Monday, November 23, 2015

New Projects for the Bitengye Designers

I've previously written a little about new projects that the Bitengye Designers are considering for the coming year, and one of those is the making of re-usable sanitary napkins. Several times in the past, school girls have told us that having the appropriate supplies for the time of the month they have their periods is often a problem. Disposable pads are expensive, and often beyond the reach of school girls, so often they end up missing school. I have also been told about a couple of Canadian groups making re-usable pads for these girls, and while I'm sure this is done with the best of intentions, how much better if Ugandan women (or women from any African country), who have the necessary sewing skills and supplies, were to make them themselves, and to develop an income-gnerating business from from selling them? While I was in Uganda I was able to show Alice several possible patterns from making pads, and then she showed me a sample she'd come upon herself, and which is photographed here. She and the Bitengye group, who have been looking for in-country ways to make their sewing pay, didn't take long to decide that they would like to begin production as soon as possible. They'll be making up carrying bags (red and black in the photo) which will contain six pads and liners, and a plastic bag for used pads. They will take samples of these around to nearby schools for them to be tested, and all being well, will then begin to supply schools in their areas with these bags. Along with the making of school uniforms and school book bags, these are items which have the potential to boost their in-country sales. Alice and all the Bitengye women, we wish you every success with this new venture!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dorothy,Lydia and Stella, and Knight - Their Stories

As promised, here are the stories of a few more of the Bitengye Designers. First there's Dorothy, who comes from Rubingo, where Alice's Sewing School and a number of other Bitengye women live. She is our expert beader, and has crafted the expandable bracelets and beaded journal covers you may have seen us selling at various places in the past. And which we'll have for sale at the Christmas Fiesta sales in Courtenay and Campbell River again this year. Dorothy has been a wonderful addition to the group, and took on the teaching of Lydia and Stella (both from Kikagate) how to make the bracelets, once she learned the skill from Joan Darling. Ever patient and with a smiling face, she can be heard sharing stories and laughing with the other beading ladies from the table they worked at in the shade of the veranda.  
Lydia (from Rubingo) and Stella are seen here watching me act out a little drama, with help from Perez and Nightingale, to teach the women the basics of small business. Specifically I was trying to explain to them why the "middle-man" pays less for the goods than he/she charges the customer. Lydia has always been a strong but quiet member of the Rubingo Bitengye group. Her sewing is now expert, and the quality of the products she makes is always high. Stella, from Kikagate, did not have such a happy time sewing, and is now much, much happier making bracelets. In fact she came to the workshop with a bag full of 50 bracelets to show us. She is much more confident, as a result, a lovely thing to see.

Knight is from Rubingo, and is doing "somehow OK" now, although she has had illness to contend with over much of the last year. She was one of three women who needed medical care on arrival at Canada House. Hard to imagine what it must be like to carry on without much-needed medication, because you don't have enough to pay for it. Knight's daughter and grand-daughter also paid a visit to us at the workshop, to thank us for what we'd done for her mother. Knight's sense of humour was as much in evidence as ever this year, in spite of her illness. You might remember the photo we took with her lying on a bed, the first thing she bought for herself with her earnings from her sewing. 
One of the most touching things we saw this year, and heard about, was how much the women in this group support one another. They keep in touch by phone, and those that live in the same area, visit each other and often work together. Our impression is that this will continue long after we're gone, such a good thing.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Kikagate Care Clinic

Yesterday was a marvelous day - visiting Recheal's Clinic for the first time since it was completed. Trudy and I were just blown away by how far this dream has come from its beginning not so very long ago. Recheal was there in her uniform when we arrived, as was Elly Nakunda, who will be keeping in touch with Recheal after we leave and who has supported this project from the beginning. His home in Kabyenda is where the hospital is, that Recheal will be referring her patients to when necessary, and whose staff have committed to liaising with the Kikagate Clinic as needed. Rose, an HIV/AIDS counsellor that I first met back in 2007, is acting as "matron".
There's a wonderfully bright, new latrine out the back of the Clinic, with its own hand washing facility on the right. We brought with us the solar power that will be installed so that Recheal can have lighting, especially necessary when patients come to see her at night, and while she currently gets water for the Clinic from a nearby tap stand, she has obtained an estimate for a rain water collection system, which will be the next priority after she has finished registering the Clinic with the government. The registration itself is almost completed, with only a few items to be added before full approval can be given, things like hand washing facilities in each room, gumboots to wear when washing down the floors, a rubbish collection area, and signage to go out front of the Clinic. 
The Pharmacy may look pretty sparsely stocked from a Canadian point of view, but contains most of the supplies Recheal needs for the ailments she will be dealing with. Missing were an adequate supply of first aid supplies and a cooker and saucepan (possible once the solar is installed) for sterilizing equipment. The Lab too is operational, with testing for HIV and malaria done by pin prick blood sample, and other basic lab tests being available too.
Record books have been set up for each department - antenatal, counseling, lab work, and out patient. Recheal will be reporting her stats to the Ministry each month. She's also drawn up a budget for the next 6 months, and has most categories covered. Capital costs will be impossible for her to cover to begin with, but we have every confidence that this Clinic will grow over time, and that from its very earliest beginnings, it will earn enough through lab tests and medication charges to recoup its basic costs and replenish its supplies.
And if that weren't enough, there on the front porch there is a suggestion box. Recheal has thought of absolutely everything, and we are so incredibly proud of her and so thankful that we were allowed to come along side her and help her realize this amazing dream. Recheal is HIV positive herself, but has in no way let that stop her. She wanted more than anything to care for the people in her community, as well as her own family of 5 children and the 3 orphans she's taken in and given a home to, and she's doing that. Just incredible!
In case any of you would like to contribute to the Kikagate Care Clinic, you can still do so by contacting me directly. Unfortunately we're no longer able to issue tax receipts, as oversight by ACTS  is coming to an end, but I can promise you that any donation will go directly to offset this project. And to all of you who have already contributed in so many ways, this is your success too. Thank you from Recheal and thank you from me.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Alice's Sewing School

So here we are at Alice's Sewing School - which consists of a large classroom, a shop, an office, Alice's bedroom, a store room, and 3 dormitory rooms for boarders. It was 2009 when Alice first told me of her dream for a new school. I had been admiring the "Alice bags" she made, and told her that if she would keep making the bags, I would keep selling them in Canada, with all the proceeds going to her school. Before I left Uganda that year, she had sent 92 bags to me by boda-boda. And they kept coming, and they kept selling. One enterprising young woman sold nearly $1000 worth of bags at her school two years running. A number of you - you know who you are - in Fredericton, Winnipeg, Kelowna, and other communities, sold them. Many of you bought them when I was teaching at your
 Guilds. And others of you gave straight donations. And this is the result. Unbelievable!
But more than the building itself is what goes on in the school. Here is this year's class photographed with Alice - twelve students, mostly 18 or 19, all of whom are just finishing up her one year training program. Four of the students were sponsored by Quilt Guilds in the lower mainland of BC, and on this visit we transported the sewing machines up to Rubingo, which will be presented to them on graduation. Thanks to Debbie Burwash and friends from Saskatchewan, we also had the great honor of presenting Alice with funds for 5 more sponsored students, all of whom will start in January, all of whom will receive a sewing machine upon graduation. Most of these girls only finished P7 in school
(no secondary school), but with this training, they are able to earn an income. The four who were sponsored were all orphans, who would have been destitute without this training. And each of these 12 will probably end up supporting another 10-12 people, as well as contributing to their communities. So quite an impact from this investment in the lives of these young women. No wonder they're looking so happy!
And in case you've forgotten where we started, here's Alice's old school, where students sat on the ground outside under the covered area, stitching their samples from heavy paper which came from cement bags. Alice hopes to increase her enrollment up to 20 students, with up to 9 boarders (3 are boarders right now), and I have no doubt she will accomplish this, and that her school will be known all around as best place to go to learn to sew.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Lydia, Kamidah and Justina - Their Stories

When this project first began, I told you some of the women's stories, and with their permission I am going to give you an update on each over the next few posts. First up is Lydia from Kikagate, the oldest member of the Bitengye Designers, and now 60. Quite elderly in a country where the life expectancy of a woman is 54. She had such difficulty learning to use a treadle sewing machine that a couple of years ago we taught her how to make beaded bracelets as an alternative, and now she's a happy camper. She's also delighted to have a new pair of specs - there was only one glass in her old pair when she arrived here from 40 kilometers away, having ridden side-saddle on a boda-boda (a motorcycle) in order to get here. She has four grandchildren that she looks after on a daily basis, ranging in age from 5 to 12. One of her sons was sponsored by friends of the Kitambaa Sewing Project, and now works as a brick-layer, helping to support her and the rest of the family.
Here Kamidah is putting the finishing touches on an apron she's making (this is one of the top selling items the women make). Of her 12 children, only 4 are still at home and dependent on her. You may remember that early on she bought a plot of land with bananas and coffee growing on it in order to provide for her family. Well both were infested by a local bug of some sort, and never one to give up, she is now in the business of replanting the entire plot. She has also put up a small building on the plot, which is now the home of one of her children. Another of her sons was sponsored some years ago, and is now working as a carpenter. A second son is presently attending trade school. Her desire is to learn how to make school uniforms, to supplement her current income.
Justina lives in Rubingo, and was in a house that was almost falling down when we first met her. When she first started earning an income from her sewing, she bought a boda-boda for one of her sons. He earned enough from this to buy a plot of land, together with the proceeds from the sale of the boda. She built herself a new house on this plot, from which she operates a small shop, selling bananas, cakes and sewing, and also used clothing. Her son pictured here with her, was sponsored in brick-laying and given a tool kit to start him off. He has been successful in his work, and has now sponsored one of his brothers to get the same training. Justina has also made loans of some of her earnings, charging interest, which also earned her some of the money to buy the land.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Recheal Arrives at Canada House

What a happy day it was at Canada House yesterday, seeing Recheal walking across the grass, a full day earlier than we were expecting to see any of the women from the Bitengye Designers! She had to come to Mbarara on other business, and wondered if she could meet with us. Of course! It was just great to hear about the Clinic in Kikagate, which had its official opening last week. Furniture has been made for the reception area, supplies and medicines have been purchased, and patients have already started to come. She's had to partition the rooms so that she has enough. Three rooms have been made into six, as she allows for reception, counselling and maternity, lab, dispensary, examination room and office/storage. One of our tasks during this visit is to work with Recheal to develop an operational plan for the next five years. Yikes! Licensing will come first, and hiring of the bare bones but necessary staff, then training in record and book-keeping and that's only the beginning. There will be liaising with Healthy Child Uganda, and TASO (The AIDS Service Organization), and Kabyenda Hospital. But we're off to a good start, and look forward to It's so good to spend time face to face with Recheal, and to be able to ask her the questions that need answering, and for her to have the chance to explain to her vision for the Clinic.
(This post should have been on the blog earlier this week, but got lost in the drafts file. My apologies.)

What an Amazing Week!

Here Trudy and I are with the Bitengye Designers (minus Tumushabe, who was unable to join us due to illness, and Recheal, who is now giving herself entirely to her new Clinic), outside Canada House at the end of what has been an incredible week. We came here feeling apprehensive, knowing that we were going to have to tell them that this was our last workshop and last visit, but ended our time hopeful that this amazing group of women is going to go forward into the future using their skills and their sewing machines to provide for their families. We spent time talking about the importance of good quality, and about how small businesses work, and about different possibilities that exist for them here in Uganda. We've linked them with an organization that has an annual Trade Fair and another that links rural craft co-ops with tourist camps. We've put forward the idea of them making school uniforms and book bags and sanitary napkins for local schools, and how these might be marketed. And we've left them with enough funds to open co-op bank accounts in the three areas in which they live. But it's their determination and courage which gives us the biggest hope for their success. They are committed to one another, and Alice is committed to carrying on as their Coordinator. And so what could have been a very sad occasion has actually been incredibly encouraging. We have missed having Joan with us, who couldn't travel this year for health reasons, but know she's with us in sprit. And all of us look forward to hearing how the women fare in the months and years to come now that we've set up a new means of communication. Thank you, thank you to all of you who have supported us over the years. I will try to bring you up to date on individual stories over the next couple of weeks we're in the country, and to post photos of the Sewing School and the Kikagate Clinic when we visit them next week. The Bitengye Designers asked us to send a big thank you for them too. You have been part of "lifting them up" (as they would put it), and they will remember your kindness to them always.   

Saturday, October 24, 2015

First Days in Uganda

Trudy and I arrived safely in Entebbe on Thursday night, and have spent the last couple of days in Kampala the capital of Uganda. We've arrived in the rainy season, which doesn't mean steady rain, like we get on the west coast, but instead the morning sunshine  steadily builds up to a sky filled with dark grey clouds, which finally can't hold any more water, and open up with a heavy, hard, but warm rain, which is often over within an hour or two. The bougainvillea in extravagant colours climb up the walls and birdsong in the morning and cicadas in the evening fill the air with smells and sounds that are at once familiar and foreign. Adonai House, where we're staying, provides the perfect touchstone for us before heading out to Mbarara.

Our main business here in Kampala was to check out the craft markets - in three main locations - to see what's being produced here and what gaps might be filled by the crafts made by the Bitengye Designers. We have made a good friend and contact in Resty, who is the Manager of the National Crafts Organization, and who is already selling their work, and asking for more - "Please send me everything they make." Good news to pass on to the women when we see them. The one drawback of this opportunity is that the women don't get paid for their work until it sells. They have become used to us paying them up front for what they make. But it is still a means for them to sell their work.
Today we head up to Mbarara, where we will meet up with Alice and all the other women. It's a five hour drive, with a mandatory stop at the equator, but it will feel good to settle into Canada House again, and to get ready for the workshop with the women. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Visit to the Bitengye Designers

Alice and the Bitengye Designers have been on my mind for a long time, and thankfully, today, Trudy Thorne and I will be starting our journey back to Uganda to see them again. (Sadly, Joan, who has been there for every previous visit is not able to travel with us this time. I will miss her, and am sure the Bitengye Designers will too.) You may remember that I was meant to go last October, but ended up in hospital instead, so it is a gift to be able to go now.

We will all be meeting at Canada House once more, where we'll review some of the products they have been making, and present possible ways for them to go forward on their own. Because this will be the last visit - bittersweet, indeed - for a variety of reasons. I have very mixed feelings about this, but have known all along that the time would come for the Bitengye women to "fly on their own", and this seems to be the right time.

We have a couple of Ugandan contacts to make on their behalf, and another Canadian who is working in Uganda and interested in purchasing some of their goods, so one of our goals is to further these relationships while we're there. I had hoped that we might link them with the Stephen Lewis Foundation, but when I looked into it, they are supporting larger, umbrella organizations, not small groups like ours.

Thank you once again to all of you have supported this group of women over the years. It is thanks to you that we're able to hold this workshop, and set them up with the equipment and supplies they'll need to carry on. Also thanks to you that Alice's Sewing School is operational, and that Recheal's Clinic for her village of Kikagate is now built. Visits to both of these will be highlights of our trip. I'll be posting photos and news here during our time in Uganda when I'm able to, and hope you'll be able to enjoy these, and so feel a part of the journey. Hugs to all of you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Special Quilt for a Special Baby

Earlier this year we received the exciting news that our daughter Emily and her husband Michael, who live in New Zealand, are expecting their first baby. So of course Emily and I needed to talk about what sort of quilt he or she might like. At first it was to be a quilt of sea otters - very cute, but a bit limiting in colours. Then it was to be a quilt containing all sorts of wildlife - sea stars ("Could they be puffy please?") and jelly fish ("It would be great if they had dangly bits hanging from them!") and sand dollars. Just when I was beginning to wonder how exactly I was going to pull this off, a quilt with orqa whales was suggested. Yay!!! Here was something I could work with. 

I began with a graphic I found online. I wrote to the artist - a young woman from Seattle - and asked for her permission to use it, which she graciously gave me. Then I simplified the design, enlarged it to the size I wanted, and used it as the basis for the centre panel. I wanted to make something that this wee babe would use - could spit up on and poop on and be cuddled up in, with the quilt being thrown into the wash whenever necessary. Nothing too precious. So the lines are simple and the fabrics are few. I was already well into the appliqué when we learned that it's our first grandson who will be making his way into the world in December. Not that one has to use blues only for boys, but I felt happy that these colours would be fitting for a boy.

I had some pretty complicated ideas for how to surround the centre panel, but kept reminding myself to keep it simple. Two inch squares in a variety of blues and sea greens seemed fitting. And to finish it off I added a darker blue border. I feel pretty happy with it, and most importantly, it will be ready to take to New Zealand when we return there in December, in time for the birth we hope, and so that we can help out in the first few weeks.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Wonder of Trees

It's a wonderful thing when one is able to show one's work in a public place, and I am so thankful to Heidi at Sweet Surprise for giving me this opportunity to show a few of my recent works, all inspired by my wonder of trees, in her shop. I think the first time I heard of textile art being hung in a public, working space, was in the Esprit offices in San Francisco. They believed that their employers were happiest and worked best when in an atmosphere that included art. Heidi echoes this belief, and I am one of several people who has benefitted from her generosity. In this case, her customers as well as her staff have the opportunity to enjoy these textile creations while consuming a cup of coffee or tea and one of her yummy gluten-free desserts. 

So thank you to Heidi, and to all those wonderful people that offer people like me the chance to have their creations seen, and hopefully enjoyed, in our community. The exhibit of 10 works will be on display until the end of October. All works are for sale.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Winter Garden

A Winter Garden - 18" X 60"
Sometime ago, I wrote about a piece I was working on as entry for the Surface Design Association exhibit entitled "Garden Tapestry". I am now pleased to be able to tell you that "A Winter Garden" was juried into this show, which will be at the Portals Gallery in Duncan from October 22nd to November 10th. I am so looking forward to seeing the other pieces made specifically for this. As for my own piece, it began with a collection of hand-dyed and commercial indigo fabrics that I've collected over the years, and the thought of the gorgeous bouquets of tulips that appear for sale in late January or early February, a reminder that the rains will not continue forever. The exquisite colours of these flowers - outrageous, really - lift my heart and give me hope. I often bring some home with me on the dark, short days of late winter, and wanted to celebrate them in this work. You will likely notice the quilting, done with hand-dyed pearl cottons from Colour Complements. This way of working is becoming more and more prevalent of late. There's just something about sitting down and connecting with the cloth through hand stitching that can't be accomplished with machine work.

A Winter Garden - detail

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Summer of Outdoor Living

Setting off in our kayaks from Spring Island

View from our tent on Spring Island

This summer has been a summer of outdoor living, of breathing in the good, sweet, fresh sea air of Canada's west coast. Sometimes camping, sometimes kayaking, sometimes staying by a fresh water lake. Free of the responsibilities of running a business and preparing for new quilting classes, I have been able to enjoy all of this in a way I haven't been free to in years. And it is so good for the soul, for health, for re-kindling a sense of joy in our world. I have done very little stitching this summer, apart from new leaves on my "traveller's blanket", and finishing my entry for "Garden Tapestry", a juried show of work made by members of the Surface Design Association of Vancouver Island. (Happily it was juried in, and will debut in a Duncan gallery in October.) But I sense it's been a time of refreshment for me, and know that the creative life and stitching is somehow linked to this time spent moving slowly, noticing the small things as well as the enormity of God's creation, and that come the fall, I will be in just the right space to get back to work. I'm so very thankful.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fibre Art Voices

I consider myself fortunate in belonging to a local group of fibre artists known as Fibre Art Voices. We are fairly diverse in our backgrounds and in the ways we like to work, but we come together regularly to share what we've learned, to experiment with new techniques, and to challenge ourselves in our creative endeavours. We have just put together an exhibit called "Oceans", and are now applying to various venues in order that the public can see what we're up to. Each of us created one large piece and two or more supporting pieces, and here are a couple of photos of them on display in the context of the recent mid-Island garden show. (Thanks to Marcy's parents for inviting us to hang them in their Ladysmith garden house!) The benefits of being part of a small group like this are enormous - lots of encouragement, opportunities for critique, challenges as to "what if . . .?", and the camaraderie of like-minded friends. Oh yes, and good food and drink shared along with lots of stories and laughter.

Yesterday we had an indigo dyeing day in the backyard of one of our members. Hands-on help, the ability to ask pertinent questions, and the sharing of resources resulted in some wonderful indigo pieces being created. The magic of watching a green piece of fabric gradually change to indigo as it's exposed to the air always amazes. And experiments with tie-dyeing, folding and clamping, scrunching pole-wrapping yielded such a variety of results. The challenge now will be incorporating some of these gems into the pieces we make. Hey, maybe that should be our next group challenge? A collection of work based on our indigo fabrics . . .
Margaret with a piece of fabric freshly dipped in the indigo vat.

Some of the first pieces made. In no time at all the washing line was full.

So then we spread the pieces on the grass.

June preparing a piece of shibori.

Marcy looks on as June and Margaret work their magic.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Collecting of Treasures

I have been thinking a lot lately about why we collect things. I have been an intrepid collector for most of my life - gathering bits of beach or forest, or artifacts from travelling, not to mention textiles, wherever I go. I have stones from all sorts of places - mostly rounded, weathered stones - in bowls and little piles all over my house. And sticks and leaves from trees, and beads and carved bone from Africa. And I'm wondering why they're so important to me. I think it has something to do with remembering, and about guarding against the loss of that memory. But also something to do with touching and holding what I experience, thus making it a part of me. Below are a few photos of recent gatherings:

Often the things we want to hold onto cannot be kept - like the seaweed in the middle picture. This "collection" is one that occurred naturally, in this case the assortment washed up on a nearby shore after a week of high winds. A photo is all that can be retained, which is a "keeping" of a different sort, but still serves as an aid to remembering. Recently I have been looking at ways to incorporate some of these found objects and treasures into my work. The small African pieces I've previously shown you are examples of this. The two small works I made as companion pieces to "Swiftsure" are attempts to do the same thing. In these I used the strip pieced sea and beach as a background for a piece of dark green silk, and then mounted shells and a piece of driftwood on these. I like the juxtaposition of the finish of the fabric and the rawness of the objects. I called them "Beach Treasures".

Each measures only 12" X 12". They're mounted on a painted canvas, to aid in hanging them on the wall. I have a feeling there will be more of these in days and weeks to come.