On our visit yesterday around the village, David shared a lot of information with us about the local people, traditions, and history.  One of the things I found most interesting is that there are no orphanages here. There are many children without parents, yes.  But they do not believe in taking these kids and pulling them from their homes to put them in a different, separate home that labels them as orphans.  

When the Sabi Sand reserve was created, somewhere around 90 years ago, the people here were living amongst the animals, co existing as they had done for millennia.  When the National Parks Act was created, the local landowners were excised from the land and they were moved to villages that were contained outside the perimeter of the game reserve.  The government still gives each family land.  If the parents both die, the children stay on their land and their extended families and neighbors watch out for them.  David tells us that everyone is your mom or your dad here.  "My dad's brother is my dad as well, I call him 'dad'."  Families are very tight, yet they cannot support more children financially, so that is where community outreach comes in.  Pride & Purpose makes sure that these children are taken care of, both financially and emotionally.  

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When we met the class at Akani primary school yesterday, one of the teachers Flores told me that the little girl I was playing with was an orphan.  "Her name is Tambo, she has no parents."  She told me.  It's hard to contain just how many children are burrowing into my soul here.  Tambo is definitely added to the list with her sweet demeanor and playful spirit.  As Sue told me last week, (the woman who has adopted two children from the villages and lives in the city) "It is actually quite difficult for white people to adopt black children here.  They like to keep them with their own culture and traditions."  At first, I was taken aback by this, but she went on to explain, "The cultures are just so different," she says "their food, their language, it's like adopting a child from Mexico for you, just completely different."  As much as I see this point, I guess I'm more immune to the 'culture shock' because of how we in America tend to adopt outside our culture more often than not.  I was more surprised at the fact that the government made it difficult for anyone to adopt, seeing as there were so many orphaned children in the country.  As a friend of Sue's told her, "Sue, if you had ten bedrooms, you would adopt ten children!"  I am getting to know how she feels... If I could, I would buy a school bus and load it up with these precious little guys and gals and drive it all the way back home.  


The Africa Project: An overveiw

For all of you who are wondering about what I'm doing this month, here's a little glimpse!

As most of you know, last year I was beyond blessed to have been chosen to represent Virgin on an ambassador/mission trip to South Africa.  Little did I know how much I was about to fall in love... The week I spent in Africa was one of, if not the, best week of my life so far.  They say once you go to Africa, a bug bites you, and you will forever dream of returning.  This happened to me in 2005 during my first time there where I spent a month in & around Cape town.  There is indeed something special and unexplainable about it.  I could go on & on, but I'll cut to the chase and share with you my project for 2014.  

I'll be returning to Ulusaba, Richard Branson's private game reserve about eight hours drive from Johannesburg.  

As they did last year, the amazing charitable organization Pride & Purpose will be hosting me, and I am really excited to see everyone again!  My purpose in returning is to embark on a photo project that in turn helps the people of the surrounding village of Dumphries.  I'll be bringing cameras down to teach a bit about photography and how to capture their world using the lens.  I will curate a collection of their photographs to come up with a gallery that we will hang at their community center (which we helped put together last year!)   Visitors from the lodge will have the opportunity to purchase these one of a kind pieces of art, and the money will go directly back into the community. Additionally, I'll be taking portraits of the people who live in the village, as well as the volunteers and staff, and creating a photo documentation of life in & around Ulusaba.  I plan to put together a show back here in San Francisco, and send the proceeds to Pride & Purpose.  

Pride & Purpose

Many people might ask the question, "Why do you have to go so far to volunteer?  Why Africa?  Why not right here in your own backyard?"  I've contemplated this question a lot, and what I have some to realize is this:  When you are far away from anything familiar and comfortable, you really have the chance to sink in to what you are doing.  There are no distractions, no Facebook events to attend, no sunny day at Dolores Park to play hookie for, no checking your phone every five minutes for texts.  Your soul gets to really be there, and with that, it gets a little shake up, your senses are heightened, you actually feel yourself living every moment.  This is just my own experience, but it is pretty powerful.  

Returning for this project makes my heart skip.  I am nervous, I have expectations for myself that may or may not get realized, I don't know exactly what I'm doing... But it feels good to be afraid and go anyway.  I have an idea of what I am going for, but I look forward to it morphing into something totally different.  Richard Avedon said, "You have to be surprised for it to be magical."  

If you would like to contribute to this project, please donate to my Indiegogo campaign at http://igg.me/p/623317/x/1052876.  The money I raise will go towards my travel expenses (airfare, bus, cost to check baggage-photo equipment, etc), software for photo editing, and time & cost of preparing the art shows both in Ulusaba and SF.  Each person who contributes will be gifted with an original 8X10 or larger print from Dumphries.

I thank you all tremendously for all of your support, & cheering me on!  I couldn't do this without all of your encouragement.