Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holiday Shopping -- Revised!

With the generous help of CauseCast, it is now easier for Cura-supporters to shop online through the Creative Visions Creative Activist Partner Program site at:


Thank you!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Shopping for Good

We already know that our Cura supporters are generous to a fault... and we know that holiday gift-giving can stress everyone's budget. If you'd like your gift giving to do double-duty, please consider making a purchase, on behalf of a friend or family member, through our online store at CauseCast:
You'll need to scroll down quite significantly to find the specifically Cura-related items, but we think it's worth it.
Thank you to all of our generous donors throughout the year, and especially during the holiday season.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Shoes and School Uniforms

On Oct 31st, two Cura supporters -- Roger and Larry -- joined Yassi in Cura for a very special visit. The children were thrilled with the lollipops they brought, but were even more grateful for the 26 brand new pairs of shoes and socks Roger brought with him from South Africa! Larry has made funds available to purchase pairs for the remaining 24 children, and has further offered to replace school uniforms for those who need them. The generosity of these visitors is humbling...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Malibu Days and Safari Nights

It was a busy weekend with the Creative Visions Foundation folks! The inspiring Friday afternoon meeting in Malibu led to connections with other Creative Activism Partners and some brainstorming about upcoming Dan-Eldon-inspired-safaris... Watch, of course, for more information about those, as they might provide YOUR opportunity to join us in Cura some day!

Of course, the primary purpose of the weekend was to support and attend Lucy Woodward's brainchild: the Safari Nights fundraiser. Contributors to the event are too many to list, but we owe particular thanks to Faryal and Henson Studios (who donated the venue), as well as Albertson's and Happy Endings (who contributed the food), Phillips Distilling (who donated vodka), and Regina Wedelstedt, the owner of A Savvy Soiree (who donated candy to satisfy guests' sweet teeth!). Of course, the musicians were the main attraction -- so whether or not you joined us at the event, please check out the party below...

Grace and Katey, of Creative Visions Foundation, ran the donations table in the yurt corner:

Kathy Eldon and Jon and Amy Turteltaub were among the luminous guests:

New and exciting artist, Jameson, was the first to perform:

Sultry Lucy Woodward and her spectacular band were up next:

Joe Sumner played his "dark songs for a good cause":

And Nikka Costa blew us all away!

The crowd of about 200 guests was entertained by the musicians and moved by the stories and photos of the children in Cura:

It wasn't lost on us that the venue was the same studio where "We Are the World" was recorded all those years ago... and we await the final tally for the night's fundraising. Stay tuned!

And catch more photos from the night's official photographer at:
Many, many thanks,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Looking forward to November!

Incredible things are awaiting us on the fundraising front in November, and we are so fortunate to have so many who are willing to throw their time and talents behind us!

If you're going to be in Los Angeles on 6 November, please join us at a fun musical event at Henson Studios. The talent will be huge, and we hope the fundraising will be just as impressive! If you or people you know are interested in attending, please go to our page at Creative Visions to purchase your tickets and learn more.

Also in November, People magazine will feature a necklace designed especially for us... I've already bought mine! 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the necklace will go to projects currently underway in Cura Village. For a closer look, visit Melinda Maria's website.

14 November will also bring the second annual CAbi fashion fundraiser, put on by Andrea Austin at my home in the Seattle area. For sales linked to this one event, she donates 100% of her profit, and last year her efforts purchased all new wall maps for the primary school classrooms. If you're interested in making a purchase, please mention Cura when contacting her.
Humble thanks to everyone whose work and creativity have gone into these incredible gifts of generosity...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Under Construction

There's always a lot going on in and for Cura, and I try to keep the blog updated when I can. The arrival of these photos was just the inspiration I needed to get another post up right away!

One piece of exciting news is that dedicated volunteers, generous well-wishers, and members of the Cura community have worked together to install a new pump that now provides fresh, running water to the Home. What an incredible gift of convenience, time and health for all who live there!

Equally exciting is the progress on the rabbit hutch, the early idea for which was expressed at our June meeting with Moses and the Cura Home's Board. An organic farm dinner fundraiser in Seattle later in the summer, as well as the donation of personal funds and boundless energy from one of our most committed volunteers, got this project truly off the ground... as we now have photographic evidence to demonstrate!

Soon enough, we'll need to see some actual rabbits moving in to those luxurious digs!
Also "under construction" has been some behind-the-scenes functionality for our website. The donation of time and expertise from Canopy Marketing has been truly astounding, and we hope we'll be able to serve both the projects and people in Cura AND our donors and site visitors with the changes we've made. Thank you!
Finally (and there isn't a graceful construction related pun to use for this item), we await tomorrow's (18 October) publication of People magazine, since a necklace designed specifically for us will be featured on its pages. Lucky magazine has made a similar committment for its November issue, so please do watch for those.
Please do watch the website for information about a fundraising musical event in Los Angeles in early November, as well, and know that all of us involved with Cura are continuously inspired by the good work being done on the behalf of the children who live there.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I don't have photos to post at the moment, but a recent flurry of emails has reminded me how much even one visit to Cura has transformed volunteers who have been there. One visit is BOUND to turn into two, three, four...

I have already written about Nicole, a volunteer whose return to Cura this summer meant new mattresses and happy reconnections for the children.

More recently, Jordan has returned, efficiently managing the rabbit hutch plans and budget and construction. Everyone at Cura was sorry to see him go, but he's left the foundation (both literally AND figuratively) for a successful and economically sustainable agricultural project.

We know that Norman, our intrepid and impromptu cow-expert, intends to return after the first of the year, and Bonnie and her impressive team from Canada will also come back to Cura in February, for the first time since they collectively installed the Library and Computer Lab.

Jenny, too, is making plans to come back for round two of her photography project, documenting a "World without AIDS" with the children.

I, too, am eager to return, and have already blocked 2011's dates on the calendar. Anyone care to join us? Karibuni sana! Fair warning, though: if you go once, you'll be hooked!


Friday, September 3, 2010

A Registered Letter from Cura

Earlier this week, the postman knocked on my door, asking me to sign for a registered letter from Nairobi. After I'd explained my connection to Kenya to the very patient public servant on my doorstep, I opened the envelope... and was thrilled to find a lovely letter and series of drawings from one of the girls in Cura! Two of the contents of the envelope, in particular, are now on display together in my office:

This drawing from Esther's own experience of the world...

And this page from a donated coloring book!

Esther and her friends and family have likely never seen snow, let alone a snowmobile... and they certainly can't imagine owning one! Here's hoping 2010 will bring loads of donations of culture-specific books for the children in Cura---please contact me if you've got any ideas!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

End-of-Term Update

Moses Machara, the Home's proud Papa, just reported that 10 of our children were the top performers on in their respective levels at the 2nd term examinations. Four of them were the first in their classes!

Minnet is the top student in first grade.

James is the top student in second grade.

Joyce is the top student in fourth grade.

Christopher is the top student in fifth grade.

We are so proud of all of the children, and grateful to the wonderful housemothers and tutors who assist them with their studies. We look forward to being able to provide a secondary school soon, for all the students to receive a complete education in Cura Village.
Moses reports, also, that a returning volunteer has provided the Home with 50 brand new foam mattresses for the children's beds. This generous gift was much needed... Moses says:
"I wish you were here to witness the mood of happiness that engulfed the whole Orphanage when the mattresses were presented to the children!"
Many thanks to Nicole!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summer Sparks

It is safe to say that the Farm Dinner to support Cura Orphanage was an incredible success! We are awaiting a final total for the event, but we anticipate approximately $2700 as a result of the generosity of the Little Spark organizers, the willing volunteers and the diners themselves.
The guests could browse the information table to learn more about Cura...

while Olaiya and her crack team worked on the delectables for the evening!

The Dog Mountain Farm provided plenty of reminders of the local, sustainable agriculture projects the fund-raiser would be supporting in Cura,

and the diners were treated to a glorious Seattle late afternoon.

Each place setting held a "thank you note" on behalf of one child in Cura--and we spent the whole day thrilled at what the event was going to do to improve the lives of the whole family there!

I love the spirit of Little Spark--the notion that small actions can inspire others and turn into some thing much larger than themselves. This was the impetus of the farm dinner, and it looks like other little sparks are in motion elsewhere.
One recent visitor to Cura, for example, was David Lansing, a writer for National Geographic. He fell in love with the place, and his blog entries about us are already inspiring others to do what they can for the children there. We've heard of at least one child dedicating his lemonade stand profits to the cause...
Thank you to everyone who's keeping Cura on her mind and in his heart!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Secondary School for Cura!


On 12 July, The Sorcerer's Apprentice premiere, hosted by Creative Visions Foundation and generously offered by Disney and the film's director, Jon Turteltaub, raised over $100,000 for the purpose of building a secondary school in Cura Village!

(See footage from the red carpet here: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-473511)

Community meetings and permitting planning were already underway in Cura, so this influx of funding will make the dream of secondary education a reality for many children who would have otherwise gone without.

Watch this blog, of course, for ongoing updates about the progress of the school, as well as the other projects-in-progress!


Friday, July 9, 2010

A big thank you to this month's volunteers:

Evan, Tami, Tesha and Linette

We also moved in a long-term volunteer, Matt Ransley, who is already hard at work on some computer lab/technology upgrades, as well as developing a fish farm and doing some digital music recording. We look forward to lots of successful reports from him about happenings in Cura...

We are also working on two major fund-raising efforts:

1. A special premiere of The Sorcerer's Apprentice in LA on 12 July. All of the proceeds of this exciting event will go toward funding the construction of a secondary school for the Cura community!

2. An organic farm dinner in the Seattle area on 31 July. All of the proceeds from this event will go toward an agricultural project in Cura... likely a new rabbit breeding project to add to the existing cow and the chickens in the shed!

Please do let us know if you would like additional information about any of this information, and thank you for your interest in what's happening in Cura!

We're Home

So I wasn't as diligent about blogging as I had hoped... please forgive me! The fault lies in some combination of my busy-ness and the weak wireless signal, but please don't conclude that our trip lost momentum.

We did some wonderful work with the teachers in each classroom, having reading and conversation in English to give the pupils practice. (The maps are in the process of being mounted!)

We spent two half-days doing athletic events that the teachers think will be helpful in supplementing the existing physical education curriculum.

The children serenaded us, even after the Cura Primary School choirs feted us with their award-winning dances!

We delivered computer equipment and software to supplement the existing materials and to facilitate the Pen Pal Program.

We delivered art work from a US elementary school---each piece was accompanied by a note from the artist and was treasured by the recipient!

We delivered school supplies and new toothbrushes to each child in the Home.

We donated 6 copies of Mama Miti, a children's book about Nobel Prize winner (and fellow Kikuyu and Kenyan) Wangari Maathai to the Cura library. Thank you to the author, Donna Jo Napoli!

We purchased two large sufurias (cooking pots), three pitchers, four washing bowls, two thermoses, 100 spoons, and 30 plates and bowls to help the housemothers serve the children's daily meals.

The volunteers were transformed by the experience... watch for their "capstone" comments to be posted soon!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

School Days and Grandmother

It is Friday morning here, and we are preparing to head out to Cura for another round of activities based at Cura Primary School.

Yesterday, our volunteers scattered to various classrooms for some reading and English language lessons led by the teachers of classes one through four. Matt was the official photographer of the event, and we'll hope to be able to post some pictures soon (the connection here too slow to post them effectively now, but I'll try to add them later!).

After reading time, we moved to the field to conduct athletic activities with classes five through eight. The children had an incredible time with the new equipment: a fabric parachute, some bean bags, some hacky sacks, some jump ropes, "fitness dice" and more. It was satisfying to see the kids so happy, but it was even better to hear the teachers express the novelty of this kind of physical education. The Deputy teacher, Stephen Ngotho, was thinking aloud about the ways he could use the materials not only for sport but also in combination with language and math instruction... The materials were inspiring the teachers to bring their instruction outside and into a kinetic form that would resonate with their pupils.

We look forward to more of that today with the younger children and their teachers! We are also eager to get the maps we donated up on the classroom walls. As of yesterday, the rolled bundles of maps were still in the corner of the Headmaster's office, so we're afraid he's less than excited about getting them distributed. We'll keep trying to encourage his enthusiasm for the programs and materials so that he can encourage that tone among the more reluctant teachers, as well.

Our guest yesterday, Bernard Mathu, was a big help in encouraging Mr Njenga (the Headmaster) to embrace our presence---Mr Mathu has a long career in education in Kenya and currently runs a school in Nanyuki (where we'll visit toward the end of our trip). Bernard is also a Rotary member, so he spent the day with us, overviewing the projects in the village and at the Home. He had valuable insights about the work we're doing, and was so impressed with the projects in the village that he's coming back with us today!

One of the most exciting "projects" we saw yesterday was the completed livestock shed and its celebrated inhabitant: Norman. Norman is a very pregnant cow whose milk has been nourishing the Home's family since her arrival. Kenneth explained that, since Norman was welcomed to her new home, the Home has not purchased a drop of milk, saving 3000KSh (about $40) per month. This is an enormous benefit to the Home financially, and the milk is sweet and delicious and fresh! (I sucked down two creamy cups of tea at the end of the day, so you can take my word for it.)

The upstairs occupants of Norman's home are noisy and busy... and on the verge of providing eggs for the Home and for sale to the community! The hundred or so hens will start laying in a month, and the ten original "roasters" have already provided chicken dinners for the children. The Board members are doing a spectacular job at managing the livestock and the shamba (small vegetable farm) so that they feed the children first and then provide potential for surplus to sell. We're hoping to add rabbits to this mix very soon, of course.

Lest one think that rural farming is all that's going on in Cura these days, I should mention that I also delivered two laptops and a large selection of educational software yesterday... one laptop for Moses (to help with his record-keeping and communications) and the other for Scola (to help with her computer lab instruction and the management of the Pen Pal program). We're excited about the prospects once Cura is more fully "wired."

The day ended with a visit from Evelyn Mungai, the one who started it all, and her husband and deputy, Mike Eldon. When the children found out that she was coming, they couldn't contain their excitement to see what "Grandmother" would be bringing them. (Biscuits from Nakumatt, as it turns out.) Our group had a lovely meeting with Evelyn and Mike, updating one another on the projects we've been working on and the observations we're making. Lovely Evelyn invited each person to talk about her/his experience in Cura so far... and the reactions were uniformly, thoroughly positive and filled with gratitude.

Malik, our driver, is waiting for us in the lot as I write, so I must run. More soon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Meetings with Leaders

Yesterday our group went to Cura for the first time, by way of the Dan Eldon Place of Tomorrow for a brief tour and introduction to Mike Tambo. Mike works with his DEPOT colleagues on leadership workshops with Kenyan young people and organizations, including with the teachers and leaders in Cura Village. He agreed to join us in Cura later in the day, but sent us on ahead...

On the way, we saw Scola, the computer lab instructor, walking toward Cura--so she and I had a joyful roadside reunion before she hopped in our car for the final stretch of road!

Upon our arrival, we were warmly greeted by Moses and the full Cura Home Board. We were seated and offered tea and sandwiches before the Chairman (George, who is also the pastor of the Anglican church) convened our meeting to discuss the progress of the Home since we last visited together. We were updated on the progress of some of the projects designed to foster Cura's economic sustainability (weaving, bee-keeping, banana-growing, chickens and the latest idea: rabbits!), the plans for a secondary school and the repercussions that school will have on the policies of the Home, as well as on the welfare of and existing needs for the children who are happy and healthy there. Mostly, we were reminded of the profound committment these individuals have toward nurturing the community's strength and independence. We hope to continue to partner with them in creative and successful ways!

One of the things we asked the wise people of the Board was about the qualities of successful volunteers; we hoped to get some guidance for our own behavior, as well as a sense of how long-term volunteers could increase their potential for success. I was particularly struck by the Chairman's immediate answer: that the most effective volunteers "matched words with actions." The Board added that effective volunteers are also respectful of the community's practices and wisdom, open to new experiences, committed to complete the projects they begin, and mindful that they stand as role models to the children who observe their actions.

After our meeting with the Board, Mike Tambo rejoined us and escorted us to Cura Primary School for a meeting with head teacher Mr Njenga and his staff of teachers. We reconnected on the issues we discussed last year, and discussed our plans for interacting with the school children for the remainder of the week. Some of the teachers shared their observations about existing needs for their classrooms and curricula, which gave us excellent ideas about how we might prepare materials and activities for our next visit!

I'll write more with details about these conversations as they develop, but for now rest assured that we're all busy and very, very happy to be here! Tami and Tesha were all smiles after their tour of the classrooms and interaction with the children; Linette was so moved that even now she tears up when she talks about yesterday; and Evan is giddy about her plans to visit the class 8 pupils who are closest to her own age. Matt, of course, is busy planning his move from his Nairobi bed and breakfast to his Cura digs...

More to come,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cura's June 2010 Volunteers

This week, Cura will welcome seven volunteers who plan to work on a variety of projects related to the Primary School, the Clinic, the Computer Lab, the Library, and the Home. We'd like you to know who we are! In each of the informational segments below, we're providing a brief introduction, and we'll post subsequent updates about our work in Cura in the upcoming weeks. When possible, we've linked to our individual blogs, as well, in case you want to follow our more personal reflections about our travels.
Hayden Bixby Nichols and Greg Van Belle

We are thrilled to be returning to Cura, since it's been a year since we were last there. We look forward to reconnecting with the good people who live and work on behalf of the children at the Home.

Linette Bixby

Linette says:
I can't wait to play with the children at Cura - to see the happy faces (that I've only really seen on the Cura website) of these children who have endured so much in their few years of life. I'm also looking forward to meeting the teachers who are making such a huge difference in their lives. I'm looking forward to being a part of an organization that is doing so many wonderful things.

She can also be tracked at http://linetteinafrica.blogspot.com/

Evan Nichols

Evan says:
I am fifteen years old and I am very excited for this trip. I cant wait to meet the kids at Cura and the child we sponsor. I am also excited to meet kids my age who live in Cura. It will be interesting to talk to a kid my age who lives on the other side of the world!

She can also be tracked at http://evaninkenya.blogspot.com/

Tesha Taylor

Tesha says:
I have been independently involved with educating myself on HIV/AIDS education, awareness and relief efforts in Africa since I was young and the passion I feel for this cause is irresistible. There has always been something very magnetic about the idea of volunteering in Africa, and the opportunity to work at Cura is a dream come true to say the least. I also feel touched that my sister Tami will be alongside me through this journey and we will have these memories to share forever.

Tami Taylor

Tami says:
I have been fortunate in that I have done a lot traveling, but it has been years since I was able to combine that travel with service. I am incredibly excited to once again be apart of something that matters. After years of working in the often harsh and disillusioning corporate world, I am ready to do more with my life. I truly want to make a difference. Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a fascination with Africa. I am so very grateful that I was able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Matthew Ransley
Matt found us via our website and has been developing his volunteer proposal for months. He plans to live in Cura over the next several months, contributing to the development of the computer lab and other ongoing projects!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On the Countdown to Departure

On 19 June, a group of 6 volunteer travelers will leave Seattle, headed for Cura! As the official wrangler of this band of volunteers, I've been juggling itineraries and payments and donations and details for months now... and I'm looking forward to what I know will be a trip that will see the hard work and planning pay off.

Of course, I haven't been alone in my preparations, so I want to make sure I acknowledge the specific organizations and individuals who have contributed materials and money to support our cause...

Edmonds Community College, for example, donated a laptop to support our Pen Pal program, and Julia Hill donated another to allow the orphanage's director to keep digital records of all the children who live at Cura Rotary Home.

Metzker Maps gave us a great deal on World and Africa maps for the classrooms at Cura Primary School, and Deborah and Carol at the Fabric of Life Foundation helped make that transaction happen. They also gathered educational materials from Syracuse Cultural Workers and donated kits from Days for Girls through Project Thrive!

Pearson Longman publishing donated some educational materials for the school, and Donna Jo Napoli, the author of the children's book, Mama Miti donated several copies for the library in Cura.

The purchase of other materials were made possible through a generous fundraiser by Andrea Austin, selling her CAbi fashion line, and a fundraiser through the Huffington Post.

Dr. Isabel Perez and her team at Accent Dental donated toothbrushes for Cura's children, and children at Lockwood Elementary School are sending artwork to put on the walls of the Home.

All of these people, as well as countless additional well-wishers, have shown such incredible interest in Cura that we know we take their good thoughts with us on our travels. We hope you'll watch this space for updates from our adventure...


Monday, May 24, 2010

Volunteers at Work!

Our tireless volunteer, Norm Golightly, was recently featured in the following article:


Check it out!

Also, Seattle-area volunteers are in the planning stages for an organic Farm Dinner on 31 July to support projects in Cura. Please see this link for more information:


Finally, a small group of volunteers will be headed to Cura on 20 June... watch this space for updates on their work!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Imagining a World without AIDS, a project for Rotarians for Fighting AIDS

Photographer Jennifer Huxta volunteered at the Cura Primary School and stayed with the children at the Cura Rotary Home in November 2009. She writes:

The matatu ride from Nairobi to Wangige takes about an hour. I get into a minibus with a picture of Barack Obama painted on the side. Today the driver blasts Classic 105 FM and “Say a Little Prayer for You” comes on and I swear we are singing along together as the matatu swerves around potholes in the road that snakes through the coffee fields towards Cura village. One of the stickers on the dashboard says ‘Arrive Alive’.

I jump out at Wangige market and take a 30-minute walk along a red road up to Cura orphanage. As I walk up the last stretch, several children from the primary school in vivid blue sweaters are already waving and dangling from the trees that line the path, calling, “Mzungu! Mzungu! Howareyou?!” They run alongside the path until we meet at the entrance to the home, where 10 children hold my hands at once, and others yell, “Jenfa! Jenfa! Make me one photo!” Caroline and I catch up with each other and she asks, “What’s in the bag?” “Art supplies. Pens and colored pencils and paper so we can do a drawing project.” Rotary has asked me to lead a series of art workshops as part of their initiative, Imagining a World without AIDS. The students of Class 5 wait for me at their desks in the primary school.

Before beginning the art workshops, I spent about 2 weeks with the children at the orphanage, hanging out, eating lunch, and telling stories. Leah’s stories often began, “Long, long ago there was a hippopotamus and some bees…” or “Once there was a cow, a goat and a hyena…” We played 4 kinds of Tag, Duck, Duck, Goose and Red Light Green Light. They taught me dances and songs and we had a massive soccer game. I photographed them while they filled their days, played, studied, braided their housemother’s hair, ate beans and ugali and greens. The children who live at the orphanage go to school each day with students who walk from their homes in the village.

The kids from Class 5 jump around in their chairs as I walk into the classroom. Working with one of their teachers, Steven, who translates my English to Kikuyu and Swahili, I explain the art project for Rotary. We ask them to draw pictures of a world without AIDS, a world where HIV/AIDS doesn’t exist. I hand out the art supplies and walk around sharpening pencils and photographing them as they draw pictures of houses with big gardens and people and many children. “This guy is big, he’s healthy,” Kelvin says. They laugh and compete to show me their artwork. They all want another and another and another piece of paper. They trade crayons and share colors and lean over each other’s drawings, smile and exclaim about each other’s work.

Over the week, I worked with classes 6 and 7 in similar intense and creative sessions. After hours of deliberation, I chose one drawing from each class and then photographed the students and their artwork to be profiled in the Rotarians for Fighting AIDS newsletter and the Rotary International website. I asked them what they dream about. Leah Wanoro, who lives in Cura village with her mom, said she dreamed of having a good job to help needy children. Samuel Njenga, who lives at the orphanage, said he dreamed of having a big house and a good car. Jane Njoki, who also lives in the village, said she dreamed of having a good things and nice clothes; “I want to have a good life. I want to be a musician.”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Norman's Note, Upon His Return to the U.S.

What follows is the lovely summation Norman wrote and posted to his own followers on Facebook upon his return from Cura... the photo he refers to is being retrieved from a failing laptop and will be posted soon! Thank you, Norman, for your energy and passion and heart!


As you may have gathered from my earlier notes and photographs, today will certainly not be the end of my relationship with Cura or its inhabitants. My hope is to return with some regularity, while continuing efforts back home to raise awareness and funds. I would ask that you remain a member of this group and continue to spread the word, as I will add more stories, pictures and news from these children we have come to know by name (or nickame) and grown to love.

As a photographer, sometimes I will spot something when I am without my camera and make a mental note to return later if possible and capture the image. I mentally filed one of those thoughts my first day at Cura but soon forgot as I immersed myself in my new world.

To my surprise, the night after the first camera session with the children I found the exact same image had been taken by one of the groups. And then by another group. And then another. Five or six of thirteen groups had taken the same picture. This image is the most recent posted to this site and i would ask you to look at it closely for a moment before reading on.

This is a close-up of an astoundingly almost fluorescent green hedge that surrounds the dormitory at Cura. Snaking through the green, is a nasty and layered stream of barbed-wire. When I saw the picture I wanted to take in my mind, it was just like this – close-up, beauty and harm, juxtaposed and intertwined. The children must have seen this too. But so many of them?

Whether at their respective ages they realized it or not, I know they saw something that I could not have seen. A mirror. They, the beautiful hedge brimming with life and a desire to grow towards the sun, but trapped, strangled, by the circumstances into which they were born. If one group had taken this picture I would not go on about such symbolism…but after seeing this very specific image repeatedly from so many of the children, when no other such item captured their mass attention, I knew there must be more to what they were seeing.

If someone in the world of popular culture made an impression on me this year, it was Conan O’Brien. In his final moments hosting the Tonight Show, with the world watching, he chose not to lambaste NBC for how he had been treated. He did not take a swipe at Jay Leno. He didn’t launch any of the verbal rockets for which the masses tuned in. Instead, he said this:

“All I ask of you is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism- it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

I think that is an incredibly beautiful thought, not only for the sentiment, but how and when it was delivered. When I began this journey, there were friends of mine who were cynical of this adventure. In my month away I have heard from people I did not expect, and disappointed by some from whom I expected more. People who could have donated the most, often did not donate at all. And some, for whom I know it was difficult, gave beyond their means.

For those that were cynical of this journey, no I did not change the world, nor had I predicted I would. But by the support of family, friends and people whom I have never met, fifty children now have a glass of milk with breakfast and pillows to sleep on at night. In five months they will have eggs daily, no longer just on Sundays. A previously unemployed community member now has income tending to the new animals. And later this year, these ventures will turn a profit for Cura, which they can use to slowly upgrade the little they have. And of course, the kids took some pretty damned good pictures too. Don’t be cynical.

As this picture has stuck with me for nearly a month, may it stay with you also. You don’t have to cross the globe to find something beautiful being strangled by barbed-wire – a sick neighbor, a food bank for the homeless, a veterans facility. If you’re reading this, like me, you’re one of the lucky ones. It is our responsibility as such, to help those around us and cut that barbed-wire away. From this experience, I can tell you the rewards will far outweigh your output. Just find that thing that makes your heart hurt, and go, and to the best of your ability, help it be in a better place tomorrow than it was today.

I thank you and love you all for taking this special journey with me.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Norman Golightly, Volunteer Super Star!

Norman, Cura's most recent volunteer, saw some big changes during his stay. Specifically, he helped move donated chicks and a cow into their new Cura homes. We can't wait to hear from him here about his work!