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.