Post edited to include this update on how you can help: African Drumming and Dance Event - Sunday April 27th a benefit for the women and children of Chwele Kenya.
I absolutely love it when I get the first hour of the day to myself. A silent, upward "Thank You" that I'm alive, the knowing sense that I left work with my top five tasks already written, so that I can enter my day with a listening mind of awareness.
It's this routine that becomes the fertile soil for the greatest things to happen, and the most amazing people to appear.
I started this routine in the early 2000's with noteworthy success. I made Wayne Dyer appear in Portland (hey, it's my Universe - let other people think they played a part), Marianne Williamson (who gave me an AMAZING one-on-one chat after she spoke, and a serendipitous follow-up at a Malibu wedding of a mutual friend Mary Morrissey), Iyanla Vanzant (had her to myself for an hour as I drove her to a hotel in Oakland - details pending for spice!.. Okay, it was to live-stream her to a Portland event), and several over-the-top others, that made me realize just how interconnected we all are.
I was on a giving binge by the time I met Grace Kuto who came to be on referral for the cover image of her book (it's more than a cookbook!), Harambee! After discovering that she paid for the printing, and donated every penny to her Chwele Kenya project, I insisted that she leave her checkbook at home. I made this my project as well, as I nicknamed her "The Mother Teresa of Kenya" (a title she modestly declines)
Just the same, I discovered more than a client on a great mission, rather a friend and a Sister. A sister that I lost touch with for about four years while I was working on the survival of the studio. A tad less giving, I had stopped rising at five, meditating and in stride - giving. A time in my life that I refer to as Spiritually complacent.
Around 2011 she came to me to review and order some images that I did for her daughter Lutomia Kuto, for an upcoming violin concert with Aaron Meyer.
Little did she know that Kenya had been on my bucket list since I was a very young boy, burying my nose in National Geographic safari images. We discussed the possibilities, while inside I had already decided that I had to make it happen. More than my selfish desire for a wildlife safari, there was a strong pull for me to get involved with her mission.
Between her asking and the intended trip itself, I got a call from her. I had not been on any personal, private excursions for several years, so my wife had just lovingly kicked me out of the house with my bike. I was mounting my bike to the roof of my car when she explained that her videographer had injured himself and she wanted to know if I could do video.
Again, without knowing I had just spent the last couple of years studying with cinematographers (adding a bit of multi-media flare to my sessions), she asked at the perfect time. "I'm on my way to the coast, when is it?" There was little delay, or even a huff when she said it was that night. For me, it says a great deal about the Higher Purpose of this work that makes me want to help, but I dismounted, changed my clothes, and even bought a $300 pan-head for my tripod to make sure that I gave her quality footage.
That was 2011, and I did the next one again in 2012, only this time shooting more stills since I was not tethered to a tripod. Before the above shot, she was being introduced by a woman who spoke my own thoughts verbatim. "When Grace calls, you just say yes".
I would soon seen, come 2013 on our trip to Kenya, that I was likely not the first one to call her Mother Teresa either. (or St. Grace). It was an amazing experience to see her activity level as she put this project before everything else. Her supportive husband Paul would likely joke - him included.
Her passion for educating and empowering the women and children of her village was apparent as I created the images for her in Kenya. (many on the studio Facebook, as well as on the Chwele Kenya site) She genuinely cares about every child in that village as if they were her own. Bringing doctors, dental students, nurses, supplies as well craft instructors to help teach the women and teens that can do these things to make money.
My trip may be complete, and my post-return duties fulfilled, but it has clearly only begun. I have since committed to work with her on the 2014 fundraising efforts. This time, however, it won't be a big fancy dinner for philanthropists to gain find food in hope for contributions. Instead, a grassroots, AUTHENTIC African Drumming and Dance Event.
Please click that link to see for yourself, and I hope to see you there myself. Until then, Grace, if you are reading this - THIS is how much I admire and respect you and Paul (and of course my other Sister Elizabeth Bwayo) for all that you are doing to make an impact on your global community. You are benefiting us, with this chance to give, as much as the countless thousands of Kenyans who receive your gifts!
Despite the better-known name-dropping that my work has allowed me, it is people like Grace, who selflessly out-give everyone I've ever met, that make me want to be a better person. Thank you Grace, for your grace. I won't wait for the catholics to canonize you to call you St. Grace!