Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Final Days

This photo was taken just before the end of this year's workshop. Kitambaa and friends had a last photo taken before packing up the Round House, taking down the quilts, putting the supplies away for another year, and then attending to our own packing. We are bringing back a fair supply of fabric (surprise, surprise!), as well as beads and necklaces, batiks and baskets, and other treasures. Also 72 shirts made by the Bitengye Designers for the Victoria Children's Choir, and samples of all the other "new fashions" made this year. Many items have already been sold, or left as samples in a number of venues. In less than a week we will be home again, and all of this will be a wonderful memory. Thank you, once again, to all of you who have been a part of this project. We hope to see many of you in the coming months, to show you updated photos, and most importantly the items made by the Bitengye Designers, the sale of which has made such a terrific difference in their lives.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Workshop Ends

So the workshop has come to an end. The participants have been presented with certificates, prizes have been given and we can't help feeling enormously proud of what each of the members of the Bitengye Designers has accomplished in the last 2 1/2 weeks. It was an emotional good-bye as they left for their homes - clearly the time they spend together here in Mbarara is a highlight of the year for them. It's a novelty for them to stay in accomodation with meals provided and to learn something new, and a welcome break to be able to leave their usual responsibilities behind them for awhile. The relationships between the women are stronger, and they certainly occupy a special place in our hearts. All twelve women are more committed than ever to their work, and having seen the changes a little income can make, are keen to continue the work they have begun. As for us, we are already beginning to plan for next year.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Amazing Alice

Alice has completed her "African Thunderstorm" quilt and has moved onto another "new fashion". Her eagerness in learning new designs knows no bounds, so we have been teaching her patterns that she can teach the rest of the Bitengye Designers during the rest of the year, as they are able. She has agreed to continue as Coordinator of the group next year, which makes all of us extremely happy. And for our part, we have decided to spend a week just with Alice next year, so she can get some concentrated teaching time herself. She spends so much time in the workshop helping other students, help that she gives with patience and humour. When we interviewed her about her life, she acknowledged that she is responsible for 11 members of her family, including 6 siblings, 2 nieces, her mother and her auntie. She is the only one with work, and this is what fires her single-mindedness and her work ethic. "That's why I'm still single" she said, "I am responsible for so many." Getting married has had to be delayed many times." Alice is a gem of a person, and we couldn't ask for a more able Coordinator for the group.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Large Hut Wallhangings/Lap Quilts

Here's another design the ladies have been working on - large huts in a row, with rows of rail fence alternating. They've used flannelette instead of batting, backed them, and put on binding. The quilting itself has been kept to a minimum, as they don't have walking feet for their machines - so in-the-ditch quilting has been most appropriate. The women who were still having some difficulty continued to work on tablecloths while the more advanced worked on these. They're pleased with their efforts, and we just hope that both the tablecloths and the large wallhangings will sell well as home, as they're a much bigger investment of fabric and time than any previously made items.

Bitengye Tablerunners

Aren't these gorgeous tablerunners? Most have blue borders but some have green borders. Many have been completed and today we began packing them away in a tote ready to go home. Now that we're down to the last few days of the workshop, time is flying. And the ladies are sewing up a storm. I think it was 6:40 before they went home yesterday afternoon, and I wouldn't be surprised if they did the same tonight. Each time they complete an item and it has been checked for quality, they sign a paper with the date, the name of the item, and the amount they will be paid. On Friday the list will be added up for each individual, and pay packets distributed. Then they will buy new fabrics from some of their proceeds, with which to continue sewing once they're back home. Long hours, much laughter, and sheer determination are in evidence everywhere!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Athens, Maker of Necklaces

Athens is a young woman in secretarial school. Both parents died of AIDS in the late nineties, and left her and her siblings with very little. She thought she would be forced to sell the small plot of land they had in order to continue in school, but a Canadian sponsor has enabled her to continue with her education. She is as bright as can be, and helpful and keen to learn new things. She will start back to school very soon, and when I met her last month, she was making paper necklances to raise some of the funds she would need to buy her supplies. When I saw the necklaces I offered to buy as many as she could make before I left, and here she is, with over 30 necklaces. I bought them all from her and will sell them back in Canada. And Athens? Well she is thrilled that for the first time ever she will be able to return to school with all the supplies on the list, and also with some new clothing. "I will be so happy this time," she said. "Now the other students won't be able to laugh at me."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dinah and Helena

I first met Dinah when I came to Uganda three years ago. She was employed part-time by Canada House at that time, and we struck up a friendship. We have been in touch since then, and at the end of last year, I gave her a sewing machine and arranged for her to have sewing lessonsa. She would like to have become one of the Bitengye Designers, but works for someone at the Eye Clinic in the mornings, so can't attend. And Helena is only six months old. So I have shown her how to make table napkins, and every Sunday she has been arriving with 40 more completed table napkins. The amount she earns with these effectively doubles her monthly income, and she hopes to save enough for her eldest son to complete Primary-7. But with eight children, it's hard to save any money at all. (The husband is no longer in the picture.) As for Helena, she is thriving, and happy to be wrapped on Dinah's back while she works. At least for now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Safe Spot for a Seam Ripper

Where to put a seam ripper when it's not in use? In your hair of course. I've seen some of the women store their pins in their hair as well, although they're not always as easy to remove. Those who have had their hair braided with "extensions" do not have this same handy spot for storage, although their various hairstyles are amazing. Today is Sunday, the one day when the Bitengye ladies do not come over to Canada House. We will walk up the hill to the Cathedral for the English service shortly, then spend a day catching up on a little rest, before beginning the third and final week of the workshop. Time has flown by, and there is much that we would still like to teach the ladies. Instead we are teaching more designs to Alice, and she will teach them these designs through the coming year, when they are ready for them.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sheilla and Bright

Sheilla is the youngest member of the Bitengye Designers, and is 22. She has a daughter, Viola, who is 3, and here she is with her six month old son, Bright. She lives here in Ruharo, in a small mud hut with her mother. Her mother has been ill for sometime, although feeling much better this year, and Sheilla is her caregiver. Her sister and niece have come to stay with their mother while Sheilla attends the workshop. Recheal has a neighbour to look after her 3 year old until the other children come home from school, at which point Christia, who is 8, looks after all four children. In Kikagati, the cook had a one-month old baby, whom she strapped to the back of her 10 year old daughter, to look after while she was working. And this is much more the norm - babies strapped to the backs of children who have barely left babyhood themselves. There's something to be said for the older children taking responsibility for the younger children (when we were first married, David was newly returned from Burundi, and saw no reason we shouldn't have twelve children, because of this very thing!); but is vastly different from the responsibilities we give to our children back in Canada.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Anna and Table Runner

The table runner's batting is a layer of flannelette, and then it's backed with an African fabric. With a shortage of table space, Anna has decided to lay hers out on the cement porch of the big house before pin-basting the layers together. This photo was taken yesterday morning, early in the day, when a cardigan was advisable. It reached 40 C. by 3 o'clock the same day! Thankfully it begins cooling down when the sun sets, and there is often a bit of a breeze that appears at about the same time of day. Not every day is a wonderful day, and yesterday was a tad frustrating. There are four women who are still having trouble with a quarter inch seam allowance, and one in particular who seems to get worse and worse the more we correct her. I have talked to them about the need for "good quality", but sometimes it seems there is a gap in understanding that can't be explained in words. It's then that I remember that for these women, making a table mat is the difference between being able to feed their families or not. Which sometimes results in their less-than-careful sewing. They can practically see the shillings piling up each time they complete an item, and no-one wants to get left behind.

A Hot Day in Mbarara

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a hot one. The ladies worked hard on their table runners all day, and most of them had finished their first one by six o'clock, when they returned to the hostel where they are staying. Yesterday was also the first lesson in putting on binding, and here are Tumushabe, Sheilla and Maudah, who found one of the coolest spots in the garden to sit in while they did the hand stitching. Today they will continue with these table runners - I think you'll like them. A quilting friend on the Sunshine Coast showed me how to make these, when I was at their retreat last fall. Thank you so much!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lydian and Kamidah

Lydia and Kamidah come from Rubingo, and worked together on this tablecloth (the blue or green borders are still to be added). It was their turn to have their photograph taken - a way of praising them for the good work they've done. It's heart-warming to see the way they're ready to applaud one another's efforts. We have had to do a good bit of un-stitching, however, in the last couple of days, and are now wondering how to let the more advanced students go ahead with new designs, while making sure those who still need more practice, get it. Today we will talk to Alice about the possibility of breaking the class into two groups, and how best to do this.

Mary and Children

A truck making its appearance in a village is often a novelty, and a white person by a truck attracts even more attention. Here Mary is pictured beside Perez's truck, just after church was dismissed. Shortly after the photo was taken she took some footage of these children, and was then able to play it back to them. As you might imagine, the crowd of children expanded still further when that happened. As we drive down more remote roads, small children stand by the side of the road waving at us. Trudy said on one occasion that she felt a little like the Queen!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Trudy with Rubingo children

We've learned in the last couple of weeks, that if there are children present, Trudy's greatest interest will be with them. This photo was taken at the Hope Choir performance in Rubingo. Children only smile for photos when coaxed - "Shaka, shaka" - we tell them, Runyankole for "smile". We have similar photos or Trudy with various babies, and they are pretty charming. Dinah, who I know from three years ago, came here with her 8th child on Saturday. She's called Helena. Sheila is one of the sewing ladies, and we met her son, Bright very soon after our arrival at Canada House. We muzungus (white people), of course, are quite an attraction.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Knight and Nightingale

Friday and Saturday were both workshop days, and the hum of treadle sewing machines was steady from eight thirty in the morning until five thirty in the evening. The ladies completed six table cloths with borders and cloth backing. This was their first experience of putting blocks together into a whole quilt top, and they rose to the challenge admirably. Quarter-inch seams are still occasionally in need of correction, but the women were quite willing to take out any errors and correct them, in order to end up with a "high quality" product. Here I am showing Knight those places that need to be re-done, while Nightingale translates for me.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Hope Choir

If only I could capture the energy and song and strength of this group in a photo - it just isn't possible. These are the members of the Hope Choir, performing in Rugingo. All 22 members are HIV positive, and they come together to spread their message - to get tested, to know your status, how AIDS is spread, and how to live positively with AIDS. They visit many different areas, wherever they are invited (often churches and schools), and sing songs they have composed themselves, perform drama, and dance. They have a powerful impact on many others, encouraging them to get tested, to access counselling, and to access the ARV drugs that are available in Uganda free of charge. A similar group has just been formed in Kikagati - the Truth Choir with 27 members, and Kitambaa has committed to buying uniforms for them (T-shirts and black skirts), and drums, as well as to help raise transport funds so that the members can get to those places that testing and medication is available. These people are so brave, risking shunning by their friends and family, and their work is so valuable.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

First Day of Class

Thursday (yesterday) was the first day of the workshop for the Bitengye Designers. First thing in the morning all twelve of these marvellous women arrived at Canada House. There was much hugging and excited greeting of one another - we've finally managed to learn the customary greetings in Runyankole - and then singing and prayer and the day began. We heard a report from each of the areas, and then the sewing began. We had brought Olfa rulers with us, and after a demo in how to use it, they were off and running, cutting and sewing strip units which today will be cut into blocks and assembled into the first new project - a table cloth. There are three women who are still having a little difficulty with their 1/4" seam allowance, but the beauty of this design is that it can be made by these three as well. And it serves as a good "review project" for everyone. The table cloth measures 50" X 50", and will retail for $35. Orders anyone?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sponsored students

One of the widows biggest needs is school fees for secondary school students, and through Kitmabaa and various friends of Kitambaa, about 14 students are presently being sponsored. It costs about $500 a year - the actual cost depends on the school - for one year of secondary school. This photo shows some of these students meeting with me in Rubingo. Where there is a parent or guardian, they are also in attendance. I had their reports with me, and we went over those, and for some, the need to work harder in certain subjects, and for others, applauded them for a high standing in their class. Reading and writing in English was encouraged, as students need good skills in these to pursue further education. And we asked if they had paraffin lamps, so they can all study at night during their holidays. There is always a need for more sponsorships, or contributions toward sponsorships. We are hoping to extend some of these to the more disadvantaged children of widows in Kikagati, so please let me know if you might be interested in helping out in this area - email me at Anything and everything would be so welcome. Now I must go and get ready for our students who will be arriving withing the hour!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Views from Uganda

These photos were all taken in the Rubingo area, but are pretty representative of most of the country. It's quite lush and green in most areas, a result of two rainy seasons (March and September), and lots of sunshine. Bananas of various varieties grow everywhere, and there is also sorghum, millet, casava, mangos, pineapple and papayas, to name just a few. The problem is that there is not enough land for the population, and many cannot afford what little land there is available. Much of the land is tired and overused, and the soil on the hills has been eroded as trees are cut down for building and firewood. There is
an ever-increasing awareness of environmental issues, however, and in Kikagati, one of the proposals the widows and grandmothers made was to support them in planting grevarria, a type of tree that grows quite quickly. The number one reason they want the trees, is to be able to build themselves latrines, as they understand this as a way to improve their health. In fact we often saw health promotion posters in the homes of the women we visited, addressing such issues as the importance of hand-washing, the proper use of latrines, and specific and very open HIV/AIDS information. Uganda sits right on the equator, so is warm year-round, though thankfully it cools off most nights. The middle of the day can be pretty hot, but this is Africa, after all. OK, so that's the last of the posts for today. I hope those of you following this blog feel a little more in touch with where we are and how we are and what we are up to.

More Photos from the MBS meetings

Joan and a widower member of the group. Note the walking sticks they have in common.

Children inside the Church where the Kikagati meeting was held (the coolest place around).

Widows clapping to the traditional dancing that was performed before we left the gathering. (The dancing itself is much like the imitation of a crane dancing, and is very hard to photograph. It consists of much leaping in the air while arms are outstretched on either side and the head is rotated to a soft hissing sound. Quite something to see.)

Mutual Benefit Societies

I am so excited I can hardly contain myself. I've been loaned the use of a high-speed internet, on which I can post more than one picture at a time. Which means that I can tell you about our meetings with the Mutual Benefit Societies in both Rubingo and Kikagati. These are the groups into which the widows and grandmothers have organized themselves, and it is from these groups that the members of the Bitengye Designers were chosen. They garden together, raise goats together, and share their meagre resources amongst themselves. In Rubingo we met with the leaders of the eight smaller groups (they have a

total of 190 members in all eight groups), and they gave us a little history on all the activities they have been engaged in together, reported on how much money they have saved in order to renew the lease on the garden they have rented, about told us their concerns regarding such things as school fees and access to treatment for those who are HIV positive. In Kikagati over 200 women came out to meet us with singing and dancing, and then gave reports on all their activities. These are brave and courageous women, who are willing to do almost anything to give their family a hand up in the world.