Media mission to Uganda leaves lasting impression

Smiles+and+little+hands+surround+Jameson+while+in+Uganda.

Smiles and little hands surround Jameson while in Uganda.

News Editor

“Mazungu,” little Ugandan children called to alumna Katie Jameson with her blonde hair, ambitious smile and camera in hand.

Maungu is a term used to describe white people in some regional African dialects. It’s meaning stems from a different word that translates literally as someone who roams around aimlessly.

Although Jameson does have pale skin, she was not wandering at all. She went to Uganda for a week in March with the Archibald Project, an Austin-based non-profit, with a clear purpose.

“I went to document,” Jameson said. “I went to document stories— whatever stories God called me to tell. It wasn’t like your normal mission trip where you go and build something.”

The local, Christian-based, non-profit strives to educate others about adoption and other means of orphan care. Jameson went with a team of 11 Christians to a Ugandan babies’ home. They brought their cameras, notebooks and love for the fatherless.

The Archibald project was started in 2012 by Whitney Runyon and her husband Nick after the couple documented the adoption of a little, Bulgarian boy with Down Syndrome named Archie Eicher. The two were shocked to find out that people were inspired to either adopt or help other orphans solely because of their photos and stories, documenting the entire adoption process.

They felt called to pursue this mission further, and it led to the creation of the Archibald Project— inspired by little Archie. The trip to Jinja, Uganda was the organization’s first group media mission trip. Whitney and Nick had previously documented stories about children in China, Taiwan, Haiti, Uganda, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the United States. Whitney said that their goal is to do six group media mission trips a year. 

“What people don’t realize is that adoption isn’t the only way to deal with orphan care,” Runyon said. “We’re trying to change that.”

Jameson and Runyon acknowledged that some families from the United States are called to adopt but said that sponsorship, foster care or helping with reintegration should also be stressed. In many cases, including at the babies’ home that Jameson visited in Uganda, children are away from their home because their parents do not have the means to take care of them.

“Reintegration isn’t always the answer, but it’s something to work toward,” Runyon said.  

A 27-year-old Ugandan woman named Sharon started and runs the babies’ home that they visited. Sharon also runs a primary school, HIV/AIDS  education program and a program to help provide jobs for people who are in the home.

“Sharon is everything. She’s amazing. She’s an entrepreneur and a hero,” Jameson said. 

The Archibald Project is trying to help Sharon move past cultural boundaries and promote adoption within Uganda.

“There’s a stigma to adoption in Uganda. To adopt outside of a tribe or not be able to have your own kid is looked down upon,” Jameson said.

Some of the pictures from the trip will be put into a presentation for Ugandan families to see along with a success story of a Ugandan family adopting a Ugandan child.

Jameson knew the trip’s schedule in advance, which included hanging out and what she describes as “loving on the children” in the morning and documenting in the afternoon. What she didn’t realize is just how much she would grow to love the kids.

“The first afternoon I was really focused on taking pictures,” she said. After that, the group had to consciously set aside time to document. 

The kids longed to be held and loved attention. She said that they would cry if you set them down after holding them. The group often played on swings and sang songs about Jesus. 

“One song about Jesus travels to different countries, and that’s why I love music. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what language you speak. Jesus is better than that,” Jameson said.

The love was so strong that when some of the group members were pooped and peed on by kids without diapers Jameson said that no one cared.

For Jameson it’s been hard to come back to Austin, she doesn’t know what to tell people when they ask her how the trip went. 

She’s written blogs and posted pictures to promote the Archibald Project and orphan care, but she confessed that it’s difficult for her to hear people complain.

The trip “was wonderful, heart wrenching, tear jerking,” she said.  “You come back to such a comfortable life. I want to say that I’ll never complain about anything ever again. It’s hard to relate to people who don’t have that same perspective.” 

Follow Shelby on Twitter @shelby_sas