Monday, June 5, 2017

The Women of Uganda

Last Friday, my DH had a fund-raising event in aid of the Widows Garden Project that he's currently involved with. It was great. Lots of laughter, wonderful singing by the Panache Choir from Nanaimo, competitive bidding on the many silent auction items, and a sales of Bitengye crafts, along with a short presentation on the project. Which has lead to me thinking about the women we worked with in Uganda - through the Kitambaa Sewing Project, at Alice's school, and at Recheal's Clinic.
Lydia and Stella
 Anna in foreground, Kamidah, Knight and Alice in background
Alice working with the women at the cutting table
 Lydia and Dorothy beading
 Alice and I discussing pricing
The Bitengye Designers - October '15
Things have not been going so well for these ladies lately. Despite their best efforts, the school uniforms they had hoped to sell have not been sold, the order they thought they had received from an organization that purchases crafts for tourist agencies has fallen through, and the small orders of crafts I've been able to place with them are not enough to sustain them. The last photo I saw of the group showed discouraged faces, and I am not sure what to do. I can't travel to Uganda any more, for health reasons, but even if I could, I no longer have the opportunities to sell Bitengye items as I did before I retired from teaching. 
On a brighter note, the director of a retreat house in Nanaimo asked me at the fund-raiser, if I could send her photos of the items made by the Bitengye Designers. She is hopeful of being able to place a small order. And the Christmas craft fairs we attend in several local communities are another venue where we sell their goods. But the real problem is with a lack of knowledge of in-country marketing, and this is something I can't pursue. I am left with a feeling of having let these women down. I haven't forgotten them - I just don't know what to do to help.
I wonder if this is the natural way to feel at the conclusion of a project. In the development world, there is a great deal of emphasis on "sustainability". But in poor countries, how realistic is it to think, even after eight years of involvement, that something like the sewing project is sustainable? How do women sell the goods they make in an economy that is hand to mouth, where people purchase only the essentials?  I wish I knew the answers.


  1. Oh Pippa, I am so sorry that things are not going well for these wonderful women. It must be so disheartening for them. If I had expertise that I could bring to the table I surely would. At the very least I hope the skills that they have gained and the friendships that they have made will help to sustain them.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Dianne. It's true that they have skills (and sewing machines) that they didn't have previously. Perhaps as they realize that they really are on their own, that the "mazungu" who used to come is not coming back again, their resourcefulness and courage and skills will all come into play, and they'll find their way forward. This is my hope for them.