In 2003, Shelene Bryan was working as a Hollywood producer when she and her husband, Brice, began sponsoring two children in Uganda for $25 a month. Photos of the little girl and boy from Uganda hung on her fridge. At first she didn't even know their names, but Shelene explains in the above #OWNSHOW interview how two children halfway across the world transformed her life.
One evening, Shelene was having a party at her home when a guest pointed to the photos on the fridge and questioned whether the children were real. "How do you know those kids aren't 40 years old and they're just taking your money?" the woman asked.
"I don't," Shelene says she responded. "I just have faith that the money is getting there." But later that evening, she couldn't get the children out of her mind. "So that night I go to bed and I go, 'Brice, I'm going to Africa.'"
Shelene and her husband made plans to fly to Uganda, completely unannounced. The night before the trip, Brice suddenly became ill and could no longer go -- Shelene would have to travel alone. "So that next morning, I peeled those little pictures off the fridge, and I flew from LAX to Heathrow, from Heathrow to Entebbe," she says. "And I show up at this little village called Gaba, and I'm like, 'Hi! I'm from America. I came to meet my two kids, AR212 and GR479.'"
To her surprise, a woman looked at Shelene's photos and simply replied, "OK, follow me."
After a two-mile hike, the woman pointed Shelene to a small hut. "This is Omega's house," she told her. After peeling back the sheet covering the hut's front door, Shelene was greeted by a young girl. Though she didn't recognize her at first -- the little girl had grown quite a bit from her photo -- Shelene says Omega recognized her right away. "And as I'm holding her like I would my daughter Brooke, I’m thinking, 'She's real,'" Shelene says. "And then my eye catches the Christmas card photo of our family embedded in her mud wall."
Shelene was also able to track down Alonis, the young boy in her photo. "So I took her and our little boy Alonis into the capital of their country, Kampala, and I bought her a bed, sheets, a mosquito net for the malaria, a blanket and a pair of shoes for $20."
Her visit soon came to an end, but Shelene says she was never the same. It was Christmastime when she got back home to California, and Shelene couldn’t help but think about Omega and Alonis as she wrapped her family's gifts. "That could have been another bed," she thought. "I could have bought a kid another meal."
She gathered her husband and two kids. "I said, 'You guys, this Christmas, let's do something different,'" she recalls. Since then, Shelene says her family has done something to give back every holiday, whether it's spending time at a children's hospital or volunteering at a homeless shelter. Shelene also went on to give up her Hollywood career to found the charity organization, Skip1.org.
"That kind of love -- when you love people that can do nothing for you in return -– it ripples," Shelene says.