Where to begin? I had the privilege of hearing the children of L.E.A.D UGANDA speak to a class of 8th graders at my son’s school last week. This program started and lead by photojournalist Stephen Shames, helps to transform children affected by AIDS and war in Africa into leaders. From the website, “LEAD Uganda is an educational leadership initiative for children affected by AIDS, war, and poverty. We find children living on the edges of society – AIDS orphans, former child soldiers, child laborers. We give them the world class, 21st century skills necessary to lead Africa into the future”.
I urge you to visit the website, hear their stories and donate if you are so moved. http://www.leaduganda.org/
From my point of view I feel I must help out. 2 of the children who have benefited from this organization came to our school to talk to their peers about their experience. Each child got up and told their own unique life story, and then took questions from the students. Now keep in mind these kids are their own age, but obviously come from a very different background. They told of loosing parents to AIDS at age 10 and being in charge of younger siblings from that point on, they told of being stolen in the middle of the night from their families and forced to kill in wars at age 7, of being branded, and cut by hot knives as a means of torture into submission. The one young man led other youngsters out of capture at the age of 8! I sat their listening with tears in my eyes and my mouth hanging open in shock. My own boys at 12 and 14 can barely boil water for pasta let alone care for a family in poverty or escape torturers in a war situation. These are true heros, true leaders and true inspiration. What happened next only touched me more, the 8th graders spent the next hour asking important, sensitive, thought provoking questions and guess what these kids were getting it. After the presentation was over the kids from Uganda were swarmed with kids wanting to talk more, to tell them how much they respected them, to get their autographs!! Next several of our kids had lunch with the kids from Uganda and got to know them even more, at the end of their lunch there were tears, hugs, promises of friendship even an exchange of emails and facebooks. One boy from our school looked at me and said, ” I can’t believe I complained about having to go to school and homework and to these kids being able to go to school is a privilege and a dream”. Wow, I thought, these kids think they got something special today to visit a school in the U.S and see kids their age, but I know that our kids got so much more out of this than they ever could. What you will see in the pictures below of the kids from Uganda connecting with the kids from here is not only acceptance, friendship and bonding but the faces of leadership, the faces of resilience and of hope. In each of these children’s eyes is joy! After everything they have been through (torture, war, being orphaned, AIDS, poverty, etc) they have pure joy and hope in their eyes! Wow! Well I was so moved by this that I decided to help out in a small way for now. One of my dreams is to someday, somehow help change the world through photography. My part here may not change the world but it’s a start. My hope is to someday visit these children and do more, but for now starting January 1st a portion of every session fee will be going to L.E.A.D Uganda.