The first time I stepped foot on the soil of Africa, I was 13 years old. I had no idea what I was getting into-I didn't really even know where I was going in the world I just knew I was going. I hopped off the plane, smelled the new air, listened to new native tongues, and learned a new handshake. When visiting a village one day I remember seeing an older boy walk around the village wearing nothing but a rope tied around his neck. A person from the village said not to go close to him because he was demon possessed and the rope was used to tied him up when the demon was making him "crazy." From afar, I believed them and kept my distance. But as he walked closer I realized he wasn't demon possessed at all-he was mentally handicapped. As I've returned to Africa throughout the years I have learned more about this misconception. Special needs is often misunderstood for demon possession. Those with special needs are often left to fend for themselves or some families lock them up because they don't know what else to do. Its heartbreaking for everyone involved. A few weeks ago I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Uganda. In preparation for the trip I contacted a few organizations to do some photojournalism work. One of which was the media team I worked with for two years in Kenya. They asked me to photograph two schools. One morning I met a woman named Julie. Julie is in charge of a new special needs ministry in Africa, based out of Uganda. As I learned about these schools for children with special needs I kept thinking back to the boy I saw in the village 14 years ago. Finally someone is addressing his needs. Finally someone is addressing all these children's needs. Julie is the most humble woman you will meet. She has the largest heart for these children and for their families. She has a village ministry where she finds children who are tied up and educates their family about special needs. She teaches the child boundaries in the village for their safety and she educates the village how to care for and live with a child with special needs. So much redemption has happened for these children because of Julie's heart.
Julie also overseas two schools in Kampala. One school is a day school for children with autism, down syndrome, and cerebral palsy. It is a smaller school and each child gets one-on-one attention. Because it is a day school, mostly wealthy families can afford to send their children. The second school is a boarding school. Over 80 children with all different levels of special needs stay here. Some of the children have been rescued from villages, some are simply left at the front gates. This is not an easy environment to work. I have been through some uncomfortable experiences throughout my time in Africa, but I will admit, this was one of them. The moment I stepped out of the Land Rover I was licked, scratched, punched, kicked, and spit on. As I found myself tensing up, I looked over at Julie. Her forehead was resting on a little girl's forehead as she explained 'you are beautiful.' Julie's ease and love for these children was overwhelming and humbling. She devotes her entire self, life, and future to these children. She has been kicked and scratched and has the scars to prove it but she always returns. She doesn't ask anyone to hold these children back but she welcomes them with the same love that Christ has for children as they both have said "let the children come." And come they do.