Sunday, 21 October 2018

Ladies of Uganda

Every Monday afternoon something in going on in Kikooba village…Ladies in colourful traditional Ugandan outfit called “gomez” are urging to the school holding big sacks. The ladies are arriving from different parts of the village and gather together in the court of the primary school. When they arrive they sit on the ground and the hidden treasures of the sacks are coming to light.
Kikooba village can be proud of their work in respect of keeping cultural heritage. The ladies are meeting in order to produce gorgeous crafts from local natural materials. The baskets, mats and jewels are made from banana leaves and palm fibres. The techniques are thought by mother to daughter since generations. Besides the old patterns the ladies are eager to learn new weaving techniques and expand the variety of products by inventing new patterns and shades.
The aim of the group is to find an income generating activity for the women. In rural Uganda most of the women are working at home with the household, taking care of the gardens and the family which means that they are not formally employed and lack of any income. Early marriages are very common and women are often give birth to their first child at the age of 14-15. Due to these reasons women are highly dependent on their husbands or later on their children/grandchildren. By weaving they can have a minimum income on their own that they can invest on ameliorating the nutrition of their family or paying the school fees of their children.
Besides the financial side of the weekly meeting the group is giving the opportunity to the ladies to participate to their own activity. During the weaving sessions the new information are shared, the new gossips are talked through. The members of the group hold together and support each other in every aspects of life.
The group recently joined to a local organisation which connects already twelve ladies groups all around Uganda. Every group has volunteer trainers who time to time travel to different regions to meet each other and teach various techniques. According to many Ugandans interviewed the root of the problems of the country is the tribal conflict which tears apart the society. Besides the aim to maintain the traditions the organisation’s goal is to connect people from different parts of the country and promote cooperation. By the help of the volunteering program the chosen members of the group can travel, meet women from different tribes and clans and work hand in hand.
Based on the recitation of the director of the above organization the women who participate to the group activities became more independent, proud and self-confident. The communities also experienced a change. Women are more valued and esteemed. The director also emphasized that in some of the communities men asked the ladies to let them join the groups and willing to learn the crafting techniques.
By supporting the groups we can witness the positive process of transformation of Ugandan society.

Saturday, 20 October 2018


Enrico Barone

11. On September 3rd 2018 early morning I set up for a half year volunteering journey in Uganda, East Africa. Accompanied by a pretty huge suitcase, a heavy computer bag with my half broken but still powerful laptop and a camera bags with my old beloved Canon camera and the new unknown Panasonic for video plus some rudimentary sound equipment, I reached Naples airport and boarded on the Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.
1.1  I arrived in Istanbul after three hours and had about five to six hours in between flights. That was time enough to spend 40 euros on mobile data, having forgotten that Turkey is not in the European Union and ,neglecting the availability of Wi-Fi internet in some cafeterias, to be cheated at that very same cafeteria, called "Little Italy", by paying way too much for a water, a small sandwich and a whiskey (meant to celebrate something I did not recall after that anyway).
1.2  At the gate for the flight Istanbul- Entebbe there were more white people than others. Dutch, Italian, British, a group of young Germans. It was hot and the flight was a bit delayed. Some people complained, I kept staring at them, while still thinking over about the fact I had been cheated at "Little Italy".
1.3  I slept over the whole flight. I woke up and stretched my legs only during the pit stop in Kigali, Rwanda, which was somehow fascinating. The arrival to Kigali airport was accompanied by an amazing sunset, enjoyable through the little window. I’m still asking myself why I did not snap a pic of it. Too touristic perhaps?  Well, that should not have stopped me.

     2.  Entebbe airport. I got my visa applied to the passport, went through the controls and was asked whether I had also a drone together with my cameras. I denied, the police woman stared at me a bit, until I added that I do not even know how to handle a drone and anyway I suffer height. Thus she smiled and lifted her eyebrows. This gesture will soon become the most common thing I will be encountering during everyday Ugandan experience.
2.1  I could not find the driver who was supposed to bring me to Kampala. He was there with my name written on a white paper. I had missed him few times until he finally appeared in front of me.
2.2  The way to Kampala, at 4am, is difficult to describe. Dark roads, lot of people here and there, then huge police cars or trucks, sudden jam, tropical plants on dusty roads, colourful shops, and all those new visions started fulfilling the soul.
2.3  I was supposed to reach the apartment where I will be spending my next six months together with another Mondo volunteer, Hungarian Kata, and Adise volunteer Teresa from Germany. But I was brought to the UPA, my host organisation, guest house and welcomed by Cissy. I slept there until about 12am. Still tired.
2.4  Next day I was welcomed by Sarah and Claire from UPA and immediately after I finally met Sam, whom I had spoken only through Skype.
2.5  Sam is the board member and founder of UPA. Ugand Pioneers's Association is my hosting organization here in Kampala, while Mondo thesending one.
2.6  Thus this blog needs an explanation. Why am I here?

33.  I am in Kampala as a EUAV, European Union Humanitarian Aid volunteer. Thanks to Mondo, who believed in me and Sam who trusted both Mondo people and me, I had the special opportunity to be on field in a totally different environment, in order to work with local communities in project management and resilience building. More precisely I will be working with three local organizations: -KDI, Trust Future and KIFAD in Kampala and will be spending a month in up country in Gulu working together with "Logoro Tutte" cooperatives.
Being my skills stronger in photography, videography and design, the project was slightly changed and focused rather on social media marketing.

44.   First days in Kampala. Our apartment is in Nansana, a town in Wakiso district, just out of Kampala’s northern bypass, few hundred meters from the main road, Hoima road, which leads north to Wakiso and then Hoima. It is a crowded and dusty area with a proliferating market life, many shops of all kinds and nice and less nice pubs and clubs.
4.1  The most shocking experience at the beginning was entering a matatu, or taxi, as they called it officially here. They are small minibuses, the cheapest way of transportation but also the slowest one, because of the continuous stops and big jams. Because of my claustrophobia I could not board one the first time, since the only free place was in the back, with no access to aa window or a close door.
4.2  Boda bodas are everywhere and they are fast, less safe and more expensive. Nonetheless since few years both Taxify and Uber offers a safer boda service, and moreover Safe bodas are cheaper and have safer drivers, which offer helmets too.
4.3  Nansana is full of nursery and primary schools and thus of course of children. Being called a Mzungu, id a white man, has soon become part of my daily life. Our apartment is surrounded by local families with children who love to speak to us and ask for flowers or guavas fruit from our trees. It is still hard to get all of their names, but Melanie and her friends are among the smartest and sweetest ones. It is always a pleasure to come back home and being greeted by them in English, while from time to time they try to teach me some Luganda language.
4.4  Native Lounge and restaurant is a nice place with amazing live music on Fridays. Precious, one of the waitress, already confessed she loves us.

5  5. From 7th to 9th of September I was at the Nyege Nyege music festival, one of the biggest festivals in Africa, in Jinja, Eastern Uganda, about 8 kms from Kampala. Amazing location near the source of river Nile, a spacious and green place with amazing vibes, floods of dances and twerking, African music  from Ghana, Uganda, Congo, German minimalistic techno and even a Latvian band.
5.1  There I started appreciating the beauty of Uganda and Ugandans, I learnt how to drink the local gin, unflavoured or coconut flavoured, making a version of Gin tonic together with tonic or krest ( to be avoided), managed to eat chicken bones at 3 am under a tent and fell asleep in the middle of the food square at the festivals, not paying attention to the presence of mosquitos and thus possible malaria, drove back on a boda boda with a friend avoiding the morning jam
5.2  I learnt that lifting the eyebrow is not flirting at all, it simply means yes or sometimes Hi. Mostly it means yes. I started using it all the time, I love it.

6   6.  The beginning of the project was delayed by a parallel project, a training organized jointly by the University of Tallinn and Mondo, which took place in a refugee settlement for Congoleses in Rwamunja. Training takes place in the framework of two projects funded by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "Education and psychosocial support for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon" and "Pilot project of the MTÜ Mondo Digital Education Program in Uganda".
Together with Linda Helene Sillat, a young research fellow at the Center for Educational Technology at the University of Tucson, designer Jaanus Sakkis, under the guidance oand organizational skills of Siisi Sasetalu and Aliine Lotman from Mondo, the group of five people learned how to handle everyday digital tools and website. We The training spoke about the security of their equipment, Internet fraudsters in the country, and I gave my small input in talking and showing  the making of portraits and product images of their craft by smartphones.
Further on in the following months Cheeba will be the head trainers of the teaching program for local students, under the assistance of three young guys.

77. Before getting back to Kampala Linda, Aliine and I stopped for a night in the Quuen Elizabeth National Park to admire the nature, bonobos, Ugandan kobs, elephants, hippos and plenty plenty of birds. The soundscape was also very reach. Surely one of the locations I would like to visit again to record both sounds and better visuals.

88.   About my volunteering work here in Uganda. I will be working with 3 different organisations in Kampala and one in Gulu, advising and supporting them in marketing activities. These organisations have been implementing activities for many years and all of them have full or part time employees who will be guiding and  supporting me. Moreover, as every organization has its strengths and weaknesses, it is suggested that I  can bring the skills from one organization to other organizations and opposite, “providing the organizations a good chance to learn from each other.”
8.1  As I am going to visit Gulu at the end of October and stay for about a month, I do not really know about the situation and the group working there. I will write more once I reach the location and get to know the people and project.
8.2  Thus now shortly about each of the project sites here in Kampala.

9  9.  KDI. Kampala Disabled Initiatives is a group of physically handicapped women with great skills in tailoring and crafts making, established in 2014. They are based in Namungoona, very closed to the roundabout leading to Nansana, easily reachable with a boda boda or matatu from my home. It is a group of about seven women, who do amazing tailoring products, which are sold in Estonia through Mondo, and also offers two-month long trainings on tailoring. Oliivia is the one being there mostly , working together with Joyce, Madina and others. She manages also the orders, that for the moment come mostly through Mondo (abroad market) and through local contacts and sometimes through Facebook pages for expats living in Kampala. Another Mondo volounteer last year managed to get KDI products sold in Banana Boat also, which is one of the main craft shops in Kampla, beloved especially by expats and tourists.

110..  TRUST FUTURE’s mission is is to empower vulnerable children, the youth and marginalized women in Uganda. They are located on Nabwero Road, Nansana, on a a parallel street to the main one. The place has a nursery and primary school up to Primary 7, giving schooling to about 160 children. Trust Future offer salso afternoon trainings in hair dressing, tailoring, computer skills, especially to women who could not finish school. I got the opportunity to meet up the main members of the team, Apollo, Sam, Shamim and Jeslor who introduced me to each class and to the teachers Alfred, John, Juliet, Jean..

11.  KIFAD: stands out to challenge and respond to causes and consequences of disease, poverty and ignorance with a commitment to mobilize communities to solve their own problems and live with dignity. They work on six core program areas> health, psychological support, economic empowerment, child protection and legal support, food security and nutrition, education. They are based in Wakiso and operates mainly, but not only, in Wakiso district, while lately expanding also in other areas, such as Lugazzi district (40 kms from Kampala on the way to Jinja).