roaring poverty levels,
But seeing uncountable rays of light after learning,
The African woman has been empowered
And can't let this chance go unnoticed.
Sewing Hope is sowing a ray of light.
You are sowing on no bare rocks
All seed owners in New York and
The United States around,
Ugandan widows and single mothers
Have felt your love pinch.
Income complications have been battled down
With new sewing skills flown in
Summer after summer.
Behind every strong man is a strong woman.
So, with a silent core voice
The African man sings Holla! Holla!
For the great Sewing Hope friends.

Journey Home

It is just that: a journey. Both emotionally and physically, as I sit in the Enteebe Airport, I feel the weight of my trip about to travel through my body. I find a place in the waiting area with my backpack and rolly suitcase, watching the flight information board with so much anticipation that it freezes me. Friends that I've met here have told of African life hitting them only as they take off from the ground- erupting out of them as the plane engine roars under their seats. To be clear, I certainly have experienced culture shock; things about the life, society, even the small manerisms of the Ugandan people that hit me in the core several times over, sometimes without the slightest recognition from my mind until days after. But when the feelings come to a head, they are impossible to turn away from. It's like a force of emotion, and jolt to the body, that leaves you weak. And sitting in the airport, I can feel that those emotions are going to hit me...and not knowing when or how is certainly challenging. I don't want to forget- to return home to running water and air-conditioning and lose the experience. I want to hold onto everything- all the lives and memories, the discomfort and the beautiful connections that I've grown to love.

Love always,

Thoughts on Scarlett and Danny

I’ve had a lot of time the last 3 days to reflect on my experiences in Uganda. A big part of me feels happy when I do this. I am holding on so tight to the names and faces of these children, terrified of the idea of forgetting them in any small way. The other half of me feels broken in many ways. I want to express to people all the things I have felt and experienced. All of the children who have held my hand, hugged me and told me that god is blessing me, that I have a home with them. (deep breath) It breaks my heart into a million small pieces that are being left with each of them. I will never be able to truly tell someone what this feels like, you just have to experience it. It’s frightening in many ways to let all of the heartache and struggle in. To acknowledge the things you hear and see. I feel strong from hearing the things i have heard and that I have more purpose in life. I feel proud of my work, and I feel that I cannot not do anything about the things I have seen. It makes me shake and cry when I sit and think about it all. It’s a lot to process.

It’s almost daily that I think of Scarlett. My first niece and an absolute delight. I can’t help but think about how different her life is. How she has a mother, a father, grandparents, and aunts and uncles that love her so much, that would never let her be alone or suffer and would and always will try to protect her. It’s hard to think about all the orphans here. They say it is close to 48 million. I think about the children that do not know about the love that exists for Scarlett and for the mothers here who cannot experience that kind of compassion for their children. Sometimes because their husband has died and that they are raising 5-9 children on their own, without a job, without money. I want them to get too experience that love with their children that I have seen in my sister. Who I know is more fulfilled and grateful in life with Scarlett than I expect even she could have imagined.

I am so grateful for the things and people in my life. Grateful to be able to count on more than two hands and toes the people that I love and that love me. This is truly what matters. I felt a light in me yesterday when i got to see the children at ORM. I see them run smiling at me and hug me suddenly I am not tired from my trip or my thoughts. I am not anything my utterly and insanely happy! The only moment this shifts is when I walk away.

Uganda has taught me so much. I feel like i truly understand compassion now, I feel like i have discovered a new level to love. The first organization that I went to had a boy named Danny. I clicked with Danny and for 2 days I tried to enjoy and take in as much as possible of this little boy that for some reason I was drawn to. Sure he was adorable and sweet so it was easy to form an addiction to that smile! I didn’t know how strongly I felt about him or the orphan situation though until I said goodbye to Danny. My heart dropped to the floor and my throat felt dry and heavy. I had to fight back the tears because in my heart I didn’t want him to go. I wanted him to stay and I wanted to make sure that he would be okay, I feared of what he would experience, the person he could become under the wrong care and his survival. Danny symbolizes the 48 million children for me. I have never wanted something more or better for someone than in that moment. This is a feeling that i know will haunt me. I will never forget Danny.

Love, Michelle J (Fount of Mercy volunteer, photographer)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

last day in Uganda

I woke up this morning to the sound of monkeys crying, fighting and playing. and then i got to talk to kevin. sigh. it is so good to connect with someone from home and still amazes me that we are speaking from around the world. I have completely failed to update you all on the rest of my work with Sewing Hope, my safari, and everything in between. Let’s just say it was a lot. We had another death in the group. A woman who was a member of Care and Share died of AIDS. again, another punch in the stomach to the hardships here. The days with the woman was good though, and they completed a handbag and started a mans shirt which i heard 2 completed very well. We left Jinja, which was very sad to leave Lori’s house which i had been staying at. Lori has been living in Uganda working full time for Fount of the last year and has been granted another 2 year work permit to continue the work. It was great staying in her home and it was beautiful! even with a full house of 7 girls there still seemed to be plenty of space.

I’m sure i have mentioned before the pace in Uganda. it is slow. things happen when they happen and thats just the way it is. this was never more true than when we were trying to leave for our safari. What should have been a 5-6 hour drive turned into a 10 hour one. Lack of planning on the part of the staff here results in delays, mixed up cars, etc. etc. etc. its frustrating to say the least but there is really nothing you can do. you just sit at a gas station and wait.Its really only the lack of responsibility that people take here that makes me giggle a bit. in america we would demand money back. we would complain and demand something in return, but here, you dont get an apology, they just assume it is the way it is, and so what is the use of worry or complain. this was the only time on the trip that i felt that new yorker wanted to jump out and scream at people. this was quickly subsidded with a beer and some lunch. yes we had many beers on the long 10 hour drive with all of its completely unnecessary stops.

last day in Uganda
I woke up this morning to the sound of monkeys crying, fighting and playing. and then i got to talk to kevin. sigh. it is so good to connect with someone from home and still amazes me that we are speaking from around the world. I have completely failed to update you all on the rest of my work with Sewing Hope, my safari, and everything in between. Let’s just say it was a lot. We had another death in the group. A woman who was a member of Care and Share died of AIDS. again, another punch in the stomach to the hardships here. The days with the woman was good though, and they completed a handbag and started a mans shirt which i heard 2 completed very well. We left Jinja, which was very sad to leave Lori’s house which i had been staying at. Lori has been living in Uganda working full time for Fount of the last year and has been granted another 2 year work permit to continue the work. It was great staying in her home and it was beautiful! even with a full house of 7 girls there still seemed to be plenty of space.

I’m sure i have mentioned before the pace in Uganda. it is slow. things happen when they happen and thats just the way it is. this was never more true than when we were trying to leave for our safari. What should have been a 5-6 hour drive turned into a 10 hour one. Lack of planning on the part of the staff here results in delays, mixed up cars, etc. etc. etc. its frustrating to say the least but there is really nothing you can do. you just sit at a gas station and wait.Its really only the lack of responsibility that people take here that makes me giggle a bit. in america we would demand money back. we would complain and demand something in return, but here, you dont get an apology, they just assume it is the way it is, and so what is the use of worry or complain. this was the only time on the trip that i felt that new yorker wanted to jump out and scream at people. this was quickly subsidded with a beer and some lunch. yes we had many beers on the long 10 hour drive with all of its completely unnecessary stops.

I have to say that it was all worth it though. We got to the red chilli camp grounds and i was immediately greeted by warthogs! big and small! they live on the grounds so they are unavoidable and totally cool with people it seemed. We also saw TONS of baboons on the drive up.We watched the sunset over the Nile and saw and heard hippos swimming around. The most beautiful sunset ive ever seen in my life!!  When it came to the safari we work at 6 am before the sun had risen and went down to the boats where we were crossing the Nile to reach the other side when the safari would take place. Michelle warned me to hold my bag close because the baboons were WAITING for us on the other side. there were SO MANY. michelle had to toss her left over breakfast to one so it wouldn’t come after her. we saw babies, adults and juveniles. You could be insanely close to them by foot, and while it was scary it was really exciting. I saw a father playing rough with a baby and a huge female came out of nowhere and ripped the baby from the male and ran off into the tall grass with it. it was AWESOME! the driving was a few hours with our top up in the van and use all standing on our seats with our heads out as we drove across the most beautiful landscape with the sun rising. We saw water buffalo, springbok, antelope, blesbok, and a million other bucks. More monkeys, and then Giraffes!! I saw so many giraffes on this trip, and they were so beautiful. The biggest highlight though was the lions!! its extremely rare everyone says to actually see any of the cats. we saw 5! 2 babies and three mothers! lucky for us they were active as well. a mother lion went to get a drink from a watering hole just 15 feet from me, crossed my path and slowly looked up and walked past us. This was an incredible sight. I cant recall all of the animals i saw, but it was many and incredible! After we braked for lunch we headed out to the boat portion of the safari. Riding down the Nile! i must have seen over a few HUNDRED hippos!also alligators, amazing birds, and finally elephants!! we caught some by bincoluars on the driving portion but it wasnt the same. here we were watching them eat and walk around from a close view. It really puts you back in your place though when a tour guide tells you to be quiet or it can charge and kill us all. ha.yea. we traveled down the nile til we reached Murchison falls. This is when all of the Nile gets its power. There are two separate falls that all meet in one place. the force is so strong and created foam like sculptures in the water. We hiked to the top of this fall the following day, got soaked from the mist and took in easily, the most amazing views of anything in life! i’ve never seen anything so beautiful. This is something everyone needs to experience.

there are about a million other aspects to this trip and my work yesterday with ORM (Orphans rescue ministeries),biting flies, and many other things but ive got some people waiting for this computer so, until next time!

We leave for Amsterdam very late tonight so I am going to just soak in my last day in Uganda (until next time! :) )

Lots of love,

Michelle J

A Shilling for Your Thoughts

The daily rush of my self-imposed shooting schedule has slowed and now I must reflect on the footage. 
On a daily basis, I have been conducting interviews, participating in activities with fellow teachers, and working with Sam, a Ugandan film student, to film the daily activities.  Every other day we have language lessons for Lusoga.  Following that I conduct a regiment of downloading, syncing audio, converting and then reviewing footage and photos.  Then early to bed.

Now the editing phase begins.  I have a reel of "selects" from each of the 13 shooting days.  Played one after the other I have an hour of quality footage to choose from.  My to do list now is the following: (1) transcribe interviews, (2) create a reel of "VIP selects" aka the best of the best, (3) meet with staff from Fount to create a pitch for both the organization and the educational program, (4) film this pitch, (5) make a log of the footage for future edits, (6) write a revised script, and (Finally) edit the footage.

This process has given me a good chance to get back to documentary film work.  I still enjoy the process, the tools, the special access to locations and people, and the resulting product.   Years ago, a friend and I had discussed forming a company that does branding for NGOs, including websites, logos, photos and videos.  Any suggestions on how to get paid for doing exactly what I want?
Posted by Jamie (documentary film maker)