March 8, 2012 § 1 Comment
Today, I’m simply re-blogging a post from Nakate‘s blog.
The longer I work with artisans in Uganda, the more I find that the women I know from central Uganda are some of the strongest, most intense, most driven, powerful people I know.
Not to mention, my dear friends.
Today, I’m celebrating them -
- Agnes Kabugo is the project manager for Nakate. She not only helps women across her native country, she manages the local school and, often, will step in for her husband and preach at the local church.
- Grave Kavuna, a pastress in Kakooge, sent 10 of her children to school through her own salary.
- Florence stopped defining herself as the poorest woman in the village.
- Grace, an uneducated woman, was able to send all 10 of her children to school to be educated.
- For the first time in her life, Grace was able to take her children to the hospital whenever they fall sick.
- Grace made a statement in the church that she runs – men don’t believe that women should have their own money but she preaches from the pulpit that, through Nakate, she has her own bank account.
- Nakato stopped believing that a bank account is only for rich women, and opened her own. After that, she was able to pay for her own medical bills, and bring herself back to health after falling really sick for a period of time because of her HIV status.
- Margaret Namayego paid off a Habitat for Humanity house loan.
- Margaret bought two cows and a pig.
- Grace Nsambu bought a bicycle, a cow and grew her small roadside shop.
- Grace became an equal breadwinner for her family.
- Harriet opened a bank account, bought a pig and started a breakfast and lunch roadside stand.
- Harriet’s granddaughter Anet saw her grandmother purchase a pig through Nakate, and began to work with us herself, in the hopes that she could save enough money to open her own restaurant. When her grandmother saw her initiative, she gave her some of her own Nakate salary to get her started on her business while she’s waiting for her’s.
- Dorothy Nambooze paid for all her grandchildren to go to school.
- Justine stopped digging a hole in her back yard and stuffing money in it. Instead, she opened a bank account.
- Jane turned her mud hut into a cement house, and was able to afford taking care of her sick mother.
- Nakato was able to get herself out of bed and on her feet through continuing to work with Nakate while sick with HIV, and paying for her own hospital bills.
- Betty was able to afford rent, and school fees for her children.
- Florence Nakacwa bought herself a piglet.
- After Juliet Nabukenya’s husband left her for another woman, she was able to send all of her children back to school with her own salary.
- Lydia went from sitting at home without work to do, or digging for a small salary in other people’s fields, to having a job that paid for her pay her bills, and save some money.
- After being deserted by the Muslim community and her family, Saudah bought poultry for herself through her salary and says she eats whenever and however she wants to, now.
- Margaret Nakamya finished building her house, and bought a bicycle, pigs and a cow.
- Justine feels “settled” inside and stopped worrying incessantly – for the first time in her life.
- At 50, Florence received her first paycheck, and was able to begin buying animals to supplement her income with Nakate, and started successfully taking care of her 10 grandchildren.
- Kisakye bought bricks to buy herself a permanent home. She felt empowered to take care of her children herself, instead of depending on a husband she says was a drunkard.
- Caroline began a charcoal business shipping charcoal to Kampala on trucks that come through Kakooge on their way to town. She identified land she wants to buy in Kakooge, and plans to purchase it as soon as she saves enough of her salary. She was able to pay for her sick mother’s health care.
- Margaret Nakibuka bought iron sheets for roofing her home.
- Scovia, a Rwandan first generation Ugandan, paid off her loan on a house in Kakooge. She started a business selling milk at the local market.
- Margaret stopped sitting at home crying thinking she’d die from AIDS and leave her children. Instead, she said she has hope.
- Over 120 children were able to attend a private, well run school founded by Align Ministries in Kakooge through their mothers paying their salaries.
- Together with her job as a teacher, Rebecca was able to single handedly provide for her four children, two of her siblings and her mother.
- Fatuma agreed to leave her work as a prostitute and begin making jewelry instead.
- Jane Katushabe opened a bank account, and began saving money to buy a permanent house, instead of renting.
- At least five women in Kakooge hired people to dig roots for them, instead of digging themselves.
- 8-year-old Maurine was able to provide for her own school fees, and help provide for her grandmother to feed herself and her older siblings.
- Health care was paid for for in over 20 people’s families through their own salaries, rather than outside funding.
- Saudah bought herself a brand new outfit for the first time in her life.Read the original post.
I like Jimmy Choos, and I Hate Cheap Beer. Otherwise Known as The Reasons Why #Kony2012 is Being Criticized.
March 7, 2012 § 13 Comments
A month or so ago, I posted a blog about a mistake I made in my work in Uganda. It was @tmsruge who caught me. I have a tremendous amount of respect for his opinion and so, when he came down on me, I listened – and I learned.
He is in a kind of twitter “trifecta council” made up of himself, @DAWNInc founder & exec director @Semhar and @InnovateAfrica – a woman whose views on philanthropy, diaspora, social justice and gender continue to challenge and educate me on almost a daily basis. I recommend following all three of them, and keeping up on their work.
In my friendships in Uganda, I have learned something huge about myself. Namely, I will always be an outsider. I will always be 1/2 of a transnational business. I will always be a white woman. I will always be different. And, as much as we tried to combine our cultures, we often come to an impasse – we are called to different realities and, with it, different lives.
Let’s be real.
I like Jimmy Choos, and I hate cheap beer.
Oh, oh! And I’ll take the $8.00 chalice of Three Philosophers please. Oh, and that’s a chalice, not a glass. Right?
(PS – I don’t currently own Jimmy Choos. And, I just paid my phone bill, so I’m not drinking any expensive beer this week, don’t worry).
People criticize me for spending any kind of money while working in “aid.” But, here’s the reality I’ve had to learn about myself. I’m an American woman who partners with Ugandan artisans for the purpose of making money for both of us. And, we’re running a business, not a charity project. They benefit. I benefit. And, I don’t think any other kind of model is realistic.
However, I struggled with my identity in regards to Uganda for a long time. I began with feeling like I could never spend any money on myself, even selling my own things to pay bills and giving up a lot of my hopes and dreams in order to work in Africa.
Let’s be clear.
I chose to do that. No one in Uganda asked me to.
And, along the way, I realized that it just wasn’t sustainable. Beyond that, it wasn’t respectful.
I was not that way because I truly valued the powerful women I work with in Uganda. I did that because I was confused about my identity as a white girl working in central Uganda. I felt critical of myself for liking expensive things, handling things like a white girl would and for feeling the irresistible urge to kiss my porcelain toilet back in CA on more than one occasion.
I tried to change myself so that I would fit in better, tried to make my white a little less obvious. But, that’s not really very possible, and I have never been more aware of it than a certain day when I plopped myself down with a Nile Brew and a wireless orange connection at the airport. I’m not timid, so I sat in the middle of a group of men to watch the soccer game blaring from a small tv descending from a florescently lit airport ceiling.
I felt real cool with my Nile brew and soccer knowledge, until I realized everyone had stopped watching the game, and started staring at me instead.
I returned home from that trip, in particular, with a deep need to re-define my role in Uganda. I had been criticized for the way I handled several situations like a Mzungu (white), and I felt angry – angry at Ugandan culture, angry at American culture – angry with myself, angry with the people criticizing me.
I spent about three months really delving into the heart of the issue, and it came back to identity, for me.
My mom helped. Over coffee, I poured out the tale of my African failures, ending with, “you know, I really handled things like a white girl, and I’ve got to stop DOING THAT!”
She stared at me. “You are a white girl,” she said. “Of course you handle things that way.”
You wouldn’t think I needed to be reminded of that, but I did. I needed to remember that I’m white, that I was born in America and that the fact of the matter is that I run a transnational business in Uganda. So, here’s how that works – I have Ugandans that run my company in Uganda, and I run it here. Hence, the need for two cultures, two colors – two perspectives, two different people groups.
In my acceptance of myself, I was able to realize that, in a lot of ways, I had been incredibly prideful. I had come into Uganda with the belief that I had better solutions for issues on the ground, that the weight of saving a village was on my shoulders and that knew better how to handle emergency situations, village conflicts and the establishment of organized business in a country I’ve been traveling to for three years.
Imagine if my Ugandan partner walked into a shop on Melrose and whispered, before entering – “Don’t worry Shan, I’ve got this one covered, you just watch and learn while I take on LA.”
So, I’ve begun to learn that I have a lot to learn. And, within that paradigm, I’ve been able to embrace my place as a white girl, apologize for my shortcomings, ask for help and advice and begin to better understand a place that my Ugandan friends are just as anxious to help me understand as I am to help them understand my culture.
I’ve learned to be quiet more often, and to assume, walking into situation, that I there are cultural factors I’m ignorant of, and will be brought up to speed about later.
Here’s some full disclosure. Just this week, I had to work through a myriad of emails regarding management on the ground, and how best to run it from a Ugandan perspective. I went to bed exhausted, humbled and yet feeling more comfortable than ever in my new shoes as a white girl partnering with a fantastic group of educated, powerful Ugandan leaders and artisans.
While Invisible Children has done great work educating “the rest of us” about a conflict in Africa, you could perhaps say they have failed to take their place in African culture as a group of whites seeking to partner with powerful, educated Ugandans, rather than spreading the idealism that Ugandans need a young American Dad with a pre-schooler to save their sorry asses.
Then again, I’m an American woman.
These people are just three of hundreds of activists, journalists and experts in Uganda that are speaking about their views in Invisible Children’s campaign that shows co-founder Jason as someone taking on the bad guys in Uganda, and saving the day in the pearl of Africa.
Turns out, Uganda’s been working to save itself for a long time now.
October 7, 2011 § Leave a Comment
(Disclaimer – I’m not sure if these numbers are exactly correct – found via this tumblr)
February 17, 2011 § 2 Comments
The peace corps turned 50 in January, and the Align Ministries founders and I caught a January 14th special on 20/20 about the organization. Except, rather than singing the organization’s praises, the episode covered several sex scandals (not to mention a murder) that the corps has, supposedly, sought to cover up.
I was struck by a few things as we were watching the special, and it sparked a long conversation between the three of us. Firstly, I was struck by the need for education on sexual assault. Second, I was struck by the cultural ignorance of the women working for the corps. I don’t know all the full stories, but I do know that you don’t sleep on an open veranda in an African village. I know that from walking on the streets in Africa. I know that from how the men talk. I know it from how they call to me. I know that from the narrowing in Morris’ eyes when they say things he won’t repeat to me.
More than that, I know that from experience. On the last night of my first trip to Uganda, I left my Ray-bans at a home down the street. A friend and I put on sweatshirts and (in shorts and flip flops) ran back down the street to get them. I remember feeling afraid – not the kind of fear you get in your bed at night when you know, deep down, that it’s just the dark, and you really are safe. This was a new kind of fear – a fear that felt instilled by a cosmic force in the universe to tell me when I was being stupid – and I was. When we got to my friend’s, she scolded both of us – two blonde, nineteen year old American girls who ran bare legged down the streets of Jinja for a sixty dollar pair of shades.
“It wouldn’t have been worth it,” she said. “And things do happen here.”
Less than a week later, two of my roommates were attacked on the street outside the orphanage I had been working at. One was saved wielding the laundry basket she was carrying, another ran for help. Less than six months later, two of the staff I worked under were attacked in their home by four men, one of them using the girls’ own meat cleaver against a closed door, while screaming, “give me money!”
I slept in the same house the night I heard that story, thankful that my fear was only in my head, because a guard had been posted outside the house, and bars had been set on the windows.
I thought about the 20/20 episode and my friends’ experiences in Africa again, this week, when Lara Logan’s story brought the frequency of sexual assault against female journalists (and, with it, the frequency of sexual assault against female activists in general) to the surface.
HuffPo reporter Judith Matloff writes that women have remained silent because,
At a time of shrinking foreign budgets, no one wants to be pulled off the job because they are seen as a liability.
As one woman who had been molested by an Indian crowd explained: “I didn’t want to viewed as weaker than the guys.”
She writes further that,
The newsroom myopia is such that very few safety training courses offered to conflict reporters include specific precautions for women. Participants learn about evading kidnappers and the speed of a bullet, but not how to ward off a rapist. And yet, today, women fill the ranks of top foreign positions, and rape can be a death sentence if the attacker has AIDS.
Likewise, the lengthy security manual issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists, arguably the world’s preeminent safety advocacy group, lacks tips on sexual assault. It includes advice on protecting the wallet, and learning local languages. But where are the mentions of alarms for hotel doorknobs?
I am struck by the truth to this – the ignorance of my run down the street, the shock of an exchange student who told me the story of an early morning walk to school in Kampala, when she was knocked to the ground on a road she walked daily, and asked if she wanted the man on top of her to f**k her. She screamed “NO!” repeatedly, and gave him everything he asked for. I was struck by her comment that she was thankful for the spandex shorts she was wearing – quite possibly, they were part of what saved her.
Matloff suggests the following tips for protecting yourself as a woman because, let’s face it, we simply are different. Not weaker: different. I have often been told in Uganda that there is a particular strength in being there as a woman. But I know that I am different. With my emotional strength comes a kind of physical weakness:
Female correspondents need to be forewarned about steps to ward off rapists. To name a few: defecate on yourself, keep a deodorant can by the bed (to spray into an assailant’s eyes), don’t get drunk with sources, ensure you’re not followed to your room, push furniture against the door, always work alongside a man in crowds. Some more – wear a whistle but never a ponytail.
In my own travels, I have found that the key to safety (in my work, such as it is) is trustworthy locals. On my first trip to Haiti, my housemates Junior (24) and Jimmy (26) would grab my hands and hold them whenever we went into a crowded area in public. They’d cup my palm in theirs and pull it through the crook of their elbow so I was held close. Later, I was struck by the need for awareness, even with them, when Junior raised his hand to smack me across the face during an argument (he put it back down when I quietly told him I’d make him lose his job). I’ve heard stories of women that trusted local men with credit cards, rooms and personal belongings. A South African guide during a white water trip said to me once that, “You should never drink with the men here. I see it all the time – the girls doing philanthropy work that come to party. The men here aren’t the same. They’ll take advantage of you, and after that, they’ll take your things from you. If you’re going to party, party with other aid workers.”
In Uganda, I’m keep safe in the following ways:
- Even if I wanted to, the family I live with never lets me walk anywhere alone (and neither should you).
- I never am allowed to walk at the very back of a group.
- I pay the fare for one of my adopted Ugandan “brothers” to go with me when I travel somewhere.
- If I need to do work on my own, Morris travels with me and stands close by to make sure that I am kept safe. All I need to do is nod, and he comes to ask if I’m ok.
- I don’t talk to the men in the village without Morris speaking to them first and telling them who I am, and what I need. After that, he stands close behind me.
- I’ve ventured into the “red light district” in several villages, as well as into the bar scene (for what it’s worth) in several different places – but always with locals who know their way around well, and who talk and joke with the people around me while I take pictures, or talk. If someone becomes too excited or angry, they are apologized to – and we move on as a group.
- In Jinja, I am typically on my own more often, but I’ve learned from the women there that there are reputable drivers you can trust (we have three names). I only use those drivers.
- If I am moving on my own, I travel roads that I know well, and I only travel them during the day. At night, I drive places with local friends.
- When I travel through the UAE overnight, I go directly to my hotel room, and I don’t leave until I’m leaving for my flight the next day. I only stay in places like the Emirates hotel – where I am transported with several other international visitors.
Watch the full 20/20 episode below. As Matloff writes, “editors should not refrain from dispatching women into combat for fear of sexual assault. Instead, they should prepare staff to make informed decisions and cope in case the unthinkable occurs.”
At the risk of sounding weak, I’ll admit that I texted Codi this morning, and I thanked him for coming to Uganda with me.