First Morning.

IMG_6077-2szc

It was our first morning in the village. We had arrived late at night, after barely making it up the mountain in our taxi van. We slid off the road and got stuck just as we pulled into our new home. It was dark. Pitch black. Not even a sliver of moon. The kids ran so happily around us in the dark, singing and all clamoring to help us carry our bags, to hold our hands. Their little hearts were bursting, the feeling carrying me through the dark to wherever it was we were going. The guest house was a confusing twinkle of light at the edge of the earth. I really had no idea where we even were…but didn’t care. I knew only one thing: I liked it.

In the morning, after a good sleep, I walked out one door and was met with an awe-inspiring view of the mountains. I went back inside, made a cup of coffee and then walked out the other door to this. The sun was rising on a new day.

I felt at ease.
I felt at home.
I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

{originally posted to facebook Nov 11, 2015}

This girl is going somewhere.

IMG_8561-1szc

Stella Nambwall. She is 13 years old, a brilliant glint of starlight in a dark sky. Do you know which child I’m talking about? Yes, the one in the gingham dress. The one looking directly into the eye of the camera.

This girl is going somewhere.
I can feel it with my entire being.

There are certain people I can’t stop thinking about. Stella is one of them. Along with her mother, Anna, and her cousin, Harriet. This family feels like the muscles lining the inside of my ribcage. They contain a reservoir of strength, even in their brokenness. Stella’s father died this past May. He hung himself from a tree in the middle of the night outside the family’s back door. I can’t seem to take the edge off of this fact. It was a horrific shock to the entire community. Her cousin, Harriet’s father is also dead. Death is everywhere. It’s made Stella and Harriet close like sisters. They are both bold, respectful, friendly.

Stella and her family are eloquently real to me.
In the closest fold of the mountain, their house sits in perfect lines.
Red dirt and jungle trees.
My eyes constantly falling in their direction, even before I knew why.

There are those times when a magnetism pulls us in the direction of something before we even know the reason. Repeated moments of distinct lucidity. One at a time, the puzzle pieces come into existence until, eventually, locking into place.

In the mountains of eastern Uganda, there’s yet another sad story everywhere you turn. But this girl? This one isn’t stopping at sad. She’s traveling further than that. She’ll keep going all the way to redemption. I can see it in her eyes. I can feel it in my bones. And like tendons growing into the bones creating a connection that is extremely strong and hard to break, we’ve somehow become inextricably woven as one. It doesn’t end with her and it certainly didn’t start with me.

This is a story of deliverance. And Stella won’t be alone as she walks it.

Yes, this girl is going somewhere.
Just watch.

Watch
and
See.

(amen).

Dream Bigger.

IMG_9250-1szc

“When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.” ~Leonardo Da Vinci

Earlier this week I was given guidance to dream bigger. I’m already a pretty big dreamer and so…to dream BIGGER? Yeah, I’m willing to give it my all…even if I don’t entirely know what that even means just yet.

This morning I have been looking through images from Bududa. I can’t seem to get from Point A to Point B in my editing endeavors in any linear fashion because I get distracted by the sheer beauty that so many of these photos contain. This little girl’s name is Mutenyo Evelyne. She hung out with us a lot while we were working in Bududa. She was as curious and sweet as her eyes might lead you to believe. I’ve had her photograph open on my computer since Tuesday because her eyes have captured me, her expression creating a peaceful stillness buoyed with possibility.

Dream bigger, her eyes say.

I want this girl to dream as big as she possibly can. And I want to dream right along with her.

When I left for Uganda, I didn’t really know where God would end up leading me. I knew I was going there to photograph, document, and tell the stories of a particular group of kids and their community. I went there as a Hands of Action volunteer, but the entire time leading up to the trip and even during the time of my stay, my deepest prayer was, “God, plug me into where I am needed most!” I wanted to find my place in this great wide world of need. I wanted God to use me. I trusted that He would. I wanted more than a 3 week experience doing short-term mission work. There were moments when I prayed, “Oh, dear God, please don’t leave me hanging without a sense of place after this is through.” There was a bit of desperation under the surface of that prayer, but He listened to my heart on that one, too. He has a plan.

And you know what? I am falling for His plan hook, line and sinker. lol I’m laughing as I write that…only because it’s true. I’m not even aware of when, exactly, “it” happened. It was incremental, perhaps a bit like the way a baby grows. You don’t notice how fast it happens when they’re in your arms all day long every day, but eventually you turn around and and can’t believe the change that’s taken place!

I left for Uganda with a backpack full of camera gear and several journals. Included in all that gear were a few point and shoot cameras that had been donated after a last minute moment of inspiration to capture photos from the kids’ point of view. Little did I know how important those inexpensive little cameras would become! Actually, I have a feeling that even I still don’t know the full potential of this new journey that I have so divinely been sent on.

This is what the good stuff is made of. Meet my Camera Crew (below): Emma, Emma (a common boy’s name in Uganda) and Godfrey…just three of the fourteen kids that became a committed and integral part of a photography project that I haphazardly pulled out of thin air just days before leaving. God is GOOD! That project changed everything. As my dear friend Moses would say, it is giving me the way forward.

I’ll tell you more about the camera project in future posts, but for now let me just say that the kids took it seriously. Very seriously. It was also my doorway into getting to know the community in a much more intimate way. Those involved became my special crew, my students, my interpreters, sherpas, guards and best friends. They were eager to participate and learn in every way possible. We were a team. It didn’t matter that we sometimes spoke a different language; it didn’t matter that we came from opposite ends of the earth. We found a common thread and I daresay it has woven our lives together for good.

IMG_0678-1szc

Emma, Emma and Godfrey, eager students learning how to use a camera tripod.

Since the moment I left African soil, I’ve been obsessed with getting back. I keep saying that I can’t wait to dive into the work that awaits me there. My friend Poppy finally asked me, “Jessie, what IS the work you are going to be doing now?”  Ahhh, such a simple, yet powerful question! Leave it up to Poppy to get down to the brass tacks.

IMG_0682-1szc

I believe in these boys. This is the look of limitless possibility.

The short answer is this:

  1. I am working to further develop the camera project as a means of creating continued education and opportunities for the kids involved.
  2. I am working side-by-side with Hands of Action Uganda to grow a micro-loan lending system/cooperative group to help widows get back on their feet after significant loss.
  3. I am helping with the photography, rebranding and websites for Hands Of Action Uganda and Hands of Action International as well providing social media and content in the form of photography, stories, and video.
  4. Last, but not least…I am sooo drawn to work with orphans on some level. I will give that time tho. I have a feeling it is something that will come to me if and when it is meant to be.

Needless to say, all of this seems like as good a place as any to start. When I asked God to use me, He didn’t hold back! In all honesty, I am overjoyed. Meanwhile, I am preparing for a solo exhibition of canine painted portraits with my whole heart. This show is over two years in the making and it is also what is going to propel me into the Whateverafter.

See those kids in the photos above? I believe in them. I believe they can do anything. Emma (left) has a heart of gold. He is gentle, observant, and thoughtful in ways that make him stand out like a shining star. Godfrey (right) is quieter and a bit more likely to go unnoticed in the scheme of things…oh, but that boy, more than any of the others his age, has an eye for detail! Every single one of the kids that emerged to be a part of the camera project is remarkable in some way.

Let this be just the beginning of limitless miracles. It is my hope that the camera project will cause those involved to see the world with new eyes. It is my hope that it will forge a path towards continued education…perhaps someday even creating an opportunity for a university education. If given a chance, what might these kids be capable of? How many other lives might they touch in the process?

All I know for sure right now is this: I want to find out.

Dear Abba, thank you for this journey you’ve set me on. Make me Yours…over and over and over again. You have touched me to the current of new water. Everything before this led to now and everything beyond this leads to what is still to come. May Your grace be limitless.

Teach me how to dream BIGGER. Teach us all.

Dear Abba, I love you.
Amen.

Ruby Slippers and Dirty Flip Flops.

IMG_6939-1szc

IMG_0409-1

IMG_6841-1szc

AHHHHH!!!! I might die from smiling so hard!! I just listened to a voicemail from these three lovely people from UGANDA!! Wow! It felt sooooo good to hear their voices! Crazy ol’ Maurice, Bettina Bergöö and Charles the artist all want to know when I’ll be back. There is worthy work to be done and good times to be had! Awww, man…clicking my dirty ol’ flip-flops 3 times….

there’s no place like home…
there’s no place like home…
there’s no place like home…

Bududa, my home away from home, I MISS YOUUUUUU!

Waiting.

IMG_8106-1psszc

“Waiting For the Doctor” :: by Jessie Marianiello

I’ve been looking through and editing images today of an incredible community of children who I have completely fallen in love with. Most of the photos break me wide open with immense JOY and even wider open in my desire to return. Never in my whole life have I felt so saturated in happiness and love.

As part of our yearly audit, our team worked hard on updating the students information. We took their photos, measured their height and weight, noted progress and loss, provided an opportunity for each student to receive a medical examination and treatment from Dr. Samuel, as well as new shoes, a pencil and some sweets.

But there is another side of the story that my camera did not always capture. While my lens was focused on the smiling faces of children, behind me there was a constant line forming around the edges of the tent with villagers who were coming to us in hopes of finding even the smallest amount of help. Some of them had walked long distances in great amounts of pain. All of them waited patiently, respectfully, hopefully.

We were blessed. We had a doctor working alongside us. And not just any doctor. Dr. Samuel joined our team from Kenya. Despite significant and recent tragedy in his own family, he was by our side to help in any and every way he could. I have never met anyone quite like him. He is a special man, indeed. He worked tirelessly to help as many people as he could in the time he was there. The only supplies we had were what our small team had brought with us in suitcases from the U.S. plus a few things we picked up once we made it to Uganda. Dr. Samuel was working with the bare minimum in terms of medical supplies…and yet the number of people whose lives he changed are countless.

You see, the presence of Hands of Action International and Hands of Action Uganda was, for most of those people, the one and only opportunity they would have for medical attention of any kind. Some were living with life-and-death illnesses. Some were carrying babies that they were afraid might not survive. Others were living with the pain of serious fungal infections, dental problems, and a miscellany of injuries that we might have difficulty fathoming. No matter what our income level here in the US and in other first world countries, we DO have access to medical and dental assistance in ways that many of these individuals will most likely never know.

This photo makes my heart feel the heaviness of the world. I was reluctant to share it, but lest we forget…this is a reality that exists. I want to always remember that every soul matters. None of us can help everyone, but most of us can help someone. I am grateful for my experience. I am hopeful because…yes, it really does matter.

with love,
Jessie

Where are you? Are you here?

IMG_9679-1szc

View from the backyard. Bukibokolo, Eastern Uganda.

Craaaaazzy ol’ Maurice! (think Beauty and the Beast) Thanks to my new solar powered friend, Bettina Bergöö, this is how we came to lovingly refer to Morris (pronounced “Maurice”) during the last days of our stay in Bukibokolo. Morris is the elder brother of Moses. He is a community leader, a husband, a father, a grandfather. And during the time of our stay in Bukibokolo, Uganda, he was also our cook and ever-vigilant caretaker. Morris is a lean, short-statured man, but his character is as big as a mountain and sharp as an eagle. Every day, several times a day, Morris would full-heartedly walk into a room and ask:

“Where are you?
Are you here?”

IMG_0590Before you could answer, his eyes would drift towards the ceiling and he’d crumple into laughter. We’d usually respond: “I am here! Morris, where are YOU?!” ha! Ohhh Morris! A true character, indeed. Needless to say, his words have been playing on repeat in my head ever since my return. It’s been 3 days since Africa and, each morning, I awake at 4am with my heart still fully planted in the mountains of Eastern Uganda. My body seems to have managed it’s way, with deep reluctance, back to the States. But the rest of me…. ??

Where am I? Am I here?

It goes without saying that my time spend in Uganda was absolutely life changing. Of course, I doubt this surprises anyone. I’m not even going to try to write a post that summarizes the experience. Instead, I think I’ll just let it trickle out a little at a time. To do otherwise is both impossible and overwhelming. In the past two days, I have also begun the slightly gigantous task of moving from my old studio into a new one. The opportunity came up just before leaving for Uganda. The pace of answered prayers has my feet flying out from underneath me as every aspect of my life moves in motion towards this story God is writing for me.

Oh, goofy ol’ Morris…thank you for such impossible questions. I’ve been happily turned upside down (or right side up?) and all I know for sure is that nothing will ever be the same again.

I am here!

IMG_0155

“Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ~Isaiah 30:21

Be Still.

IMG_9409

Morning coffee. Psalm 46:10.
Gifts, so perfectly timed. ❤

With only 6 days before I leave for Uganda, my head is tempted to run its treadmill of to-do’s and worry. But there has been a constant reminder to be still, to stay close to God, to not rush, to calm my mind so that my heart can be where God wants me to be.

The closer I get to leaving, the more sensitive I become. I miss Carl more incredibly every day. Yet I also feel the true depth and power of stepping into a story that God has created just for me. And then there are all those ripple effects too.

The busy-ness of these final days before leaving could easily swallow me whole, but I also know that it won’t serve me, or anyone for that matter. I want to be present in this, every step of the way. This is where everything begins anew. This is where my life begins again. It is not often we are given a fresh start in life.

God, even through all the pain that I’ve experienced to get here, I thank You. Thank you for leading me to these kids in Uganda, to all of “this,” whatever it might be. I can feel it’s immensity and I want more of it. God, use me, even now. Give me the determination, the focus and the energy to accomplish all that needs getting done. Help me prioritize. Catch my tears and let them cleanse me rather than deplete me. Walk in step with me because I become utterly lost without you.

Prepare my heart, dear God. I have a feeling I’m going to need it…and I love You for that.

~
Dear friends, I invite you to be a part of this journey…at any level, even prayers. Find out more here: http://www.gofundme.com/KidsOfUganda2015 I am so thankful for each and every one of you. ❤