I Prepared & Memorized my TEDx Talk in These 6 Steps

January 8, 2014 § 2 Comments

In December, I had the privilege of presenting a 12 minute TEDx presentation at Microsoft. The experience was nothing short of elating – it was all kinds of magic to spend the day in a room of driven, passionate, global female entrepreneurs and the men that support us.

I’ve been asked how I prepared for the talk several times since. Here were the steps I took to prepare, memorize and effectively present my talk:

1. I thought for a long time

I had about four months of thinking time in which I didn’t write much at all. During that time, I experienced several things that actually became the crux of my talk. Many people say you should begin to memorize your talk months and months in advance, but I knew that wouldn’t be organic and fresh for me. This thinking time was vitally important.

2. I wrote

…about three drafts, like I would a blog post or an essay. I didn’t edit for timing or worry about language or punctuation, I focused on getting the idea right. After that, I hit a total block where I knew the idea I was trying to present was fuzzy, so I reached out for help.

3. I gave it

I gave my muddled, totally unclear talk to my family and best friends. It helped me see all the areas that were muddled and unclear, as well as get the confidence boost I needed to get in front of a room of several hundred people.

4. I took it to editors

I took my talk to several different types of editors. The first was a friend of mine who focuses on tech writing. I knew he’d come at my talk with a logical focus, and he did. After that, I took it to a speech writer and campaign editor who helped clarify my key points and made it an argument of sorts. I took it to a former editor of mine after that. This was to breathe life back into it, after the logic. It gave it the emotion and push I knew he was used to getting from my writing.

5. I gave it again

After I went through my round of editors a few times, I gave my talk to a theatre director. First, he combed through everything that didn’t make sense. After I had edited those parts out, I gave it to him again, and again, and again every day for about a week until we nailed it, and he told me to take a break.

6. I memorized

  • I memorized my talk in all different environments so that it would be staged or unnatural
  • I focused on giving it while doing things, so I was used to having to move through distraction and be conversational
  • I never gave it while holding notes
  • I gave it to several different people and in several different states (first thing in the morning, late at night, sober, tipsy, tired, sad, angry, happy). That way, I was prepared for whatever came my way when I woke up the morning of my talk
  • Something that worked really well for me was to work to give my talk in my head over and over again on the plane from New York to California. I could force myself to remember phrases and words, and had hours at a time to really focus on honing in my thought process surrounding each section

What’s a Living Wage in Uganda? Post III: Entertainment, Clothing and Education

January 6, 2014 § 1 Comment

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I’ve been calculating an accurate living wage in Uganda since the summer of 2013.

The goal: To build out a manufacturing facility in Kampala that pays its workers a wage calculated based on cultural and personal needs.

The method: Combining on the ground surveys of small focus groups with adjacent research.

My prior research showed the following:

From a month long survey of 11 women living in the slums outside Kampala with an average of 2-5 children:

TRANSPORT: 1800 UGX/day ($.75) – 54,000/mo ($21)

HOUSING:  6000 UGX/day ($2.37) – 180,000/mo ($71)

FOOD: 10,000 UGX/day($3.96) – 30,000/mo ($11.88)

COOKING OIL: 700 UGX/day ($.27) – 21,000/mo ($8.31)

WATER: 1,000 UGX/day ($.39) – 30,000/mo ($11.88)

Afterward, I wrote a post putting the number I came up with (around  $125 a month) into context

A few quick facts from that post:

  • Average workers in semi-skilled trade in urban areas earn approx $63 USD per month (BRAC)
  • Teachers in Uganda recently went on strike to be paid a living wage.
  • They currently are getting $96/month (240,000 UGX) and are asking for double that $192.
  •  The minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 1984, when it was set at 6,000 shillings (less than $2.50) per month, but there is a minimum wage bill up for debate.

After our first round of calculations, we realized we were missing important categories that had to do more with making a life than they did staying alive. A living wage calculates the creation of a holistic life, rather than a the amount simply needed for survival.

The categories are a little bit different than what I had additionally listed as missing, due to the discretion of my head artisan, who was interacting directly with the women whose expenses we were measuring. Lastly, as a disclaimer, she consistently worked with 9 (instead of 12) women in the second part of this survey.

Second, the results of our second round of calculations: 

SCHOOL FEES: 10,261 UGX/day ($4.06) –  318,094/mo ($125.96)
CLOTHING: 3055 ($1.21) UGX/day – 97,722/mo ($38.69)
COMMUNICATION: 1,611 ($.65) UGX/day – 49,944/mo ($19.79)
ENTERTAINMENT: 833 ($.33) UGX/day –  25,833/mo ($10.22)
PERSONAL ITEMS: 2,222 ($.88) UGX/day – 68,888/mo ($27.28)
HEALTH: 3,888 ($1.54) UGX/day – 120,555/mo ($47.73)


My final calculation: 

A living wage, in our context, means approx $393.74/mo per family. That’s around $12/day, or around $1.50/hr.

Comments/corrections? Would love your thoughts in the comments below!

“Then They Won’t be Able to Say ‘Slut.'” A Call to Come Out:

January 3, 2014 § 5 Comments

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I ate avocado salad out of a big, wooden bowl this summer in East Village, sitting on Ben’s floor and asking him if I could help clean the floors before I took the train home for the night.

“Have another beer man,” he shrugged. “I’ll get up early.”

That was the night C said, very simply, that we all must come out.

“Come out, come out, come out.”

She said it three times, just like that. Like a call to arms. Get off your ass, man. Declare what you are.

She was talking about all kinds of sexuality, but it was bigger than that. In the context of conversation, it was about the totality of the kind of living we choose to do. The people we love, the ways we express ourselves, the choices we make outside the societal or religious norm surrounding us — it all must come out.

That way, they won’t be able to say “gay” without imaging three of our faces. They won’t be able to say “slut” without thinking of their best girlfriend’s wild, wild year. They won’t be able to say “bi” without thinking of their closest friend.

“I’m so much more than the label, man,” C said. “I’m a lover and a fighter. I cry and I learn and I get angry and I am a god damn girl. They’ve got to SEE US, to picture out faces, when all they want to see are labels and sins. It’s got to become inconvenient. And the only way to do it is with love.”

Step one: Come out, come out, come out.

Step two: Love big.

I hadn’t known that C’s description was what I’d wanted when I left my religious upbringing almost two years ago. I just knew I was tired of accepting an organized group’s labeling system. I knew that the resounding “you are not one of us” that followed was like a clanging gong on the face of my entire, beating heart. The depression of being so totally alone, after growing up in such a controlled community, felt like an unraveling of my whole soul. And it was.

I didn’t know where I was running to. I just knew what I was running from. The feeling that I wanted to die. The knowledge that there a million and one things I could never do without losing everyone that cared about me. The audible assurance, from a table of men who had ruled my life by the iron sword of scripture, that I was not, in fact, a “good” kind of girl.

I threw all that off when I moved to New York in 2012. I came out as the girl who believes in love, instead of marriage. I came out as the girl who believes in the spirit of a deity moving in her bones, instead of written scripture. I came out as the girl who doesn’t want to ever go back to a church, and can’t imagine locking it down with anyone who did. I came out as a best friend who loves your daughter, regardless of who she fucked last week.

I came out as the girl that might have encouraged her to do so.

One particular night in Uganda this summer changed everything for me. There was a physical earthquake, a voice, an awakening, and a pull that I couldn’t stop. It confirmed the truth I’d been looking for – the assurance that when I left Evangelical Christianity behind, I made my way out of, instead of into, darkness.

And so, this New Year’s Eve, I toasted to living in the light.

It was a group of six of us that shared gratefulness by the light of candles and fireworks from Grand Army Plaza at midnight. We lifted glasses of champagne and, collectively, we drank to the shining light that had come out of each person’s year.

Mine – with a glass raised high above my head and all that old, aching emptiness falling out of the bottom of my being – was to love. My whole life I’ve been loved in spite of the things I did. I’ve been loved even though I was a sinner, even though I wasn’t quiet enough, even though the elders in the church were battling over me, even though I was promiscuous, even though I was a bad influence on my best friend and not the kind of girl you wanted sitting in church beside your daughter.

I toasted to never going back to that dark place again – to the knowledge that I’m loved for who I am, for the first time. I toasted to living out of my beliefs, instead of a community’s direction. I toasted to never getting married to one of those boys. I toasted to coming out against the college that taught me that hate was okay, if I could justify it with a label for a sinner.

I toasted to the hope that, for the people still living in the darkness, my face is a testimony.

I hope it resounds as a call to come out for the girls that may otherwise be labeled and kept in the dark.

Come out, come out, come out.

Here’s to a brand new year.

What’s a Living Wage in Uganda? Post II: A Look at Current Local Salaries:

December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

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In my first blog post on calculating a living wage, I shared the results of a 30 day survey I did on the ground with the artisans I work with at Nakate Project.

Quick context: Nakate is an accessories line I launched at 21 and have distributed out of Uganda and New York since.  Our focus has been supply chain development, financial education and long term perspective change in the community of 12 women we work with. See more from my recent TEDx talk.

This summer, my artisan partners got behind me in making the decision to expand into systemic change. I decided to move into working with a local manufacturing facility, focusing on calculating fair wages, working standards and targeted benefits for workers. Read more here.

We’ve worked as a team to begin calculating what a fair hourly or full time wage looks like for our specific work and demographic. My lead artisan has asked the questions. Our team has provided information about their expenses, and I’ve been putting it together against other research I’ve done with the ILO, BRAC, Wage Indicator and local friends helping me understand the day to day costs I might be missing.

In my last post, I wrote that the basic needs of our average worker added up to around 316000 UGX $125 a month.

That number included food, shelter, water, cooking oil and transport. It was missing these key components we’ve done a second survey on since (and will share soon):

  • Recreation and cultural activities
  • Communications
  • Personal care and services
  • Education
  • Clothing
  • Annual costs of furnishings

How does that number compare to current salaries in Kampala? 

  • Average wages for workers in semi-skilled trade in 15 urban areas is 160,600 Ugandan Shillings (UGX) per month (BRAC)
  • Teachers in Uganda recently went on strike to be paid a living wage.
  • They currently are getting $96/month (240,000 UGX) and are asking for double that (480,000 UGX / month).
  •  The minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 1984, when it was set at 6,000 shillings per month, but there is a minimum wage bill up for debate.

Next up: a new wage calculation with the factors we left out during the last one.

I Can Have it All, & 8 Other Things I’ve Been Told about Girls Like Me:

December 13, 2013 § 1 Comment


“I want to put everything in this place in my great, big mouth.” That’s what my sister said in Downtown Manhattan’s Economy Candy shop last spring. That’s how my heart felt when I chose a life that fed my soul the way my sister does mid-Manhattan afternoon cackle. Like I wanted everything. And I was afraid life didn’t give everything to girls who felt like that.

“You’ve got to let it go,” that’s what my best friend said to me, when I wanted to go back to living small. She meant letting go like hanging up your hat on scratching old wounds. The kind of phone calls to talk to death the things you knew to be true back before you called up that one friend that never agreed with you anyway.

“It happens to powerful people.” That’s what my mother said, when I told her I’d been criticized. She meant power like the quiet beat of strength in your heart, when you cut the noise and get quiet with who you know yourself to be.

“You don’t have time to waste on fixing the small things.” That’s what my Dad said to me over Thai food at 7:30 PM last Saturday. He meant small like the boy who called my sister chocolate, and didn’t mean it sweet. Small like the man who said I was too much to handle, so I never called him back.

“I’m not afraid to lead like a girl.” That’s what a woman from Chicago with the kind of life I’d like to have said to a room full of girls like me, last week. When she said like a girl, she meant emotion and personal connection with strength. She meant like being a single mother and making the executive board alongside, instead of in spite of, her choices. She meant like letting go of second dates she didn’t get asked on and fears she had about all the messes that never got cleaned up because, she said, you can have it all, when you’re a girl like us. You just can’t have it all at once.

“You’re going to have to step outside your emotional attachment, and sacrifice the things that don’t go along with your vision.” That’s what my mentor said to me when I was tired. He meant sacrifice like what inhibits the soul of your work. He meant sacrifice like cutting loose the people and beliefs that slow the momentum you’re picking up. Momentum like the AirTran late on a Monday night, bringing me back to the apartment where I learned to love New York for the first time. Momentum like the work that carries you to joy.

“Don’t choose a lesser path.” That’s what my Dad said when I wavered and almost stopped. He meant choose like trajectory. Choose like a vision on a piece of paper I mapped out a year ago. He wanted me to realize that life doesn’t just float past you like a parade of chances, over and over and over again parading by for you to clap at. Its a bucking bronco, life. It’s a god damn rodeo, and which bull are we letting out of the pin now, daughter? You can only ride one, just now, and you’re going to have to choose.

He meant lesser like the people who might tell you that you’re too much to take. Like the people who would ask you to spend time on reconstructing yourself into something smaller than what your father hoped you be. Like the girl he was making you into when he layed out on the trampoline with you at night and asked you to look at the stars, and think about everything you wanted to hold with your tiny two hands.

Now, put that great big dream inside your mouth like you’ve swallowed a million stars, daughter. Spill it back out at everything around you until you know you’ve lit up your own, big expanse of the sky. Until that dream makes something of you, makes something of itself, makes something that gave you the kind of joy he always hoped you’d go looking for.

“Live to enjoy yourself, to pursue your passion, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what comes your way.” That’s what my mother said when I couldn’t stop regretting. She said it over and over and over again – every time I got hurt or left or criticized. She said it until I heard her for the first time, just last night.

“Some pieces of your life you can’t go looking for,” she said. “They come to you. Keep yourself open until they do.” She meant open like filling your time with people who love you. Open like letting the ones go who don’t. Open like not fixing all the times you didn’t get understood. What about when you were, or will be, or are understood? She meant open like drinking that in.

“You can have it all,” that strong, Chicago voice called out to me on Saturday. “Just not all at once.” She meant have it all like having what’s in front of me, and holding out hope for the things that weren’t yet. Like not trying to clean up the messes, when they didn’t work out. Having it all like understanding that those things were just spots in my sky – big, black blotches on a night of stars, reminding me what it looks like when you believe that you have to spend all that beautiful, valuable, make-your dreams-happen-kind-of time cleaning out under all the things that made you hurt.

She meant having it all like a reminder of what’s ahead when you forget that, you? You don’t have time to keep crawling on your knees to pick up and carry small things in your two, tiny hands that were made for catching it all.

…and when I say catch it all, I mean everything in that great big expanse of dreams my father taught me to hope for.

Just not all at once.

What’s a Living Wage in Uganda? My Initial 30 Day Cost Survey

December 2, 2013 § 2 Comments

Nakate Project

In August, Florence and I set out to determine how much our average worker needed per month in order to accurately provide for her family.

I can ballpark payment for a skilled worker – someone living in Kampala, with a college degree, who lives in a one or two bedroom apartment with her boyfriend and eats Irish potatoes, posho, Matoke and chicken and chips most nights. Throw in a beer or two, some nights out with friends, boda rides for when she doesn’t feel like cramming into a Matatu, and I can get it almost, exactly, just right. I’ve lived that life. I know what it looks like, and the late night squeeze between going home to cook up some rice and beans, and splurging on a cocktail and Chicken Biryani in Kabalagala.

The difference between that kind of life and that of the “unskilled workers” I was working with, is akin to comparing an upper east sider with a nanny and a driver and…let’s not get into it, to my life in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, where Taxis are reserved for the greatest of emergencies, and you pretend you’re a beer girl even when you want a cocktail because $15.00 just isn’t going to cut it for a drink this month.

All that to say, I realized I had no clue. When we sat our partners down to find out their average monthly expenses we realized, neither did they. How much did they spend on transport? On food? On housing? I got blank stares.

So, we decided to calculate it together.

This is called a living wage, and it exists as the relevant insight behind a minimum wage. It determines the ground floor for what a person needs to thrive within their cultural and geographic context – make bills, provide for education and participate in local cultural and family activities. The importance of a living wage was emphasized by Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece, St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, Adam Smith in the 18th century, and Popes since 1890. But it’s just barely being calculated in the developing world.

Here’s the thing: calculating a living wage gets sticky in the developing world, so most companies working just don’t do it.

Here’s what hurts if you calculate too high:

1. You don’t want to price yourself out of the cheap labor market.
2. You don’t want to pay so much more than everyone around you that you create artificial wealth, and unreasonable expectation.

Here’s why it’s a detrimental mistake to pay too little:

1. You can get your worker’s full dedication because they’re forced to consistently look for side work elsewhere to meet their bills.2. You’re keep the very foundation of your company – the workers that make it up – in perpetual poverty. Unable to catch up, let alone ‘get ahead,’ you’re running your facility on stress, discouragement, depression and chronically bad health.

You’ve got to hit that sweet spot – somewhere in between paying 10x what someone needs because you’re a white girl that’s all ‘BOUT THAT POSITIVE CHANGE, and screwing people over because you didn’t think enough about what it was they needed to be getting before you parceled out hourly wages.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) explained in a 2011 report that, “Companies proffer various reasons why they do not pay a living wage in practice. A common reason, and perhaps excuse, for not paying a living wage relates to difficulties in measuring a living wage such as lack of a universally accepted definition, lack of an accepted formula and subjectivity.”

Florence didn’t want that, and neither did I. We set out do a monthly survey, with several columns with pictures at the top explaining each item for our workers who don’t read – transportation (a photo of a bus), food (a full plate), oil (you get the gist…).

Each day, Florence worked to write down reported expenses their prospective column, at the end of 30 days we added up corresponding daily and monthly averages.

From a month long survey of 11 women living in the slums outside Kampala with an average of 2-5 children:

TRANSPORT: 1800 UGX/day ($.75) – 54,000/mo ($21)

HOUSING:  6000 UGX/day ($2.37) – 180,000/mo ($71)

FOOD: 10,000 UGX/day($3.96) – 30,000/mo ($11.88)

COOKING OIL: 700 UGX/day ($.27) – 21,000/mo ($8.31)

WATER: 1,000 UGX/day ($.39) – 30,000/mo ($11.88)

Afterward, we checked our research against the ILO’s formula for living wages, and found that it includes the following cost of basic necessities:

  • Nutritious low-cost diet that is appropriate for the country in terms of the types of food items included
  • Basic housing in the location with an acceptable standard generally defined in terms of size, number of rooms, structure‘s materials, and availability of amenities such as indoor toilet and electricity.
  • Adequate clothing and footwear (sometimes with specific numbers of shirts, pants, shoes, etc., indicated)
  • Cost of other needs, such as transportation, children‘s education, health care, child care, household furnishings and equipment, recreation and cultural activities, communications, and personal care and services.
  • Sometimes a small margin above the total cost already estimated for a frugal and basic life style is added to help provide for unforeseen events, such as illnesses and accidents, so that common unforeseen events do not easily throw workers into a poverty trap that they may never be able to get out of.
  • The total estimated cost per capita of a basic living standard is then scaled up to arrive at cost for a household using an assumption on the household size that needs to be supported.
  • Finally, total cost for a household is defrayed over the number of full-time equivalent workers assumed to be working in a household.

Visual Chart:

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 6.10.49 PMWhat we had left out:

  • Recreation and cultural activities
  • Communications
  • Personal care and services
  • Education
  • Clothing
  • Annual costs of furnishings

Without these added costs, the basic needs of our average worker added up to around $125 a month.

Next in this series, I’ll provide research on average payments and their corresponding payment riots in Kampala to put this number in context. Keep in mind that it’s just the survival basics, without calculating education, clothing or communication.

I’ll be breaking down our adjusted number after giving relevant context surrounding this one I listed here.

I’m Opening up @NakateProject’s Supply Chain. Here’s Why:

November 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Nakate Project

Florence had already started, when I showed up.

I mean that in the sense of the whole of our work – that she had laid the foundation for an accessories company in Uganda, and I created a line and a website and a customer base a lot of mistakes that led me to the point where I was, in a word, ready. My role was to create quality control, management, budgeting, and an outside perspective Florence needed on herself and the work she was trying to do. Her role was the life in it – the ins and outs of the supply chain and the relationships necessary to make the thing happen.

I am often aware that I am the woman standing in the front row, watching Florence’s life performance. It’s her words, the life in them – the way she moves and works in her community, her laugh that make up the melody of everything Nakate rests on. It’s her singing the Aria de la Luna, at the front of the stage, and I’m on the cello, way in the back, making up one note in a set of dozens of strings, all coming together in her commitment to change the lives of the women around her.

Uganda, itself, is not so different than anywhere else, in the end. The transportation, the food, the dust that I kick up when I climb off the back of a boda – none of it makes up the work that we’re doing. It’s relationships that make up that part. It’s laughter. The mornings – Jesus, where’s my coffee? It’s early. 

“Mzungu, you are so hardly awake! I don’t trust you to do calculations! Somebody, bring this girl some tea!”

“Auntie, you know better than that. I only drink coffee.”

She’s laughing at me, already. “How many cups have you had yet, I am asking my daughter now.”

I smile, then – “only two.”

You might wonder, if you listened in on our banter, how the hell the two of us ever met. We are half family, half professionals, some days crying over disappointments we share – other days joking about cultural differences and – every day we are building the development of a thing that I’m aware, in the end, means much more to her than it possibly can to me. She’s living it, that Aria she’s singing out there in front of the stage. And me? I’m just playing a part in the song.

On the days that I learn how to manage my temper and my emotions, while dealing with quality control in Uganda, our roles switch. Florence is the one in the front row – cheering back, chastising, reminding me what leadership looks like – assuring me of how young I am, and that I’m a good girl, only just begun. She clicks her tongue, and raises her left eye brow – always the left – when she’s reminding me of some of the things I still have to learn.

“Mzungu,” she says quietly. “It takes very long to build. You are so easily discouraged.”

That’s her playing a tune in my song, for a change. She’s the rhythm to the way I move, the beat that holds me together while I try to find the most effective role for me to play in international development.

What I’ve come to believe, more than anything, is that the next step of development in Uganda and, more accurately, Sub Saharan Africa as a whole, is to turn the things we’ve built back on the people that we’ve created them alongside. That’s my role, at least – what I’ve committed to over and over again before finally admitting it out loud, here.

I believe that we were the first responders. We came running in when there wasn’t the opportunity yet, and we began proving to the global market that African had something to offer to it.

We came in to throw something wide open to the world – to convince them that it can be done, in Africa. Supply chains can be built. Relationships can be made. Relationships outside of us, and our insistence on hand holding.

Building a business selling baskets, accessories? Something else? Good. That’s phase #1. For me – phase #2 is this: How can you make your supply chain less dependent on you, and move them into a role of being an international player on their own?

I’m convinced that’s its a logical step in the foundation of we’re all building for, and here’s why: 

  • Africa speaks for itself
  • Artisan groups are able to compete directly in the international market, sourcing business to business and learning from their experience and mistakes, instead of getting in a rhythm  of only working with one management group or nonprofit
  • Increased competition and sustainability of having direct customers will not only put more money on the ground, it will create a sustainable way for more money to be put on the ground
  • Artisanal skills will be grown to fit market needs as others source from the same groups we do
  • Greater growth is allowed, when others enter in to work with people outside of us

The world is watching Africa, and we are the pioneers, with access to experiences and people that others haven’t made yet. We have the freedom to bring others in, with us – to build something bigger than ourselves.

The question in front of us – in front of me – is how we will do that.

“I can take orders that are not from Nakate,” Florence assures me on the phone. “You will help me. You will help me to manage the money. You will help me to manage the shipping. You have already taught me quality. We will work with these other people and soon, after you show me, I can do it on my own.”

Nakate will become one of her clients, instead of managing all of her clients. I will buy for my line. I will facilitate helping others to do the same. We will each sell our uniquely designed pieces to our respective wholesale or retail customers. Some are calling it disruptive. Others are calling it crazy. I’m just calling it my next steps.

I own the rights to certain designs. I don’t own the rights to a specific supply chain. And, so, we’re starting with two accounts – the first accounts outside of Nakate that belong just to Florence and the artisans working alongside her, instead of to ‘us’…or to me.

The first time she runs an order on her own – when the emails are no longer cc’d, and the orders run seamlessly for others like I’ve worked so hard for them to do for me, will be the moment that I will know that I have become truly successful in my work. That will be the day that I set down my instrument quietly and – all eyes on Florence – take my exit from the stage.

Someday, I hope to walk in on her teasing some other California girl, fresh off the plane, about her morning coffee. I’ll smile,  knowing that she’s only just beginning her own journey into creating change in Uganda – and has yet to learn just how much, how very much, it’s going to change her back.


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