Friday, February 26, 2010

Embroidery Class

One of Sewing Hope's initiatives for this fall was to send 3 of our teacher to do additional training to improve their skills, eventually to pass on to their students. Well, I am happy to report that all 3 have completed the 3 months course. I went to visit them on Friday and see the results of their education.From Left: Toepista, an assistant teacher who actually was not part of the class, but in the picture because we love her. Mary (front) who everyone affectionately calls "old Mary". "Young Mary" is next (in white), then Sarah. And, in the lower right corner is Kanna, their teacher. These women not only learned alot, but were proud and happy to tell me how much they love eachother and now consider themselves family. They pulled out piles and piles of work they had completed. I could see the stages of improvement through the weeks they worked. See some before-and-after's of their work below. Here are pictures of the Marys with examples of their first day of class, and their final projects. Notice the difference in quality from the first to the last. I am very proud of their improvement, as they are. In Lusoga, the local language here, we would say, "Bulungi!", or "Beautiful!".

The Good and the Hard

The main focus of this blog is to show you Fount of Mercy's work as it happens here in Uganda. But, it is important to state that working here is challenging. I read often about how other organizations approach their work, looking for ideas and inspiration. There are many different approaches from doing temporary relief/individual gifts to setting up a western-structured and led program, and every thing in between. The way Fount has chosen to work is unique, as it’s vision is to empower indigenous organizations to run their own work the way they envision it, while providing support, resources, training, and guidance. What this means theoretically is that the organizations remain self-sustaining and will grow their capacity to flourish…and it will help the leadership to grow as leaders as well. What it means practically is that it can be difficult. It means that we have to get inside the cultural parameters and navigate difficult areas where Western ideas conflict with African. It means communication is paramount and when it breaks down, problems occur. It means being disappointed when things move a lot slower than expected or things change direction. It means both sides building trust when things are difficult. And it means that hard decisions have to be made. It is just a fact of life, but will ensure that Fount is protected and remains true to its vision, and that the African organizations will be empowered rather than enabled.

Written by Tara Hawks, Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director

Care and Share

Care and Share is another one of our potential new organizations. I met them through a lady named Betty, whom I have known since I started traveling here 3 years ago. Her brother, Robert, runs C&S in the village where he grew up. They have a HUGE group of feisty women, whose energy is contagious. I went with Rini on Tuesday to visit them, see what is going on, and to ask about what direction they would like to go. I am excited about working with them because of the successes they have already had on a very small level in their group.

They have been running a successful program called the “Bread Basket”, in which they bake small cakes called “Queen cakes” and sell them locally. They have 4-6 women cook 2 days per week and then have a man who takes their cakes around to sell. Although I knew they were doing this, I had no idea just how much revenue it is actually bringing in. Once we crunched some numbers, we realized they are bringing in potentially maybe $50/week, after expenses….this is HUGE!!! Rini is working with them specifically on writing a proposal for how they can improve and expand this program with so much potential, and how the profits can be put directly into other programs, like a sewing/tailoring program, which will eventually be able to do the same thing.

As far as sewing and tailoring, they are at the VERY beginning. I am excited to be able to work with them from initial stages of development for this program, as every other program we have supported has been running with a teacher already for at least a year or so. In this case, they were given 2 machines, but absolutely no instructions on how to use them. Thankfully they did not do anything to damage them, but they have been sitting for a few months waiting until they can figure out what’s next. They were convinced that they were broken and needed fixing by a repair man because no one could get the pedals moving. So, I went with them, set them up and tried them out. Come to find out, on one the pedal simply needed oiling and then it was off and running. And, the other one’s leather string which runs the wheels was too short. So, once that is fixed, it will be fine too. I will be returning a week from Tuesday to do a seminar on machine care, set-up, and basic skills so they can not only be sure to protect their valuable investments, but also start to practice the basic skills they need for sewing. We made a plan over the next 5 months of how to identify 5-10 strong, capable women who we will focus on becoming the teachers for the other women. I am excited to see what happens over these next months.

Written by Tara Hawks, Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director


I met today with Eustace, who runs HODASSU, Help Orphans and Disabled Adults Stand a Skill Uganda. I was connected to him last year through a mutual friend, and met with him briefly in August. I was so impressed by him and what he is doing that I recommended that we spend this year considering whether to take them on as another organization. Eustace has been working with Rini, Fount’s longterm intern since the fall, with information gathering and strategic planning. If everything continues successfully, we will be able to work with them this summer. I am especially excited about this because HODASSU is almost entirely vocational-based. They do some education initiatives as well, but giving vocational skills to the disabled is their primary focus. We sat down today and went through all the different programs and initiatives they have operating and it was inspiring. They work in very small numbers so each beneficiary receives a lot of one-on-one training. And, since they are working side-by-side with professionals in their place of business, it is 2-fold. The professional is not taken away from their work, and the student gets to learn first-hand about what goes into the work. Eustace has a quiet presence about him. I think his success so far can be attributed to his quiet patience and persistence. I look forward to traveling with him next Thursday to visit all of his locations personally.

Written by Tara Hawks, Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director


Today Lori and I traveled to Kampala to meet with Yusto, who runs ORM, Orphans Rescue Ministry, in Makindye. For those of you who followed this summer, you will remember that this requires going into the dreaded taxi park, link. Well, I am happy to report that we both made it out without any broken bones…only a sticky hand on my part…..after a man cutting a pineapple grabbed it and told me, “Muzungu, I love you!”. Ha! We sat with Yusto and got caught up on the changes that have happened since the summer, and made decisions about the coming months and this summer’s work.

Although they have continued to have some set-backs, ORM has recruited a girl named Noredah, who has 2 years of experience making sweaters and has brought her own machine to teach the kids. I must admit, it was FASCINATING to watch. I have only seen this machine once before, but just walking by in the market. Basically, there are needles that run along the base of the machine. Once it is set up, she pushed the little knobs on the top, which dropped the needles into various patterns, creating whatever type of pattern she wants in the sweater. The little car thing is pushed back and forth across, and the yarn loops around the needles. The machine even keeps count of the rows, so you can make it exactly the length needed. You make the back, fronts, sleeves, collars, etc. separately, then sew them together on the seams. Here are some pictures. Joseph is a smart senior 4 level student who we met this summer. He was around this afternoon because he scored so high in school this year that he is able to progress to an advanced school, which starts next week. It was so good to see him. He told me, as he laughed, that this summer he would sit at the machine and run it into the ground without control, but since then he has mastered it. I remember that. We were all shocked at how the kids would just sit without any idea what they were doing, and run the machines like madmen…damaging them in the process. We spent the entire week reinforcing the basic steps of setting-up and caring for the machines. They, being teens, were certainly annoyed, but when Joseph sat at the machine today, it was awesome to see him in complete control…calm, cool, collected. Shannon, Rachel, Courtney, you will be so happy to know our work has paid off and that his seam was straight and even. He was so proud and felt so good showing me. This may seem simple, but it is HUGE in teaching the students to do quality work, and in protecting the machines, their most valuable asset.
Sarapio has also been hired by ORM to take over the sewing/tailoring course. He has 23 years of experience and is currently filling an order for school uniforms that Yusto was able to secure. The order consists of 35 skirts and 42 pairs of boys shorts. He had a pile of each finished. Although his English is very little, he seems like a hard-working man and very skilled. He joined ORM only on February 1st, so I am anxious to see how his classes go from now until July.

It was an exhausting, but fruitful day.

Written by Tara Hawks, Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director

The Hairy Lemon

Because Lori tends to work everyday without taking off, I have been charged by the home office to take her on a vacation. So, we are visiting a place called the “Hairy Lemon” for a long weekend. Yes, that is correct, the “Hairy Lemon”. We had both heard of this place, (which must be reached by wooden boat because it is an island) and are anxious to check it out. A little research online revealed that the name comes from a pub in Ireland, where the owners are from. Although I will be doing some work and trying to get things done before I leave in 2 weeks, Lori will be not allowed. For her, it will be all about reading novels, listening to music, and playing cards.....

So, Lori and I arrived to the “Hairy Lemon” this morning after an hour-long drive with my personal favorite driver, John, through some new villages we had never seen. It was really interesting to feel a new vibe…a very laid-back feeling the farther we got from Jinja. I have gone out to the villages numerous times before, but always in between the major towns of Jinja, Iganga, and Kampala. This was a smaller road and you could sense the remoteness they had and the way their lives were slower than what we are used to. I know this is a very unscientific statement, but that is what this blog is for….the personal perspective of things. You know, this is my 4th trip here, but it is amazing how much there is to learn and discover here. New information and experiences about the culture are always revealing themselves in deeper and deeper ways.

Arriving here at the Hairy Lemon was unique and just set the tone for relaxation immediately. John pulled up to a small area leading down to the water, he took an iron rod and banged on a tire rim hanging from a tree, and within a few minutes a man appeared in a wooden boat to take us back across. Lori is pictured below as we crossed the river to the island. We are here now and the pace has dropped dramatically!! We are right on the Nile River and most of the other guests are kayakers. It is like being at the beach, with the constant sound of rushing water. In a word, BEAUTIFUL. And PEACEFUL. This will definitely be a place of respite. Once we learned to lock our door, which took us no less than 20minutes, we went for lunch and I took a nap. Now, Lori is listening to her ipod and the only thing on our schedule is dinner at 7. I’ll check in eventually, but no promises.
Written by Tara Hawks, Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director

Classic African Meal

Those of you who have traveled here with us will recognize the plate of what is essentially all starches. Starting from my thumb (which looks double-jointed or something) you will see 2 types of potato…a sweet and an “irish”, which is a basic spud to us. The white thing with a bite taken out of it is cassava….i am not sure how to describe it except it is starchy and not very flavorful…kind of like yucca? Then there are 2 triangles of some of the sweetest pineapple you’ve ever eaten! The middle is covered with brown rice, which has some of the pork broth over it. There is a piece of pork there, along with a little pile of cabbage at the top. Then there is matoke covered with g-nut sauce. Matoke is a type of banana which is not sweet. It is roasted or cooked until soft, then smashed up. The g-nuts are actually small peanuts, ground up into a sauce and served over the matoke. This plate was served at Peter and Andrew’s graduation. Serving pork is a REALLY big deal here…it is a very nice treat.
Written by Tara Hawks, Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director

How is there?

One of the most often-asked questions I have gotten this trip is, “How is there?”. It takes me a second every time to respond, as it is phrased so strangely. But, what is being asked is, “How is the place from where you came?”, or “How is New York?”. The best conversation starter is to say, “Very cold.”, and then to attempt to describe how cold to someone who considers a 70 degree day cold. Seriously. When we are here in July and August, the temperature averages between 70-80 degrees max. On the days when it is close to 70 rather than 80, you will see the boda men in parkas and down-coats. Peter and Andrew wear sweaters. Women have cardigans and jackets on. And we Americans are loving what we consider “perfect spring weather”.

Because I still have not learned how to convert Fahrenheit into Celsius, I cannot truly say how cold New York is except to say that it is below 0 degrees Celsius…which blows their minds. I was talking to a young guy yesterday at the taxi park and he asked what makes it snow….is it the weather? And I said yes, it is like rain, but frozen. Again, how do you truly explain?

written by Tara Hawks,Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director