Monday, July 26, 2010

A Poem for HODASSU's Blind Children

The beauty you cannot see
I see very clearly in you
While your eyes may not focus
The picture I view is more true

What matters in this world
Is not defined by one's sight
But whether or not one has vision
That centers on what is right

Your vision sees no color
Does not distinguish between age
Gives no regard to one's size
For my looks you can't gauge

It simply because I am
That you smile at me
Standing there beside you
All I have to do is BE.

-Inspired by and written for the blind children of HODASSU
Rebecca Maier (Becky) 16 July 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

A lot to Take In

I have been trying to find the best way to describe my experiences in Uganda thus far. I have been taking so much each day, visually, physically, mentally, emotionally and even smelling…oh my god. The smells (oh yes, even I can smell it!). It’s hard to come together and put it all into words, but I will try. A lot has happened in the last 2 days. Monday night after finishing up my last post we went to a MID-EVIL themed restaurant. Yes, in Africa. Swords on the wall, the waitresses in neon green costumes and an xbox game room….it was wonderful! We started Tuesday back at TAOST, our last day with them. We finished putting together their new library, had Physical Education lessons (SO MUCH FUN!) and did a lot of reading with the kids. These children were incredible. It is so amazing to come to a country and find children with the spirits that these children have. Never in America could you experience this at the drop of a hat. All the children run to hug, greet and shake your hand. They say “Ole-o-toe” (how are you?) and we hug and embrace everyone. These children have nothing and are in a constant state of suffering and loss and yet they are the happiest and most loving people I have ever met in my life. It a mystery to me, but probably the most magical and amazing thing I have ever experienced. You can see and feel the love oozing out of them! However, this is where my story turns sad. My second day in Uganda I learned a true to Africa life lesson. Joshua, one of our students whom we were playing with on Monday, collapsed at home while playing with his brother after school. There is so little good medical care here, and transportation in emergencies is virtually non-existent that Joshua died. Within being in Uganda for 2 days, I meet and then lost a student. Francis the director of TAOST took the older children of the school to view the body. It was a real lesson, and a hard one to hear. We will never know the real reason Joshua died. His single mother was told he had malaria and was being treated for that. However from what I have learned in Uganda, doctors have a “treat or die” policy. They have no way of knowing what is truly wrong with their patience due to lack of proper medical advances, that they treat anyone sick for malaria. They assume if they have malaria it will be treated, and if they don’t: well, they were going to die anyways. This was a difficult thing to hear. We are so sad for this loss. But needless to say, this was a quick insight into the troubling aspects of life here. I spent my first day in Uganda amazed at my ability to hold myself together. I didn’t cry despite all the devastation I was seeing. I realized later that night when we spoke of our “lows & highs” of the day that I was blocking out everything. I can’t describe to you how hard it is to absorb everything; to let it in is to acknowledge suffering on levels we could never experience ourselves. When it came my turn to say my low, I let it in. I couldn’t even put into words what my low was, it was the life that I was blessed enough due to location to avoid. It was the hundreds of children I was seeing in classes on the street and everywhere. Tears fell from my eyes as I acknowledged all of the things I saw. Letting this into my heart was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I ended on the high note however by having my high as the fact that I am surrounded my people that are trying to change my low. And that is all you can do. Acknowledge the pain and suffering and then do whatever you can to change it, in whatever small way we can. It was a good release. And to be honest, I woke in the middle of the night, just crying and crying. This is beyond anything I ever knew or imagined. But anyways, back to Tuesday…We finished that day off by paying a quick visit to another group “Care & Share”. A group of 104 widows who have gathered to learn vocational skills to help the earn income for themselves and their adoptive children. We observed a meeting, with one of our translators Julius in tow. Since these are all older and elders, aside from 2, none of this woman speak English. The meeting was an hour and from what I saw and had translated, these women are feisty! Which is a treat to see in Uganda! Woman are considered below men here, they often must bow before serving men, and they aren’t necessary accustomed to speaking in group situations, so this was amazing to see these woman shouting and laughing and having fun! They each greeted us with their names, told us how grateful they were to have us and even sang and danced for us! We are headed back to work with these woman later this week. My 3rd day was on my much happier level. We headed to another organization, HODASSU to work with our deaf class. I was nervous at first, what can I teach a deaf child in Africa? Eustace picked us up (the director and true advocate for disabled children here in Uganda, an AMAZING PERSON!) and we headed to the school at 10am (a late day for us). I just have to say, these children are amazing! By far my favorite experience yet. All of the children signed us their name and then us to them. These children also have sign names and even gave each of us our own name, based on our looks! Mine was tapping the right side of my neck in two spots, where I have 2 “beauty marks”. After all of this the children asked if they could “give hugs” we all said yes and within seconds we had 24 children throwing themselves onto us. These were no, whatever hugs, these were some of the most heartfelt hugs I have ever received. Talk about making a person feel special! From what we heard of the principle this children rarely if ever get visitors. They are secluded from the rest of the school and generally abandoned or in some cases treated horribly at home because of their disabilities. I can honestly say these were the most well behaved and bright children I have met yet. We started our class outside where Carly, our music teacher had the children work on some stretching, yoga and then breathing. The kids were so receptive and incredibly well behaved, and of all ages. Next she went around and had all the children feel the vibrations of sound. She would have a loud noise, putting their hands to her belly and throat, and in return the children would make noises themselves. For some of these children, this was the first time they were acknowledging the vibrations of noises coming from them! Every child was able to do this, and they seemed so free and excited by this new discovery, it was beautiful. We danced and sang and played sports, duck duck goose, and soccer. It was so much fun, and I finally felt like I had settled into a good spot here. We read to the children and I acted out all the words in the book with movements and pictures. The children mimicked all of my moves and laughed and hugged me. I will never forget that moment, ever. We are spending Wednesday with these children as well, and I cannot wait. I already feel attached to them, inspired and in love with these spirits. I wish everyone in the world could meet these kids, and I wish I could express to them just how amazing they are. It breaks my heart to know they are shunned for their disabilities, when it’s their disabilities that have made them the amazing children they are. It was amazing. We left the school to a huge rainstorm. Rain generally seems to just last a few moments here, since it’s not their rainy season. But when it comes down, it really pours. Michelle, Vanessa, Carly and myself embraced this moment like little schoolgirls. We threw off our shoes and socks and ran and played in the rain in Lori’s front yard. The guards look at us like we were crazy. Within seconds of being outside we were drenched. We jumped in muddy puddles, practiced yoga and rubbed all the dirt from the day off our arms and hands. I haven’t played in the rain since I was a child. It was a good feeling to forget general rationality and play in the rain. I really love these girls. Lots of love, michelle

Posted by Michelle J


Today I spent my last day with our deaf school as part of HODASSU. After having such an amazing experience with these incredible children the pay before, I was so excited to go back and continue our work. The children seemed equally thrilled to see us! Like heading to most places we “boda-ed” around. I have accepted bodas as the major form of transportation here and have finally become comfortable on them, and embraced the way of life. When we get to the school we immediately start with some Physical Education, sports, gymnastics, games, music lessons, speaking lessons (yes! We have deaf students expressing sound! Learning to sound out letters! This is a pretty magical experience to be part of) The children love using their voices, and although we have to try and keep the other students of this government funded school away (due to the fact that they want to make fun of these “disabled kids” some things never change I suppose, and I think that’s a universal problem, clearly). The day was amazing, I had so much fun with these students and have probably received more hugs from them then anyone in life! Each hug is a small high! When the day ended and we said goodbye, I felt an overwhelming sense of happy/sadness. I am so grateful to have met these children, for the lessons they have taught me, to observe and get to be part of their lives for a very small moment. And then I a sad, sad to say goodbye & to leave them. This has been the first real connection I have felt to anyone here, and felt a real attachment to them. I feel so inspired to do more with myself because of them.

There are so many things in Uganda that are hard to except at custom. Our deaf and mentally disabled students are generally shunned by their families. Some are orphaned by both parents, others by one and living in a single parent home. Some of these children are loved at home, and others are treated and I say this in the least political nicest form possible “horribly”. Which only makes their spirits and positive attitudes that much more incredible. Eustice and the Vice Principle at Walabuka West Primary School are one of the only resources for disabled children in Uganda. HODASSU has a goal to build a center where the children can be educated, away from the harassment and judgment of others, also where the children whom don’t have a home to be housed and cared for. Eustace is amazing, completely inspiring and a unique soul here in Uganda. He stands up for those who cant speak or have any rights. When I spoke with him while walking to the school he said “These children are not disabled, there is nothing wrong with them, in fact they are lucky. God gave them this gift. He willed them to be this way and that was his wish, they are blessed and should be treated so.” He informed me that when parents are asked how many children they have, they will say “2, and THAT ONE” they don’t refer to their disabled children as theirs, a family member or even a person. Which is crazy considering how wonderful these kids are. Eustice encourages the children to work around the house and do all the things they are perfectly capable of doing, hopefully he will get that center and that we will have a large part in making that happen. Im certain it will happen, and happy to know these kids have people that really care about them here in Uganda. Did i cry you may think? yes. of course i did. A child came up to me and signed pointing at me and then a triangle with his hands. I couldn’t understand him and he did it numerous times. I quickly went to Eustice and asking what does this mean? throwing my hands in the position. and he said “home”. i looked at the child and he did it again. my heart could not be fuller. i will never forget this sign, and this statement. I am so so blessed.

I ended the night sitting by the Nile drinking African Tea (the best tea in the WORLD!) watching bats and birds fly by, stopped for some dinner and to meet a new volunteer who arrived, Dana, a real sweetheart. She is a nurse who will be working with Vanessa on our puberty classes! I’m super excited about this class on Saturday. I realize that sounds like a strange thing to be excited about but here, like most things, are pretty undereducated. The mothers do not talk to their girls about ANYTHING to expect, this is not a custom. It feels really important to me to help educate young woman on this matter. Also this will be a forum for questions! These children will get to ask and discuss things that they might never have been able too. I’m really happy to take part in that.

Well, I should shower and head to bed for the night, we are up at 8am tomorrow to work with the Care & Share woman!!

Lots of love,

Michelle J

Breaking Point

After lunch today, I was asked if I wanted to conduct the demographic questionnaires to all of the students. This entailed talking 1-on-1 with the women (and one man) about personal information including questions like, “Is anyone in your household affected with AIDS/HIV?”, “Are you married?”, “What is the highest level of schooling finished?” and “What is your age/religion?” Some of these questions are a bit difficult to talk about but I think that I was successful in getting information from them that we can use to better the class in the future. We also asked things like “when was the first tailoring class you took?” and “what is your favorite thing to sew?” The last question was “is there anything else that I need to know?” This left it quite open and I was happy to hear that not only did the women want more DESIGN in their classes but also business skills. Many of them said that they simply could not afford to even start a business much less make any garments to start with. They didn’t have enough for tools/fabric to start but all of them were really eager to sew.

The one interview that sent me over the edge was Victoria. My sweet Victoria... ah yes, the second we sat down, she started talking to me and reading my lips like she had perfect hearing! I was SHOCKED and quite frankly a little annoyed that finally after the 2 weeks of writing a novel to her each day, she shows me that she’s completely able to tell what I’m saying and that I didn’t really have to write everything down for her! lol I just had to laugh. But on a serious note, I asked at the end if there was anything else left for her to tell me and she said that she needed our help with materials at the school where she teaches. To make a long story short, she teaches the deaf children at a normal school. She told me she makes 100,000 shillings a month (about $50) which was the most that any of the women made in the group so I thought the school paid her a very fair amount. When she mentioned she needed materials, she said that she gets paid from the U.S.A. and that the school didn’t provide her with anything. I was very confused but then discovered that the school, as well as Ugandans in general, don’t recognize people with any disability as a member of society. For instance, parents that have, say 4 children total (1 disabled child,) may say that they only have 3 kids. It’s absolutely heart wrenching to hear that. She and I had a really long talk about everything; I had to try the hardest I’ve ever had to to hold back the tears. But the second she got up and left, I grabbed Tara and broke down. I just can’t fathom that a society just completely disregards children and adults with disabilities. Luckily the main organization that we’re working with seeks out these people and helps them with learning vocational practices so they can make a living for themselves. Anyway, today was a really great day and I’m glad to have learned so much from my sweet, sweet Victoria.

Posted by Linsday


Some members of my group have come down with something but are still able to work. I, fortunately, have dodged that bullet so far so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can make it through the next 5 days unscathed. Work was great until the last 30 minutes when it decided to downpour for 45 min. and the rooms flooded! Rain is like a blizzard here. Literally no one goes anywhere when it rains. So we had about 15 bodies crammed into one and a half rooms. We fed them bananas for a snack...worst. idea. ever. The room stuck like rotting bananas for about 2 hours. As usual, I channeled the “Dorcas” side of the family and was running around trying to make sure all of the electrical things were off the ground. We got everything cleaned up quickly after so it wasn’t bad.

We didn’t know if our language instructor would show up but lo and behold, in waltzed Ali Said in his black cap, Tom Selick moustache, and blue aviator shirt at 5:47pm. So the learning continued. I can officially put sentences together! Tu liku ega Lusoga mangu mangu. (We are learning Lusoga quickly!) I am actually quite impressed with Ali Said, our teacher. He, apparently, was also impressed by how quickly I caught on and said that he hopes I come back so I can continue with my Lusoga. Sorry Mom! :) We learned that the letter "n" is the most difficult letter because it changes the sound of the word in a very irregular way. For instance, "n" (the sound as if you were saying "never") is the personal pronoun "i." But when you want to say "I am" (N Liku) it actually sounds like "n diku." Weird. Hence the title for today's post which Tara coined yesterday (Tara I'm giving you credit for this ingenious pun!) It is quite an easy language to pick up and I’m really glad that we’re taking the lessons!

Saturday we were supposed to go to the blind/deaf school to do a project with the kids but it got moved to the following Saturday. Instead I’m going on an ATV tour through some villages and Bujagali Falls; I’m really looking forward to that. Then packing and off I go on Monday. I better enjoy my last days here!

Posted by Lindsay

"Everybody's Working for the Weekend!"

Saturday morning, I went into downtown (Main St.) Jinja to do some souvenir shopping. I actually practiced my Lusoga which was a major success. Luckily I didn't get much past "good morning" and "thank you" but regardless, I pretty much could've passed for a Ugandan. After that, I attended Lusoga lessons. After learning the 6 basic personal pronouns, we moved on to verbs and putting words together. The sound for "n" means "i" or "me" here and unfortunately it changes a ton of other sounds of letters. All 4 of us Americans just looked at each other like, "come again?" Tomorrow is my 3rd lesson and hopefully things will be a bit more clear. After that, Polly and I got a drink (passion fruit mojito!) after too much talk about terrorism, scary books, and rafting the Nile. We then met Jamie for dinner at the only Chinese restaurant in Uganda I think. Since Polly studied chinese history and lived there for a while, she did a phenomenal job ordering! I woke up this morning (Sunday) shakin' in my Trekker Janes, thinking about where I would go for first aid post rafting trip. I lugged my 55 spf and my 98% Deet in my cargo pockets, threw back a passion juice and chapatti, and headed off into the sunrise as I decided to face my day as a rafter of the Nile. After about 10 minutes of "what to do if the raft flips" we literally got into a Grade 6 rapids and held on for dear life. After that, we hopped out, practiced and swam. The water is great! And Mom, all of the bad things you heard (unmentionable on my blog) are untrue so all is well. :) For the rest, we only did a Grade 3. Much more relaxing! The last rapids we did flip the boat and although I swear I wasn't paying any attention during the morning briefing, I, instinctively, hung on to the rope, pushed back from the boat, got slammed under a few waves and came out of the thing virtually unscathed. Bobbi's oar hit her on the nose and she bled a bit but other than that we were good. As we floated down the Nile, we ate pineapple and biscuits for lunch and stopped at the Hairy Lemon. This is honestly a paradise little tiki hut/campground owned my some South African men. Let's just say a raft full of women paired with many South African male accents equaled us staying there for quite a while sippin' on our fruity beverages. This place was out of a movie; quaint little streams and footpaths, jungle like trees, vines, and flowers, people lounging around in bathing suits, no make up and dreadlocks. I could've stayed there forever! After we got back on the boat, we headed back to the camp where they had a HUGE barbeque for us that overlooked Bujagali Falls. All of us agreed that we couldn't think of any better place in the whole world that we'd rather be. It was simply amazing. Unfortunately we couldn't take our camera but honestly, pictures wouldn't have done this place justice. It will forever be in my memory as one of the best places ever! Tonight, Bobbi and I headed to Betty's again to pick up our laundry. We only wanted to stay for 5 minutes. Needless to say, it turned into 2 hours because they wanted to cook for us! Betty got very sad when we said we were going to go; she said she missed us and wanted us to visit more. Although we expressed how full and stuffed we were, they insisted and proceeded to make us matoke, beans and cassava, this omelet thing, and G-nut soup. It was honestly the best African food I've had. Shamilla brought out her patterns and garments and I critiqued them and gave her tips. I told Shamilla and Salima that I would be back on Sunday to say goodbye and that they could cook again. They were so excited to hang out again. I love those two girls. I think if an American 15 and 16 year old would spend 2 hours cooking and discussing sewing/patterning with me I would fall over. They are so mature and loving. It's so refreshing! Back to work tomorrow!

Posted by Lindsay

"Sewing Hope" ... by Polly

By the numbers it seems hopeless. In all we are 19 people including 10 students, 4 teachers, 2 translators, 3 small children and an occasional chicken or small rodent. The students include 3 physically disabled adults, 1 deaf woman, and 3 single mothers. For 10 students, we have 6 sewing machines that are in varying degrees of disrepair. Always, it is chaos. The babies are wailing. They urinate all over the floor and our laps, but we hold them anyways, bouncing them in our arms and looking into their curious eyes. We muzungus (white people) can only comfort them for so long before they demand their mother’s milk. The babies latch on and the mothers keeping sewing. The mothers who cannot use their legs, take turns with the hand crank sewing machine. In frustration, Lindsey tries to tune out the crying as she writes instructions to Victoria who is deaf. Peter, always on call for translation but forever restless, sits knotting a friendship bracelet and thinking up poems. I hurry back and forth giving pointers, fixing machines, and looking for misplaced tools. Usually we spill out of our allotted space into the porch, courtyard and unused adjacent rooms, but today, it rained so hard that we had retreat into just two small rooms. Huddled inside like that, I had to laugh at the sight. Everyone went on sewing, learning, teaching, and translating. And for once, the babies were all smiling.

Posted by Polly

Half Way Point

So Today is exactly two weeks for me in Uganda. I think you may have been able to tell by the word most frequently used in my blog- 'amazing'- that I having the time of my life. That expression is funny to me, because it seems to come with an implication that there will not be future times ahead of equal impact and amazement. False. Even half way through this experience I can tell that I will never be able to shake the travel bug (sorry mom).

The privilege of meeting these people, and creating this change in the orphan school systems, even the adjustment to new foods, different transportation, and wide variety of societal expectations, have each made me want to learn all that I can about this incredible place.

My final day with the blind school was on Friday and it was wonderful. Eustace was so pleased with our breathing exercises and yoga work, smiling throughout the work, and running to get his camera to capture the rare image of his kids in yoga action! Eustace is amazing (there's that word again) ...but he IS! He is one of the sole advocates for these children- fighting for their education and proper care. Just to be fed, the children have food sponsors who donate a bag of corn grain per week for their dinners, or four chickens a month for their Sunday meals, even monthly donations of salt, pepper, and cayan seasoning- and all because Eustace has worked to send the message that 'these children may be blind, but they still deserve to eat!'

One of the younger boys, Karum was very clearly abused physically prior to being taken in by the HODASSU organization. I say this not because he has marks on his body but because of his strong, negative reaction to touch. As a child without sight, when someone touches you there is a natural reservedness and hesitancy because you aren't able to see that person and therefore trust that person. However, when I ask the children permission to gently show them where their diaphragm is located by gently placing my thumb below the center of their ribs, and I guide my hand with there's so they feel safe, all of the children received the touch accept for Karum. When I placed my left hand on his right shoulder, his first reaction was to swat my hand away in reflex. He then took my wrist, as if to say 'I'm sorry- I didn't mean to push you away', and began to shake slightly with nervous ticks. After a third try, I was able to show Karum his diaphragm and the moment I completed the task, he turned his body from mine and hunched himself to the ground with his arms wrapped around his knees.

What this child must have gone through, I can't imagine. I made it my mission to connect with him for the remaining days of lessons. I spoke to him often (as his English is far-and-away better than the majority of children I've worked with thus far) telling him what a good job he was doing and when he was doing the stretches correctly. I sat next to him after our listening section of class as he rocked back and forth on his heels, in his signature squatted position, holding his knees and asked him which part of the music was his favorite. "The beginning was fast" he said, "I liked that."

Saturday was a rest day for the rest of the group in Jinja, but Michelle and I traveled two hours to Kampala (sorry mom) to work with Fount of Mercy's first organization, ORM, Orphan Rescue Ministry. The beginning of the organization was just that- rescuing mother-less children or abused run-aways from their current street life and taking them in for food, water, and love, and placing them with families that would care for them. Over the past five years, this group has gone from a a dusty, dirty shack, housing thirty children, to four buildings rented out with a Kitchen to cook meals, a sewing room with three machines to make clothing for regular income, and forty four children in school, two of which Fount has just sponsored through college (a lawyer and a business major!).

My work with them today was mostly casual- fun games, sing songs, and unique exercises, with the exception of the oldest group. I wanted them to remember my four hour time there, and I wanted to help them as much as four hours can. I introduced 'positive visualization' to a group of twenty six Kampala orphans, looking at me like 'you crazy Mzungu'...and possibly other things, but I was trying not to notice. I asked them to lie down on their backs and close their eyes- this took fifteen minutes. Some of the kids simply refused, crossing their arms and staring at me as if they don't understand what the translator had just said.

At this point I can fully feel that today was supposed to be my day off. The travel is a lot: the city of Kampala has the intensity of New York- times ten, with an extra added weight of all eyes on the minority, and while most people are kind and call me sweetheart, I'm learning that it's mostly because I carry a purse.

On a normal day, I would take it with a grain of salt (or fine poshu corn)- I would 'brush my shoulders off' as they love to say here, but again, my fatigue is setting in and I am struggling to keep my cool (which I'm sure they can sense). I then I spot one of the kids sleeping in the corner of the room (as is more frequent than you might think due to the heat, travel, and lack of nourishment) and it's like someone smacked me. I immediately feel awful for even thinking about being tired. My adrenaline kicks in partly due to internal embarrassment, and partly due to my dwindling time with them, and I instruct the kids to get up and stand on the left side of the room while I fix the mats in an order that everyone can have there head in the middle and feet off the mat in a circle formation that allows for their spines to be straight.

The kids notice the change in my attitude, and move with a quickened pace, until they are all laying down doing deep breathing. After ten minutes, I tell them to imagine their perfect future- "Picture your goal, your dream in your mind". I tell them to exhale any negative emotion that comes into play, to picture their doubts leaving their bodies through their mouths and drifting far into the sky, where they can't affect their dreams (hippie, I know, but something they have NEVER done before!). When we finish, I ask them to open there eyes and sit up- I say "Who wants to share their vision?" ...crickets.

"Who can tell me what they want their picture to be? What did you see?" Slowly, a young boy raises his hand. He tells me he saw himself flying an airplane. The kids all dart their eyes to me to see how I will respond. I could not have been more delighted! This young boy (maybe fourteen years old) gets it! I tell him that's wonderful! and that I LOVE his vision! Suddenly, more hands go up to share and one-at-a-time, we go around the room hearing the future dreams of these lost-and-found children: "I'm in a lab making medicine for doctors!" "I was fixing cars because I want to be a mechanical engineer!" "I saw myself giving a speech at my academic graduation"..(verbatim!) I told each one to keep their visions in their mind's eye every night before they go to bed. I explained that God can hear your prayers (as they are VERY religious and say 'God will take care of it') but that we have to do our own part here on earth to help our dreams come true. I told them to exhale every bad thought that comes up (one child saw military guns and warfare) and push it out of our minds through breath.

Their goals have inspired me. I don't know how yet, but I think perhaps my nightly vision should be shifting soon! ( :

More soon
Love always,

Try and You Shall Receive

Today was worth the cost of the trip ten times over. If I had to pick one day, thus far, that made me feel alive with excitement over what kind of work I'm doing here, it was today. We were with our second HODASSU organization, also with Ustis and also in Jinja. This second Jinja group of children are deaf. I have (minimal) experience with sign-language but found that minimal is plenty to communicate with these incredibly unique and truly beautiful children. They all have slight tendencies to act out for attention, especially a particular few, but when it comes time for them to have the attention, the fear of sounding or appearing silly dominates their insecurities and they shy away. Some of the children hid their heads in their arms, covered up their smiles with their hands, and even refused to stand up and share their names with the class. Each child has a Ugandan surname, a European name (Lillian, Winnie, etc.), and a sign-name, and before we began teaching, the class asked us if they could share their names with us. The Fount of Mercy group stood up in the front of the room while each child went in rowed succession, sharing their sign-name first, followed by the other names. After we heard the names of the children, each of us signed the letters of our names and then the children all assigned (as a class decision) each Fount member a sing-name. I love my sign name, mostly because it feels very personal to have them assign a name to me within five minutes of knowing me. My sign name is both pointer fingers on either side of my mouth while smiling. Ustis tells me it's indicating my dimples. (I only have one dimple, but I'm not going to mention that because I don't want them to change my name!)

While we wait for the Head Teacher of the school (and also our supposed translator) to lead us outside, I decide not to waste time and begin my lesson with the chalk board. I write three words on the board: 'Music', 'Sing', and 'Rhythm'. The sign for Music and Sing are the same, (possibly because their singing is signing without sound...say that five times fast), so I tell them that I have a sign that I use for singing: five fingers closed at the lips (a la delicious Italian pasta sauce), and pulling the hand up and away while opening the hand fully. They seem to like this because they mimic the sign well ( : The word 'rhythm' is completely new to them. So I have them all clapping, then stomping, then tapping their legs. When I raise my hands above my head to clap they hoot and holler, releasing squeaks and screams of suppressed excitement. This is wonderful because it tells me two things: the first is that they are both excited and able to make sound, and the second, by the extreme force of their sounds, I can tell this is something that they don't do often. How exciting for us to begin voice work!

When the head teacher, Flavia, walks in, she tells them in signage that they will be outside for our lesson. I follow Eustace out to a far side of the school grounds under the shade of a tree. As I walk, the kids grab my hands and I swing their arms up and down and teach them to skip; they sign my new name. Once we're in the shade, we all make a circle; I tell the kids that music and rhythm can be felt by every human on earth, regardless of circumstance. I teach them eight counts of a semi-'step' routine with the same claps, stomps, and leg taps that we did in the classroom. They can do it very well and almost in unison. For the next part of my lesson, my idea is for them to count or make noise on each beat in the step routine so that they can connect their voices (the vibrations of air meeting their vocal chords) with the rhythm in their bodies. The students are incredibly reserved about this idea, and I realize immediately that my lesson is about to adapt.

The translator at this time is Eustace because the primary teacher, Jillian, is sitting on a bench in the corner by the bushes recovering from Malaria. Eustace is looking at me as if to say 'I don't know how to translate that they should be making sound'. He signs the word 'try', all-the-while with a huge smile on his face.

I ask them to sit down, and I begin to take their hands and place it on my throat. I know this seems odd, but for these kids making sound is an incredibly vulnerable thing to do. They are afraid of what they can feel but cannot hear. They are laughing and hanging their heads, even politely pulling away. I turn to Eustace to let him know that what I'm about to say should be signed to the kids. I tell them not to be afraid of their voices. I remind them that no one else in their class can hear them making the sounds- that it's entirely about their feelings.

One at a time I went to each child, took their tiny hand and placed it to my throat, then on my chest bone, on my diaphragm, and on my cheeks, letting them feel the resonance of my voice making sound in my body. I then placed that same hand onto their throats and the other lightly pushing on their diaphragm and helped them to feel- truly feel - the power of their voices for the first time. I don't know if it was my persistence or if it was the agreement from their teacher, but each child made sound! Giggling and laughing, turning red and closing their eyes the whole way through, they took a chance, opened their mouths, and pulsated sound with such force and such pride that both my eyes and theirs were filled with tears.

One of the final kids to make sound (after maybe 20-25 minutes with all the other children) was one of the most self-conscious children, Stella. Stella speaks English as opposed to the local language (possibly from her prior up-bringing), and is very heavy. The kids in the other classes who are not deaf make fun of Stella constantly, laughing at her even as they pass. She is used to being out-cast, and if I had not offered my hand to her, Stella would not have even come outside to participate. When I approach her, she turns her side to me and covers her eyes with her hand. Jillian, who has finally gained interest in the class, has joined the circle sitting on the ground behind Stella. Children will always lower their expectations of themselves in times of vulnerability, especially if someone gives them the 'out', so-to-speak, so I proceeded. Slowly, I took Stella's hand from her eyes, keeping my face positive so when her eyes met mine, she knew it was safe to try. I saw her face change as I made noise, and when she looked at me, I laughed, loud and hard, so she could both see my joy in sharing my voice with her, and feel that same joy reverberating on her hand. I then lifted my eyebrows with the question of 'now you?' and when she didn't object, I slowly lowered her hand to her own throat and took a deep inhale to cue her breath and sound. Not only can Stella make smooth, loud sounds, she can also laugh from her big belly about how wonderful it feels to have the freedom of expression.

More soon!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Showing Their Curves

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.

Posted by Tara, Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director

Sewing Hope Teacher Training

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 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.

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 they grasped the concepts and familiar they were with the 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.

Tara, Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director

Who Will I Become?

I wanted to get a photo of myself the morning i leave, because i know that i’m about to have a big adventure and that i probably wont feel like the exact same person when i return. this is me now, and i am excited to see who i become.

michelle j (fount volunteer, photographer)

Friday, July 16, 2010


The night's nourishment and yesterday's rain have made the hills and valleys of Uganda more shades of green than Crayola could ever imagine. By 6:30 am the sun was already making it's way to the sky and the breeze is an 80 degrees tropical cool. As we make our way to my final teaching day with the MOHM children, I feel already a sense of separation anxiety to be leaving my first students in Uganda. They have been my first experience so naturally they will always hold such a special place in my heart. For me, the challenge is in that communication of that feeling. Saying 'You are so special to me and thank you for letting me be with you this week', doesn't quite translate, but saying 'May God watch over you and bring you happiness and blessings' does. On our commute out to the kids this morning I think about how I will mix the two translations...perhaps with no words at all.

When we arrive in Iganga, we purchase big bags of beans and corn (or's like grits but a finer grain and without all the dressings-instead you put onion and salted red beans on top to soak into the corn grain...YUM!). We will give the bags to the orphanage as a way of replenishing the lunch they have been giving to us each day. The director of the orphanage, Isaac, said to us on the first day: "When someone says 'Thank you for cooking for us', we say 'Thank you for eating what we are cooking'". It has been such a sweet gesture to cook for them to provide each day, and I am so thankful and humbled, and yet, the feeling is mixed. In part, we have worked up an appetite from an already eight hour day of traveling and teaching, and on the other part, I want to call over the children I have just made such a strong connection to and feed them instead. Eating here has changed me. It's hard for me to justify putting food into my mouth at any point by the end of this week, let alone while these frail children can see.

I try not to focus on this and rather I think about my daily work with the kids. As every day is a small review (which they always remember!!!) on our last day, I wanted to make it special. I want to let them decide what their favorite thing from our classes this week was, and then we'll build on it together.
The nursery class chose to do the dancing so we review our 'Swing Dance!' in an eight beat count. Then we build on that by adding the counts out loud. So we'll count out loud 'One, Two, Three, Four, Clap!' as we swing to the right, then switch, counting 'One, Two, Three, Four, Clap!' as we swing to the right. The kids love this! Then when my Primary 1 and 2 groups also pick the dancing I incorporate a different rhythm in addition. We say 'One, and, Two, and, Clap!'. I tell them this is the "Eighth note way to swing!" and then go back to the 'One, Two, Three, Four, Clap!' and I tell them this is the "Quarter note way to swing!". The best feeling in the world is when they actually understand and can do it two at a time in front of the rest of the class!?! These kids are amazing!

There are so many emotions that went into today that to try to sum them all into a page of literature is impossible. I will tell you briefly that once we presented our beans and poshu gift for the organization, the eldest girls ran to get colorful towels to tie around their waists and dance for us as a formal goodbye ceremony. They sang a song 'We so appreciate you. Thank you for your gifts. Thank you, thank you, thank you.' They were shaking their hips and swinging their arms and I just kept thinking...and I have nothing to teach them about dance...they are amazing!
While we waited for the boda bodas to come drive us back into Iganga, the kids wanted to write their names on my hands "So that I wont forget them" they said ....(exhaaallleee). Then we did rhythmic clapping games to each incredible name: "Nakato Peace" and "Nanijya Mildrine". Believe me, I will never forget these names. Never.

With love,

Muzungu Hips

Today we drove out to the MOHM organization, where we've been this week, to work with the women. There is a group of women who are a part of Fount of Mercy's program, Sewing Hope. They congregate mostly on Saturdays to sew clothing for the children of MOHM, and several other organizations. These women are amazing. They are strong, fun, loving, powerful women, with a vivacious love for life! We worked on breathing exercises and some yoga movements today, which was most certainly 'out-of-the-box' for these women. The idea behind the 2 hour work class was for the women to feel empowerment with their bodies by strengthening them with breath. Because their culture is to kneel when serving food or water to men, I was contemplating whether or not to ask the women to lie on their backs and breath. It turned out, after much laughing, giggling, and embarrassment, they finally relaxed enough to lie down and breath on their backs. I went around to each woman to straighten her spine and relax her shoulders; one woman even asked me to work on her legs. Now, I realize this may seem like my work is extending beyond music, but in reality, to relax and breath is the very first step to a full, free, and resonant voice. My primary goal was to help them breathing deeply and connecting to their bodies. After the exercise, the women sat up and were conversing. Julius told me later that they were saying their lower backs no longer ached and that they wanted to do this together every day.
Amazing. In America, we often (or the kids that I teach often) don't want to try new things. If it is something that scares us or pushes our envelopes, we opt-out. These women are different- they tried YOGA!? and continued past the point of their optimum comfort to lie on the ground and they surprised themselves by not only enjoying the experience, but bettering their bodies! I couldn't have been more happy- they are so appreciative of every single thing someone does for them. And when Julius tells me that the women have brought local drummers to dance and sing for us as a 'Thank You' for our work, he follows up the translation by telling me that they would like me to dance with them.
For me to dance with these incredible women with hips from the Gods is slightly intimidating! But I decide to push my envelope and accept. Everything begins so quickly around me that I feel swung into motion. The drums begin, the eldest woman in the group ties her sheer, jeweled scarf around my hips (a tradition of the dancers so they can watch their hips move!) and I spend the next 45 minutes trying my best to move in the way the woman and girls around me are moving!! It's incredible. The dancing celebration begins with the women of the group and children from MOHM, and ends with most of the local villagers traveling to the sound of the drums to join in the party, A local woman I've never met comes into the dancing circle to show me a new move, and then she studies me and takes a move I am (subconsciously) doing with my shoulders. We laugh and clap and celebrate together ...for life?...for the ability to dance and sing? I'm not quite sure, I just know that I love this kind of celebration.
Yesterday the kids that write in english wrote their names all over my hands and arms asking me 'not to forget them'. Today the woman I have danced with take my hand afterwards and ask me to please travel safely, send love to my family, and please don't forget them'. They teach me to say 'Thank you very much' in their local language- which is mostly Lugandan, with a mixture of several other influences- Weebalenyi [Wee-ba-lon-jee].
I say it back to them over and over as I absorb their spirits into my hands.
Julius tells me that the children really love me, and all I can do is cry because in all of my life experiences, I have never been more submerged in such strong, beautiful energy.

More soon

My Mother's Skirt

Hi everyone!
As you may have heard, we are all fine here in Jinga, Uganda. We don't have plans to teach in Kampala for a week, and the American Embassy has already issued a clearance here for Americans to resume their prior schedules. The bombs happened about two and a half hours away, about the distance from New York City to my home town in Reading, PA- so we were (are) safe! It was however the reasoning behind the network failing for the past four days- so I'm sorry if I've have scared anyone by not writing, but we are all fine!
In fact, I didn't even know about the bombings until Chris called our emergency line to ask if everything was ok. The shake in his voice alone was enough to keep me from sleeping well. I was in and out of dreams and still shaking when I woke up the following morning. This week has been trying because I feel exhausted. Not physically...years of field-hokey running, and college dance classes have made my body push through any fatigue of walking and teaching on my feet all day, but rather, I am mentally drained.
Monday in particular was difficult because I knew my family was distraught. Since the internet had failed, I had no way of reaching out to them which was very upsetting. They knew I wasn't near the bombs, but the idea that there were 'bombs in Uganda' was enough to ignite a now constant worry in their minds, and I knew that.
After breakfast the shakes had subsided mostly and I tried to take deep breaths in preparation for the day as I got dressed. The energy I expend on a normal day is great, refueled only by the energy that the kids give back to me by their excitement in our lessons. Monday, however, was different; my energy was at a place that I worried would effect the way I taught my kids, and in succession, the way the kids would learn. I wanted them to be happy and excited by music- to be energized enough to embrace the teachings and love the subject- I want them to feel the way I did when I watched my mom teach music every Sunday morning in Sunday School.
The Ugandan dress, as I may have mentioned, is very conservative. The back of the knee is provocative and pants must be very loose so as not to upset the cultural comfort. I decided I would wear skirts because the children respond to, and respect formal dress. Owning very little flowing skirts that reach the floor, I asked my mom if I might borrow a few of her's before I left. Out of her closet she pulls several floor-length skirts, varying in color and pattern: a pastel, tie-dyed skirt that balloons out if you spin in a circle; a leopard and tiger print that has a sheer feel to it; and an actual African print dress with a clay-red and deep-brown print, tying around the waist (her closet was really fun for dress-ups as a kids).
Monday morning I'm wearing the pastel patchwork. When I catch a glimps of myself in the mirror, I am taken back to sometime in the early 90's, with the same seated view of my mother, flowing around the piano in her Sunday-skirt. I know it seems silly, but I am slightly fragile at that moment, thinking of her worrying about me all the way back in the states. I think of the strength she had growing up, and I decide that she would want me to teach the kids regardless of other circumstances. I realize she would understand the work that we're doing here and how valuable our time, effort, and teachings can be. And as I make my way down the street and into town, I decide that to waste a day- a minute- with these kids because of something out of my control would be just that- a waste.
And ya know what- it worked!!

By the end of our first three days with TAOST, The Aids Orphan Support Trust, each class can tell you that "The musical alphabet is from A-G!" and that "The musical syllables are Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do!" AND! what each rhythmic note name is and how many beats each has! Today we notated, clapped, and sang the entire song of "Kumbaya" using both the words AND solfege! 30 minutes a day with 7 classes of anywhere from 15-50 kids and they are saying 'diaphragm' and relaxing their 'larynx'!
They are amazing!!
Even when we meet with their teachers for an hour and a half in the afternoon, the kids sit quietly -ALONE!?- in their classrooms...... and do work!!

I have a nice little laugh envisioning my students alone in the auditorium for even 5 minutes! hahahahahahhaa

I am amazed every day, and grateful every day, and all because of my mother's skirt.

More soon,

Through Their Eyes

I thought it might be a good idea to describe Uganda one tid-bit at a time. One part of the experience at a time- perhaps one or two each day for 30 days. This way Uganda is a painting, and your mind is the artist- you can add each color as you're ready- each shade as you are comfortable with.

During the day and into the early evening, the local music of Uganda beats out of the shops on Main Street. All types ranging from upbeat and rhythmic LuGanda music, to sweet and choir-esque church music, also sung in local tongue. Then there are shops that blare American music from dusty speakers covered in red clay from the streets. Sometimes it's Keith Urban, sometimes it's Shania Twain, and sometimes I hear Celine Dion- a favorite (from what I can see) among Ugandan citizens. After today's class, a little girl sang the entire Celine song, 'That's The Way It is' with Celine-like belt and all!

Because next week's organization, HADASSU, is closed on Monday and Tuesday, we split up this week: Mon-Wed with TAOST, and Thursday/Friday with HADASSU. We'll visit TAOST again next Monday/Tuesday to finish the five total days' work, and then HADASSU next Wed/Thursday.

Today, at HADASSU, we met with a group of about thirty students with vision impairments. The vision impaired children attend special classes at a government-funded school, Spire Primary. This school is set on approximately two acres of land, complete with agricultural plantations to provide for the children, soccer (or 'football') posts, and nearly ten big buildings with roofs that do not leak and doors that do not fall off. The principal (a female!) tells us that many organizations have raised funds to re-roof the buildings, re-paint the classrooms, put a TV in one classroom, provide desks, chairs, ...the works! This school is taken care of, and while it is technically a 'government-funded school', she gives the impression that the money is certainly NOT all coming from the Ugandan government.

Our work here will be specifically with the vision impaired students who are housed on a separate school ground from the others and thought less of (not on all matters, but mostly). We learn that when a child is born in Uganda with vision disabilities, their 'families' refer to them as 'that one'...they say "I have six children, plus that one". I'm getting stronger these days, and I feel less compelled to crumble into a ball on the floor when receiving this kind of news. Instead, I feel more motivated to meet the children and begin to teach them music, and more importantly, to teach them that they are not of little use to the world, as they have heard their entire lives, but rather significant and substantial children with great potential.

Becky, Kellie, Michelle and I took the younger kids in the morning and after lunch, we met with the older kids. Each of us will have 30 minutes a day with the younger group, and 30 minutes with the older group. I begin by telling them that music is universal and everyone in the world can have the courage to sing. We do fun warm-ups with our body and our voice and they giggle all through them. I teach them the Do, Re, Mi scale of music and we can sing it up and down in Rhythm. Then I ask them if they know who Ludvig Von Beethoven is. Crickets. I am so delighted to be the first person to tell them the incredible story of his phenomenal compositions, his numerous musical discoveries, and of his blindness. After the translator finishes the final part of my last sentence, there is a silence and a bit of a freeze- it's as if nobody moves or breaths for a full five seconds.

I stop and receive their silence as both slight discomfort and huge imagination. I hope it's more of the latter and I tell them I'm going to bring his music tomorrow for them to listen to....since there is no electricity in the building I haven't quite figured out how they are going to hear it, but I have all night and I will make it happen.

After the classes, we are playing with the kids- rolling balls to them and having them roll them back. Some of the girls have sat out to the side watching and when I come over to them this is when they sing for me the entire Celine Dion song. I record it on Chris' camera and they ask me to play it back to them. The sound is small, and they all press their ears around this 2x2 camera. When the sounds concludes, the singer, Simara, tells me "Madame, you give this to me." I chuckle uncomfortably and say "Well it's my husband's camera" (They do not really do engagements and fiances here). "Well then," she says, "Give me your dress then,Madame". "I'm sorry," I respond, "But this dress belongs to my mother".
"Madame, you give me your sweets then. In your bag you have sweets, give them to me."
"I do not have sweets in my bag Simara."
"What can you give me then?"
"Do you remember the Do, Re, Mi, that I taught you toady?"
"I can give you as much knowledge about music as you can hold in your head- but I can give you nothing that you can hold in your hand. I'm sorry"

I am moved to tears because if I hadn't only packed 7 days worth of clothing, I would have shed my dress right then and there, if I had a piece of candy in my bag, I would have handed it to her; but none of these things will last.
Each organization asks for material things. The culture is so deprived of them that they can only feel the lacking and the deep desire to fill. Fount of Mercy, however, is not that kind of organization- we don't bring materials unless we have written grants, drawn proposals, and funded the purchase entirely. For MOHM, we left them with a hand-made trunk that they can store their books and papers in so that when it rained, their things would not be ruined and local textbooks, one per subject per grade. We are told not to promise them material things, and further to explain to them that that's not what we are here for; and yet, and the beginning of every new organization we meet, I find myself thinking- "What could I send back to them once I return to the states? What can I give?" If I had to see it through their eyes, what would they need?
I'll be thinking about that...probably for the rest of my life.

More soon
Love, Carly

Shaking' Like a Polaroid Picture

So although I made a deal with the gym “opener” to open it for me at 7:30 the next three weeks, surprise surprise...guess who didn’t show up. Instead Mmy morning was filled with great conversation with Carly, African tea, and enough pineapple for the rest of my life. We then headed to the office to go out to MOHM. This is a women’s organization that plans activities with each other and supports the women. The women were SO great to work with. With smiles as wide as the world, they came to greet us and take all of our materials.

We made dress forms for our class today. The women were very hands on and really enjoyed the project. MOHM meets at an orphanage every Tuesday so we got to hang out with the kids too. So cute! I wanted to take this little boy home with me; I swear if he could fit into my pocket, I would’ve! My heart has melted... The women cooked us this great lunch: rice and beans with kasava, beef, and this mashed banana thing that is not tasty but I only took a bit.

The women also put on a small dance performance for us which was awesome. I danced with the ladies and they were yelling, laughing, pointing at me and my hips that were shakin’ like a polaroid picture. Although I swear those women have extra joints in their hips... When we returned we got the office a bit more set up and then headed to Barraza for some Indian food and debriefing. The internet is still down since UTL (the biggest internet provider) was down because of the bombing. It should. I’m told, be up and running tomorrow. Thank goodness!
Lindsay Dorcus

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sew far Sew Good

Sew Far, Sew Good
Considering how unprepared most us felt, we had a very successful first day of class. We started by assessing each student with a sewing test. Next, we spent some time oiling and tuning up our three brand new Singer treadle machines. The machines are beautifully old fashioned looking with tiny little waists. Since they don't require electricity and are not very heavy, you can set them up anywhere. We dragged them out to the porch where there was more light and a nice mild breeze. I'm still getting the hang of them and learned a lot by watching the women set them up. In addition to the non electric machines, we bought a few old fashioned coal powered irons and some spray bottles to produce steam. This was after I observed that one of the main problems with the quality here is the lack of professionally pressed seams. Next, we demonstrated french and flat felled seam finishes and explained that they were a quality alternative to serging seams. (Only one woman has a serger and everyone else would have to pay someone in town to finish raw edges with a serger).

Next we broke the 10 students into 3 groups. I am in charge of teaching the two more advanced students. They are a disabled man named Emma and a very intelligent woman named Sarah. Both Sarah and Emma have their own shops. Sarah's business is doing particularly well. She just aquired a second shop front that is on a busy road and it is stocked fabric and machines. Emma, however, has only a bare concrete space with two machines where he makes a very small living making school uniforms and doing alterations. His craftsmanship is very low, but he is eager to learn. Since Sarah is sick with malaria, I worked one on one with Emma and our translator Peter to show him how to use cardboard, brown paper, straight pins and a tracing wheel to copy a patten off a shirt. Though his legs are crippled, he is able to maneuver pretty well around the table and he picked it up fast. He opted to copy Peter's stylish western style shirt, which is slim cut and accented with piping and hand embroidery. Peter seemed very interested in the process as he translated and eventually began to hint that he would like to have the new shirt when it was completed. I told Emma, " great, you already have a paying customer." In the morning, I am meeting Peter early at the fabric store so that he can choose his fabric.

Meanwhile, Bobby and Lindsey taught the beginner and intermediate students two different simple bag projects. Most finished their projects and left happily with their brightly colored new bags. Tomorrow, they will start making a simple man's shirt.
Posted by Polly

Three Days of Safari

7/5 First day in Uganda I got to Red Chilli hostel.  Following the brightly colored tunnels boasting with African music made our way into the check-in/dining area. After we ordered dinner (let’s just say I only ate the avocado in my avocado and bacon on a toasted baguette) and drinks (did you know NILE beer was brewed by South African brewing company?  Same as Miller...tear! Little piece of home!) we hit the hay.  Needless to say my bug check of my room was extremely thorough even though I found a little lizard!

7/6 I arose from my bed the next morning as the sounds of monkeys, call to prayer, large birds started squawking.  Anyway, had breakfast (I’m officially addicted to passion fruit) and headed 6 hours in the van to the Red Chilli campsite in Murchison Falls for our Safari.  (Spoke to Brigitte and Norbert, two Germans who have traveled to Uganda 9 times! She is in finance and prompted many discussions on how to teach the women next week how to sustain their business and set themselves apart from others.  It was so great to have someone to talk to about this!)  We stopped in Masindi at this yummy restaurant and for only 6,000 shillings (about $3.00) I got a Coke and amazing cod fish and chips!  It was delish!

7/7 After dodging the wild warthogs around my tent before I fell asleep, I woke up at 5:30am to catch the bus to the safari.  We drove to the river and Sam, our driver, drove the van onto this crazy, we’ll call it, “carferry.”  We hoped on with a prayer that we wouldn’t fall in along with men in army green uniforms with shotguns.  I got very suspicious until we got to the other side and one of them hoped in our van and was like “hey guys, I’m a ranger for the UWA.”  He carried the gun in case any of the animals threatened us so we were very happy to have him aboard.  With a beautiful African sunrise in the background, we drove through the jungle and plains.  One of our first sightings were 2 male lions walking right next to our van! It was insane. Words cannot describe.  I learned that if you see a male lion by himself he was probably banned from his pride because otherwise he’d be with them.  We also saw a ton of Antelope, Uganda kob, water buffalo (which chased one of the lions! Lions won’t attack the buffalo if they are by themselves,) giraffe, and warthog (pumbas.)  We joked that we just really wanted to see an animal kill and eat another one to see the complete “circle of life.”  The amount of Lion King references/puns made is quite sickening actually. All I can say about this safari is that you just have to go on one. It sounds like a phrase from the Wizard of Oz when I type it otherwise. 

Back at camp for lunch, we ate some amazing rosemary lemon chicken and played the card game “Cheat” (Americans call it B.S.) with Jenny and Georgina.  They are two really sweet girls I met from England who collected 20,000 books at Edinborough for schools in the area.   We left for our boat safari.  Saw a ton of hippos, elephants, and birds. Also saw where one of Hemingway’s airplane crashes was.  They named an area after him; did you know he had 3 crashes?  Learned some Swahili from our boat guide, Kenneth. Miawannaming kiboko! (I saw many hippos :) )  Back at camp practicing my Swahili, playing Trivial Pursuit with the group, eating cinnamon crepes and drinking some Smirnoff...ah life is good.  

7/8 Watched the sunrise in the mist and ate some amazing fruit.  As a side note, the showers are FREEZING so we all were pretty nast by the end of this whole, when in Rome.  (or Uganda.)  We left for the rhino sanctuary.  When we got there, we were able to see them roaming only 30 meters away! We learned a lot; did you know that there are only 80 white rhinos left in the world? Hence the sanctuary where they are trying to breed more.  Even more interesting, rhinos are monogamous.  

We headed back to Kampala to the hostel but on the way hit a huge pothole.  I hit my head and jammed my finger but all is well.  You think that Madison potholes are bad!? You haven’t seen ANYTHING like this before. Met Tara (the director for Sewing Hope) and her friend Becky for dinner.  We had some street vendor Samosa and then headed to bed.
Lindsay Dorcas  

My First Day of Sewing Hope work

We hopped in our van which was I swear the same van from “Little Miss Sunshine” horn and all.  So through my long fits of laughter, I was then completely grossed out by the breakfast Peter (our translator) was eating...chicken gizzard and chips. mmm Who would want Cheerios when you can have that? On we went to about 10 min. outside of Jinja to meet and assess the teachers that we would be teaching.  We visited about 8 people who brought us in their home and showed us what they do.  Emma was great: an extremely crippled man who just loved to sew! He taught free classes, did alterations for only 200 shillings (about 10 cents) and made custom garments for 1000 shillings (about 50 cents.) He seemed very enthusiastic about what we were going to teach him.  
Another place that touched my heart was a small barn room.  One side was raising turkeys the other side sat 10 women making necklaces, mats, pillow cases, and other crafts.  One woman even made her own knitting needles from bicycle spokes!  
The last place we went to was a school for the deaf.  The kids were SOOO sweet.  They even gave me a sign language name.  My hair was braided in the front so they took their right hand in an “L” (for Lindsay) and brushed it from left to right across my forehead.  (Although now that I think of it that could’ve just been for “loser.”..dang.)  I learned a lot of Lusoga signing; it was truly special to see these children.  
After a long day of traveling to the teachers’ homes, we came back to the office and started setting up our classroom.  We cleaned and set up 3 sewing machines and got our room ready for Wednesday class.  We hopped on a boda boda which is basically like a small motorcycle/big moped that they use as taxis here (think Yamaha Exciter circa 1981...)  (As a side note, the first time I rode on one I fell off, not while driving only after we stopped.  My backpack was so heavy and I couldn’t get my foot off.  The large turtle shell on my back pulled me back so fast and I got a big cut and scrape on my leg.  I mean seriously, when was the last time I got a scrape?!  I’m so B.A. ) After we all debriefed at a nice dinner at Gately.  Time to sleep...hopefully.
Lindsay Dorcas

Thursday, July 8, 2010

11 Days

Written By Michelle Johnston (Fount of Mercy Volunteer, Photographer)

Uganda is quickly approaching and I feel anxious, excited and slightly nauseous with butterflies in my stomach. I think it has a lot to do with the unknown. Not knowing what I will see and how I will feel, but that's a pretty exciting feeling in itself. Every time i get to decline an invitation to something because i will be in Africa I feel like a bus just hit my heart, making me realize that it’s really happening, finally!

I’m happy to say that my fellow travel buddies have arrived safely in Uganda and I can’t wait to meet them there. Carly, a fellow Jersey City girl and an absolute DELIGHT is teaching music & theater classes and is also chronicling her first time in Uganda with Fount of Mercy here,

First Day

By Carly Voigt (Fount of Mercy volunteer, educational development, focus: music)
The day was so long yesterday and SO much to take in, that I opted not to try to put anything into words. Today, after eight hours of sleep, I feel like I can speak a full sentence again.

Their are so many beautiful moments from yesterday- and also some extremely trying moments. The transit was the most challenging. We take what is called a Mutatu from Jinja to Ingaga, and then take the boda taxi to the countryside where our first organization, MOHM, or Message Of Hope Ministry, is located. Waiting in the Matatu can take 10 minutes, or an hour, but the drivers wont head out to our destination until every seat is full (often with more than one body), so it took us two hours to arrive at MOHM on our first day.
When we arrived at MOHM, in an effort to keep from disturbing the children's school, we walked up to the sleeping quarters for the children- Complete with full bedding and mosquito netting for each bunk. They have acquired enough funding to build a well to access their own water! It's been three days into the digging and the men are nearly 80 ft. down by this point. They tell me they have a week and a half left of digging to do before they hit water.
By this point, the children know that we 'Mazungas', or white people, have arrived and they stream from their modest school house to sing us their welcome song-
'Our Home, This is our good home
Our Home, This is our good hope!'

They sing it again and again until they have successfully hugged me, Michelle, and Kelly. Although the other two girls have been to MOHM many other times, this is my first- and I am simply overwhelmed. The joy that spills from these tiny children as they sing to us and flood us with hugs is touching in a way I have never felt before.

Our first lesson is a combination of me learning how to use my assigned translator, Julius, and the children learning quarter notes (I'm teaching music). These kids are SO SMART! They pick up not only the note value of each eighth note, quarter note, half note, and whole note, but they also understand that it is the 'Mathematics of Music' and can clap and keep the beat of each note line that I give them! Julius is a huge part of the success of the lessons, however, as in their culture, he is slightly uncomfortable with translating my praise to the children. As I catch on, I tell the class: 'You sound wonderful' and ' I am so proud of how quickly you pick up on this!' and then I turn to Julius and wait as he nervously rubs one eye or scratches his nose while he translates my enthusiastic remark with the excitement of a peanut.
Still, I love Julius, which is good because he'll be working with me as my translator for the duration of the teachings. I asked him his story, casually on my first Mutatu ride to the school, fully expecting to hear how he became a translator. Instead I felt like I was socked in the stomach when he tells me of his parents death at the age of twelve.
I have so much more to learn, and so much more to find out- explore-see, and I cannot wait. I already am wondering if what I teach these kids will even compare what they teach me.

More soon
With love, Carly