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Africa: The last two days and final thoughts

(you can see all my blogs about Africa by clicking here)

When we were leaving Twachiyanda and headed for Choma…I was excited. We were in the home stretch and I’d be seeing my family again in a few days.

But at the same time…I couldn’t believe the journey was almost over. And I was definitely missing taking photos of the kiddies we just left. They melted my heart. I kinda didn’t want that part to be done. It was one of those things, where you know you captured everything as best you could and you probably got enough stuff…but there is always room for more.

I wish I had more.

This is my last post from Africa. People have asked me a lot of questions and it was tough to answer them all at first. My favorite moment was playing soccer. What I took away from the trip was that there are AMAZING people in this world willing to help others without recognition, many times spending their own money. It blew my mind. The people of Zambia are friendlier to strangers than we are here in America. By leaps and bounds. When people over there have someone sick, the community bands together and brings food, even if they themselves don’t have much. We should do stuff like that. Over there people wave when you drive by…over here…well, you are lucky to even get a look and you might get an obscene gesture.

I actually randomly waved at someone the day I got back, as I was driving by, and they just looked at me. I was like…yeah, definitely home!

Zambian kids with next to nothing have the biggest smiles in the world. They take care of their little brothers and sisters, even if over in the USA we would never trust them with that responsibility so young.  And those of you who sponsor children, through World Vision, Compassion, or whatever…that really does help. We met a young man who was a teacher at the school he attended as a kid, all because he had a sponsor. You DO make a difference.

I kinda want to keep writing so this doesn’t end. But I’m going to get into the pictures now

We woke up the next, said goodbye to people and headed to Livingstone…which is basically the place tourists go. That was weird and I’ll talk more about it a little bit down from here.

But as we were standing around, wishing people farewell…the clouds came out. I hadn’t seen clouds in Africa almost the entire time we were there. It’s weird how I had no inclination to take photos of anything at that moment…and then I saw clouds…and suddenly was wandering away from the hotel to shoot some of the scenery around the lodge.

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Super special thanks to Austin for snapping this for me.

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These next few shots are from the LandCruiser on our drive to Livingstone.

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This is us arriving in Livingstone at a gorgeous resort/hotel. It was amazing.

But it was also kind of “culture shock” after the last 8 days. What struck me as very funny and also kind of a downer…these four guys here posing as natives for the guests…well, they are there to act like the natives living out in the bush. But I was just out there in the bush. No one looked anything like this. It felt a little cheap and weird. Catering to tourists.

It was probably no big deal, but after being submerged in the outskirts of Zambia, it twisted my brain a little.

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Our hotel was also in the middle of a  bit game preserve…so animals…well, they aren’t scared of anyone.

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And then we walked only 5 minutes to Victoria Falls, which was utterly spectacular.

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Thanks to Su for the pic!

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I walked down to this spot…which to the left is basically a dropoff to certain death. It was kind of creepy, but I wanted to stand right above the falls!

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What does it mean???

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Later in the day we went on a game drive. No “cats” on the drive, mostly everything else though.

I want to say a word real quick about Dan and Denise. Wow. Not only did the listen to their 9-year old son who wanted to help orphans in Africa, but they actually empowered him to do it and then helped build and run the charity . And now it’s 10 years later and Hoops of Hope has raised millions of dollars. I think most parents might say “sure, let’s sponsor a kid and send some money”…but they went above and beyond, because Austin was special and I’m pretty sure they knew that. Amazing to see what they all accomplished together.

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Now I don’t want to butter up Austin too much because I know he reads this, but…this kid was inspiring. I believe he’s one of a kind and will do even MORE amazing things down the road. When I first met him, I said…”Dude, you’re gonna be a senator or something someday.” And when I was in Zambia, some of the World Vision people said that everyone over there says Austin will likely be President. That’s just the feeling you get from being around him for a little bit.

From the moments when he’d suddenly ask to pray for a family, to speaking in front of hundreds of students and people…he was genuine and real. I feel so blessed to have been a part of this trip and travel around with this guy!

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Okay…now that all the mushy stuff is over, let’s talk about the Game Drive! Before we even got into the park, like 15 elephants crossed the road in front of us. Our guide was named Purity and she kept backing the jeep up because a few of them were staring us down at one point!

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Elephants did this.

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Run Impala, run!

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Probably my favorite pic from the game drive. They are beautiful creatures.

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Sadly the only croc we saw showed us his tail and that’s it.

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Giraffes!

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So this guy. So funny.

Our guide takes us off the beaten path to find Rhino’s. This guy with a machine gun is standing there waiting for us. When we get out, he says something like “Okay, so you all know this is not really part of the park and you are here because of our good will. Please SHOW ME  YOUR APPRECIATION.” Which essentially was…tip me alright!

We laughed. And then he told us to stay in a single file, they are dangerous, etc…but also the guy was waving his machine around the entire time, and I was wondering if it was even loaded 🙂

But dang it if he didn’t get us to within 60 feet or so of a family of Rhino’s!

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The fact that I even got this shot is amazing. We were driving and I had to focus and snap with a 70-200 and not miss. I missed a few others, but this one was in focus. Prob my fav Giraffe photo of the day!

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Pumbaa!!!

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I love these Bow-Bow trees!

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So weird…seeing Zebras just walk through the hotel grounds. This was a mom followed by her colt.

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Sunset on the Zambeezi river. Just to the left is the falls. Also there were monkey’s everywhere.

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On our final morning, we walked over to some shops which were right on the Zambeezi with the falls right in the distance. A beautiful mist was rising and an amazing rainbow panned across the sky. We decided to get some pictures of US for a change.

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Much love to Dan for getting this. Took two tries!

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Well that’s it then.

When I got home to the airport, it was the best moment ever. Even in Johannesburg, getting on the plane…I was giddy. Couldn’t wait to see my family.

I want to thank everyone who has followed along with these blogs, commented on them and shared your love of Africa with me. It was such a different experience for me as a photographer and it’s been such a blessing to hear from people about how much the photos and stories have touched them.

Thank you for that.

And I know people were praying for me over there and that means more than anything. I humbly appreciated it. Especially when those giant elephants were staring at us 🙂

Thanks to the Gutwein’s…Austin, Dan and Denise, for bringing me along on this adventure. I can’t believe they wanted me to do this and I’m so humbled by it.

Thank you to my sister-in-law, Jennifir, for flying out from Memphis with my little niece Kayleigh, to stay with my pregnant wife for most of while I was gone. That made me feel so at ease.

And finally to that wife of mine…Jina…who is so ready for Asher to be born. Thanks for talking me through some hard times on this trip and before it, and always giving me the confidence to know I can do anything. And also for taking care of our pesky kids for 10 days. And all the other days as well. I love you.

Thank you all!

Africa: Twachiyanda Part 2

(you can see all my blogs about Africa by clicking here)

This is my second to last post from my trip to Africa. I’m pretty bummed to be at the ending of these images, but I’m so very proud of them and excited to share the final few. I will have more reflections and thoughts about the trip on my final post.

Our second and final day at Twachiyanda was more business-like than anything we’d done so far. There was a brief meeting with teachers in the morning and then there was a ceremony to open up the new teacher’s dormitories. And by ceremony, I don’t mean a short, 30 minute ribbon cutting ceremony…I mean a 3-4 hour, out in the sun all day, long ordeal! I got a little burned and that was the one day that I felt truly exhausted from what we were doing.

First up was a meeting with the teachers to discuss stuff they need, how the school is doing and to show them some new computer stuff.

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This is Al…he drove us all over Zambia and works for World Vision. One of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

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So here is Bernd talking about the Next Unit of Computing (NUC) computer that basically acts like a web server for students, delivering Wikipedia and Khan Academy videos for the kids. What Intel has done by installing a solar powered computer lab is unbelievable. And Bernd designed most of it.

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So this is a hilarious story…between the above picture and this one below, 15 minutes elapsed. But while Bernd was gone for that short time, he installed a wireless router and suddenly the computers had wi-fi connections to the NUC.

He did this in 15 minutes. When he walked back in the room, he goes “You have wifi now.” Everyone’s heads exploded (not really, but it was crazy how fast he did that!).

What it means for teachers is that they can now take a laptop to a classroom away from the computer lab, and then connect wireless to their web server. So they can now present information and all kinds of stuff. Pretty amazing.

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The ceremony setup was beginning…these guys were drumming to pass the time.

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I like this picture of Austin inside a classroom talking to the media.

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The media from Lusaka and elsewhere came all the way to Twachiyanda to cover the ceremony. They wanted to talk to Austin and Kelly Sim about how the school started and their ongoing work to continue expanding it.

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Austin’s mom, Denise, hates being on camera, but she had to here when a reporter pretty much cornered her! She did great of course!

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A bit of the crowd on hand to watch the ceremony.

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Austin with the Chief

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A singer/dancer providing entertainment.

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One of the girls from the crowd gets up and starts dancing. It’s crazy how many people were sitting around for 3-4 hours in the sun. I almost died.

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The white folks get up to dance!

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Kelly was nervous the night before about getting up to talk, but she rocked it! I told the story in another post, but if you missed it…the school is named Jonathan Sim after her late husband. He worked for World Vision and loved their cause, so when he passed, she wanted to do something in his honor. So she ended up working with Hoops of Hope to get get the school going. So amazing.

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Austin’s turn!

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The choir at the school sang a song while holding these laptops to signify how important they were to the students.

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This kid plus two others performed a reciting of a poem, which was almost rap-like. I thought it was awesome, but there was a verse in their about “Austin’s mother’s womb being blessed because he was brought forth from it.” Or something like that. We were laughing about it the rest of the trip!

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Some kids who were watching…love these two photos.

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Austin’s parents, Dan and Denise posing in front of the plaque dedicating the building.

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These two awesome boys walked up to meet Dan and then took us on a tour of their dormitory.

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This is the amazing computer lab. So brilliant.

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The boys’ bunks

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“Plumber boy on the beat”….this cracked me up, had to get a shot.

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The last time Hoops of Hope had been to the Jonathan Sim school, there was no running water for the boys…and now they have. Amazing to see the progress.

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Hey that’s me!

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A few more kids back at the ADP offices before we left for Choma.

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I had to sorta maneuver them to hold each other’s hands, but I love this!

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Saying goodbye to Happiness and her friends who cooked us amazing food!

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The entire trip Austin always talked about how much better the views are from on top of the LandCruisers. He was right. Also I want one of those LandCruisers. Badly. I guess they cost $100k or something insane. I still want one.

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One last soccer kick-around with the neighborhood kids.

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I believe this is the last kid I got to take a picture of. He kept creeping closer and closer to the vehicle, so I took one and showed it to him.

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And then JP came up and grabbed him in a big bear hug!

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And then we were off to Choma to spend the night before we hit Livingstone the next day. It was sad to know that the main reason for our trip was at an end. The kids, the schools…all of it was behind us now. And while inside I was started to get really excited to see my wife and kids again, I was bummed knowing I had likely taken my last photo of a Zambian child.

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The last photo of the day. Austin with George, the young man he sponsors. I think it much be such an amazing thing to be a sponsor and meet the child you are helping.

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Africa: Sinazongwe to Kanchomba

(you can see all my blogs about Africa by clicking here)

Since I’ve been back, people ask me all kinds of questions about Africa. The most obvious one is “How was it?”

It’s tough to answer. It was good. It was also hard. I missed my family something fierce. I also saw some of the most incredible things. I met the most incredible people. I saw some really hard things. An 11 year old boy carrying around his baby sister, who was covered in filth. Kids walking around barefoot everywhere. A guy at a market wanted to sell me stuff in exchange for my socks.

I honestly don’t know how to answer it yet. The question is too broad.

What I do know though is something I mentioned above. I’ve never met such extraordinary people who just want to help others. Some of the people who we traveled with around Zambia had come out of their OWN POCKET over $6,000 just to be able to go and help others. I can’t imagine! I couldn’t do that. But they can. They are made to do this. God gave them hearts to help people joyfully and without agenda. From the team of people from outside Africa to all the amazing World Vision people that we met there…wow, I was just blown away.

Today’s post encompasses one last visit to the Makonkoto school before we left to head to Twachiyanda. On the way we stopped at a clinic in Kanchomba to learn about the stuff they are dealing with. Which is bad. So awful.

Austin wanted one last chance to just hang with the kids, so we stopped by and had a blast!

This first picture is again outside my front porch at the Lakeview Lodge. I really was fond of that place. So peaceful and beautiful. Other than the spiders.

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Fred from the World Vision ADP in Sinazongwe gave us gifts before we departed.

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I got this RAD little zebra plate!

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Malaria pills. Eww.

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Before heading to the school we stopped at a health clinic that Austin and Hoops of Hope helped build. The caretakers there are amazing.

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I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but I love this kid Austin.

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Another of my favorite images from the trip.

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This kid on the right is supposedly named Sam…he’s all personality. I wish I had gotten to hang with him a bit more.

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See, there’s Sam again in the red shirt. Sooooo happy. All of them were really.

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Here’s a quick video of us entering that classroom…it was pretty amazing!

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Can’t even tell you how much I love these photos of the kids from these classroom windows as we left.

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The girl on the left sticking her butt out was SO VERY PROUD of that haha. I showed her the photo and she laughed hysterically 🙂

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On to Kanchomba.

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At a stop to grab some food for a visit we were making, I spotted this kid hanging by himself. I hesitated to snap a photo because I don’t like being someone who just exploits people for the sake of a photograph, but I eventually took it anyways. It’s one of my favorites from the trip.

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Meeting the ADP head for Kanchomba.

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This used to be the medical clinic in which this region did a lot of work. The roof is gone now, there are holes in the walls and it’s unusable.

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The building behind this is still okay, so that’s where most of the care is being done.

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The medical staff explains how bad things are. No vehicles to transport patients who need desperate help to other hospitals. No electricity. Not much help. And a bad water supply nearby.

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This is where on average 25 women give birth every month.

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This woman delivers babies and does the best she can, but she’s actually not even qualified to do most of what she does. She has no help. She also has an amazing heart.

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One of the hardest parts of the trip was a visit to this house. They lost their son a few years ago and we were bringing them food to help out and also to hear their story.

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This man and wife had a little boy who was only a few years old. Their water supply is a nearby pond which animals also use to drink and to go to the bathroom. Their son got a case of diarrhea and was dead in three days. If they would have had a proper medical clinic or even a vehicle to get him help, he probably would have lived. It was just diarrhea. Such a sad story, I can’t even imagine.

When they were done telling the story…Austin asked if he could pray for them. He went over to sit by the man and put his hand on him. It was incredibly moving. I tried to capture it best I could. Everyone was in tears.

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And in the midst of all that sadness and hurt, I spotted this little girl and was almost knocked over by her cuteness.

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Oh my.

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Africa: Sinazongwe Part 2

(you can see all my blogs about Africa by clicking here)

The first evening in Sinazongwe was amazing, but it was nothing compared to the first day at the Makonkoto school. In recent years the student attendance has gone from 500 kids to over 700. And a lot of that is due to the to work these organizations do there. Especially when they added computer lab.

We stopped by the World Vision ADP offices first thing in the morning and met Fred plus his team of amazing people. We had a brief devotion and hymn singing, which was absolutely awesome. I have to say, the singing voices of these Zambian people was mesmerizing.

The goal of the school visit was to talk to the teachers, learn what they are dealing with, their struggles, how the computer lab was doing, and also to install some solar lights that we brought along. Later in the day Austin was to meet the Chief of Sinazongwe, but he ended up being in Lusaka. We also visited a clinic that Hoops of Hope helped build plus a new machine that tests for AIDS/HIV.

I have comments below talking about the photos…and sorry, this was all one single day and there are A LOT of images. I couldn’t not show them all. And these aren’t even all of them.

Hope you enjoy. If you missed my first blog post on Africa, you can see it here.

The first few images are from the Lakeview Lodge early in the morning. I can’t believe this view was 20 feet from my cabin. It didn’t feel like we were roughing it AT ALL.

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I like this picture of Austin. I’m sure he was just waking up or zoned out cause it was the morning, but it’s also something to be a kid like him and do so much for people…inspiring them, talking to them…always being “on”…it’s gotta be hard. I love this kid.

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That is Fred giving the big hug…such a good guy. He bought us all little gifts that he gave us the next day.

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That is Austin in the right newspaper article from when he was 13 and first visited Africa. Amazing.

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Our first moments at Makonkoto school.

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Love these kids.

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They flocked once they saw me taking pictures. I got Austin to jump into the frame.

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This choir group was singing for us when we walked towards the computer lab. Blew my mind.

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This is the School Head talking to us and the teachers. We had a lot of meetings and did lots of introductions over the course of our time in Zambia.

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These are the awesome laptops that these kids get to use. In the middle of nowhere.

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I friggin’ love this photo haha!

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This boy showed us how he could type his name on the computer. Amazing.

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Austin visiting some classrooms.

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One of our travel companions, Kelly Sim, was talking to these girls…I love their reaction to whatever she’s saying. Sooooo much joy on their faces.

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This girl really wanted a photo and when I held up the camera, she put her hand on her chin cause she thought it was some model pose. I love it!

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Kids were always wanting to follow or chase us in the car.

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Here we are visiting a medical clinic where they can now test for HIV. This was donated by Hoops of Hope. Was amazing to hear the stories by the medical staff.

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This machine tests for AIDS/HIV and cost nearly $75,000. All donated by Hoops of Hope. Because they have this simple machine, the cases of HIV have gone down and the people who have it are being treated. Unbelievable.

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As I said before, Austin was supposed to meet the Chief of Sinazongwe, but he got busy at the last minute. One of this aids though was so amazingly kind to everyone and especially to Austin…at one point he just said, “I have to give you a hug.” and up he jumped to grab Austin. Was a cool moment.

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Hey that’s me! Thanks Dan for taking a photo. I love these trees!

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We pulled over at little village to wait for other people, and so Austin, Denise and I jumped out to hang with some local kids.

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Denise always packs some bubbles and the kids love ’em.

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This dude…was trouble. He made fun of my shoes and my glasses! I love him though.

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OMG.

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We had some time to spare so we went BACK to the school to hang with the kids. Dan pulled out a soccer ball and it was chaos. So much fun.

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Everybody running after the ball.

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We organized a line to hang out lollypops.

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This beautiful girl is an albino and was sponsored by Sisley, one of the team from Intel. It was awesome to see this little girl later surrounded by friends from the school…you could tell they love and protect her. Bad things can happen to albino children out in the bush by old “witch doctor” practices.

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The kids gathered for a quick talk from Austin.

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This girl kept looking back at me and I finally caught a shot of her. I think she knew what she was doing 🙂

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A giant Austin amidst all the Zambian children.

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Ummmmm…this little girl in the yellow shirt spoke perfect English and was the cutest thing I’d ever seen…except for that little beauty sitting next to her!

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Everytime I pulled out my camera I ended up with a ton of kids running up, so it was nice here at the end of the day that only a few remained. I grabbed them to do some individual portraits and wow, these are some of my favorite images. The light was beautiful, the kids even moreso.

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This last one is a shot that I didn’t even mean to take. And that’s probably why I love it so much. It’s not in focus, and I didn’t know the kid was there. I just wanted the sun against that tree. I took it from a bouncy truck.

I can’t explain why I get moved by this shot but I do. A kid waving at me, holding a homemade soccer ball with a beautiful setting African sun behind him. It was kind of the entire trip wrapped up in a single photograph.

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Africa: Sinazongwe Part 1

(you can see all my blogs about Africa by clicking here)

This past July 11th – 21st I went on a trip to Zambia, Africa, to follow along with a few charity organizations and document their work via photograph. It was incredible.

Trying to do a dump of photos, information and highlights from the trip is a daunting task, so I’ll be breaking this up into a few parts.

I was traveling mainly with the fantastic people from Hoops of Hope. Austin Gutwein started the charity when he was only nine years old and now he’s 19! His parents Daniel and Denise run the organization and were also on the trip…plus they were ones who invited me on this adventure. I took Austin’s senior pictures last year and also their family photos in December. This family is beyond amazing…there are no words to describe Austin’s heart for kids in Africa, nor what his parents have done to help their son see his vision. Being with them for 10 days humbled me.

So Hoops of Hope works together with World Vision. The people from World Vision were unbelievable. They organized everything. Transportation. They drove. They had bottled water. The booked hotels. They arranged meals. They were kind souls and beautiful individuals.

Finally there were three people from Intel doing work with computers for these schools in the middle of nowhere. They performed miracles. I will talk more about the specifics of the work done, what everyone did, the cool things I saw and all that as these blog posts go on.

Our trip started in Phoenix. We landed in Atlanta, then Johannesburg and then finally Lusaka, Zambia. We spent two days in Lusaka and left Sunday morning for Sinazongwe. That’s when the real stuff happened.

I added comments to the photos below to help tell the story. Hope you enjoy. Also for those that want to know, I edited all these using a tweaked preset from VSCO Film 3.

This first one is just me in the back of our LandCruiser after 30 hours of traveling.

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My first view of Lusaka the morning after we arrived.

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We went to buy printers for the schools at a nearby mall and I saw this.

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Selfie in the Stay Easy Hotel’s elevator. Felt like it was a dance party.

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Austin was brave enough to order a deep-fried burger. Crazy.

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Our team on Sunday morning getting ready to leave.

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The man himself…Austin.

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It’s amazing…because at this time I knew a few of these people, but had only met most of them earlier the day before. By the end of the trip it felt like we were all old friends.

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Women of Zambia selling fruits and produce on the sides of roads.

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We stopped for a little bathroom break.

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My first interaction with Zambian children…they love seeing themselves on the back of your camera.

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Someone noticed this boy carrying a bird in his hand.

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Later we stopped for lunch and these cuties were just hanging out in a truck waiting for their parents I think.

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Their smiles are just ridiculous.

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We stayed at a lodge on Lake Kariba…it was incredibly beautiful. I figured we would be roughing it but this was like a dream destination.

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A boabob or bow-bow tree…I friggin’ LOVE these things!

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I took a walk with Sisley and JP…just to see the main town area of Sinazongwe. We were spotted by some kids and soon had a tiny entourage.

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Kids always love JP…he works for Intel and has the most incredible stories.

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A market in town.

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A little pond past town that we checked out for sunset. We kept away (for the most part) from the water’s edge because of crocs, but mostly the mosquitos and chances of getting malaria. It was beautiful.

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Yup, tried to get the kids to jump in unison…didn’t work out too well.

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JP showing the kids pictures of them on his camera.

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Smiles…just amazing.

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This is one of my favorite images from my trip. Took two tries and this second attempt was amazing.

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That is Sisley and she also works for Intel. I think the kids here may have wanted some of her bracelets 🙂

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Playing soccer in Africa

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My first night in Twachiyanda, Zambia…which was July 17th…I started kicking the soccer ball around with some local kids and then we all walked over to a nearby field to start a legit game.

After I took this, I joined the action. And at some point the ball was down the field away from me and I stopped for a second to soak it all in. Here I was…in Africa. Out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, it took hours on a “paved” road and then a dirt road with no signs telling us how to get to our destination. You just had to know.

I looked around…beautiful little children running and playing, laughing and smiling…the sun setting like a giant orange globe on the horizon…and I got tears in my eyes.

I was half a world away from my family, playing soccer with kids in Africa at sunset. It’s a moment I wont ever forget.

This is just a single frame of hundreds and hundreds of images from Zambia over the last 11 days. I can’t wait to share them in the coming weeks.

(you can see all my blogs about Africa by clicking here)