Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Baskets starting from the garden

Baskets have been part of the daily life of Ugandan women for very long. Before the globalization came, before the plastic bowls, the shelves, the polyester sacs... Baskets were there, ladies were making them from the plants around to manage their homes: they are used to collect the corps from the garden, for storage at home, to serve the food...

These traditional baskets start from the garden, indeed from the big matoke trees. Matoke is a green banana and the most popular dish in Uganda, they just love it.


They cut long leafs from the tree, and separate it's fibre.

They leave these fibres under the sun to dry. After a week, all the water has gone, and the thick fibres are now dried thinner sticks.

Once they are dry and ready, they will remove in thin strips the exterior part, the cover. 

They will leave them to dry again, until they become very thin long straws. 

This is the material that fills the baskets in this side of Uganda. Other groups or regions use a different plant for the filling, papiro, but it grows only in humid areas, and in this side there is plenty of matoke, but not swamps. 

So, we have the filling part, what do they cover it with? With another plant. 
The traditional one in Kikooba parish is the “enjuru”. It's a long bush that grows everywhere. The proccess with this one is very similar: they remove the leafes from the main stem, cut it by half and let it dry. 

When it's the moment to wave, they will put these dried strips into water, to make them soft, and they will wave the previous matoke sticks with the enjuru strips. 

For the modern baskets, they will use a different kind of matoke leaf for the waving. This kind of matoke is not around in this area, so they get them from other ladies, and it's called “sisal”. The proccess is very similar, cut the leaf, take the fibre and let it dry until create the strips:

For sisal baskets they will first do the colouring. With a plant called “ina” or another one called “nyarwehinduria”, they can colour the sisal in greens, and with the root of the plant called “ekifumbwa” they can colour in yellows and browns. For the very colourful ones, they treat the sisal with ink. 

For the natural colours, they have to peal the root or to separate the leafes from the plant, and smash them in the mortar. When it is ready, they put them to boil with the sisal. To create different tones of colours, and to fix the colour, they will add ashes to the water. Once it has boiled and the strips have taken colour, they let them dry. 

Before waving, they will clean them a couple of times, to make sure the remaining ink comes out, and the colour stays clean and in it's place while waving. 

For waving they just use a needle, their hands and a lot of patient. However, it is an enjoyable time, as they like keeping themselves busy and creating something. Keep moving to bring better things for them and their families. 

Monday, 27 April 2020

Skills exchange

There is a question I have discussed so many times with friends, colleges and family. Maybe my social working background is the responsible one of my high interest to find an asnwere for it, however I can't still find a clear statement. The question is: by nature, human beings are meant to compete or to collaborate? I have read different theories deffending one and the other position. I don't know what the answere is, but when it comes to work, to behave or just to define my values, I have it clear: I go for collaborate. And I love when I find people and groups on the way enjoying from collaborating, sharing and exchanging with each other.

My volunteering project is with a group of ladies in a rural community. When they are done in their gardens, they wave baskets. The group is an excuse for them to meet, to share, to support and learn from each other...
With the programme, I can meet other volunteers in Uganda, like Ana. She works for a group in Nansana, a city besides Kampala. The members of her group are mainly teenager mothers with difficult situations. When young girls get pregnant they have to quit school and sometimes they are also abandoned by their families. The group brings them together to support them and teach different skills.
One of the good points of meeting other volunteers and their projects it's the possibilities that this can bring itself to the projects. That was our situation, when we realized that both our groups could benefit from the other one by exchanging skills. We proposed the idea to our groups and they were more than glad to meet up and share a day together.

When the day both groups agreed on, the girls from Nansana came to our village in Kikooba. For them also coming out of the city was already something interesting and took them from routine. By the time they arrived in the morning, some ladies were already preparing the food for the lunch.
When the group was ready, the girls from Nansana, with her leader, started explainning how to prepare charcoal briquettes with natural local materials. We all sat under the mango tree on the mats. The ladies were taking notes and making questions along the explanation.

At the end of the proccess, all of them practiced to do those balls.

Then we had lunch together, and when the dishes were taken away, it was the time to seat together and learn how to do the baskets. While in the morning it was more a magistral class, one person talking for the big group, in the afternoon was about seating one-one and learning from what they were seeing.

It was also very interesting the fact that they all were women, from different ages, and in diferent locations (city and rural area).
The fact of being able to prepare these briquettes themselves, saves money as they don't need to use that much charcoal for cooking. But also it can be a source of income, as they can sell those briquettes to the street food sellers. That's what the girls do in Nansana.

A little note about the charcoal briquettes: they are made out of charcoal, soil and cassava flour. It is used in the small cooks. It last longer than charcoal, that's why it is used a lot by the street food sellers, who are all the day cooking some meat sticks, chapatis or maiz.

And the last, but not the least, just a clarification on what it's to cook here: once per week, take a leaf from the banana tree and make kind of a hat with it. Take the machette and go to the mountain to collect branches. Make a big pale with those branches, put them in the head and walk back home. When it's cooking time, in between three big stones, put the sticks, with some other small ones collected from around and light up the fire. Then, cook in these iron pan. To control the strenth of the heat, either add more branches to the fire, or remove some of them.

Monday, 13 April 2020

The rigth to education

“Education is the best weapon to change the world” - Nelson Mandela. 
“Learn as you were going to live for ever, live as you were going to die tomorrow” - Mahatma Gandhi.
When I was a child, I was one of these children who doesn't like going to school, who fights mum when is sent to study or to do the homework. Definitly I did not value the education I was receiving. Nowadays, I can see how lucky I was to have access to a free education, and quite good education. 
My project in Uganda with MONDO is mainly in a school in a rural community. Here, the most of the families can't afford paying for the education of their children. Or there are others who don't realized yet how important is it, and they prefer to keep the children at home, helping with the daily works. But to have access to an education makes a great difference in the future possibilities for a person, and, as social animals we are, the community.
That's why any initiative that provides and ensures acces to education for any child in the world deserves my full respect. And I want to highlight one word in that sentence: “EDUCATION”. 
The Child Right International Declaration says that every child must have access to EDUCATION, because that's what we need. I focus in this word, because in so many cases it is mixed with SCHOOL. 
School is a building, it can have one or thirty rooms, it can have dusty floor or digital blackboards... But because a child goes to school, it doesn't mean this child receives education. There has to be  other conditions for the proccess teaching-learning to happen. One child can't learn when having fever, or when having headache because didn't eat since yesterday. He/she can't learn when is afraid of the teacher, because if he/she says something wrong, they are going to be beaten. When the theacher is not motivated because herself/himself can't pay for the food of her/his own child...
Children don't deserve to go to school, deserve to be toucht to think by themselves, to have somebody helping them to develop their skills, to be able to find solutions to problems, and if they don't find them, to learn how to create them. Children deserve to build their own sociability, to create their own role in the society. 
So, let's make sure all the children have access to education, not only to school. 

In my project at Kikooba Infant and Primary School, we are trying to go for that, supporting the teachers how to improve their resources in order to provide with the best education to our children. We have attended so far two workshops. The first workshop focused on the concept of education, where they were trying to identify which are the activities they do or they can do, in order to help all the children to reach the child they want to become, focusing in all their skills, through love, and paying attention to diversity. The second workshop was leaded by the National Library of Uganda, and in addition to a donation of books to the school's library, during all the morning, the librarians were sharing with the teachers different strategics, activities and games to promote reading among the children. 
It's a great pleasure see the teachers working all together all the morning willing to improve the education their children receive.

Life stories

“Esther, which is your dream?” -  “My dream is to have a good house” - “And what a good house means?” - “Well... a good house, a house with commodities, which has floor, electricity, a working TV, a gas cook, water...” 
Esther is one of the twenty women part of the group “Ladies with abilities” working in Kikooba, central Uganda. They meet every monday under the mango tree to talk about the week, to support each other, discuss how to organize the next baskets order o how much they are going to save from the sales. 
The most of them are willows or mothers alone. I say mothers alone because it can happen that they are single mothers or married, but whose husbands live somewhere else in Uganda, maybe with other women and families, and they come once or twice per year. When they come, they might bring some presents, but the rest of the year, it's the ladies the responsible ones for feeding and give an education to their children. 
As part of my project here in Uganda, I could interview all of them and they shared with me their life stories. Stories that don't take very much than three or four paragraphs and stories that could be copied from one to the other: I went to the school until primary, then I had to quit because of lack of money for the school fees, or because of the war, or because father decided no more education for girls. I was digging in my parent's garden until I was 16-18, when I gor married. From that, I went to live with my husband, produce children for him and work in our garden. Now we live as peasants from what we can cultiate and the four hens we have. 
Eva is also a member of the group. She is my age, 35 years old. She's got 6 children, but she had 8 pregnancies, she also works in the garden, and in her house she's got two rooms. 
I don't have children neither a house... I have other things... What a diference of lifes in the same time frame... But we both had chosen our lifes... Didn't we?

Friday, 3 April 2020

A letter to Uganda

Dear Uganda,

It's been sixteen days since I entered the plane and said goodbye.

Our relationship hasn't been easy. It took me so much time to get used to you. You seemed so chaotic, dirty and dangerous when I arrived.
I struggled with your definition of love, parenting, friendship, and family.
The endless handshakes to say hello, all this chit-chatting before talking business, having to get to know the whole family first.
And you always seemed so disappointed when I told you I don't have any kids.

You called me Muzungu all the time and I hated the attention on the street.
I couldn't move freely during the night. I felt like you take away my freedom.
Uganda, you speak so many languages. How can I ever understand you? Have a conversation?
When it rained, you stopped! Nobody moved and the world came to a standstill.
Your time management was horrible.
And you failed so many times to provide a stable internet connection. Let's not even talk about electricity

You talked about god so much. I don't even go to church!

Instead of flowers, you gave me Bilharzia which will follow me the next two years.
But mpola mpola (slowly slowly) you warmed my heart and I saw the beauty in you. ️ 

Your children fill the streets with laughter. It was my favorite sound.
The fruits that grow in your garden are plenty and some of the best I ever ate.
I love the way you always smile. And boy, how you shake your hips.
Your ability to improvise is amazing and you showed me how to appreciate even the smallest things.

And guess what: I even started liking your greeting ceremony!
I never was keen on bargaining, but you made it so easy. It has become a fun game.

Uganda, you have so little and you give so much. "In Uganda we share" is a not just a phrase. You have proofed so many times that you take this very seriously.

I came to teach your people, but you have taught me so much more.

I already miss you, Pearl of Africa. Corona has arrived after I left. I see you struggle. I hope you will be fine.

Iris / Isa / Maria / Mary / Sanyu

Trying to make the goodbye as sweet as possible

She has been my flatmate and partner in crime.
We documented our feelings and struggles
in a weekly sticky-note on the fridge
Here I stand, I can do no other