Chelsea Dee 

Humanitarian photographer & Tribe Member

Remember picture day at school? Oh yay!  Picking out your outfit, looking in the mirror, if you were an 80’s child like me maybe you got really excited about the background choices. Picture day was a moment we each had growing up. However much you liked it or didn’t it is still an experience that we might take for granted over here in the developed world.  However there are many children in the world that don’t get to feel that moment of magic when they hear the CLICK. 

 

 

I have been taking pictures for the Ubuntu kids for the past nine years. In those years I have gotten to know the kids, their goofy sweet smiles, and their undeniably sweet hearts. I often see their eyes light up when it’s their turn on picture day. “Look at me”, “chaca chaca”, “ be smart” I say with a smile. A few of the little ones aren’t sure what is going on but the big ones are excited, they want look ‘smart’ by throwing hand signs and I indulge these signs with a few clicks and then work on getting one earnest smile from them. 

 

This year was the best Ubuntu kids picture day yet!  The sun was mostly tucked behind a cloud. Hanna was there to help me by making funny faces or comforting sounds. Hanna knew each of the children’s disability, so when I was asking a deaf child to ‘chaca chaca’ she would make goofy faces instead. Mary came to the rescue and comforted the crying littler ones. Something about Mary hugs comforts us all. I know this first hand. 

 

 

This is the second time my four-year-old daughter Noemi came with me to Kenya. And on picture day she even insisted on me taking her photo too, just like all the other kids. Giving her the chance to grow up knowing the Ubuntu kids and teachers (especially Veronica) is such an incredible, pinch myself this is real life, thank God blessing. 

Each child would stand anxiously and watch the child before. The older children ‘on deck’ would practice in the background smiling. When I would turn and see them doing this I could see these kids having an experience of picture day. My heart soared when I was taking the photos, and melted weeks later when I got the chance to edit their school photos and see each of their beautiful smiles again. 

Faith and Blessing both started out so sad but in the end, after a Mary hug or two, both gave me the biggest smiles.  Gloria and little David captured the camera and I clicked away. Awe, so much love for the outtakes on those two.  One thing that was so fun for me was I wasn’t on a one click and done schedule, I waited for the right moment with each of them when the beautiful smiles came. Only little Anthony never smiled, but would it be school picture day if one kid didn’t have alligator tears streaming down? 

This was Grace’s last picture day as she passed from complications of her Spina bifida later that week. Grace had always captured my attention and adoration since I first met her in 2012. But this year she seemed a bit distant perhaps unsteadied from the pain of her disease. 

In the past Grace had always been so happy and light hearted. She went second to last and when it came her turn for her photo she smiled in that regal smile I will always remember her for. I think she enjoyed being in front of the camera on picture day, I know I loved the opportunity to get to know her smile. 

Picture day can add meaning to a parents struggle, a smile or lightening to the harshness of life with a disability, it is a normality that these kids are not always allowed. I feel incredibly blessed that my plane was grounded in Nairobi in 2010 because of the Icelandic volcano, missing my Mediterranean vacation, and instead stumbling into Maai Mahiu and meeting Zane and Jeremiah. It is an honor that life affords me the chance to smile with the Ubuntu kids smiles year after year, and an even greater honor as a Mother to share those smiles and stories with my daughter.