Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tara's Visit

It’s hard to believe that the Gulu trip was already two weeks ago. Although time has no real significance here in Uganda, my time has been flying by.

When I returned from Gulu, Tara, a friend from New York, came to visit for her Spring Break. I took the week to show Tara the more authentic side of Kampala. We didn’t do any of the touristy stuff—the tours, safaris, or really any sort of traveling outside the city. Instead, we spent our time visiting different communities within Kampala, going on a tour of health clinics, and working on some of my projects for Reach Out. They were the things I do on a daily basis, and things that a typical tourist wouldn’t have the resources or access to experience on a first hand basis.

The clinics were incredible to see. Kampala City Council (KCC) ran the ones we visited, and I wasn’t sure what to except. When we arrived, on a non-HIV day, and thus a “non-busy” day, there appeared to be hundreds of people waiting to be attended to. Old, young, mothers with children, everyone was there. There was even a shelter outside to house the over-fill of patients who could not fit in the main building. I was actually quite impressed with the facilities of the clinics, they were of a higher standard than what I was expecting, but still would never be acceptable in a North American setting. The most shocking was the labour ward, which consisted of two hospital beds, probably dating back 50 years, lying side by side in a very small, very cramped room. Once the women gave birth they were transported to a recovery room, where there were about 8 beds, and stats were written in marker on a poster, regarding info about the different birth rates (children born with HIV, fatalities, etc.) for all to see.

The work at Reach Out/Roses of Mbuya has been progressing—slowly. There have been many hiccups along the way, but we are finally moving forward. They have decided on a logo that we developed together, and have already sent plans for a sign for the shop to be made. The next step is to get tags put on all their products. The supervisor of Roses is very excited to work on all these different tasks, but she is so overstretched that she just doesn’t have the time or resources to do everything that she’d like to get done. For me, it’s a great learning experience to see how different cultures operate, and how what I think may be considered common sense, or the natural next step of a project, other people may not feel the same. But the progress we’ve made lately is so exciting and thrilling for me, I actually feel as if I’ve accomplished something here!

The opposite of Roses in terms of progress, because they are moving forward very rapidly, would be One Mango Tree (see last post). I went with Halle, the founder of OMT, and Tim, the CEO of Greater Good, to the only organic cotton factory in Uganda, Phenix Logistics. Edun, the eco-clothing line with a mission to drive sustainable employment in developing countries, is an example of a company that works with Phenix, to provide them with organic t-shirts. The Phenix plant was very impressive. They were so open with us, showing us the entire manufacturing process, and answering any and all questions. I don’t think any plant in North America would have welcomed and opened all doors to us so easily. It sounds like some amazing things will be coming out of OMT and Greater Good in the near future, so keep your ears open for that!

And that’s only a brief summary of what’s been going on lately. Kelsey, my friend who’s been in Malawi for the last few months, is arriving in Kampala today, so we are going to have to figure out what to do while she’s here—maybe we will get to travel to Tanzania or Kenya and see a bit more of East Africa, which I would really enjoy! I’ll keep you posted!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gulu & One Mango Tree

Last week I went up to Gulu for the weekend. Gulu is an area in northern Uganda that has been affected by war and conflict between the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) and the Government of Uganda for over 20 years. The conflict has recently rescinded, as the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, has fled to the DR Congo, but there is still much distress felt in the area as the people are trying to recover from the years of violence, fear, and oppression.

I went up to Gulu with a friend, Halle, who I met here in Kampala. Two years ago, while in her mid 20s, Halle started a business called One Mango Tree (, working with women tailors to create fashionable products and accessories using traditional African fabrics. What sets OMT apart is that Halle is committed to working with women who are living in IDP Camps (Internally Displaced Persons Camps) or other conflict areas. Recently, Halle has relocated to Uganda, living here permanently to focus her attention on the business (a seriously gutsy move on her part!).

The weekend in Gulu was amazing. I do not often hear many positive things about Gulu from people who have traveled there, or work there, because there is not that much to do and the work that people are engaged in is very intense. But by going with Halle I was able to experience a more honest and authentic side of the area. I was able to see a first hand account of how people live, and how different it is from anything I have known before. I spoke with locals and observed them working, roamed the market, found my way in to a community of tukuls (huts) and interacted with all the children who were so excited to see muzungus (white people). The children were just fascinated—wanting to touch our hands and take pictures with us. They were amazing and so beautiful, with the most contagious laughter I have ever experienced. I spent about 2 hours walking around the village and will never forget the experience.

The rest of the weekend was spent learning as much about Halle and her business as possible. It is such an inspirational business concept that is actually working, which re-ignited my interest and confidence that businesses can be successful in creating positive change (which had been tested lately as I’ve been experiencing many of the, what seem to be endless, barriers and frustrations that small, socially conscious businesses must continually face). But, with Halle’s influence and dedication I am expecting big things from One Mango Tree in the near future!

The weekend ended with the most… interesting… of bus rides I think I’ve ever experienced (which is saying a lot considering the chicken busses in Guatemala). Words will not suffice, let’s just say that our seats were being held up with ropes, every time we went over a bump (which there were plentiful) I thought my stomach was going to pop out of my chest, and if we had to stay on the bus any longer than the 5 hours I think we would have been sitting on the floor as our seats were continuously falling apart throughout the journey. But it all contributed to making it the most hilarious and memorial bus trip, ever!

Check out to learn more. You can get any of the products shipped to the USA, and they are really nice (no joke)! I bought the market tote (excellent for carrying around the laptop and really comfortable—I was impressed!), 2 clutches (they are called “the original”) and 2 coin purses and LOVE them all! Beautiful products, excellent gifts, reasonable prices, and awesome, original fabrics… not to mention supporting this new, up and coming, socially conscious business that supports women by providing them with skills training, opportunities, and the ability to support themselves and their families. Nice sales pitch, eh? ☺

Slideshow photos courtesy of the extremely talented Joe Shymanski.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Adventures of a Matatu

The day started just like any other Friday. I woke up, ate breakfast, and headed to my usual stage to catch a matatu (taxi) to Mbuya. The matatu I ended up boarding appeared to be like any other—it was blue, had the appropriate stripes, and was calling for people to go to Luzira (the direction I take to Mbuya). The exception was that I was the only passenger, an almost unheard of phenomenon when the norm is to cram in as many people as possible. I got in to the van, sitting in the back next to the conductor; however, after a few moments the driver began asking why I was not sitting in the front (the most valuable seat) with him. He said he “wanted to sit next to me”, and at the next stop they made me swing in to the front of the van. At this point I was only slightly baffled by the situation…

At first they were calling for other passengers, yelling “Luzira” out the side of the van. But it seemed as if they stopped just to talk to me. They told me they were going to their other job (in the army), and were taking the van to Luzira. They asked the formalities: what I was doing in Uganda, how I liked it, where I stayed and then the flirtation (or maybe pestering would be a better description) started. “Do you have a boyfriend?”, “We could stay together” (meaning we could LIVE together), “You are so beautiful!”. The compliments started flowing and became increasingly difficult to dodge. They told me that they wanted me to come with them to wherever they were going, and that they would bring me back to work later. I told them I was already late. At this point my bewilderment was starting to grow. As my stage in Bugolobi was approaching (where I get out of the matatu and continue on foot), I was not sure if they would stop and let me out. All the different possibilities were starting to go through my head, and I didn’t know what to expect. “At least I am sitting next to the door now” I thought, in case the need to jump out appeared. They wanted me to come with them; I wanted to get out. I was prepared to jump if need be, but was hoping it would not come to that. I finally told them just to let me out—and after a few moments they listened. They weren’t pushy, or trying to scare me (I don’t think), they just wanted my mobile number so that we could go out, but in the commotion of my exiting I didn’t give it to them (not that I would have anyways). I tried to pay the standard 500 shillings (=$0.25) for the ride, but they refused it. In the end, I never really felt in any danger, but upon reflection, I was in a situation that could have gone very badly very quickly. But, as happens every other day, I exited the matatu at the Bugolobi stage, walked the short distance to Reach Out, and continued on with my day.

A Matatu—the ones on the road are in slightly better condition

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


A few snapshot from our drive around the city. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Heat

It feels like the temperature has been increasing over the last few days. When we arrived there were a few days that were quite chilly—we needed sweaters at night and hardly had any desire to lounge by the pool (yes, we have a pool... it is quite luxurious I know). But the last few days have been completely different, and I think this is the norm rather than the exception. The heat mixed with the hills makes trekking around the city quite challenging. But my tan is finally returning which is nice. On Valentines Day we went to a wedding of the brother of my friend Gerald. It was the biggest wedding we had ever been to, 800+ people. It was such an incredible ordeal it was hard to believe we were in Africa. It seems remarkable that in a place that has so much poverty and issues sending children to school, there could be such outrageous ceremonies with 2 wedding dresses, 6 cakes, dancers, food, drinks, and the works (fireworks). But we were told that the bride and groom had been saving for about 5 years for the event, and that the whole community helped raise the funds. It was definitely a site to see, and a great experience! And africans sure do love their speeches! 

Everything is going well. I have been splitting my days between ReachOut and AMICAALL, the two organizations I am volunteering with. I plan on going out to do more site visits in the next few weeks and collect more information to hopefully aid in my senior thesis.

I am just on break for lunch, so I should head back to work. Will try posting pics soon!

Friday, February 6, 2009

a few photos of kampala

Here are some photos of Kampala from the AMICAALL office on the 11th floor. And one of mom in Entebbe when we first arrived.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I am here! In Kampala finally. And it is pretty intense. I've been here for just about a week at this point. Time is flying. We are staying in downtown Kampala, in a suite close to the city center. Most people commute in to the city during the day for work, and go back to the "suburbs" where they live, so it's a little different to live right here, but nice and convenient. 

Kampala is... not exactly what I expected. The people here are incredibly friendly. Everyone asks about how you are, and how your family is, and they are honestly interested. The temperature is fantastic (I don't miss the freezing winter), and there is only a bit of rain every day. It isn't supposed to be the rainy season yet, but apparently global warming even effects Uganda as the seasons have become more unpredictable lately. The city is pretty massive, there are people and cars everywhere. They drive on the other side of the road, and crossing the streets is a little stressful to say the least. We'll just say there doesn't really appear to be any rules when it comes to driving... 

I have already started working at AMICAALL (Alliance of Mayors' Initiative for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level). I'm working on a project involving getting information and programs about HIV/AIDS available to the vulnerable youth in urban center. It's really interesting, the people are great, and I'm learning a lot. Tomorrow I am starting volunteering at another organization called Reach Out. RO is more hands on. It's located in the slums in Mbuya, and it's a completely different experience from the city. My first official day is tomorrow, I should be working in microfinance as well as with the Roses of Mbuya project. It is similar to the work I did in Guatemala with the women's co-operative of women weavers, so that will be very interesting to compare the two.

Time is definitely moving quickly, and I'm finally just getting settled. I'll try to be better at posting...