Thursday, November 28, 2013

Widows Groups - Rubingo

These photos are of some of the women in leadership positions in the 7 widows groups in Rubingo. Together, with the other members, and the HIV positive group, they number over 200. We met with them to discuss their current needs. School fees always top the list, but this year the need for land to cultivate was just as pressing for them. For the last several years land has been rented for them, but the leases run out in 2014, and even with their best efforts to save money, they just don't have what it takes. They have micro-credit systems running within each group, and that has produced some of what they need, but not enough. They told us that in order to feed their families, they need a minimum of 2 plots, each of which measures 20 yards by 60 yards. The rent for 2 plots for a year is $70. Such a small amount in Canadian terms. ACTS has some of what they need for the coming year, but its budget for things like renting land has been greatly reduced. Ideally each woman would have 4 plots, which would allow them to grow enough to sell as well as to feed their families, and so to save enough to pay for rent for the next year. But in the meantime, 2 plots will at least feed them and their families. If any of you out there are looking for a Christmas gift of a different sort, and would like to support one of these widows in the process, please let me know, by emailing me at I will be making up special cards which will include a photo of one or more of these women, and which can be given to the person you have in mind. If the cheque is made out to ACTS, your donation will be tax-receiptable. I told these women I would do what I could to help them, and I will. They are such beautiful women, strong and determined - the same group I first met with almost 7 years ago, before I started the Kitambaa Sewing Project - so they hold a very special place in my heart.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Alice's New Sewing School

What a day we had yesterday! Driving down to Rubingo - 2 hours along pot-holed roads - to see Alice's now-completed new sewing school. And it's amazing. A large, bright, and nicely painted building with office, large classroom, shop, dormitory, and additional sleeping rooms - it is as much and more than she had dreamed about, when she told first showed us the plot of land she had purchased for this purpose on our visit to see her in 2009. We met all but one of her ten students, five of whom are sponsored by friends of Kitambaa. And in the opposite end of the classroom were the six Bitengye Designers that live in Rubingo.
We were served a magnificent feast of posho and matoke, rice and potatoes, goat's meat and chicken, followed by pineapples and watermelon. After that came the tour of the school, and time spent with both students and the Bitengye women. Lots of laughter and great happiness all around. Alice has made many, many Alice bags, which we have sold, and numbers of you have donated to her school too. And now it's a reality, and a very lovely reality too. All of us had great big smiles on our faces, all the way home through the rain and bouncing up and down on the roads, and not even noticing it (although once we did have to get out of the van and push it out of the mud!). So thank you, thank you, to everyone who was a part of making this school, and giving the women of Rubingo a huge dose of hope.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pure Clean Water!

Africa Community Technical Service (ACTS) is working on up to three water projects at one time, often with smaller add-on water projects. Visiting the sites of a few of these has been a highlight of this trip. It is remarkable to me that once you find a source of water, and build one or more reservoirs to hold the water, it can then be made available to people all along the pipes and their tributaries. Instead of walking miles for grubby water, tapstands supply clean water along up to 50 or 60 kilometres of pipeline. The first visit we made was to the new reservoir at Nyakyera, being built by hand by the African team, while plans are being finalized for a second project to begin in January, and a third project is also underway. In the first photo Richard is drawing the map for the second project in the red soil, clarifying where additional pipes can be added to expand the supply to even more villages. Then you can see the inside of the new reservoir, built by hand inside bamboo mat "forms". The third photo shows a child filling her jerry can at an existing water source, all part of the same gravity flow system. And, of course, no matter where you go, there are always masses of children who gather round to see what you're up to (and to have their photo taken!) 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Recheal's Dream

Recheal is a remarkable young woman. She first became a member of the Bitengye Designers in 2009, at which time she was having difficulty feeding her four children and the fifth child she had adopted, who had been found wandering in a banana plantation. It was Recheal who told us that she'd bought a door for her house when we asked her how she'd spent her first earnings from sewing. Since then, she has started a Living Possitively with HIV group, completed her nurse's training (actually a one year nursing assistant course, but this allows her to be known as a nurse), and now she has bought a plot of land with more of her earnings, so that she can fulfill her dream of running a shelter for children who are HIV positive, and for orphans.
The little girl in the red dress is her daughter Davita, but all the other children here are either HIV positive or orphans, and it's these children she wants to help. So this is another of our new commitments - to help Recheal in any way we can, to help her build the shelter she dreams of. She is an amazing woman, and I have no doubt whatsoever that she will make this dream a reality.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Meeting with the Widows' Groups in Kabiunda

The widows group in Kabiunda - a small village in the south of Uganda - numbers 118 members, while the HIV positive group in the same village numbers 55. Yesterday we met with both groups, to hear about the productivity of the plots of land that have been rented for them, and the micro-finance program, through which they hope to raise enough income to rent the plots in subsequent years.

They have had support for three years, but this will be coming to an end soon, and the discussion with the leaders of both groups centred around how to make up the difference. The truth is that despite the politically correct and sometimes glorified use of the word "sustainable", there are some parts of the world so poor that even with the best efforts of both Ugandan and Canadian people, this is only partially attainable.
Some of these widows are too old or too sick to work, and despite community gardens, can at best only hope to raise enough food to feed their families. And the land itself is in very short supply, and crops are not always rotated, so the soil becomes depleted and yields are down. Add to that climate change that is affecting their two growing seasons per year, and the problems sometimes seem unsurmountable. The solemn faces you see reflect the frustration and despair some of these women feel.
The photo above is of Robin Zayanga. She dropped into this meeting and waited until the very end to whisper in the leaders' ears that the water falls on her head all night, and she wonders if these muzungus (white people) can do anything to help her. She lives in less than a shack, I am told. A new house will cost $1500 to build for her - a simple mud and wattle house with a tin roof that will keep her dry. Sometimes, I find, one person's story reaches me in a strong and heart-renching way, and this is one of those times. I am committed to raising the funds to build Robin her new house. Not sure how I'll do it, yet. But will keep you posted. Perhaps it's time for another "Opportunities to Own" quilt raffle. . . . .

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nyakyera Camp - A Few Early Photos

Children in the Banana Plantation

Child filling his gerry can at a water tap

Small but typical dwelling

Supper preparation at camp

Saturday, November 9, 2013

More News from Uganda

The workshop continued all this week, with the women arriving sometime after 8:00 each morning, and staying until close to 7:00 each evening. They were all determined to get as much work done as possible, taking on the making of new designs with enthusiasm, consulting Alice as needed, and for the most part, willing to make corrections as suggested. They now have cloth labels to sew on each item - "Bitengye Designs, Handmade in Uganda" - but sometimes they get sewn on upside down. But it does make everything look a little classier. One day I showed them on the computer the photos I show people in Canada, when I tell them about the work the women are doing. There were lots of laughs over some of the early images, especially the worried expressions as they were first learning how to use the rulers and scissors and irons. And then we took a new group photo of the Bitengye Designers, including Joan and myself. We have come a long way since this project started in 2009, and there is still some distance to go. As many of you know, I waited two years to come back to work with the women again, thinking that they were strong enough to manage without me. But now I realize I was mistakened. The problems we've uncovered on this trip have made me realize again, that in Africa, everything goes "slowly, slowly". Short term commitment to a group is rarely as effective as long term commitment. Which, of course, has big implications for future plans. But more on this later. Right now I need to pack up all the completed "fashions", ready to ship them off to Canada on Monday.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Work Continues

The steady thrum of treadle sewing machines along with chatter in Runyankole and laughter and singing has continued all week. Much work has been completed, and the sewing of new fashions has been mastered. So today was an opportunity to take some photos of finished products.

Here are some of the Bitengye Designers, modelling the latest fashion of shoulder bags, made from a combination of wax and Ghanaian fabrics. That's Alice in the middle, their extremely patient and capable teacher.

And the new iPad covers, in response to the request from many of you that we make these. Some of these will be available at the VIDEA sale being held in Victoria, at the end of the month. We won't be home yet, but Trudy will be trekking down island with a great assortment of the Bitengye products.

And just in case you're imagining us here in brilliant sunshine, here's a shot of one of the four thundershowers we had yesterday. The rain buckets down, but the sewing continues. Nothing will stop these women!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Glimpse Inside the Classroom

So here's a glimpse at our "classroom". It is an inside-outside affair, with the treadle sewing machines sheldered under the round roof, but with only half a wall. When it begins to rain, as it's doing these days (we neglected to check what season we were arriving in, and it is indeed rainy season), we all rush under the cover of the roof, or onto the porch of the big house. But as soon as it stops, which it does as suddenly as it starts, cutting tables and chairs are moved back onto the grass. Except you have to be careful about that too, as rainy season brings out the red ants, and if they start marching in your direction, look out!
Did you notice the iron Sheilah was using? It works beautifully, but requires hot coals to keep it hot. By the way, she's making a quilt from embroidered birds made by Alice's mother and a couple of her friends. Look for the finished article in a few days. And lastly there's our lovely Annah, who is too ill to sew, but has joined us all the same. She has been to the doctor and received treatment, but is still very weak. We make up a bed for her in Canada House so she can lie down whenever she needs to. All the other women are in good health, although Lydia's daughter died this year, and she is now looking after her three children, and Sheilla too has been ill during the year, although she's better now. I brought greetings to all the women from all of you today, and they clapped and clapped in response. They are so happy to be here, every one.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The First "New Fashions"

Alice has been working hard all weekend, and has made up samples of several of the "new fashions" the Bitengye women will be working on this coming week. Here are the first two iPad covers, something that has been requested by several people over recent months.

And here's a child's travelling crayon case, perfect for a long car ride or a visit to grandparents.

And a pair of Christmas stockings. Add to this a small shoulder bag, a journal cover, a new larger bag and other still-to-be-made crafts, and it will be a busy week. This morning everyone else arrives, and the workshop begins in earnest. In fact I opened the door first thing and found Justina already here. She's going up the hill to the community centre for some chai and Ugandan breakfast. We will be facing some particular challenges this week - more to come on that later - but the biggest one is finding an alternate activity for three of the Bitengye Designers whose work is still not up to standard (Alice's evaluation). Please be thinking of us as we attempt to solve this problem. And thanks to all of you following along with us here in Uganda.

Friday, November 1, 2013

So Alice has arrived at Canada House and planning for the workshop is well underway. The first and most important thing, of course, was to go fabric shopping. Alice took us to a new shop we'd never been to before, and the selection there was great. As well as the "wax fabric" we've been using up until now, there were fabrics from Ghana - the very fabrics we'd hope to introduce to the ladies - hand-dyes cottons and damasks. (That's what Alice is holding up in the photo.) We also shopped for thread and beads, and then headed back "home" to talk over possible projects. Alice would like to teach the best seamstresses how to make garments, so that they can sew for other people besides Kitambaa Designs, and have a more steady income from doing so. But that might be for a later workshop to be held at her school. She thinks smaller items might be best for the next week. So we have tomorrow to work on more samples. Athens and her baby Ryan (last photo) live on the same grounds, and are keeping an eye on what we're up to. Ditto a small skinny white cat, who visits us regularly for a saucer of milk. We're all feeling pretty well, and eating well too. Curried beans on rice were a great hit last night, and avocados and tomatoes drizzled with balsamic aren't too shabby either. We wake to the morning doves, and settle into good books when the sun goes down in the evening, and the power is either off or a little sketchy. Not hard to adjust to at all. I feel very blessed indeed to be here.