About 2 and a half years ago, a very special little girl came into our lives. A little girl whom I have never met, never spoken to, never played with or cuddled, yet her framed portrait takes pride of place in our home alongside the many portraits of my children and extended family. She holds a big chunk of my heart, and I long to meet her…and tell her she is loved.
This little girls name is Achan, and she lives with around 240 children in an orphanage in South Sudan.
Sponsoring a child has often played on my mind over the years. Like many people, I’ve seen the touching ads on TV, watched the telethons, and thought perhaps someday I would join in and sponsor a child. In January 2012, that time had come…
Through my church, I learned about the Emmanuel Children’s Centre, a brand new orphanage in a village called Marialbai in South Sudan, approx 2 hours drive from Aweil. There was an undeniable tug on my heart as I listened to the heartbreaking stories of survival, and knew this orphanage was the right project for my family to support…this was the place we would find a child to share our love.
I was introduced to Steve Blacket soon after that. Steve played an integral role in setting up the Children’s Centre. Up until 2012 he had visited there several times, staying for about a month each time. Then in 2012 he was traveling for 9 months and spent a total of about 6 months in South Sudan. Throughout this time, he also traveled Australia meeting sponsors and sharing his experiences.
As I sat in my parents living room along with a handful of others, I listened in awe of Steve’s life over there; the people he had met, the things he saw and the impact his work was having in the lives of so many. He shared his vision and plans for new projects, not just in South Sudan but also other parts of the world, and mentioned the idea of returning in a year or so to further research and explore the viability of these projects. Somewhere in all that, I heard Steve say this next trip would include a small team of people…including, perhaps a photographer.
Honestly, I’m not sure I even recognized the person who blurted out “oh, I would love to do that!” Surely those words didn’t come out of my mouth? Who was this person volunteering to travel to developing countries with questionable sanitation and very little plumbing? Who was this mother and wife asking to leave her family for weeks at a time to travel to a country that is known to be extremely dangerous, due to violent political/civil unrest? Was it me? I found myself praying…God, is it really me?
Well, it turns out that it is, in fact, me. Amidst my somewhat simple and uncomplicated life, in September this year I will embark on a journey. A journey that I have been assured will turn my life upside down, and will likely change my whole perspective on the world as I know it. A journey, that will take me to South Sudan and Bangladesh.
It’s no secret that I love photographing people. Along with the work itself, I love the idea that I am creating beautiful portraits of children and families for their loved ones to enjoy through generations. I’ve always been perfectly content doing this kind of work…always found it to be fulfilling, and highly rewarding. I can’t even find the words to describe how it makes me feel when a mother wipes her tears as she looks at my photos of her brand new baby, or her mischievous toddler…or her growing teenager who barely speaks to her, but still managed a cheeky grin for just a few shots. Portraits are special, and important…they always will be.
However, there is a new passion in my heart. The desire to create photographic stories of those who need our help. It’s my hope that through my work on this trip, you may find you are led in your own way to reach out and help these beautiful people, who in so many ways, are just like us. They live, they love, and they hurt, just like we do. Only they face trials and challenges that we probably can’t even begin to imagine. It’s my fervent hope and prayer that through my photos, I can bring just a little part of their world a little closer to our home, and closer to your hearts.
In 7 weeks I’ll be flying out, heading to South Sudan for the first 2 weeks, followed by a week or so in Bangladesh. I invite you to follow my story, as I’ll be blogging about my experiences as often as I can.
I hope you’ll share this journey with me!