Currency of Mind

Uganda Community Farm and Final Thoughts

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

Uganda Community farm

Friday, July 27th marked the beginning of the end of our trip as we set off to meet our last partner, Uganda Community Farm (UCF), in Kamuli. Kamuli is a town in the Eastern Region of Uganda, about 45 miles north of Jinja.

We arrived at UCF a little after 1PM where we were met by our host Anthony. Anthony introduced us to his team - Rena, who is responsible for accounts and community outreach with farmers UCF partners with, and Viola, who is responsible for the farm equipment. Before setting out to explore the grounds of UCF and look at their current projects, Anthony gave us a little bit of background. UCF began in 2016 when Anthony organized approximately 230 local farmers to band together to grow ginger. The thinking was that if they could pool their product they would be able to sell it in bulk to a larger buyer. Unfortunately, after training the farmers in growing ginger and providing them with enough ginger rhizomes for planting, the price of ginger collapsed. This pushed the farmers back to the local market where they could get a slightly higher price.

Despite the initial setback, Anthony’s enthusiasm was undiminished and he continued to think of ways he could help those who didn’t have much. Anthony’s current idea had us excited and was the primary reason for our visit. Anthony had begun the installation of solar dryers on his property. By installing solar dryers he could access fruit grown by local farmers and dry the fruit and add value in the process. Additionally, it would help farmers with the fact that much of their crop ends up rotting on the ground or on the tree because they can’t eat it all and the market is flooded with fruit when in season. It is a fantastic idea, and we can attest to the need for it, after seeing so many overripe mangoes rotting on the ground in Bujagali. Without an adequate way to save or preserve food, lots of fruit goes to waste when it is in season here. Harvesting this otherwise wasted fruit into a product would certainly benefit the rural communities in Uganda, both by preserving food for the next season and creating a product to sell. Anthony is just getting started with the solar dryers, which look a lot like slightly modified greenhouses. He hopes to dry mango, pineapple, papaya, ginger, and other crops.

While UCF’s solar drying operation is just getting started, it was exciting to hear their innovative ideas and see them beginning to take shape. Anthony is dreaming big and looking for ways to take advantage of inefficiencies in the local community. Ultimately, that is what this is all about: looking for a need and then trying to fill it.

Final thoughts

That brings us to the end of our travels. Eight Rockflower partners. There are numerous numbers we could attach to our trip. However, nothing could do justice to the people we met, the places we saw, and the generosity we received, and the amazing human spirit we found all around us. There are amazing people all around the world with incredible ideas and energy focused on improving the lives of women and girls and by extension the world. Rockflower is but a catalyst to help get these ideas off the ground and connect these people to create a network of changemakers. We truly feel privileged to have been able to travel on behalf of Rockflower, meet the partners who are making our mission a reality, and at the most simple level be inspired by the compassion and humanity we witnessed every day.

Uganda Women’s Advocacy and Development Services

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

 

We arrived in Mbale on July 25th after a day of travel. Mbale is in eastern Uganda, near the Kenyan border and at the base of Mount Elgon. Moreen and Moses from the Uganda Women’s Advocacy and Development Services (UWADS) met us at our hotel that evening to brief us on the day ahead. Both were full of energy, and the short meeting left us excited about the day ahead. Their project has strong similarities to RUGLI in Kasese in structure and sustainability which filled us with optimism.

Moreen and Moses arrived shortly after 10AM the next morning to take us to the UWADS office to see where they work and also offer computer skills training courses. After a quick tour, we headed out to the site of the community baking project. UWADS runs a number of different projects in 15-20 villages around Mbale. Though not something we had thought about during our homestay with Mama Ali, baked goods are not common in Uganda. Most families cook meals outside over an open flame, and an oven or even knowledge of baking is the exception rather than the rule. During our drive to the site, we learned how intentional Moreen and Moses had been both in choosing the project and the specific community in which to begin their baking initiative. The baking program, which Rockflower supported by funding the construction of a wood-fired brick oven, is located in a nearby village with many young mothers. The average age at which women have their first child here is 14 years old. These women may or may not have husbands and, in most cases, they have little to no financial independence or support.

A critical component of success we identified in the projects we visited is a path to self-sustainability. The initiatives that begin with group saving schemes have found a solid financial footing from which to grow their programs, and the UWADS baking program is no exception. The baking program started by encouraging women in the village to save whatever they could each week. As they built their group savings, they established leadership roles (treasurer, secretary, and chairperson) and began lending money to members when they needed a loan. The loans could be used to buy food or pay school fees for their children. For the baking project to succeed, the group of women needed to have marketable skills, skills that UWADS focused on developing before helping the women start a business. Along with computer literacy, UWADS offers a program in financial literacy to help empower women to be financially independent.

With the savings program in place, this group of 20 women already had a community, buy-in, and ownership. The next step was finding a way to generate revenue. UWADS, namely Moreen and Moses, provided baking classes and an oven. Because most people cook over a wood or charcoal fire, they have no experience with baking. Additionally wheat is not a significant crop here, so most Ugandans are more accustomed to working with corn or millet flour than wheat flour. Consequently, baking is a marketable skill. Through the baking class, UWADS has trained 20 women in how to bake bread and rolls, donuts and mandazi, cakes (more like muffins) and chapati. The women and girls meet twice a week to bake and then take turns selling their products at the market. Profits come back to the group to help buy more supplies or go into the group savings to provide loans to members. On the days not devoted to group baking, members can bake on their own and then sell the products and keep the revenue. They have access to the community oven and can take out loans to help pay for baking supplies. Women in the group are using these skills and the income to pay for their children’s school fees, buy food and make food for their families. Just as importantly, they’ve built a proud, empowered community. They are also sharing their knowledge of baking with other women and expanding the community.

Watching the group work, we were struck by how lucky they seemed. They have an incredible space where they work and have built their wood-fired oven. In the community, there is a generous man who owns a large building along with a covered pavilion that he allows the women to use to prep their products. The oven is located behind the building, so it is a perfect communal space. Of course, this was not chance, but the result of Moreen and Moses careful planning. More than luck, though, what we noticed was the spirit these women possessed. They were enthusiastic, they were empowered, and they had a strong group identity. They loved the work they were doing and they loved working with each other.

Throughout the morning, we watched women and girls roll out doughs, cut out donuts and fill muffin pans. We had the chance to talk with a number of them and were inspired by the energy and optimism of the group. A few of the women had the opportunity to introduce themselves more formally and speak to what the baking project means to them. Seeing the confidence they had developed to stand up in front of a group and share, in English, what learning these skills means for their independence was inspiring.

After sharing a little bit about our work with Rockflower and the opportunity to visit with many of our partners in Uganda we were treated to a performance by the local brass band. The brass band, much like the baking project, is not typical. The community supports young boys and girls learning to play instruments. The band performs throughout the year, and income generated by those performances help pay the children’s school fees. Before leaving, we were able to enjoy a meal with all of these different community members and sample the baked goods. We left Mbale feeling optimistic about this project, both because of the lives it has already so clearly impacted as well as for the clear path to sustainability and expansion.

International Women's Day 2019

Photo by: Cristina de Vigo

Photo by: Cristina de Vigo

One of the most widely shared articles over the last few weeks has been David Brooks’ piece in The New York Times, A Nation of Weavers. He describes the climate of disintegration of the social fabric here in the US, and how to be a “weaver” rather than a “ripper”. Connection, or at least the prospect of it, is what gets most of us out of bed in the morning. 

My first thought when I read Brooks’ article was of 21 women in Astillero, Nicaragua - Las Tejedoras, which quite literally means “The Weavers”.  Rockflower was introduced to Las Tejedoras by one of our social enterprise partners, Casa Congo, whose mission is to “empower communities with skills and resources for sustainable development”. Our part has been to support these women in their vision for expansion and growth. Casa Congo works to introduce the whole community to regenerative models of conservation on offer to the rest of the world by building with bamboo, designing water and sanitation systems and protecting the natural environment.

Las Tejedoras, formed as a group 12 years ago, with the goal to recycle plastic bags and trash, weaving them into wallets, bags and other items for sale. They have since collected over 400,000 plastic bags discarded on the streets and beaches of Astillero. Their slogan, “Una Bolsa Menos, Una Tortuga Mas” translates to “One Less Bag, One More Turtle.”  

IMG_8325.JPG

They took what was garbage and weaved their way to a sustainable business model. But, the model centered around one key ingredient – shared intent. Knowing that in order for this to succeed, they needed to work as a team. The women didn’t try to do it alone, they did it as a group, they understood intuitively that the real value of their endeavor lay in the shared commitment, the connection. 

In a country like Nicaragua where the patriarchy is alive and well, how does a group like Las Tejedoras succeed? They quite literally “weave” – their goods, their lives, their commitment, their intent so that all benefit from the shared social fabric. Their early attempts to start this business were met with resistance from the local community, in particular the men. However through perseverance and determination, they have established themselves as successful social entrepreneurs, expanding their business to include a juice and smoothie bar which opened in December 2017

Rockflower exists to find, fund and support grassroots community-based organizations and social entrepreneurs improving the lives of women and girls all over the world. 

We operate on a philosophy of radical idealism, practically realized. Radical idealism is the catalyst to drive all other concepts, ideas and principles that define Rockflower, resulting in the practical application of funds to projects and programs. 

The United Nations' theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”. Rockflower is grateful to work with a diverse group of individuals and organizations all over world, who get up every day with this concept at the forefront of their minds. We work with extraordinary women who have defied the odds and press forward with their vision for a more just and equal world. 

Yet, in a fund devoted to improving the lives of women and girls, it is extremely encouraging to know that some of our most ardent partners and collaborators are men. The founding team of Sol, Luca, Tomaso and Nick from Casa Congo, Siddique from Community Programs Pakistan, Dancan from Jiwo Paro, Dr. Chris and Somto Ugwu from SIRP, and Twisi from Footsteps Africa to name just a few. If we are to truly “Think Equal, Build Smart and Innovate for Change”, we must do so with a truly balanced and integrated approach.

Las Tejedoras and the small fishing community of Astillero demonstrates this in ways, large and small. They work to conserve the environment and provide a future for their children. Like so many at the sharp end of climate change, they have no choice, because their lives and that of their children, quite literally depend on it. 

Women and in particular mothers understand the regenerative effect of connectivity. 

When we talk of connection and connectivity we think of sources of power and energy, electricity, the internet, off grid solar, but in fact the greatest source of connective power is the power of ideas and how that translates to our relationships with each other. We call this the Currency of Mind™.

Rockflower uses the Currency of Mind™ as the ultimate source of power and connection. This is based on the premise that the mind is the most valuable and powerful 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. 

Let us celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 with respect and appreciation for this currency that will provide opportunities for every single thread of humanity to be valued in order to weave a more just and equitable world. 

Rainbow House of Hope

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

After a joyful and engaging morning with Hope for the Future, we said goodbye to Gertrude, Tonny and their members and headed back to Mill Hill Missionaries Home to begin our second visit. We had arranged to spend the afternoon and evening with Robertson Haggai from Rainbow House of Hope at the top of Nsambya Hill.

Kampala, once called the City of Seven Hills, now sprawls over more than twenty-one hills. Traditionally the hills identified different regions of the city and Nsambya Hill has long been home to Catholic missionaries. Rainbow House of Hope (Rainbow House) is located near the top of the Hill with views of the Makindye Division slums to the south. Founded in 1998, Rainbow House introduced music and sports programs as a means of getting children from the slums off the streets. The whole operation consists of one building and a series of retrofitted shipping containers that serve as workshops for their different programs, which includes a brass band for children and young adults, skills training in hairdressing, wood and metal working, tailoring, knitting, painting, sign-making and computer literacy. This all falls under the direction of program coordinator and Rainbow House founder, Michael Mwase.

Recently, and with support from Rockflower, Robertson has begun a Slum Maternal Health and Skill Development program. Robertson and a small team of community mobilizers work to get women from the slums of Kampala to Rainbow House’s maternal health programs. Along with conveying important information to these women, the programs help to create community among a largely disenfranchised population in the city. Along with their outreach programs, Rainbow House has installed a clinic that operates periodically (once every month or so), during which women, girls and children can be seen by volunteer medical personnel. The two doctors and one nurse who support the clinic take days off from their local, private hospital positions and donate their time to make the Rainbow House clinic possible. They offer maternal health classes and workshops, as well as examinations and evaluations. While the clinic is extremely limited in terms of equipment, medications and facilities, it was very impressive to see these doctors and nurse, younger than we are, working passionately with this population and determined to do their best to support this community and program.

The clinic operates out of a second Rainbow House building located a few minutes walk from the top of the hill. When not hosting the monthly clinics, it is home to a preschool and can also provide accommodations to Rainbow House volunteers. Our visit coincided with a clinic day, so after a quick introduction to the program, we walked with Robertson down the hill to the clinic to meet the volunteer doctors and clinic attendees. The clinic was packed and patients of all ages, who had to wait hours to be seen. While patients waited, Rainbow House volunteers served a simple lunch (beans and posho or rice) that was probably more food than many of the people typically ate in a day.

We particularly enjoyed the chance to get to know and speak with Dr. Fredrick, who together with Robertson, has worked to develop the maternal health program. Having come from very little himself, he is grateful to many people who helped him become a doctor and the successful person he is today. Because of his experience, he believes fundamentally in the need to give back and help those in his country who experience extreme poverty.

Following lunch, the clinic attendees gathered and Robertson introduced us and explained how Rockflower support has enabled this program to become a reality. It was eye-opening for us to see the wide range of women there: some were there with several small children in tow, some very sick, others very pregnant. All of them were grateful for the opportunity to be seen by doctors. For many, there is no alternative to this clinic. Going to a private hospital is prohibitively expensive, and the public hospitals often do not have space or sufficient staff to attend to those in need. The work of this clinic fills a critical need in the community.

Following our visit to the clinic, Robertson and Teddy took us on a walking tour of the neighboring slums. The alleyways we walked along were filthy; filled with sewage and waste. We followed Teddy and Robertson down narrow passageways between decrepit buildings, sometimes jumping from rock to rock to avoid the puddles. This experience was easily the most challenging part of our time in Uganda. We did our best to lean into the discomfort we felt, as we sought to understand the reality of life in the slums while simultaneously acknowledging to ourselves the stark contrast to the privilege we experience and to which we are accustomed.

Along our walk, we visited three different women connected to Rainbow House. Each of them opened up to us and gave us a glimpse into their lives and the circumstances under which they live. Two of the women we visited at their homes - very small, one-room flats. In both cases, and consistent with the generous spirit of Uganda, they welcomed us into their tiny homes. One woman bought a pineapple being sold by a man in the alley and insisted we eat it with her. We were not her guests until she gave us something to eat, she said. The strength of the human spirit is amazing, as this woman with so little insisted on sharing what little she had with us.

The third woman we visited was a widow and mother of three. In her late 20s or early 30s, we visited her on an alley corner where she operates a small shop (a few racks of vegetables and a few other staples). This shop is her sole source of income and it is illegal; she does not have the required permit to operate. As such, if the authorities come they will confiscate the produce and other products she sells. That happened to her last year, forcing her to find a new corner, which she must rent from the owner of the corner building, and start over again. She cannot afford school fees for her children, but she uses what she makes to feed them. She also can not afford to leave her shop to attend Rainbow House programs, though she says she would if she could.

Despite the determination and spirit of Ugandans, the circumstances of life here are devastating. There is a critical need for community-based organizations like Rainbow House, which provide so many programs to empower Ugandans with skills so that they might lift themselves from extreme poverty. Even so, it is not possible for Rainbow House to reach and support all those in need in the Makindye Division slums. Rainbow House programs are often at capacity and, even if they were not, many women like this widow would still not be able to take advantage of them. As we left the slums to walk back up the hill to Rainbow House, we felt keenly the uphill battle Michael, Robertson, Dr. Fredrick, Teddy and others here face in bettering this community. Despite working tirelessly, there is still infinitely more work to be done. In our conversation with Michael, Rainbow House founder, he shared a bit about his life growing up in the 1970s while Idi Amin was in power, a particularly dark period in Uganda’s history. Being around kids, and knowing what it is like to have nothing motivates him to continue improving the lives of others in his community.

Having spent the day in the city, we were also able to reflect upon the differences between poverty in the cities and in the villages we have visited. In villages, families survive on what they can grow and often live in a small mud house. That can come to look fairly comfortable in contrast to the small one-room homes with sewage-filled alleys that flood during the rainy season. In the slums, there is nothing remotely close to clean water and nowhere to grow a single plant. People often leave the villages hoping for better lives in the city, but it seems the reality of village life, with the community and perhaps larger family support found there, would be preferable to the slums of the cities.

The need for the Slum Maternal Health and Skill Development program Rainbow House is developing is great, and like so many organizations they face funding challenges as well as societal and cultural barriers to accessing the communities and women in need. Yet it is the unrelenting optimism and faith in these communities and people that Robertson, Dr. Fredrick and others bring to their work that makes these programs possible. Their dedication, resourcefulness and persistence allow them to defy the odds and make programs like these a reality.

Hope for the Future

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

IMG_1917.jpg

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.

IMG_1914.jpg

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)

IMG_8494.JPG

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.

IMG_1906.jpg

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.

Kasese Perspective Partners Listening Session

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

July 22, 2018: Kasese, Uganda

We had now been on the ground in Uganda for 10 days. We spent nearly a week with SOUL Foundation and Mama Ali’s family in Bujagali and completed three Rockflower partner visits in Kasese. In that time we had learned about and experienced the joys and challenges of life in rural Uganda. We had seen the impact a grain mill can have on a community, how education transforms the lives of young people here and how vocational skills empower and enable women to support themselves and their families.

We were nervous and excited about our work for today: to host a listening session with over 50 potential Rockflower partners from the greater Kasese region. Our hope was to bring together leaders from these organizations not only to meet with us but to share ideas, experience and knowledge with each other. For this Sunday gathering, we arranged a catered meeting in the White House Gardens in downtown Kasese. We asked Biira Mary, from the Rwenzori United Group for Life Improvement (RUGLI), to help us with translation throughout the day. While the majority of the Ugandans we met could speak and understand English, more often they speak in their local, native languages. We have a tendency to speak quickly and that, combined with our American accents, could be difficult to understand. Mary did an exceptional job translating throughout the day and it is in large part thanks to her that this meeting was successful. With over 60 people attending the meeting, we were able to break out in groups focused on each of Rockflower’s Five Keys: Peace & Security, Maternal & Reproductive Health, Access to Food & Water, Education, and Economic Empowerment.

IMG_1802.jpg

The spectrum of ideas these groups are working on is as impressive as it is diverse. As we moved between the different groups we heard enthusiastic, cheerful conversations taking place. The Maternal & Reproductive Health groups discussed ideas that included emergency motorcycle (boda boda) transport for women in labor, increasing access to reusable sanitary pads for adolescent girls, eliminating obstetric fistula and reducing maternal and infant mortality rates in rural Uganda. The Economic Empowerment and Access to Food & Water groups discussed a broad spectrum of projects, including: installing wells in communities to increase access to water in drought-stricken Kasese; brainstorming projects to train women in growing vegetables, sunflower, cassava, and other crops; they talked about how to raise livestock. They talked about the importance of protecting pollinators such as black bees, and the benefits of bio-briquette production. The ideas and projects these groups are proposing and taking on are important, critical work to empower their families, communities, and regions. Further discussions focused on making reusable bags from banana fibers, arranging for group savings and loan schemes for young women and girls, and sustainable tree nurseries to combat deforestation and create economic opportunities for women. The depth and breadth of these projects were impressive and inspiring.

The listening session was an opportunity to bring groups and individuals together to discuss the challenges they face and how they might collaborate to bring their work to fruition. For example, there were multiple groups in attendance making reusable sanitary pads for women and girls. This critical work enables girls to continue their education more seamlessly and effectively. To make the pads, however, requires training in how to do sew them and access to the right materials, which are quite costly. Our hope is that these groups could connect, share information, and potentially work together to increase the scale of their production and reduce the cost of materials. Service projects, such as making sanitary pads, are challenging because there is rarely an easy way to generate income from this work. Combining service projects with other efforts, such as gardening or baking, could perhaps bring in revenue to more easily purchase the materials required to make the pads.

After the first formal breakout session, we paused the conversation for lunch. The White House Gardens Hotel put on an impressive spread of chicken, matooke (mashed starchy bananas, like plantains), Irish potatoes which grow well in this region, rice, avocado and fruit. The meal was delicious and everyone seemed to enjoy the opportunity to talk more casually with new acquaintances and old friends about the work they are doing. Most of our attendees were women and were likely taking time away from their families and cooking responsibilities to be with us. The opportunity for us to provide them with a meal, that they could sit and enjoy while sharing ideas with other like-minded people, meant a great deal to us and likely also to them.

IMG_1777.jpg

After lunch, we continued the idea-sharing and information exchange work in smaller groups and then came back together for a larger sharing session. While there was no way to hear about each individual project in the larger group setting, it was a great opportunity to hear some highlights from each group. As the conversations continued, there were increasingly comments such as “I’m doing that too, and I’d like to talk with you more about it.” While many of these people live in close proximity to one another, they do not necessarily know or regularly communicate with each other. It is an example of how, by forming connections between like-minded groups, Rockflower can serve as a conduit between these individuals and thereby build a network of knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve communities not just locally but also on a larger, more global scale.

The meeting was a tremendous success. We are grateful to Biira Juliet from Hope for Rural Women for her help in organizing the day and to Biira Mary from RUGLI for serving as our translator. The White House Gardens staff were also critical in accommodating many more people than we anticipated and making sure they all received a delicious meal. It was a great day of forming new connections, building friendships, and identifying potential partners while sharing ideas and experiences in how to better the lives of women, their families and their communities in the greater Kasese region.

IMG_1814.jpg

RWICOD

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

IMG_8437.JPG

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.

IMG_8443.JPG

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

IMG_1695.jpg

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.

IMG_1542.jpg

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.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 10.31.56.png

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.

IMG_1607.jpg

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.

IMG_1615.jpg

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.

IMG_1629.jpg

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.

IMG_2310.jpg

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.

IMG_1436.jpg

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.

IMG_1469.jpg

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.

IMG_2354.jpg

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.