RWICOD

GUEST BLOG BY TAYLOR WASHBURN AND EMILY CHANDLER, GLOBAL AMBASSADORS FOR ROCKFLOWER

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Saturday’s whirlwind continued in the late afternoon with a visit to the Rwenzori Women's Initiative for Community Development (RWICOD). Rockflower funded  RWICOD to build a grain mill for the local community. We had learned the significance of work like this during our time at S.O.U.L. Imagine for a moment having two 50 kg sacks full of corn. This corn is going to sustain your family for the months between the growing season, but not in its current form. The corn needs to be milled into cornmeal which can then be stored and consumed. Now, what if the nearest mill is 5 miles away? 10 miles away? With no mode of transportation, this becomes a significant investment in a family’s time and resources to figure out a way to get the corn to the mill and back. Often children have to take time off from school to help haul the grain and the physical toll on mothers is tremendous.

RWICOD was started in October 2002 by a group of women who saw a need for women to join hands to fight the injustices of poverty, disease, and violence. Because of its location, Kasese has been especially hard hit by these hardships. Women make up about of 55-58% of the total population in this region, and many women are widows as a result of the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) war of 1996-2001 or the AIDS scourge, of which the Kasese district has one of the highest prevalence rates in Uganda. A great number of them are single mothers who having been rejected by their families, are living very hard lonely lives of exclusion, trying to take care of their children for whom they are the sole breadwinners.

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We met Flavia Masika, chairperson of RWICOD, and other members of RWICOD and learned about a number of the projects they have been involved in including projects focused on maternal health and food security. They were most excited about the construction of the grain milling facility, which has been a long time coming. When we visited the facility was not operational because they needed a replacement part, but they were hoping to have it fixed soon so that it  would be available to mill corn and grain for the community before the rainy season arrived in August. Despite not being operational, many members of the community were there to greet us. We were surprised to see so many people late on a Saturday afternoon, a testament to how important this facility will be for them

Through the construction and operation of a grain mill, RWICOD provides employment for women. The proceeds from the milling project can be used to start a revolving loan fund to enable women to diversify their income. Encouraging the women to work as agents in collecting grains, such as corn, will in turn allow them to earn a small commission or profit, through which they can improve their in living conditions. Buying their own grains, such as maize corn, dried cassava and millet, which can in turn be milled for them, will provide further opportunity for income generation. The 20 women involved have more than 50 children, who are also the direct beneficiaries of this work.  Ultimately, the project is designed to serve the needs of over 200 Ugandan women, the majority of whom are within Kasese Municipality and are in real need of training and opportunity.

Because of our experience living with Mama Ali, this project and the impact it will have on the community in Kasese really hit home for us. Part of what has made this trip such an amazing experience is the chance to put people and faces to these circumstances and see just how this work will impact them. The added depth and color we gained from personal connections has served to strengthen our desire to continue this work and bring more people into it.

RUGLI

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GUEST BLOG BY TAYLOR WASHBURN AND EMILY CHANDLER, GLOBAL AMBASSADORS FOR ROCKFLOWER

In the early afternoon of July 21st, following our visit with Hope For Rural Women (HORUWO), we made our way to the headquarters office for the Rwenzori United Group for Life Improvement (RUGLI) in downtown Kasese. We met Biira Mary, the leader of RUGLI, and a few other members at their office where they introduced themselves and gave us an introduction to their organization. RUGLI originally started as a group savings scheme in which women would pool together savings and then make low-interest loans to members of the group. This pool of capital allowed Mary to organize the women into a bio-briquette cooperative, a business that not only empowers women in the Kasese community but is also a sustainable business model for an environmentally-sound product. RUGLI employs women making bio-briquettes as an alternative cooking fuel to charcoal and wood.

With our awareness of climate change and the need for our generation and future generations to be better stewards of the earth, we were immediately struck by the potential of this eco-conscious business. Our excitement was strengthened by our growing awareness of the impact of drought on the region. Though only our second day in Kasese we were well acquainted with the consequences of drought: there was no running water at the hotel, the roads were dry and dusty, and the crops we had seen were failing. Kasese is located at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Climate change is wreaking havoc on this region of the world, which has a long history of chaos and instability. The bio-briquettes made by RUGLI are a creative and innovative approach to combating climate change, creating economic opportunities for women and ensuring access to food and water.

Mary makes a compelling case for an alternative to charcoal and wood, the primary fuel sources for most Ugandans. Both charcoal and firewood are drivers of deforestation in the region, which contribute to climate change by reducing the capacity of forests to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and altering regional ecosystems. In addition to the environmental impacts, for those who cook with firewood and charcoal, there are associated health concerns. Typically cooking and meal preparation is the work of women and girls in a home, who spend hours toiling over charcoal and wood fires cooking dishes like posho (a thick corn porridge), potatoes and rice. The smoke produced by the cooking fires is an irritant to their respiratory systems and vision. This is one of many stressors to the lives of women and girls in rural Uganda. Creating an environmentally-sound alternative fuel source that generates less smoke, such as the briquettes, has the potential to fundamentally change the health of communities and the local environment for the better.

RUGLI produces three types of briquettes from materials that are typically considered waste. The briquettes produce less smoke (in some cases none), last longer and burn hotter than other fuel sources. After an introduction to their work and the need for it, we visited the facility where they make the different briquettes and met the larger RUGLI team. During our visit, they were making a briquette from the charcoal dust, cassava flour, and water. They gather dust left at the bottom of charcoal sacks from their neighbors or from the shops of charcoal vendors; the dust is otherwise thrown out as waste. The charcoal dust, cassava flour and water are mixed into a paste and then patted into briquettes by hand or pounded into a simple machine with 24 briquette molds that Rockflower funded RUGLI to acquire. Once in the machine, the briquettes are forcibly compacted, then pushed out of the molds and transferred to storage to dry. RUGLI also produces two other types of briquettes, one made from sawdust and paper and the other from bio-waste, such banana leaves and corn cobs, which are often abundant and otherwise discarded. While we did not see the production of either of these briquettes, the sawdust briquettes were being used to fuel one of the cook fires.

Though our visit took place on a Saturday, one would never know this was not a typical workday. Dozens of women and girls were there to greet us, all hard at work making briquettes. Some were making the initial charcoal and cassava flour paste, others were pounding the paste into molds, and still others transferred the newly formed briquettes to the drying racks. Currently, RUGLI is limited by the amount of equipment (one briquette mold-machine and one machine to grind components) and by storage space for briquettes to dry. As they continue to grow, they hope to purchase more equipment and secure a larger storage and drying facility. It was terrific to see so many people actively and enthusiastically engaged in their work. They were covered in sweat and charcoal dust but that did not dampen the pride and ownership RUGLI members take in their work.

RUGLI members also sell the briquettes and share savings as a cooperative. In addition to making the product, members effectively run an advertising campaign by sharing their product with friends and family, creating a market for the briquettes in the area. To buy a large sack of charcoal costs a family 50,000 UGX (~$15) whereas an equivalent amount of briquettes costs 35,000 UGX (~$10) and, because of the efficiency with which the briquettes burn, it will last longer than a sack of charcoal. Though a difference of $5 may not sound like much, for those who live on less than $1 per day, it is significant.

During our visit to the RUGLI facility, Mary and her staff briefed us on their progress to date. Their savings scheme and community-based marketing work are serving them well. They are currently having trouble making briquettes from wasted plant-based material because of the grazing laws in the Kasese region. Livestock is not allowed to roam and graze, so families use banana leaves and other food waste to feed livestock, making it more difficult for RUGLI to acquire these materials. RUGLI is a growing organization with hopes of expanding their production. Additionally, they are training others in how to make this environmentally-sound alternative fuel source in their communities. We were particularly impressed by the poise and professionalism Mary brings to her team and by the community she has created in this work. We were so impressed, in fact, that we asked Mary to help us facilitate our upcoming meeting with potential Rockflower partners in the region.

After an efficient and informative two hours with RUGLI, we said goodbye to Mary and the larger RUGLI membership. We were energized and invigorated by their work, and our heads were spinning with opportunities for this project to be replicated in other communities and/or with other Rockflower partners. RUGLI represents much of what Rockflower aims to do: create global peace prosperity through investment in women and girls.

Hope for Rural Women

GUEST BLOG BY TAYLOR WASHBURN AND EMILY CHANDLER, GLOBAL AMBASSADORS FOR ROCKFLOWER

On Saturday, July 21, 2018, we woke up in Kasese. Kasese is located in the southwest corner of Uganda, nestled between the Rwenzori Mountains and Queen Elizabeth National Park. The day before, we had left Bujagali Falls at 5AM with our driver, Michael, and Mama Ali’s youngest daughter, Muyombi Zahara. We had invited Zahara to join us after getting to know her during our stay with Mama Ali. She is 19 years old and a nursing student, with some free time before beginning her next semester. Due to her excitement about the projects and work that Rockflower invests in, we took the opportunity to expose her to more of the inspiring people and work happening in her country. We felt this was the least we could do, in return for all that Mama Ali’s family had done for us. We would soon learn, that our driver, Michael, would be much more than that for us. He taught us about the history and customs all throughout Uganda. He was there to help us navigate different situations, to act as a translator when needed, and he brought a keen eye for detail, noticing many things that Emily and I would have missed. Our trip was enriched beyond belief because of the relationship we were able to develop with Michael.

After a breakfast of eggs, toast, and fruit we were eager to begin our day. After all, this was why we were in Uganda: to meet with Rockflower partners and see the amazing and impactful work in which we are investing. The day was going to be a whirlwind with visits to three different partners. The first visit was with Hope for Rural Women (HORUWO), a community based, non-political, non-sectarian, non-profit-making organization. HORUWO is committed to the promotion of women’s and children’s rights, peace and justice, and ending domestic violence in rural communities, through education and health services.

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We met Biira Juliet, the chair of HORUWO, and a member of her staff, Jolly, at 9:30AM. Both women were dressed in Gomesi, the traditional women’s dress of the Buganda and Busoga tribes. Gomesi are bright-colored dresses made from a silk or satin-like material with big cheerful patterns. They have a big sash and distinctive shoulders.

Juliet and Jolly guided us to a building that serves as HORUWO headquarters. There was a tall gate in front of the building which offered little suggestion of what was to greet us on the other side. As we stepped out of the van we were greeted by loud, joyous voices singing out over the enclosure. Suddenly the gate opened and dozens of members of HORUWO emerged from behind the gate, singing and dancing to welcome us to their home.

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After making our way inside the gate we sat at a table in front of the group and they began the program that they had prepared for us. We were welcomed with more singing and then a report of the work they are doing. Similar to S.O.U.L., HORUWO takes a holistic approach and supports women on a number of fronts - health, economic empowerment, and education, to name a few. The presentation demonstrated how important this community has become for its members. One of their youngest members - Diana - had recently been accepted into a nursing and midwifery program. The pride emanating from the group was what you would expect of parents for their child. We were learning on this trip that family extends well beyond blood lines and that there is a reason the Ugandan people are known for their generosity.

Diana sang a touching song to the group, primarily women, about the strength and importance of mothers. In the midst of this song the group showered Diana with gifts of all types - notebooks, soap, corn flour to make posho, beans, a suitcase, and other necessities - so that she could begin school with all of the supplies she would need and more. Diana appeared a little overwhelmed by the generosity of this group, which was nothing compared to what we were soon to feel. Soon after Diana’s moment, the members of HORUWO processed up to the table and showered us with gifts. It was an incredible and overwhelming experience, knowing that they did not have much but were so eager to give something up to welcome us, complete strangers, to their home. Everything they gave us was beautifully wrapped in banana leaves, tied with banana fibers and decorated with pink bougainvillea. They were so pretty that it was a shame when they started opening them for us. We learned from Zahara that it is tradition to give visitors gifts, often from their garden.

We had traveled to Kasese in the midst of a drought. We learned this when we arrived at the hotel where we were staying, to find that there was no running water. Because of the drought, the water table had dropped to the extent that water was particularly scarce, even for the dry season, and could not be pumped into the hotel. Knowing this and then being given food from these women’s gardens was an incredibly powerful and humbling moment.

After more formalities, that included a few welcoming words from the  elected official of the village, and some words from us about the work Rockflower does and why we were in Uganda, we were given a tour to  see and really experience a small snapshot of the work that HORUWO is involved in. In their “office space,” where we met the group, they grow mushrooms and had planted a number of micro gardens. This space is more of a classroom than an office,  as one of their projects is teaching women to grow food in less than ideal spaces. They have developed techniques using whatever is available - pots, empty tires and even plastic bags - to create spaces to grow vegetables. While this may have seemed very small scale, the impact of even such a small amount of independence is huge and empowering. One of the challenges that HORUWO faces iss working through circumstances that they cannot control. The current drought posed one such challenge, and the micro gardens mostly succumbed to it. After this introduction, we piled into the van with Michael and a number of members of HORUWO and set off to tour their other sites around Kasese.

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At the first site we visited HORUWO grows vanilla. Vanilla is a very lucrative commodity,  so they rent a house with a cement wall to protect the compound and their crop. A vanilla seedling costs under a dollar, while a mature vanilla vine  can produce 1-2 kg of vanilla beans, which sell for approximately $90/kg. The vines themselves can also be sold for a similar amount. Much of the farming in Uganda is of the subsistence variety, in which families grow food to live on and any extra is taken to market to earn some money to purchase other necessities. HORUWO’s vanilla project is a bold step to go further. Many of the projects HORUWO undertakes require some level of capital to sustain them. HORUWO is thinking about how to make their work sustainable in a way that could eliminate the need for outside funding. With the profits from this project, HORUWO hopes to buy the house they are currently renting,  so they continue to expand this project to support the other work they are doing. We were impressed with how forward thinking the group is. We were beginning to realize that the entrepreneurial spirit in Uganda is incredible. Just as they are working to empower their membership and teach independence, HORUWO is aware that it is necessary for their organization to become self-sustaining.

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After the vanilla site, we headed a short way away to see their mushroom production. HORUWO uses a few rooms in the home of one of their members to grow mushrooms. The mushrooms are in bags hanging from the ceiling. Similar to the vanilla project, mushrooms offer an exciting opportunity as there can be a significant return on investment. Because of the drought and the hot dry conditions the mushrooms were dormant, but there was hope that as the season changes from dry to wet (usually in August) the project would take off. For us, this project highlighted how important it is for these groups to diversify the work that they do. It also shows just how powerful a collective group can be. As individuals, none of these women could afford to invest in multiple cash crops like this; not only do they not have the time, but they don’t have the space or resources. However, when they are able to pool their resources and share the workload, the opportunities are amplified.

Our last stop was a third property that is owned by one of the HORUWO members. When we stepped out of the van, we saw rows upon rows of coffee seedlings. While Ugandans don’t drink much coffee, they are well aware of its popularity elsewhere and the potential revenue that can come from growing it. HORUWO probably has 20,000 coffee seedlings growing in little plastic bags which they will tend until they are more mature before selling them at a significant profit. It was exciting for us to see how resourceful these women are and the different projects they had.

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After a very busy morning with HORUWO, we were still feeling overwhelmed by all we had seen and experienced with them. We thanked Juliet, Jolly and the HORUWO members for their generosity, effort and time in hosting us and sharing their work with us. A longtime Rockflower partner, we would see the HORUWO leadership again at our meeting with 50+ community-based organizations and potential Rockflower partners in the Kasese region the next day. Seeing the work HORUWO is doing, and the potential for it to expand and become self-sustaining, added to our understanding of what is necessary for community organizations like these to empower women and communities through economic opportunities.

S.O.U.L. Foundation

Guest Blog by Taylor Washburn and Emily Chandler, Global Ambassadors for Rockflower

It was mid-July when we landed at Entebbe International Airport. We quickly found our new friend Muganda, S.O.U.L. Foundation’s volunteer coordinator, outside the little airport and headed right into afternoon rush-hour traffic in Kampala on our way to Jinja Bujagali. Despite some jet lag, the drive was a good opportunity for us to get to know Muganda, what he does with S.O.U.L. Foundation, and what the organization has meant to him since its founding. He was born and raised in a polygamous family with three wives, and he and many of his siblings have benefited from S.O.U.L. Once a S.O.U.L. sponsored student, Muganda attended university and now is a coordinator for the food security program, working on agriculture and aquaculture.

S.O.U.L. Foundation was co-founded by Brooke Stern Okoth and Ken Stern, Brooke’s father, who visited Bujagali Falls on a backpacking trip in 2009. Struck by the lack of basic necessities and amazed by the people’s spirits and enthusiasm, even in the face of extreme poverty, Brooke returned shortly thereafter to start S.O.U.L. Foundation. S.O.U.L. has grown a lot since then! With programs in education, women’s empowerment, maternal health and school sponsorship, we were excited to see their work in action. What we didn’t fully appreciate, though, was just how much we would learn and value our opportunity to stay in the home of a family that has been deeply connected to S.O.U.L Foundation since its inception.

We arrived after dark in Bujagali Falls at the home of Mama Ali, one of the wives in Muganda’s family. She welcomed us with open arms and immediately started teaching us Lusoga, the local language. Most of Mama Ali’s six children have been sponsored by S.O.U.L. to further their education and are now adults. Her house is still full, though, of various children in her extended family. The young children come to live with her so they have better access to education and opportunities, in large part thanks to S.O.U.L. We really enjoyed getting to know her, her husband and children, and the extended family of children living with her. Her home was rarely quiet, with friends and family constantly passing through. We would ask Muganda how everyone was related and he would just say “it is the family forest”. The village is a tight-knit community, where the lines between family and friends seem oftentimes blurred.

Our day to day experiences in Mama Ali’s home illustrated the extent to which this community is benefits from S.O.U.L.’s presence. We really enjoyed getting to know and spend time with Naima and Salima, two young children in Mama Ali’s extended family who live with her and are students at the pre-primary school S.O.U.L. Foundation operates. At age six, both girls are working members of Mama Ali’s household; they sweep the compound, fetch water, work in the garden and help with cooking, cleaning, laundry and any other chores that need to be done. Contrasting their lives to those of our young  nieces, nephews and cousins at home was a constant mental exercise for us; toys and playtime are scarce in these girls’ lives, but they are happy, healthy and full of joy. The self-sufficiency and resilience of these kids is impressive; we rarely saw them cry or complain and were impressed by their ability to find fun in their work. These girls illustrated for us how, nearly from birth, women and girls play a critical role in supporting their families and communities.

During our days at S.O.U.L we would sometimes see Naima and Salima at pre-primary school. The genuine joy on their faces, and those of their classmates was palpable. These students are eager to learn and grateful to be able to go to school. Without S.O.U.L. and Mama Ali, these girls might not be in school, and even though they attend S.O.U.L. pre-primary, there is no guarantee they will become S.O.U.L. sponsored students or that their families will be able to pay their school fees in order for them to continue their education.

We saw in Mama Ali’s adult children, Zahara, Ali and Arafat, how access to education through S.O.U.L. has changed the trajectories of their lives. It has enabled them to pursue their dreams and support their family. Ali is a landscape architect, farmer and works with S.O.U.L.’s Agriculture Learning Center program in Bujagali. Touring his gardens and learning from him was a highlight of our time in Bujagali. Arafat supports himself as an artist in Entebbe. Zahara is studying to be a nurse and midwife. Thanks to S.O.U.L., these young adults are thriving, independent, empowered people who share S.O.U.L.’s values and are determined to improve the opportunities available to Ugandans like themselves.

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As Mama Ali and the children dried and processed corn to take to the maize mill, we felt the tangible impact having a maize mill in Bujagali has had on this community. S.O.U.L. operates the maize mill, employing women in the community who otherwise have very limited economic opportunities. During our week in Bujagali Falls, we visited the mill and were able to see it and its staff in action. Before there was a local maize mill, Mama Ali and others would still dry their corn, but they would have to take it to another village to be milled. Harvesting several hundred kilograms of corn, as many families do, means all that corn must be transported by foot or by boda boda (motorcycle) to a village with a mill, usually some distance (5 or more kilometers) away. The price in time and resources spent bringing the corn to and from a mill is very costly for these rural Ugandans, so the mill in Bujagali has been a tremendous benefit to the community. Community members may pay to have their maize milled either in shillings or with a percentage of the maize flour their crop produces. Women who work at the mill are paid for their hours and served a meal while they are working. In this way, S.O.U.L.’s maize mill is directly in line with two of Rockflower’s Five Keys: economic empowerment and access to food and water.

Another impactful series of experiences we had while staying with S.O.U.L. were in conjunction with their maternal health program. As our Rockflower campaign was an effort to support this program, we were excited to learn more about it. Particularly for Taylor, as one of nine children, the importance of this program resonated with us.  Our very first day at S.O.U.L., we worked with Bayo Jinnous, an ultrasound technician who travels a great distance (about 5 hours each way!) every Friday to come to S.O.U.L. to conduct ultrasounds for women in the community. We observed his work and spoke with him at length about maternal health and public health in general in Uganda. It was a great scene-setting experience for us, as women of all ages and education levels came for scans. Many had only completed primary school and many others only had a year or two of secondary school education. The cost of education - even the fees associated with the public schools - is prohibitive for many families in Uganda resulting in many children, especially girls, not finishing school. As part of the scan, S.O.U.L. asks the women whether they are attending antenatal classes at the local hospitals and gives them antenatal vitamins through a partnership with Vitamin Angels.

A few days later, we traveled with Muganda to a nearby village to attend a maternal health education class taught by S.O.U.L. antenatal education instructor, nurse and midwife, Sophie Mutesi. We anticipated the class would be well-attended, but we were somewhat blown away as women kept coming, and coming and coming during the two hour class. The room was packed with women of all ages: some very young, some quite old, some with infants and all eager to learn as much as they could from Sophie. The course was taught in Lusoga, and even though we couldn’t understand the lessons and questions, the joy, camaraderie, community and support that come from these classes was apparent. This work empowers communities with knowledge, skills and confidence and makes Ugandan women, children and families safer and stronger. Also, when women complete the maternal health education classes with S.O.U.L., they are able to receive a “Mama Kit” which contains important supplies for a healthy delivery, such as gloves (to prevent transmission of infections and HIV), razor blades (to cut umbilical cords), soap, gauze to clean a newborn’s eyes, sanitary towels for the mother, a polyethylene sheet on which to give birth and a suction bulb to clean a newborn’s airway. That S.O.U.L. can offer the Mama Kits is a real motivator for women to take these classes, as they fully recognize the importance of these supplies in a healthy and safe birth.

Our last visit specific to the maternal health program was with Muganda to meet Clementina, a local traditional birthing attendant. She studied nursing and midwifery in school and now, likely in her 70s, is renowned and beloved in the region for her work. She is inspirational, warm and an asset to Ugandan women and families. We visited her at her home where she has a small facility. S.O.U.L. helped her install solar lights and a water collection system for showers several years ago. Prior to that she had neither. Her small building has a birthing room with one bed and a recovery room with four beds. She welcomed us for tea and showed us her record books; she has recorded every delivery in her career. She seemed to average 60-100 births per month, which suggests she has delivered somewhere between 30,000 and 40,00 babies in her lifetime. She does not charge for her services, though women pay what they can afford, and she doesn’t take time off. At this point people will travel great distances to deliver babies with Clementina. She does not use much traditional medicine and Muganda shared with us that she considers the forest her lab, where she goes to collect various medicinal herbs.

While she has been instrumental and critical in the greater community, traditional birthing attendants can be controversial. Without access to hospital facilities or reliable transport to a hospital, when a mother or baby requires additional medical care in childbirth, it can be difficult or impossible to get to a hospital. S.O.U.L. has another initiative to provide emergency transport for pregnant mothers to help address this issue and their support of Clementina has served to improve the safety of her work and facility. S.O.U.L. is planning to build a maternal health facility in the village, which will also help to address some of the safety and health  issues around maternal health.

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While we were at S.O.U.L. we really enjoyed getting to know Hawa Nantege, one of the tailoring instructors. S.O.U.L. runs tailoring classes for members of the community (mostly women, but men do take the courses, too). Her students were working on their exams during our week there, completing a different piece of clothing each day during the week. We enjoyed watching them block out and sew shirts, skirts, childrens shorts and other items. Hawa also quickly saw in us people she could put to work making sanitary pads, and we were eager to help. Tailoring students and S.O.U.L. staff work hard to make “S.O.U.L. sister totes”, bags with a set of reusable menstrual pads for female S.O.U.L.-sponsored students. Without access to supplies or medication to manage their menstrual cycles, girls are often forced to miss or leave school because of their periods. Giving girls the supplies and confidence to stay in school is an important part of S.O.U.L.’s sponsorship program and we really enjoyed being able to do a small bit to support this important project. Students periodically need new totes as the pads do not last forever, so there is a constant demand to make more pads and any idle hands can be found tracing and cutting the different materials for the tailoring students and instructors to sew.

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We also got to visit S.O.U.L.’s new fish farm in the Nile River with Muganda. Muganda has studied aquaculture and started S.O.U.L.’s program. The first batch of tilapia were nearing a sufficient size to begin selling them. S.O.U.L. employs women in the community who come to feed the fish daily (~30-40 kg of feed!) as well as two other employees who help with security and maintenance of the four cages. A new venture for S.O.U.L., it was exciting to see a project with so much potential in its first iteration. We also visited the agriculture learning center in the village with both Muganda and his brother, Ali. With all sorts of crops, including kale and other greens, cabbage, squash, corn and bananas, the demonstration center shows community members both how to grow different crops and proves that some crops (thought to not grow in the region) can actually grow well. Both of these projects, as well as others the S.O.U.L. operates in another village nearby, serve to diversify the sources of food produced within and available to the community, as well as create a source of revenue for S.O.U.L.

We learned so much and really loved our time in Bujagali with S.O.U.L. and Mama Ali’s family. Learning from and living with them really helped us contextualize and appreciate the challenges rural Ugandan communities face on a daily basis. While the work S.O.U.L. and Rockflower do already resonated with us, living and experiencing the need for community-based organizations like S.O.U.L. cemented for us the importance of empowering communities through education and economic opportunity. After a full and terrific stay in Bujagali, we were sad to leave but excited to get on the road and meet the other seven Rockflower partners in Uganda.

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Destination: Uganda

Guest Blog by Taylor Washburn and Emily Chandler, Global Ambassadors for Rockflower

Hello everyone!

What follows will be a series of blog posts recounting our trip to Uganda as Rockflower Global Ambassadors. To learn a little more about myself (Taylor Washburn) or Emily Chandler you can go to the Rockflower website. 

Emily Chandler and Taylor Washburn

Emily Chandler and Taylor Washburn

First, a little background on our trip and how we got involved with Rockflower. While teaching at a boarding school in Massachusetts, we were introduced to Tine Ward, the mother of two of our students - Fran and Lulu. For those of you who follow Rockflower, you will recognize all of these individuals for the incredible work they are doing on behalf of women around the world. Fran and Lulu introduced us to Rockflower, the not-for-profit investment fund founded by their mother. Rather than identifying and developing projects around the world to empower women and girls, Rockflower invests in projects and groups already on the ground, projects run by the very people they will impact. This model resonated with us as teachers because we have seen first hand how much more powerful and lasting intrinsic motivators can be compared to extrinsic motivators.

Rockflower believes that investing in women is the key to global peace and prosperity. Their Five Keys are the fundamental framework which women and girls need to build prosperous and successful lives. This framework provides a holistic approach to addressing the most critical challenges facing women and girls within their communities and larger societies - challenges such as poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, violence, conflict and lack of education. This felt like something we wanted to invest ourselves in and make a long-term commitment to. We reached out to Tine with a simple question, “How can we get more involved? Involved in a way that we can see the impact of the investment of our time and resources?” Our conversations with Tine led to the creation of the Rockflower Global Ambassadors. In this role we would work to support Rockflower and get a chance to go see some of the results of Rockflower’s investments first hand. This would be an opportunity not only to see that work up close but also for those organizations to have face to face personal interactions with Rockflower ambassadors.

Our first project was to raise funds and awareness around Rockflower’s partner S.O.U.L. Foundation. We were able to reach out to some of the communities we have been involved in and saw incredible support for this project. We thought more about the value of these dollars and the impact they would have on these communities and we decided to ask guests at our wedding to redirect money for wedding gifts towards this cause. Again, we were awed by the generosity of friends and family.

 

The second phase of this project, and arguably the more important phase, was to actually go to Uganda to visit S.O.U.L. Foundation. Even more, there are seven other Rockflower partners in Uganda and we planned to visit with all of them. This was an incredible opportunity not just for us but for Rockflower to finally meet the people they had invested in. If we have learned anything through this experience it is that you invest in people, people make the difference. Our trip was going to be a whirlwind, but well worth it. We would depart on Wednesday, July 11th with the following itinerary:

  • July 11th: Depart for Uganda

  • July 12-19th: Visit with SOUL Foundation (Bujagali Falls)

  • July 20th: Travel to Kasese

  • July 21st: Meet with Hope for Rural Women, RWICOD, Rwenzori United Group for Life Improvement

  • July 22nd: Listening Session w/ 50+ potential Rockflower partners

  • July 23rd: Travel to Kampala

  • July 24th: Meet with Hope for the Future, Rainbow House of Hope

  • July 25th: Travel to Mbale

  • July 26th: Meet with UWADS

  • July 27th: Travel to Kamuli, meet with UCF

  • July 28-3th: Return to SOUL Foundation

  • July 31st: Depart for United States

We were excited to be able to visit with each partner and also a little intimidated by the sheer volume of it all. The trip was made possible by the generosity of many and we are excited to share with you what we learned, both personally and as Rockflower Ambassadors.

Welcome to Rockflower's Currency of Mind™ Blog

In the Currency of Mind blog, we will discuss recent insights gleaned from the wider development and impact investing community as well as our projects and partnerships.

Please check back frequently for new additions to the blog or subscribe to Rockflower updates on our homepage.

What does It mean to have a Currency of Mind?

The concept "Currency of Mind™ is based on the premise that the mind is the most valuable and powerful currency, i.e. means of exchange, that exists. Everything of value starts with an idea created in someone's mind. When you share an idea it increases, it expands and takes on energy – becomes currency.

Whilst money is still the currency of choice (and store of value) for now, note that the ways we assign and transfer value are under review. In a very short time, the technology behind blockchain will revolutionize so many of the transactions in our lives and alter the ways many industries transfer worth, including philanthropy.

However, Rockflower has chosen from the outset to place the Currency of Mind™ - ideas - at the forefront of what we consider valuable. Our intention has been to consistently find ways to unblock the flow of money to those whose ideas have the greatest potential for growth.

A good example of Currency of Mind™ in action is the evolution of Rockflower's partnership with Women Advocacy Project (WAP), based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Constance Mugari, Executive Director, who, as you will see, is aptly named, contacted Rockflower back in May 2016 – at a time when our current commitments were already stretching our resources. However, a conversation took place that remained – well – “constant”. Even though from a practical standpoint there seemed little reason to continue conversing – we did just that -  based on the mutual feeling that something valuable would come from it.

Constance Mugari, Executive Director, speaking at Give Us Books, Not Husbands event.

Constance Mugari, Executive Director, speaking at Give Us Books, Not Husbands event.

In November last year, Rockflower and Women Advocacy Project launched the first campaign – “Give Us Books Not Husbands”. Although a small initiative, the power of the original idea and the commitment to seeing beyond what at first seemed possible, led to connections and initiatives that have benefited Women Advocacy Project and it's beneficiaries.

The Give Us Books Not Husbands campaign increased visibility for WAP and led to valuable connections with other international organizations, greatly increasing WAP's potential new sources of funding. Constance's meticulous attention to detail and determination to follow through on endless applications and recommendations created constant forward momentum. This resulted in a new WAP website which was developed, pro bono, providing a valuable online presence, something Constance always knew was needed to expand their work.

A little over a year after our first contact, Women Advocacy Project is on track to exponentially grow their organization as well as their reach to improve the lives of young girls and women in Harare, Zimbabwe.

In the words of Constance Mugari:

“This wouldn't have been possible without your support and recommendations. We want to say a million thanks once again for the work and impact you are making in the lives of many poor women, girls and children around the globe. Thank you Tine for all the support and partnership. You have given WAP a name through the support we received from Rock Flower Fund.”

The power of the Currency of Mind™ lies in not being afraid that our ideas might be lost or come to nothing. Instead we look at what might be gained by simply sharing them.