21 February 2011

a different way of working...

So, now that I am here for a year, my time here has taken a VERY different form.  Usually, in the summers, the time is a few weeks, super-intense, and very temporal...meaning we eat out everynight, we live in temporary places, etc.  Adjusting to real-life here is taking some time.  It means I must learn to cook, to clean, where to get things here, and how to manage my time when it is no longer jam-packed teaching action every second.  Now, it is alot of keeping up with emails, researching grants and networking possibilities, and thinking through future plans for my program. 

It is the less-sexy side of what we do.  Sure, it's cool that I am in Africa...but, when the day-to-day activities involve sitting at a computer most of the day, there is not alot to talk about...or at least that YOU'D want to hear about.   But, that will be my challenge...to keep you riveted to our stories and our work and our women...because life is full of the non-sexy too....in fact, that is what MOST of life is....the non-sexy.

Stay with us over the next few weeks, as we have some cool things coming your way...and we need you even more when it is not sexy and glamorous!!!

20 February 2011

Back in Uganda....and MARRIED!

This is my new family.  Grace, is my husband.  Edith is my boisterous 11-yr old daughter, and Timothy is my surprisingly sly 11-yr old son.  Just to eliminate confusion (kind of), Edith and Tim are not biologically related, but they've grown up together since age 2, when Grace and his late-wife (Edith's biological parents) took Tim into their home.  Edith introduces Timothy as her "twin". ha!

So, to jump right into things, since that is how I do things, apparently...ha!, the basic story is that I left Uganda at the end of August with a ring on my finger, and a plan.  I visited my family to get them on board with my marriage to a man they hadn't met, and to get their help in planning a cross-cultural wedding.  I then returned to NYC to move out of my apartment in 2 weeks, move in with a neighbor, start working, and prepare for life, work, and a wedding in Uganda.  The fall seemed at times to fly by as I worked 12-14 hour days, but also seemed to crawl as I was away from my man.  Torture.

Thankfully, talks about me working for Fount had already started and Michelle and I realized that I either could work part-time in NY for 4-5months, or about 8-9months full-time in Uganda.  So, with some of my time being spent fundraising and grant writing, I should be able to help find the funding to keep me here a year.  It became clear that my personal goals were lining up with the ideas and goals I had developed during the summer with my teams.  We had finally found a pattern that was much more efficient and productive, and I was/am anxious to fully develop it.

So, I came back to Uganda in December, and spent the first few weeks planning the wedding, attempting to move into our home, and preparing for my family's time here.  It was a crazy, but fulfilling time.  My family came in the week before the wedding, and then went on safari while we went on our honeymoon.  It was an amazing time, and you can read more details on my personal blog, which is in the works...TBA. 

We returned from our honeymoon, and jumped right into leading a team of 6 from the US, who came to work for Fount.  They led a skills camp for some of our disabled students....sports, jewelry and embroidery, and photography seminars.  It was a fun, but exhausting 6 days!!!

Once they left, we finally began to fully move into our apartment as a new family, but quickly began to prepare for Edith and Timothy to return to their boarding schools.  They left, and I have been working on getting my groove work-wise ever since!

I think I can be honest and say that this much change in such a short amount of time is taking quite an adjustment.   You can read more details of this process on my other blog, but this one will remain exclusively committed to talking about Fount's Vocation work.

I am excited to be able to spend a full year here in Uganda.  I have large goals for my time here and look forward to seeing them accomplished one at a time....and, that is what you'll hear about as you follow along. Welcome back...thanks for reading!

02 August 2010

Peter's Poem

This poem was written last week by one of our AMAZING translators, and our friend, Waiswa Peter. You can look back and see him in other posts, as he has been working with us for 3 years now. He recently came to me and expressed how valuable he thinks this summer's work has been, as we are finally "touching the places that can bring income". I agree. Here are his words...

Sewing Hope, Sewing Hope
By: Waiswa Peter, July 2010

Hum! Hum! Hum!
Goes the over worked sewing machine
With millions gazing zealously
The ambition to learn for a better tomorrow.
Though crippled by the roaring poverty levels,
But seeing uncountable rays of light after learning,
The African woman has been empowered
And can't let this chance go unnoticed.
Sewing Hope is sowing a ray of light.
You are sowing on no bare rocks
All seed owners in New York and
The United States around,
Ugandan widows and single mothers
Have felt your love pinch.
Income complications have been battled down
With new sewing skills flown in
Summer after summer.
Behind every strong man is a strong woman.
So, with a silent core voice
The African man sings Holla! Holla!
For the great Sewing Hope friends.

01 August 2010

Boda mis-hap....

So, I hesitate to blog about this because I have so many family members who read my blog, but I wanted to give a "dose of reality" in this post and tell about my first, and hopefully last, boda mis-hap.

Yes, that's right, my boda went down on Saturday. First, I will say that I only have 2 large bruises from the incident....nothing more. I think my embarrassment was worse than the actual fall.

We were [slowly] going over a mound of dirt when a car slowly crossed in front of us. My driver could not figure out whether to go in front or in back of the car. We were barely moving at this point, and he lost his balance to the right, over-corrected to the left, and the bike went down. Since I was riding like a lady, side-saddle, I fell backwards, landing thankfully, on my backpack. Don't worry, my computer survived the fall too.

The most shocking part of the incident was that amongst all the spectators, no one came to help me up. I got up, dirty and shaken, to the tune of about 6 men yelling "Sorry!" "Sorry!" "Sorry!". Anyone who has spent time here will tell you that it is common for people to say simply "Sorry" to you when something has happened, like you trip, spill something, or such. It was so annoying to hear that from the sidewalks without a single person coming to help.

I have since learned that it might be because it is so common for looting to happen after accidents (talk about kicking someone when they are down), that no one wanted to be accused of attempting to loot, so they stayed away. I guess that makes me feel better.

I politely declined the offer of one man to help me clean off....ha!...and proceeded to walk the rest of the way to the shop.

The most ironic part of the story is that Lori, Vanessa, and I had talked literally the night before about how we feel that it is inevitable that at some point in time one must go down in a boda. So, this was my turn, and now I never have to experience that again. Dad, does that make you feel better?

17 July 2010

Teacher Training 1, July 14-16

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week were spent in our office space on Main Street in Jinja. We invited 5 HODASSU teachers and Sarah from MOHM to attend an 8-day course. We ended up with 9 HODASSU teachers and Sarah attending....and, this is after me turning down 3 other requests from strangers to join our class...ha!! Even though our classroom is behind a store and could not be more hidden, they still seem to find us.

After much frustration and hounding of the man we bought the sewing machines from, 3 shiny new machines came with tables. We set them up with minimal stress, and over several days gathered the materials we would need for our first classes.

One of the biggest needs for our groups is quality control and a refining of skills. All of these students have a strong basic knowledge of the machine and basic construction of garments. But, their sewing is often sloppy, or just quickly done. So, in pursuit of setting their work apart, we are having them complete a man's shirt from start to finish, with each step being focused on in detail.

We had them create a bag during the first day, as another way to assess their skill levels...how they grasped the concepts and instructions....how familiar they were with the machine...how confident they are. It sounds simple, but this was a new thing for us to do, and it proved EXTREMELY valuable. Taking that time made all the difference in grouping our women and focusing on what they need.

Emma and Sarah moved directly into the shirt, learning to pattern from an existing shirt, and how to change details into new styles.

The rest of the women were so pumped and motivated by completing their initial bags so quickly.

Thursday and Friday were spent teaching them to also pattern shirts from existing shirts, pretending a customer came in to ask them to copy their own. It has been tedious, but extremely valuable to go through each step of the process. we have started cutting the shirts out and by the end of the week will have 8 shirts created. Our 6 hour long classes leave us all wiped out, as we are not only dealing with heat and a small space, but also with figuring things out on the fly....focusing individual attention on each student's needs, including a deaf woman named Victoria whom we must write out all instructions to.

Showing their curves...Tuesday July 13

Today was spent at the lively women's group in Bulabandi. Those of you familiar with our work over the past 3 years will have heard me speak of these women and their energy, dedication, and progress. They have been working hard to use the capital we gave them last summer, and have also sent 4 of their members to Jinja for embroidery classes each week. I continue to be so proud of their work.

We decided to do a project that no one on our team had ever tried before, but had heard about....HOME-MADE DRESS FORMS! Last summer, we had taught our women about using western-style patterns to cut dresses, so our hope is that these can help them be more creative with their designs, as well as adapt existing dresses and skirts into new styles by changing necklines, adding trims, taking it in, etc. We spoke to them about choosing one close to their customer's size and being sure that the garment will fit. Also, someday these women hope to have a shop in town, so dress forms could be used to display items for sale as well.

We had them choose 3 women of different sizes. In short, the process consisted of wrapping these women in saran wrap, then duct tape, and then stuffing it around a wooden stand we had built for this purpose. It was a really funny time, as the women made comments about eachother's hips, and watched a replica of their friends come to life before their eyes. Once I get some photos, I will post the process here for you to see.

Not only was in EXTREMELY satisfying to accomplish creating these forms, but I was happy to see how we came together as a team to problem-solve. There were many things we had to figure out on the fly, and in front of the women...and we did it. We ended up with 3 beautiful AND FUNCTIONAL dress forms. The only real critique was that the stands needed larger bases, as they kept being blown over by the wind.

Teacher Assessments, Monday July 12

This summer, Sewing Hope is focusing primarily on TEACHER TRAINING. As we continue to define and refine our work here in Uganda, I am being more and more convinced that focusing on teachers, and then expecting that they will teach their students, is the most efficient and valuable way to spend a few weeks in-country.

So, to that end, we started our first week of teacher training on monday. We spent the first day traveling around Jinja to visit the various locations where HODASSU does it's work. For those unfamiliar, HODASSU, is a new organization to Fount's work, and it focuses on vocational training for disabled children and adults. Their structure is different from our other organizations, in that they support individuals through partnering to help them pay rent, secure resources, and teach skills to blind and deaf children.

First we visited the shop where a man named Emma (short for Emmanuel) works. He does alterations and makes men's shirts, and women's dresses. He also teaches about 5 students from his modest shop and 2 machines. He always has a HUGE smile. We had him do the small exercises we brought to understand a little more about his skill level. We met his students and asked him a TON of questions.

We moved on to a local Vocational Training School called Tubalera. Here, we met a disabled woman named Jennifer who has been sewing for 20 years and currently has a full time position as their head sewing teacher. HODASSU has been supporting 2 disabled students to take classes here and she is an inspiration to them, as someone who has overcome a disability by using sewing skills.

Next we went next door to visit Erina, who lives with her children in a small room. Erina cannot walk upright, but rather uses her hands and feet to crawl around. She cares for her children using the hand-crank machine provided by HODASSU. She showed us an impress skirt and top she had made. Lori told me later that the first time she visited Erina in her home, she had given birth that very morning and was doing her wash when they arrived!!! and, I'm not talking with a machine...by hand and line-dried! ha! AMAZINGLY strong woman.

Our next stop was to visit a women's group. We walked into a chicken coop that had been cleared out for a make-shift meeting place. There were about 10 women sitting in a semi-circle with piles and piles of beads laying on the floor mats, along with many styles of hand-woven baskets. It was a beautiful sight...lots of color. We spent awhile speaking to them about the products they make and what they'd like to be doing. It is very clear that they are eager to learn, but they don't have access to a machine and must hire one (rent) from time to time.....theirs was destroyed in a fire last year. They have sent 4 women to our class.

Our final stop was at Walukuba primary school, just outside of Jinja Town. This is a wonderful school which has a group of deaf students living/studying there. Although Victoria, their teacher who is attending our classes, was not there, we had a fun time trying to sign with the children, learn some of their names, etc. The director of the program there, Flavia, is just lovely and so supportive of HODASSU's work in their school. Their hope is to be able to give their students some training so that they can leave school with a way to provide for themselves.

By the end of the day, my team had a better idea of who their students would be, what their challenges and limitations are, and what their skill level may be. We went home exhausted, but excited.