In 2012 I ventured to Africa on a whim. The only explanation I can come up with is that it is just something I have always felt like I was supposed to do - so I googled "volunteer, orphanage, Africa" and quit my life in California. I spent 3 months in a small village volunteering in an orphanage and teaching in the school on the compound - and of course - taking photographs. After 90 days, my skin color had become irrelevant, and I had become a part of a village, and essentially a mom to all of their orphans. I loved every second of it, because I don't know what I was doing before - but these kids taught me how to live - how to live in the moment and appreciate every single thing. It didn't matter what you had or didn't have, it didn't matter what happened to you, or what would happen to you, the emphasis was on the exact moment you were in - and as a person with a profession that was so much about the moment, I can't believe I never lived like this before. Two months in, one of the teenagers asked me if I would be coming back to see them after I leave and I said, "Of course!" By then I was invested in those kids - in their well being; their futures - and I couldn't imagine not knowing them after I left, or not seeing them again. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, "All the white ladies say that and we never see them again." To his surprise, and my pleasure, I proved him so wrong. I've been back 4 times now. The third time I organized and funded the building of a new bathroom for the compound, where they previously had no facilities at all. This last trip, I was able to get all the children health insurance so they don't have to worry about outrageous fees at the hospital that no one can pay, as well as gates for the orphanage to further ensure their safety. When I'm away, I try to do what I can from afar, because I care about all of these kids so much - and I want them to constantly know that. Earlier this year, I collected funds to send one smart, special boy to college, as I've already put him through high school - and I'm so proud of him. Those kids and that place taught me so much more about life than I thought I could ever know. It is a weird feeling, to know your heart is outside of your body, thousands of miles away. No matter how I am feeling here, there I am always whole.
These select photos are from my last trip in September, including my collection of Market Ladies at the end, who almost never let an "obroni" (word for foreigner, literally meaning "those who come from over the horizon" - often colloquially translated into "white person.") take their photo.