GUEST BLOG BY TAYLOR WASHBURN AND EMILY CHANDLER, GLOBAL AMBASSADORS FOR ROCKFLOWER
We spent much of Monday, July 23rd, traveling from Kasese back to Kampala. We opted for the southern route instead of the northern route that we took when we traveled to Kasese. While slightly longer, the southern route took us through Queen Elizabeth National Park and across the equator. Perhaps a silly extravagance, it was hard not to take advantage of being so close to new experiences. Traveling with Zahara has made us very much aware of our privilege. Despite having been in Uganda for less than two weeks we had traveled farther around the country than many Ugandans would in their lifetime.
JULY 24, 2018: Kampala, UGANDA
On the 24th we were scheduled to visit with two partners located in Kampala. After the invigorating trip to Kasese, we were excited to see more of the work being done by our partners. In the morning we would spend time with Hope for the Future before spending the afternoon with Rainbow House of Hope.
At 9AM we arrived at Hope For the Future’s small workshop, where we were greeted by women of all ages. The shop was packed full of treadle-operated Singer sewing machines with no passing room between machines. Each machine had at least one woman at it. Still other women, who were not working the machines, spilled out onto the sidewalk, sitting in chairs or on the ground, practicing their hand sewing and embroidery. The treadle-operated machines are pretty standard here, as electricity is a luxury for many people in Uganda. Though the shop is typically not this crowded, the women involved with Hope for the Future wanted to be there to greet us. We have consistently been greeted with open arms by everyone we have met. The people of Uganda are so open and welcoming and it is really a refreshing breath of humanity.
The mission of Hope for the Future is to provide women and girls the training and development of skills (tailoring, sewing, and knitting at this point) that they can use to find jobs. However, like many grassroots organizations, Hope for the Future is fighting an uphill battle against the reality of their situation. Because their programs are fully enrolled, with two sessions per day, there is no opportunity for women to use the equipment after their training is complete. For most women, buying a sewing machine and fabric is a prohibitively expensive investment, so working independently is not often an option. While the women have skills and may be employable, if they are able to find a job, they may still be beholden to abusive and/or corrupt bosses.
We have been impressed by the articles of clothing women in Uganda are capable of producing. Given that the society we come from is one in which anything one needs can be bought in a store or ordered online, it was refreshing to see quality products being manufactured by hand. The traditional patterns of African fabrics are typically bright and cheerful, much like the Ugandans themselves, and the result is beautiful clothing. We saw dresses in various states of assembly at the sewing machines, while the finished products, the results of tailoring classes and additional work, were hung up and for sale all around the shop. Their work would be right at home in a high-end clothing boutique in the United States, fetching far more in dollars than they do in shillings here.
Along with their work teaching women to tailor and sew, Hope for the Future runs the Jack and Jill School, a preprimary and primary school for orphans, refugees, and other children in need. As school teachers ourselves, it was particularly inspiring to visit Jack and Jill and meet the incredible teachers and students there. Each time we entered a classroom the students would greet us enthusiastically. A student chosen by the teacher would come up to the front of the class and offer a formal greeting. It was a great opportunity for them to practice their English and speak to someone from a world much different from their own. Many of the classes would sing us a song and then tell us a little about what they were studying. They were all curious about us and what we taught and, without fail, they invited us to come back and teach anytime we wanted! One of the highlights of the day took place as we were preparing to leave to head back to learn more about the sewing program. Before allowing us to depart, the entire school came out and performed a couple of songs. It was so much fun to hear them sing and see them dance and play traditional instruments. (Links to video #1 and video #2)
One trend that was abundantly clear from our visit is that the number of students in each class decreased as their age increased. As children get older, their responsibilities increase at home (if they have one), and so do their school fees, making school at best a challenge or at worst inaccessible. Though many of Jack and Jill School’s oldest students pass the entrance exam to continue onto secondary education, only about 20% are able to come up with the funding to attend. Hope for the Future is working to fill this gap by providing skill training which will provide an opportunity for their students to find employment and earn a living.
While we were unable to meet with the head of Hope for the Future, Rose, on the day we visited, we enjoyed the opportunity to engage with Tonny and Gertrude. Tonny is one of two men that work with the organization as ambassadors. They recognize the need for men to be engaged in the work of empowering women. Gertrude was running the tailoring classes we visited and coordinated our visit.
We were so impressed by the women we met. It was clear in the way they interacted with each other that they had built a community in that small shop and were eager to help each other out. They very quickly welcomed us in and gave Emily a dress that had been made by their students. This was beyond generous, but if we’ve learned one thing on this trip it is that the Ugandan people are generous with their time, with their kindness, and with whatever they have that can be shared.