Tuesday, July 28, 2009

the BIG move

July 28th
Written by Lori Acton, Fount of Mercy's International Development Director

It’s about a week into the big move to Uganda (I moved to Uganda to work for Fount of Mercy full time in country) and so far it still feels like a short visit. This is mostly because my time is spent with short-term volunteers. The transition is beginning to happen though – I saw my new apartment, started shopping for a refrigerator and checked out my internet options. The best part – reconnecting with people I’ve met from years past and meeting even more people that live in Uganda. I am really looking forward to developing friendships and getting involved with the community here. I am so grateful to be here, and I am looking forward to the adventure in store for me!

One Phone Call

July 22nd, 2009
Written by Michelle Averna, Executive Director of Fount of Mercy

During our first strategic planning meetings with TAOST's head teacher Francis, we quickly learned that one of the greatest hurdles TAOST Academy has struggled against in their attempt to offer quality education for the orphans in their community is curriculum. Over the last three years the Ministry of Education in Uganda has released new curriculum for primary 1, 2, and 3. Each year a new level of curriculum is released. Eventually all 7 primary levels will have a standardized curriculum. Each curriculum has three parts, the curriculum (what to teach and when basied around themes), a teachers resource guide and a teachers guide book.

When we asked Francis which parts of the curriculum he has, he produced two pieces out of the nine he should have. When I asked him if he and his teachers had been trained to teach around a theme (new Ugandan standard), he said no. Six out of seven of his teachers are new teachers.

One phone call later and we had the Ministry of Education's Teacher Training Center (TTC) Director in Francis's office and for only $25 we were able to purchase the remaining seven pieces of curriculum that TAOST needs to be teaching their students alongside the Ugandan standard.

The icing on the cake: The TTC director invited Francis to a future workshop that he will be conducting and sat with us dreaming up ways that Fount of Mercy can work with his department to offer professional development for teachers all over Jinja. Literally at one point he said, "I could easily have over 180 teachers available for one of your workshops." So exciting.

Next step is to prepare Francis and his teachers in using their new resources. Suddenly it feels like we don't have enough time :)

Working with the new Head Teacher

July 21st, 2009
Written by Michelle Averna, Executive Director of Fount of Mercy

Today Bobbie and I meet with The AIDS Orphan Support Trust's (TAOST) head teacher Francis.

In the last year TAOST has made some incredible strides towards achieving their vision for their education program. One specific step in this direction was hiring a qualified head teacher. TAOST, as with most of the organizations we work with, target the most at risk children in their community. Since the children they work with can not afford education, TAOST does not charge school fees. This means that the school does not have an income and therefore is not able to pay their teachers. Since they are not able to pay their teachers it is very hard to attract qualified teachers. Francis is qualified and therefore is a valuable assets to TAOST Academy.

I have worked with Francis before in previous professional development workshops and found him to be incredibly driven, focused, professional and experienced. When I heard that TAOST had promoted him to be the head teacher of the TAOST Academy I was instantly behind the decision.

Meeting with him today only confirmed that thought in my mind.

Bobbie and I spent a lot of time today listening to Francis's vision for TAOST Academy, his understanding of his role as head teacher, the challenges he faces and how he would like us to specifically help him grow into his new role.

Over the next two weeks Bobbie and I will be meeting with Francis every morning to help him create a work plan to direct his teachers and lead TAOST Academy into "a competitive school." In the afternoons, alongside Francis, we will be leading workshops for TAOST's seven teachers on 'Child Centered Teaching' and Uganda's curriculum.

I am looking forward to the collaboration!!

White water rafting for those not ready to FALL IN

July 25th, 2009
Written by Michelle Averna, Executive Director of Fount of Mercy

I have been traveling to Uganda for awhile now. Every summer many of our volunteers choose to go white water rafting up the Nile. With out fail there are always a few volunteers who after watching the rafting video choose to sit out of the activity. Who can blame them with 12 rapids, 8 of them being grade 5!! Some of you reading this blog have rafted the Nile braving the grade five current. Many of you have said "That was fun, but I'll never do it again!" Well for the past three years I have sat out. I like to think I have a health fear of the rapids.

Well this year the company we raft with added a grade three rafting trip! The goal of the trip is to experience the Nile and the rapids but at a comfortable pace (and without the fear of death...ha.

So three of us signed up and had a blast. I'll share two highlights:
1. Often in between the rapids there are long stretches of water. Instead of staying in the rafts, all of us jumped into the river (with life vests on) and let the current float us down (or is it up) the river. Since we were wearing life vest we were able to lay back, look up into the clouds and just let the current take us along. Truly relaxing and breathtaking.

2. For our last rapid our raft was feeling particularly brave so we asked our guide to take us through a grade four. He agreed, we prepared and through one wave we went. Success, we all stayed in. Wave two hit and we all fell out. Wave three and we all survived!! I am so glad I was able to experience falling out or into the river. But honestly once was enough!


July 20th, 2009
Written by Michelle Averna, Executive Director of Fount of Mercy

So I know its not life shattering.... but we have wifi in our hotel!! I am so excited to have internet access. Not only has it make keeping in touch with loved ones so much easier it has helped me run Fount of Mercy's office while in Uganda.

Just one more reason to volunteer in Uganda!


July 19th, 2009
Written by Tara Hawks, Director of Sewing Hope (a Fount of Mercy program)

This is Aisha, one of our MOHM women who is simply lovely. She has a quiet and sweet spirit, and a surprising ambition. Although I have met her in the past, this year was the first time I was able to sit down with her and learn more about her life. The basics are that she has a household of 11, which she supports on her own because her husband cannot work due to illness.

She took an idea of Sarah's (MOHMS Vocational Tailoring Director) and has run with it, turning it into a little business for herself. Basically, she can go to the market and purchase a blouse for 500ugs, around 25 cents in our money. She takes it home, and cuts the sleeves off, takes it in to be more fitted, puts elastic in the waist, opens the neckline using the sleeves as a facing, and can resell it for 1000ugs, doubling her money. As long as the blouse is 30" long, it can be a dress, or she can use the sleeves or a bedsheet to lengthen it also. These are popular among young women or teenagers in the villages. It is a creative and cost-effective way to make a new product, one which most of Sarah's students never latched onto. But Aisha has. It is so satisfying to see that after 2 years of classes, virtually all of the women are using their skills to make money! Aisha is only one example.

The Labirynth

July 26th, 2009
Written by Tara Hawks, Director of Sewing Hope (a Fount of Mercy program)

One surprise highlight of the day was entering Jinja's central market for the first time today. Basically, it is a labirynth of booths in the middle of Jinja, surrounded by a wall. It can be a little scary. But, assured that we could find knitting needles inside, we bravely entered like we had done it a million times. Unfortunately, the first section we came to was the butchery/meat section. I averted my eyes from the tables of guts several times until we came upon shoes...a section I was MUCH more comfortable in. After asking several times where to go and wandering a bit, we found a woman, who low-and-behold, was actually knitting!!!!!! We begged her to tell us where she got her needles and she said that we can't get them here....she had made hers out of a coat hanger! ha! She was really cool....after leaving her and deciding maybe we can find something else that will work for us, we stumbled upon the spice section....my favorite. That was such a cool place with bags and bags of great smelling curry's, all types of beans, some barks and rock salt, etc....so cool. We then went to the paper section and bought some cement papers to make more patterns for our class tomorrow, and eventually made it out the gate. So cool....it actually brought my spirits up quite a bit after such a draining day.

Being able to find the things you need in a new town and a different culture is one of the things that is most empowering to me. So, finding yarn and machine needles, combs, and pattern paper was really fun. It is a comfort.

Sewing Hope in Idoome

July 26th, 2009
Written by Tara Hawks, Director of Sewing Hope (a Fount of Mercy program)

Today was spent in Idoome, a village a little over an hour from Jinja. This was the first time I had ever been to work with the women there. I must admit it was a hard day. It just takes some time to become comfortable in a group, and for them to as well. And, not working with them before made us unaware of their skill level, so it requires some figuring out on how to teach things. Nonetheless, the women are lovely, and we were joined by several men who either are on the local council or have wives involved in the class. They added a great dimension, as the women giggled at their mistakes during English class, and as they taunted a man named Willy when he finished his fabric rosette and pinned it onto his shirt.

We returned to Jinja this afternoon knowing that we need to regroup for tomorrow and think carefully about how to plan for this group. In our meetings before coming to Africa, I said to my teams several times that the most important quality you need to have to come work with us in Africa is flexibility....and days like this are exactly why. Because we come for a few weeks in the summer, it is difficult to assess just what the women are learning and what level they are at....even knowing the needs of the class is difficult. So we tried a few things, had some success, but also need to change the way we do our classes a bit. I am confident that each day will get better and better. Not only because we'll get to know the women and they us, but also because Judy and Georgette are excellent teachers and will roll with whatever we face.


July 20th, 2009
Written by Tara Hawks, Director of Sewing Hope (a Fount of Mercy program)

Just a little blurb about the word MUZUNGU. As mentioned before, this is the term used for a white person here and you tend to hear it a lot....mostly by kids, but also by people wanting to get your attention. The most common phrases are really kind of cute, in a way, since they make a rhyme...kind of sing-songy:

"Muzungu, how are you?"
"Muzungu, I love you."

Geoffrey, the leader of TAOST, where we spent the day today, explained to us this afternoon that muzungu actually means, "Wanderer". This is because of when white people first came, they didn't actually know what they were doing and were said to be wandering around. ha!!

I wanted to tell a little anecdote from Georgette last week. It was on a day we spent at MOHM, when she was teaching a class about different seam finishings. Shannon had created these amazing little cloth books that have examples of different ways to finish seams nicely if you don't have an overlock machine, which these women do not. She showed a french seam (sorry to those who don't sew and don't know what this is) and Rehema clasped her hands and said, "Muzungu, THANK YOU!!!".

I think this is my favorite way of hearing muzungu said!

First Village Day

July 11th, 2009
Written by Tara Hawks, Director of Sewing Hope (a Fount of Mercy program)

Today was our first day spent in a village. We went to Wairaka to meet with the leadership of Message of Hope Ministries (MOHM). The day started with a boda (the local alternative for a taxi....jumping on the back of a moped) ride to meet Judy and Georgette. We headed into town and went to the taxi park, where we negotiated a matatu ride out to Wairaka. A matatu is the Ugandan version of a public transport system...basically a fifteen passenger volkswagen bus-type van into which they cram as many people, bags of maize, and chickens as possible. They stop all along their path, letting people off and picking people up.

When we got to Wairaka, we headed to Sarah's (MOHM's tailoring teacher) shop, where we met up with one of her older sons, Seth. We followed him to his mother's home, where we spent an hour or so, catching up, laughing, and drinking a hot poshu drink...much like drinking cream of wheat, actually. I had a great time!!! They have truly become like family to me.

We then headed across the main road to Isaac and Irene's home to officially have our meeting. They welcomed us warmly, and as we waited for Isaac to run an errand (this is called "African time"...things happen when they happen...they cannot be rushed), we got a lesson from Irene and Sarah about how the traditional "gomas" is worn. A gomas is the traditional dress for respectable women...it is definitely a ceremonial dress, and expected to be worn at funeral, weddings, etc., but is also a day-dress for many women. They start wearing it when they "are grown", as Irene put it...or when they get married, really.
Judy volunteered and was a great sport as they dressed her first in the striped underskirt, then put the dress on and tied the sash. The real test came when they stepped back and said, "now it is your turn!" She was amazing and gave it a shot...only making a few mistakes, which they quickly corrected.

We had our meeting and discussed all aspects of the tailoring program and what our team will be doing while here, as well as this coming year and the future years. The exciting thing about MOHM is that one, they have the most amazing teacher, Sarah, who is very talented and driven, and two, they are the farthest along of our organizations, as far as the women's skills go. They spoke of Tausi, [who is quoted in our press kit, which you can find at www.sewinghope.net] and how she and 2 other ladies have taken their skills and begun to make children's dresses, selling them in local villages. This has been our hope for them, and it is gratifying to see that they have already began.

We ate a local meal with them, and then headed back to Sarah's shop. On the way, Sarah stopped and introduced us to Beatrice, who was a previous student of Sarah's, who now works in a small shop where one can buy what this muzungu (word for white person) believes is a weave. ha! Anyway, she was sitting there hand-embroidering some small table linens with beautiful flowers.
It has been an exhausting, but gratifying day. It is so good to reconnect with everyone here and see their progress and be reminded of their needs. We have a day off tomorrow to rest, then will begin our seminars with MOHM on Monday. Until then....

Sewing Hope and ORM

July 10th, 2009
Written by Tara Hawks, Director of Sewing Hope (a Fount of Mercy program)

Yesterday, I had my first official meeting with the leadership of one of our organizations, the Orphans Rescue Mission (ORM). ORM has been working with Fount from the beginning and although Sewing Hope was able to provide them with 3 sewing machines last year, this will be the first summer to teach seminars. The meeting began with Yusto, the director, and his wife Joy. Then, we were later joined by the tailoring teacher, Patience, and Yusto's oldest son, Andrew.

Here is the Mission Statement for the proposal they sent to us, asking for support of their sewing program: Our mission is to equip ORM Children with skills and later, upon satisfactory process of rehabilitation and restoration, re-integrate them in our communities when they are already self-supportive and decent people.

The exciting thing about ORM is that they are not only working with adult women of the community who need a way to support their families, but also with older, teen-aged orphans who will soon be expected to support themselves entirely...age 15. Their hope is to help provide tangible life-skills, sewing and tailoring being a huge part of that, but also including skills such as baking and cleaning.

As exciting as their program is, and as dynamic as their director is, they still have a long way to get to their goals. One of the biggest goals for the immediate future is to secure a contract with a local school to make school uniforms. The school has 700 children, so this size business would be amazing for their program! But, before they can pursue a contract, Sewing Hope has started to help them be sure that they can actually sustain and follow-through with filling such a large order.

Our 5+ hour meeting consisted of not only my first truly local meal since being back in Uganda, but of meeting and creating a salary agreement for their new teacher, Patience. She will be graduating from a Kampala-based vocational school, the YWCA funny enough, at the end of August, and has agreed to teach for a full year at ORM, sharing her knowledge and skills with the women and teenagers there. Securing a consistent and qualified teacher has been a struggle up till now, and is the first step in getting ORM in a position to move forward with the rest. This program is young, but full of energy, and dynamic.... and has tons of hope to accomplish their goals! There is no doubt that given enough time and resources ORM is going to succeed. My team will be back in 3 weeks to lead our seminars. Can't wait!!!

Good to be Back

July 19th, 2009
Written By Michelle Averna, Executive Director of Fount of Mercy

It is so good to be back in Uganda!! Each year becomes more familiar and we feel more and more at home. This summer marks our fourth summer working in Uganda and our third summer leading teams. Many of you following our blog have volunteered with us before in the past. Believe me the people you met and the children you played with have not forgotten about you! Already we have been asked to tell you HELLO!

We are expecting this summer to be very exciting and busy. With over 27 volunteers traveling to Uganda to work with us this summer we have our hands full. We are so blessed by the amazing individuals working with us and we look forward to seeing the ways they use their unique skill sets to meet the needs of indigenious organizations caring for oprhans, vulberable children and their caregivers.

So what do we have planned this summer? Great question!

Working with Fount of Mercy's Sewing Hope program five of our volunteers are prepared to teach vocational tailoring classes in Iganga, Wiraka, Mafubira, Idoome and Makindye. The men and women that will be attending these classes meet regularly during the year learning how to sew. The intent is to learn a skill that they can generate income from. Sewing Hope's volunteers will be offering classes that build upon the participants current skill sets and that introduce new designs, patterns and techniques.

Working with Fount of Mercy's Educational Development program eight of our volunteers will be working with teachers, head teachers and principals from Message of Hope Ministries (MOHM) and The AIDS Orphan Support Trust (TAOST) in Iganga and Mafubira. Through strategic development, goal planning and curriculum development Fount of Mercy's Educational Development volunteers hope to help both organizations take huge steps towards their goal of offering quality education for the orphans and vulnerable children in their communities. Where the mornings will be busy consulting with head teachers and administration the afternoons will be spent observing classrooms and offering professional development workshops for the teachers covering the following topics: lesson planning, teaching to the Ugandan Ministry of Education's Standards, child-centered teaching, learning styles, counseling 101, special need inclusion and strategies for teaching math and science.

We are so honored to have First Baptist Archer City with us again in Uganda this summer! First Baptist Archer City has been connected to Fount of Mercy for the past four years!! This summer marks their third summer in Uganda working with Fount of Mercy and Orphans Rescue Ministries (ORM). For the past three years First Baptist Archer City has partnered with Fount in supporting ORM's vocational training, after school and feeding programs. Each year all are amazed at the progress ORM has made in developing their programs and reaching their community. We are all looking forward to seeing the bright smiles of ORM.

Working with Fount of Mercy's International Development Director, Lori Acton, are three amazing individuals. Together this team of four are planning on researching and documenting the work of ORM, MOHM and TAOST. Together, Lori and Melissa will focus specifically on these organizations accounting systems and will offer one on one consultation and advice. Sarah and Bonnie will be meeting and interviewing key individuals that benefit from MOHM, TAOST and ORM's work. The goal is to create solid pieces that represent the need and the positive affect of help. More to come...

In the spirit of empowering and encouraging local leadership in the community, four of our volunteers (with leadership background) will be hosting, in partnership with MOHM, a two day leadership conference. We are planning on receiving anywhere from 100-250 local NGO directors and pastors. WOW!

Building on a previous drawing classed lead by Mari in 2007, Wendy, Micheal and Karmen (traveling from Wichita Falls) will be working with MOHM's vocational tailoring group. Using sketch pads and drawing pencils, the team is prepared to teach 'drawing to scale'. The idea is that learning how to draw to scale will equip these men and women with the tools they need to put their unique style to paper.

And of course whenever we are not working on these specific duties we will all be playing with the children. In the end all of our work is for them !!

We invite you to follow our blog and enjoy the journey with us.