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Over 2 and a half years ago the Via family began the process of bringing Chloe home from Uganda. In December 2012 the U.S. government denied Chloe a VISA, however, by Ugandan law, the Via’s were already legally her family. Kelly and Smooth Via could not abandon their daughter, so they began the process of moving their family to Uganda for three years until they can reapply for a VISA.
This is our one year follow up with the sweet Via family. In this short documentary the Via’s share what this past year in Uganda has been like for them as individuals and as a family of 6!
To see their journey to Chloe, please check here!

Storytelling Changes the World

How do you put into words something that so drastically changed your life? People ask “how was Uganda, was it good?”, and the only words I can find seem to cheapen those 21 days spent sweating in a sticky, third world country. ‘But I’m a storyteller,’ I tell myself. I must find the right words to illustrate the most joyful, gut wrenching, heart warming, tear filled experience that was Uganda . And so the search was on for a way, any way, to share with our friends, family, and community about all we lived while in Uganda.

And then I found freedom. I realized that we were not alone this time.  We had help; we had a team.  We were eleven souls strong; we were The Archibald Project’s first media mission team.  There would always be someone to help describe why Uganda left me with a smile on my face and a knot in my stomach.

So we all came. We entered Uganda with our hearts on our sleeves, and I’m sure songs from The Lion King somewhere in the back of our minds. We came to document and share, but mostly we came to love. And that we did. I’ve never been so amazed by a group of people so willing to get their hands and feet dirty and their hearts stomped on just to help their Ugandan neighbor.

And then we all left. In the blink of an eye, it was the last day. Slowly a few departed, and the rest followed. One sweaty goodbye after another, we left. We arrived as acquaintances, but we left as family; family with great memories to share and precious stories that had been handed to us so willingly. We are charged with sharing these stories with all of you. How everyone is sharing looks different. Some are having intimate dinners that are infused with conversations about how their friends and family can get involved with orphan care. Some have inspired others to travel abroad and help in orphanages, while others are sharing what an orphan is, and how God has called us to respond. One team member has even helped raise funds for a new orphanage to be built for the ministry we worked with in Jinja.

Storytelling changes the world.  It may not be featured on CNN or even your local news, but the things God is doing overseas and in our back yards are headline worthy.  It all started with a group of people being willing to take some time and go see what is really happening.  Now that they know, their lives our forever changed, and we hope your’s will be too. So again I say, storytelling changes the world, and we’ve only just begun!

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(The Archibald Project will be hosting a handful of Media Missions in the beginning of 2015. Please stay tuned for our announcement of how you can enroll as space is very limited. Follow us on instagram to be the first to know when the upcoming trips will be announced! (@thearchibaldproject) )

The Archibald Project will be hosting a handful of Media Missions in the beginning of 2015. Please stay tuned for our announcement of how you can enroll as space is very limited. Follow us on instagram to be the first to know when the upcoming trips will be announced! (@thearchibaldproject)

I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that for the last 2 years Nick and I have lived and breathed The Archibald Project. It’s always on our minds, always the topic of conversation and something that is near and dear to our core. I guess its like our little child 😉

Up until now we have been so blessed with people volunteering their time to help see T.A.P grow and execute it’s mission. Now, more than ever, we have come to realize that there are hundreds of people out there rooting for us, and want to see T.A.P succeed!!! And in order to see the amount of children called ‘orphan’ decrease, The Archibald Project would humbly and excitedly like to introduce our very first staff member!!! We have been praying that the Lord would bring the perfect person for the job, and of course He does not disappoint!

This particular young lady was a team member on our recent Media Mission to Uganda and since returning has already done some extraordinary things with her work!

But enough from me, take a few minutes and learn a bit about the newest member of The Archibald Project!

Drumroll please…………. Meet Mrs. Valerie Keinsley!!!

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Hi everyone! My name is Valerie, although I also answer to Mallory, Veronica, Victoria and Vanessa…because those are all apparently easier “V” names to remember than Valerie.

I live in the wholesome Midwest state of Indiana, smack dab in the middle of “flyover country.” I am newly married to the nicest, sweetest, rosiest-cheeked man named, Matt, and we share our humble abode with our rescue pup, Scout. Matt is a math and science guy with a penchant for alphabetizing things and I’m an artist who can never find her shoes. Somehow, it works.

I’m in a big fan of days spent wake boarding behind my parents’ boat, camping and spending as much time with my family as possible. Oh, and really good beer. And travel. I’m pretty obsessed with travel.

I’ve always loved people and creating. In high school I realized I could combine the two when I got involved with my high school yearbook. I was the editor my senior year and stubbled upon a thing I would later know as “journalism.” I photographed and designed much of the yearbook and loved every second of the process! I chased that passion into college and received my degree in Journalism Design from Ball State University, which is best known for producing David Letterman. When I wasn’t in class or perfecting the chirp, I was honing my entrepreneurship skills, building my photography company, photographing weddings and portraits for family and friends. Throughout college, I was super fortunate to go on several mission trips, including a spring break trip to Haiti, where I discovered, mostly by accident, that I could inspire people through my photography. I snapped hundreds of pictures during the 7 day trip as we visited homes and schools. When I came home and shared those photos with family and friends and explained that many of the kids in the photos would no longer have breakfast and lunch provided for them at school because there was no money, people rallied. Money was donated and we raised enough funds to continue the lunch program until the end of the students’ school year. I was stunned. By sharing the photos and telling the kids’ story, people were moved. People contributed to changing those kids’ lives. And I was completely amazed and humbled to have been part of it. So, I started looking up “humanitarian photographers.” I started googling “how do I become a documentary photographer?” But most of all, I started praying. I started praying for the Lord to show me a way to use my passion for photography and story-telling to serve his kingdom. I started praying for a way to be both a wife and mother, as well as chase this passion. The message I was getting from all sides was that it wasn’t possible. There was no way to do humanitarian photography as your job, and also have a family. I felt like I had to choose, and I wasn’t prepared to do that just yet. So, I gave that desire of my heart to God and focused on finishing college.

And then came The Archibald Project. One day, scrolling through Instagram, I saw a photo calling for photographers and videographers to apply for a “Media Mission Trip” to Uganda. We would spend a week volunteering and photographing at an orphanage. Our mission was simple: to love on the kids and workers at the home, get to know them and their stories, and capture those stories to share with our communities back home. On a whim, I applied and was accepted, and what happened changed my life forever.

I fell in LOVE with Uganda. I felt so alive walking those red dirt roads and playing with the precious kids, laughing with the caretakers at the orphanage, and photographing everyone’s soulful eyes and bright white smiles. The same passion I had felt in Haiti was there again, and again those prayers surfaced. “Help me figure out how to make this my job, God. Show me how to keep doing things like this, if it’s Your will.”

And, as He promises, the Lord answered my prayers! When Whitney asked if I would be interested in a job with The Archibald Project doing design work and social media, traveling on adoption trips and possibly leading Media Missions, my whole heart was crying “yes! yes!” I took some time to talk it over with my husband and pray, and it was crystal clear. This is an answer to a prayer I’ve been praying for a long time, and I couldn’t be more excited to jump on board this adventure train with The Archibald Project and experience all that is in store! There’s certainly never a dull moment when you let Jesus run the show…and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 

You can reach Valerie at: valerie@thearchibaldproject.com

We will be setting up a donation link soon to help raise support for Valerie’s part time salary! Stay tuned so you can help support our team! 

  • April 28, 2014 - 8:20 pm

    Blake Reynolds - This is soooo exciting. She seems like a perfect fit. Congratulations & so glad to see the Archibald Project thriving!

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  • April 28, 2014 - 9:01 pm

    Ashlie - I want to be her best friend! =)
    Ashlie

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We dearly love our team members from our first Media Mission. We came together as strangers and left as family. Each one is truly, uniquely gifted and all have beautiful hearts to further our cause, to serve the orphan. Here is a beautifully written piece by Katie Jameson that will show you all that, regardless of your stage in life, there is always a way to serve the fatherless!

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On this day, four weeks ago, I returned to the United States from a country that touched my heart in ways I could never have imagined. I separated from 10 sweet friends that will forever be the only ones who understand my sentiments and feelings from the trip. My way of thinking has forever been changed by my experiences and my encounters in Uganda. It is hard to believe that a trip I planned for so long is physically over, but will it ever really be “over”? I certainly hope not. I hope that the lessons I learned and emotions I felt while I was there last the rest of my life.

One of the things that I love about The Archibald Media Mission is the way that it has continued on, even after the 11 of us have left Uganda. That was the purpose after all – to capture Uganda and its beautiful people and then spread the stories to our communities. I began my trip hoping to capture emotional pictures of children in order to spread the word about ‘adoption’, but I left the trip hoping to educate people about ‘orphan care’. Adoption is just one part of orphan care. As a single, twenty-three year old, adopting a child is not in the cards for me (right now), so what can I do? What can the older couple, who have already raised their kids and are in retirement, do? What can the young, infertile couple do? What can the person who is learning about how God gave His only son so that He might adopt all of us into His infinite family, do? There is so much! Orphan care includes understanding, education, traveling, talking, love, and support.

1. Everyone can support – either financially or emotionally. Supporting those who are adopting a child or those who are fostering a child and especially ministries who operate off of donations likeThe Archibald Project. You can support them financially (because it is an expensive process) or you can support with your words and time, if giving monetarily is not an option.

2. You can go on service trips (both domestic and internationally) where you love on and serve the fatherless and those who daily take care of these children! Obviously, I am a big advocate for this. There are orphanages all over the world that need help and children that need to be loved on. Help to tell their stories and spread love.

3. Help educate and spread information to others about adoption and orphan care. The more we know, the more we can help! Also, helping to educate women in countries where adopting has a stigma to it. Help to inform them that all children are deserving of love, that blood is not the only thing that can tie you to a child.

4. Talk! Talk to others about their experiences with orphan care or adoption. Get to know families who have adopted or are in the process. They need your support and words of encouragement!

5. Maybe adoption IS in the cards for you! Educate yourself. Read stories, books, anything you can to prepare yourself for the wonderful, heart breaking, fulfilling, convicting experience that is adoption.

As I have mentioned before, sometimes I like to have a theme for my photography – my mind works better when I focus on something to shoot and stick to it. This post contains pictures of touch – the hand that holds, helps someone up, carries, high fives, embraces, and simply says ‘I’m here for you’. There are statistics that have shown how important human contact is within the first few years of life. The aunties at the Arise and Shine Babies Home are so great about loving on these kids, but I am sure it can be overwhelming, as there are about 35-40 kids and only 10 aunties around at a time. I am so glad we could help love on these kids while we were there. It is very hard to not have a smile on your face while holding a sleeping baby. There are not enough words that I can express to the sweet people who donated to and supported my trip. I will never be able to repay you for the experiences I had while in Uganda and the life changing events that occurred. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You have played a part in something so much greater than me and my story, you are playing a part in God’s plan for these children.

(To see more of Katie’s work, please click here!)

One of the first things I tell people about our Media Mission was how humbling it was.  I was humbled to my core for many reasons, and one of those reasons was seeing how I am just a small piece of the puzzle. There are so many artists out there who have big hearts to love on kids, seek justice for the oppressed and desire to make a dent in the amount of orphans in the world. Since we’ve been home we have continued to walk through humility by reading and seeing the amazing work our team members are doing. We’re excited to share their work over the following weeks so that you can all hear from their hearts and experiences! This Monday we would like to introduce you to Valerie and Emma.

Enjoy!

-Whitney-

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Sometimes the words about Uganda are there, and sometimes they’re not. They’re never there when people ask me about the trip. “How was your trip?!” They ask. “Good!” I reply. Good? Uganda wasn’t good. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and joyful and sad and tragic and wonderful and dirty and serene and life-changing and soul-filling. It was all of these things and so many more, all at once. But those words are never there when people ask, nor could I very easily explain it all even if they were. “Uganda was good,” I say. “It was really good.”

I think most of the time, people want the 30-second version anyway. They want “good” and “cool” and “awesome.” So in this space, I’m diving into the long version. I’m confronting the heartbreak and the confusion and the joy and the lessons. And I’m honored to bring you along with me.

The night before our first day at the babies home, our friend Mary gave us some advice about what to expect and what to do when we visited. She told us about the special needs children and to not be afraid of them, to interact with them and play with them just like all the other kids.

I’ll be honest, I’m scared of children with disabilities. And I’m ashamed of that. When we walked through the big green gates that shield the babies home from the outside, I had no intention of starting off my day and my experience with the special needs children. It was a little bit nervousness about what to do with them and how to engage them but mostly selfishness stemming from the fact that they couldn’t indulge my need for giggles and kisses and interaction like the other kids could.

And then there was Emma.

Emma, short for Emmanuel, “God with us.”

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Emma was the first child who grabbed my hand at the babies home. While my teammates busied themselves holding the babies or pushing the toddlers on the giant woven swing, Emma grabbed my hand and grinned up at me and I sat down next to him and he climbed right in my lap. He touched my face and my hair and never said a word but smiled at me all along. Mary’s voice echoed in my ears about the special kids needing love and attention too. I sighed, and hugged Emma, and just like that we were pals.

Emma has disabilities. He doesn’t talk. He is extremely strong and can be very aggressive. He wraps your ponytail through his fingers and pulls and it hurts. And it’s hard to get him to let go. He will take your hand and pull you on a walk around the whole compound and you’ll find yourself surprised by the strength of his grip. Sometimes Emma will throw himself down to the ground and slam his head against the concrete. The sickening thunk echoes in the pit of your stomach where dread lives and it’s the worst sound in the world. Emma’s eyes will go unfocused for a minute as he lays there and then he recovers and sits up and is back to whatever he was doing beforehand.

I quickly learned that the head-throwing happens when Emma is corrected. When you tell him “nedda” (“no” in Luganda) or “stop” or “don’t,” he will throw his head. Maybe he has some history of abuse or trauma associated with that, I have no idea. All I know is that when Emma senses tension or disapproval in your voice, he reacts by violently throwing his head and shutting down.

But if you gently correct Emma, it’s a completely different story. Instead of “nedda,” we would say “gentle, Emma, be gentle” in a soothing voice. We would grab his hand and take him for a walk to make him stop doing whatever he was doing. And if we caught him mid-head-throw, we would hold him and stroke his hand gently and he would calm down. One of the aunties taught us that. Emma just needed some extra attention and a little extra work. Don’t we all?

Emma taught me that gentleness is paramount. When people make us mad, when they hurt us, our first instinct is to react. To make them STOP. Maybe even hurt them like they hurt us. But of course, we are called to gentleness. To serve one another. To approach situations with kindness and love. When Emma pulled my hair or bit my hand, it hurt. And I did not want to sit there and stroke his hand until he calmed down, I wanted to tell him “no!” and walk away. And then I think how God must feel when we hurt him. How much it must pain Him to sit with us until we calm down. How it would be easier to push us away or walk away and find someone else who actually appreciates him. But God never gives up on us. He never will. So in many ways, I saw so much of myself in Emma.

Emma taught me to delight in the simple things. Emma sat with me for awhile one day, squeezing a tiny rubber ducky next to his ear, a grin splitting his face every time he heard the squeak. Squeeze, squeak, grin. Squeeze, squeak, grin. He would hold the duck up to my ear, squeeze, and wait for my reaction. I would laugh obnoxiously, and then he would smile from ear to ear, and the whole thing was weirdly, hilariously funny. A rubber duck squeaking. We did that for awhile, Emma and I and the duck.

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Because of his disabilities, it will be hard for Emma to get adopted. It will be hard for people to look past the surface issues, the things that are readily visible. The inability to talk, the aggression. But like most of us, I think all Emma needs is a chance. Given the right resources and a loving, steady environment, who knows what he could become. The aunties at the babies home are AMAZING and give all the children every ounce of love–it’s superhuman, what they take on and how well they love these kids. But it’s still Uganda, and there’s still only so much that can be done for a kid like Emma.

Emma will probably not remember me. He doesn’t know my name. But I’ll never forget Emma, or these things Emma taught me.

 

(To read more of Valerie’s thoughts, visit here blog here: http://vallarinacreative.com/blog/

  • April 9, 2014 - 5:00 pm

    Rhonda Burrows - Lovely post :)

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