As you might remember, at the end of February, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my family, and headed across the Atlantic Ocean with 10 people I didn’t know to Uganda. I had traveled internationally before, but always with my husband or my family, and never with people I hadn’t met. But this opportunity presented itself, and it was obvious that I was meant to go.
When you get back from a trip overseas, people often ask the same question: “How was it?” And rarely is there time to fully explain it, and almost never are the right words available to describe it. I could write a book about our time there, but I’ve had trouble finding the right words to start. And I definitely can’t explain it in a 20 second passing conversation. It’s hard for me to boil it all down to a blog post even, but I do want to give you a little peek into my time in Uganda – the people I met and the things I learned were beautiful and hard and overwhelming and emotional and amazing.
Let me start with the team.
The only person I knew going into this was Kristin Cook. We had hung out briefly a few times, and I knew a few things about her – she loves Jesus, she’s a talented photographer, and a great story teller. She’s energetic, funny, and always positive. We set up our flights together and were able to travel all the way to Uganda together – every step of the way. I’m not sure I would have made it without her.
Katie Jameson – I didn’t know Katie, and while a lot of other people knew of her (she’s an Instagram phenom), I am a little out of the loop, I guess. She’s tall, beautiful, loves big hats, iced mochas and chocolate cake. She has an eye for interesting and unique compositions, and had a theme for every day she shot in Uganda. She thinks about her craft, and though she’s relatively new to the photography industry, she’s an all around artist. She designs clothes, and you can expect to see her work on a runway someday. For now, she makes her home in Austin, TX.
Samantha Pelissier – Oh my dear Sam. She lives in California and is married to a fruit farmer – what a life! They spent the past year traveling the world and camping out of their VW bus. A free-spirit, a heart of gold, an instant friend. She shoots with film and my dream camera, a Contax 645 and creates the dreamiest images. She and her husband are starting the adoption process, as well. And she lifts really heavy weights.
Valerie Keinsley – newlywed, photographer, graphic designer, and web genius – she’s amazingly fun to be around! She’s got the biggest most tender heart, and cares fiercely for her friends. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. Valerie is both strong and vulnerable, which is a rare combination. She’s the kind of person that you want to have on speed dial for those days that life just gets to be a little too much. If only we lived closer together, Valerie. (PS, she’s also the newest staff member at The Archibald Project!)
Justin and Keary Cheney – They are maybe the sweetest couple ever, the minds behind Grace & Salt, and soon to be adoptive parents (from Uganda!). They live in California, and have the cutest little puppy who they take on all their adventures. Justin creates incredible furniture and wooden signs for their easy shop, and together they make gorgeous wedding images for their clients. They are also adopting from Uganda, and they shared that with us a few weeks before we left on the trip. How awesome is that? (And how do I not have a photo of both of them??? Sorry Keary!)
Steven and Maggie Shafer – Hailing from Colorado, these two are writers and journalists. They ask thoughtful questions, and listen to the answers carefully. Their words are always carefully chosen. Maggie works for a startup company called Bulb, and Steven is a woodworker (y’all, he posted a photo of a keepsake box he made the other day and it is GORGEOUS). Their senses of humor never failed to make me laugh, and I just want to move to Colorado and be best friends with them.
Nick and Whitney Runyon – These two are the masterminds behind The Archibald Project – founders and pioneers. They are from Austin, TX, where Whitney has a photography business and Nick is a pilot. Yep, you read that right. In addition to being just the coolest people ever, they have a heart for orphans and adoption. They like to play pranks on people, but only people they really like, so count it a blessing, if it ever happens to you. (Also not sure how I don’t have any photos of Nick… wow!)
I could not have asked for a better group of people to travel with. Within minutes of meeting, we were all talking about things that most people don’t talk about for years. Deep, important things – with thoughtfully crafted questions and genuine interest. I had almost forgotten what that was like. It was so clear that everyone on the team was just exactly who was supposed to be there. I am so thankful for these 10 new friends I made. It’s funny, but after only 12 days together, I think about them every single day and I miss them like crazy.
I set out knowing that I was going to meet some amazing kids – orphans we would call them. But they are so much more than that. I know that because I was lucky enough to get to look into their eyes, push them in a swing, sing songs with them, learn some of their language, and let them nap on my chest. These are beautiful, sweet, children. They are children of God – just like you and me. They are trusting, loving, and carefree, despite coming from some very difficult circumstances. Many of these kids have lost parents to HIV or other tragedies, but some of them have loving and healthy families who just can’t afford to feed them. These kids are just like our kids… they love attention – every second of eye contact, every hand hold, every kind word. They love to play games, sing songs, run and swing.
The babies’ home where we were is part of an organization called Arise and Shine Uganda. It was started by Sharon Nyanjura, a local Ugandan, who is now 27 years old. Her family, like many Ugandan families, found themselves struggling to support all their children (there were 12!!), and Sharon eventually had to find missionaries willing to sponsor her education. She was able to complete primary and secondary school, thanks to her sponsors, and she even graduated from university with a degree in Organizational Psychology. Her education has served her well. 3 years ago she started the babies’ home, which now houses 30-40 children at a time. She has also started a primary school in the village where she grew up, runs 4 guest houses which provide some of the income necessary to run the babies home, income generating projects to help families be able to afford to support themselves and their children, and while we were there she opened a restaurant in Jinja. She has accomplished all this in 3 years! This woman is unstoppable!
She has big dreams for her organization – she wants Arise and Shine Uganda to be all over the country – helping families, providing education for children, providing health and hygiene education to the public, and taking care of orphans. As I heard her talk, I looked around at the children she is taking care of, and I couldn’t help but think that if these kids were able to have access to an education like she had, and if they could dream even half as big as she does, they could help change their country.