Agnes and Lessons of Love

 We were together again, her dark almond shaped eyes, round dark brown cheeks and beautiful features smiling back at me….. The sight of maize growing in the fields in the distance, looking outside the window of the small brick home. The pigs tied up nearby, goats in ropes lower in the fields with their newborn babies learning to nurse. We were all together again and I could breathe.I was awakened by this dream this morning before sunrise at approximately 5:45 am. Reliving my visit with Agnes Kyarimpa in the small rural district called Lwamaggwa.
My journey to Lwamaggwa district began in the morning around 8 am when I was greeted by World Vision staff members Samuel and Barrack. I jumped into the back of the white Toyota 4 x 4 relief vehicle with a recently retired couple from New Zealand- named Malcolm and Jennifer. They were on a 10 week overland vacation through Africa and decided they would make it a priority to visit their children’s sponsored children while in Uganda and Tanzania. Jennifer, a retired 7th grade English school teacher, and her husband decided they would pack and haul over 50 kg of unused and beautiful private school uniforms to share with the two villages they planned to visit later that day. I was fortunate to have wonderful company on a good portion of this very long drive to just north of the Tanzanian border.

After a brief coffee and rest stop at the equator town of Kayabwe, we carried on to our next stop- the district of Rakai. The district was heavily impacted by the HIV and AIDS crisis in the mid 80’s, severely damaging the social fabric of the entire community. Many children are orphaned and families live in small brick homes with tin or thatched roofs. It is not uncommon to see children taking care of children in these poor rural areas. After visits with the local World Vision office and staff in Rakai, we headed off for our final destination- a tiny village in the county of Lwamaggwa. The towns grew smaller and increasingly remote, as we carried on down the red dirt pathway ahead. Looking out the passenger window, I noticed many things which made my mind race with curiosity. Questions loomed and thoughts lingered. People toting empty and heavily used plastic yellow gerry cans to bore holes to fill up with a day’s supply of water. It would be carried back home long distances at a weight of 30+ lbs to use for boiling water for beans, rice, or matoke and perhaps for a small load of washing up clothing soiled from a couple weeks worth of toiling in the sun tending a garden or other manual labor. The small brick homes and mini roadside businesses lining the streets of Lwamaggwa county along with the lush vegetation looked as though they were rendered in a sepia tone filter- the red dust applying a thick permanent copper tint.

As we drove deeper into the uneven and rolling hillside located near Lake Victoria, I became anxious to cast my eyes upon my beloved Agnes, whom Rusty and I have sponsored for a number of years through World Vision’s amazing child sponsorship program. We first approached her primary school as we climbed up on the hillside and entered her home town village. Dozens of uniformed school children carrying small plastic tubs earlier filled with the day’s serving of rice or starch, ran alongside the side of the World Vision truck waving their hands and smiling, offering the heartiest of welcome wishes!!

Running over maize fields on a bumpy forged path, we stopped in front of a small brick home about 150 yards downhill from the car. Rolling green hills dotted with banana trees in the distance, I jumped out of the truck and saw Agnes running up towards me to greet me!! We recognized each other’s faces immediately from the previous correspondences and photographs and embraced in the customary manner in this region! She is so beautiful!! “omuwala mulungi!” I exclaimed in Luganda- “beautiful girl!

She was out of breath from running and excited as she waited all day for us to arrive from Kampala! It was nearly 7 hours after our departure at this point. Her voice trembled a bit as it was a bit nerve racking meeting her sponsor for the very first time in person! I, too, was nervous and cautious not to smother her in affection- which differs in Ugandan cultures especially rural areas.

Letting Agnes take the lead, we approached her home where her petite mother in her late 40’s greeted me in the customary manner. They kneel down before guests and visitors to greet and show their sincerest appreciation for your travels and visit. This is very humbling and made me want to get down on my knees to be at the same level. I bowed down and hugged each of the family members visiting, including Agnes’s eldest sister who traveled a long distance to be part of this pre arranged special visit! I also met Agnes’ youngest sister- aged 7. Agnes, on the verge of her 13th birthday, was dressed in her special dress, as was her mother…this is the same dress reserved for special occasions like world vision photos for return correspondences, and important gatherings. I recognized the bold patterns from the previous year’s photos I received in America- it was the same dresses for the third year.

I took off my sandals at the front door and entered into this precious, most welcoming little home they had carefully and meticulously prepared for our visit. We knelt down on a dried grass covered dirt floor covered in hand woven grass mats. Two small tables covered in freshly cleaned white cloths joined us, in preparation for the feast they prepared so lovingly for me and the World Vision staff members who accompanied us from Rakai to Lwamaggwa. Daniel, and Margaret joined to translate and provide comfort for all parties- acting as intermediaries and friends. Barrack, our driver took on the role as photographer allowing me to be fully present in this exciting time with Agnes and her family.

I followed the lead of our guides and left all belongings and gifts in our truck at the top of the hill, so I would be able to receive all that this precious, deeply impoverished family desired to share with me first.

Seated on the mat, Margaret to my right, Agnes in front of me, and little sis to my immediate left, the first of many gifts began to pass through the curtain just to my left separating this recently tidied and intentionally prepared sitting room from the other mere 5 sq foot room where her mother, eldest sister, Agnes’ primary school teacher and several neighbors had gathered to prepare all the feast!

I was handed the most beautiful, perfectly arranged bouquet of wild flowers Agnes collected earlier in the day, as she stayed home from school waiting and preparing for our encounter. I loved these flowers and thought that was the end, but to my surprise- there was much, much more to come. Next through the curtain, I was handed large hand woven baskets containing the largest freshly picked avocados I have ever seen in my life!!! Rusty and I eat an avocado daily at home- and this was so lovely to receive! Another basket came through the doorway- this one containing 15 freshly picked mangoes from a tree nearby in the garden! Overwhelmed at this point, I just took a deep breath and continued to receive- something I find difficult- especially coming from a family who is literally giving me more than they have for themselves. After the mangoes, avocados, and one gigantic papaya, came another cardboard box! Out from the box, Agnes’s mother pulled out a fresh chicken- alive, legs tied together with twine, and body wrapped in a shroud of fresh banana leaves! The contrast of the chicken’s red comb with the waxy green finish of the slightly torn banana leaves made my heart melt! This is an extraordinarily generous gift. ” how can they be giving this to me, ?” I pondered. Having never been gifted a live chicken, I kept it on my lap and began to stroke its head like a pet dog. I am sure this amused the family, as much- if not more than it amused me!

Thinking the live chicken would have to be the top of the gifts, I was speechless as more gifts came funneling through the next room passing through many hands before reaching me! A lovely hand woven 2 piece basket was constructed of beautiful natural linen and dyed green colors in a typical African pattern. I lifted the top off the basket to discover nearly two dozen freshly hatched eggs! The fresh eggs here have the most subtle blush colored shells- appearing too pretty for consumption! I set the gift basket alongside the cornucopia of fresh tropical fruits, while the chicken remained in my lap still as a puppy fast asleep. The last gift to come through was an heaping sack of freshly harvested g- nuts. G nuts are a staple in Ugandan food and are the base for the infamous and savory g nut sauce often accompanying freshly steamed matoke.

Agnes’s elder sister re appeared at the front door with a basin and small water can to help us clean our hands before taking the meal they so graciously prepared with love and care. She poured water, likely pumped and fetched earlier in the day, over my hands while the trickle fell into the plastic basin below.

Our feast began with bowls of freshly cooked chicken and tomato broth into which we placed steamed matoke. As the honorary guest, I was given the liver of the chicken to enjoy as well as the drumstick. The liver and gizzards are generally served to the head of the household- or to a special guest. This was a tremendous honor. Bowls of rice, bowls of “Irish”- the Ugandan name for white potatoes- and fresh cabbage and tomato salad were also shared with all of us. It is common for this meal to be taken using the hands in lieu of silverware- hence the hand washing ritual beforehand.

Agnes was asked to pray a blessing over the food for us all. We bowed and she thanked God for all that He has blessed her and her family with. As she prayed in Luganda, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sweet, calm presence of the Holy Spirit filling this room overflowing with love, faith, generosity, and beauty.

Agnes is 12 years old, and attends P3 class- which is about 4 grades behind where a girl her age in the city would be placed. It is commonly seen in very rural areas- as the focus is often on maintaining the garden, crops, fetching water from the nearest water hole, and attending to the pigs and goats.

Goats. Oh the goats.

The barrage of surprises and bright eyed ” you’re kidding me” looks continued to come….

As a sponsor of Agnes through World Vision- her community is funded by a pool of donors in that particular area. This way, the entire community shall benefit from the donations made by others, including the family of the sponsored child. Each Christmas and various times during the year you may make a special gift for the family in particular- and the family itself will select items based on greatest need. I knew Agnes’ family purchased a couple of pigs two years ago, as well as 3 goats this past Christmas from the photos I received. Agnes’ mother had great news for us as we walked out of the house after a satisfyingly delicious meal……

One of the goats Rusty and I gifted her delivered 2 babies just hours before we arrived!!! I couldn’t believe it!!! Fresh blood still on the mama goat… And two babies- one black, one white….. Freshly cleaned by momma and nursing as we stood by in amazement at the miracle of life! We scooped up the babies, held them close to our beating hearts as they cried out with newborn life! What a joyful occasion!!

It was beginning to feel surreal at this time. I was floating in happiness. High on joy, thankful for the blessing of coming to visit and making preparations over 4 months in advance to do so. It was worth every step of the process! To share in two hours with this family and neighbors who literally gave to me all they could possibly afford and then some. This family living in extreme poverty, who sold one of their own chickens to be able to provide us with fresh bottled drinking water. This family, consisting of all women- working the land and fetching water as the father/husband lost his life to AIDS years back. Agnes, a precious, beautiful young Ugandan farm girl- taking care of her little sister with all things at home and often not able to attend school.

As I handed out my gifts just before our departure 4 hours back into Kampala- I began to realize our visit was coming to a close. Agnes loved her new school backpack- a rare commodity in this remote village. She handed out tootsie pops, ring pops, and even tried her very first piece of chocolate. She didn’t know what it was. Neither did her mother. My precious 12 year old sponsored daughter had never heard of or tried chocolate before in her life. She carefully unwrapped the tin foiled Hershey’s kiss and removed the white and blue white tag from inside. Biting down gingerly on the tiny milk chocolate tip, her tongue and taste buds came into contact with the sweetness and she began to smile – signaling to the crowd watching that it was in fact, tasty!
“Not another goodbye,” I thought to myself. “You can do this without crying,” I repeated. You can’t possibly be attached after two hours and only corresponding via letters until today’s visit”, my thoughts continued to press…

Tears began to swell up in both eyes as I fought like a warrior to hold them back and keep my composure. “Keep it together, Jen”. “This is a happy time, not a sad one”.

Thing is, I often cry tears of joy. As the family helped me load my gifts -bags at a time, baskets of fruits on top of their heads, flowers, chicken, and all…. I became deeply saddened that it was coming to an end. As the night was drawing near, and with a long night’s journey on the road ahead of us, I was encouraged to jump in the car for departure. We took our last photos and said goodbye. Hugs, and more hugs, loving embraces and looks of sincere gratitude in all of our eyes, heaviness in our hearts.
When we turned the vehicle around and began to drive away- I searched the crowd of gazing brown eyes and brightly colored clothing covered in dust to meet those of Agnes. I saw her mom, her sisters, and the neighbors…. As I held the second wildflower bouquet she gave me just before leaving, I became fixated with locating her beautiful face one last time so I could hold it in my heart forever. Unable to do so and tears flowing like a river, Margaret pointed downhill towards the house in the distance and said “Agnes has run home already…. she is deeply saddened by your departure as well. I just wept and wept.

Agnes and I exchanged very few words- as she didn’t understand English and I didn’t want to interrogate her or interview her family like I have been doing during all my other encounters through my work here with BeadforLife.

This was different. We were just together. I now fully understand what it means to be in the “beauty of someone’s presence”. I was in the beauty of her presence for two hours- silently communicating. It was peaceful, and surely blessed by the Lord’s presence as well.

I held on to that encouragement as we drive off into the distance, children lining the corn fields waving goodbye and running alongside of us all the way to the dirt road back into Rakai.

I know I may never see Agnes again, but I am comforted by the fact that she and I shared in this precious moment with each other surrounded by her loved ones. I felt loved and accepted by her family, and I certainly felt humbled by the extent of the family’s generosity. I know God was with us, and will keep us together in spirit always.

Reciprocity.

Love multiplied.

Giving and receiving.

Blessings.

Standing…. And resting……. in love.
To learn more about how you can sponsor a child in the most vulnerable stretches of the world, visit : http://www.worldvision.org

Rift Valley Wonderland 

Raw. Unsaturated. Palpable. Just a few words describing Murchison Falls National Park, the cradle of civilization I had the unique opportunity to visit this past weekend with Devin and her 9 year old son Nile- or “Simmy”, as he is called here in Uganda by close friends.

As a first time safari goer, my eyes were wide open from start to finish!

We left Kampala just as the sun was rising, which is 7 am daily due to the location on the equator, in effort to escape rush hour traffic jams that are part of daily life here. Exiting the outskirts of the densely populated town of Kampala amidst Boda Bodas, crammed matatus, and locals walking to work for the day, I captured the sight of mothers carrying sleeping babies strapped snugly to their backs with bold, brightlypatterned cloth….women young and old balancing heavy loads of produce on top of their heads…. Bustling exchanges at the local trading centers… And insanely hectic roundabouts at which masses of unregulated forms of transport converge like a load of laundry mixing and intermingling a short while before being spit out in a particular direction by flow and force. The ubiquitous smell of burning charcoal in the air and chickens announcing the start of a fresh day.  I absolutely love mornings in Uganda. It is surely my favorite part of the day.

Our rented vehicle and driver, Moses, safely transported us to the Wangkwar gate on the northern perimeter of the park. Our journey to Murchison passed through war – ravaged villages like Luweero, where years of political unrest under Idi Amin’s rule created the feeling of a ghost town. It was in Luweero district around 1986 that Museveni, who had been hiding in Tanzania, launched an attack with a mobilized army to successfully overthrow Amin’s regime in Uganda.
Traveling north through Kutuugo, Nakasongola, and Kyriandongo, we felt the continual rise in temperature, especially while stopped at road construction with windows rolled up to avoid dust from the vehicles. Our first stopping point, Karuma Falls, marked the crossing of the Victoria Nile. The Nile River served as a military stronghold during many years of insurrection, and created a distinct border blockade between Northern and southern Uganda. Travel was prohibited from both sides separating families and calling a deadly halt to tourism in the region. We enjoyed a short rest under a shade tree, entertained by a group of Olive baboons!

7 1/2 hours into our drive, we reached our destination: the Wangkwar Gate. Paid the park fees, vehicle entrance fees, and popped the top of our bare bones Land Cruiser for an authentic African Safari adventure! I was elated!!

We set sail on one of the many game tracks…cool crisp air blowing in my face as I held tightly on to the metal bars standing up balancing under a popped-top roof. This was indeed a most welcome respite from the long day’s journey. The African savannah grasslands stretched out for miles and miles in every direction. Palm trees and the eponymous umbrella acacia trees standing in solitude with vast skyline as a backdrop. Egrets spreading their Snow White wings in flight, and groups of African Kob leaping across the track like dancing ballerinas. It was as if we were alone in this vast space, enjoying moments of stillness with nature.

The landscape at Murchison Falls is breathtaking, nearly intoxicating. Warthogs- aka- “Pumbas” snorted about with their tusks and coarse whiskers chomping through the grass, while cape Buffaloes with birds taking a ride on their backs gathered near the swampy sections. It was like an interactive children’s book on wild animals- every turn on the track a turn of a page introducing yet another new face!

And then… I met my first love of Murchison …. The Rothschild Giraffe. His elegantly elongated neck held upright at all times to support the taxing load of his 25 lb heart! Two horned females weighing 700kg+ endure a 14 month gestation period. Males, which have 3 horns, weigh in at 1,100kg +. The spots on a Rothschild stop at the base of his leg joint, giving the impression that his lower legs have been dipped in white chocolate! Seeing baby giraffes run after their mothers in the wild is captivating! Stop and observe long enough, and you will catch a glimpse of their 45 cm long purple tongue snatching a bite to eat off the “whistling- tone ” acacia tree.

The second day, we jumped back on the truck and raced to the ferry crossing before sunrise to hit the tracks again. Eagerly anticipating the start of a new day and another game drive, I slept on and off and found myself awake in the middle of the night laughing at the deep guttural grunting sounds of hippos who were munching on the grass just outside our safari tent! There’s a reason they are called “hungry hungry hippos”!
Nauseous from the anti-malarial taken on an empty stomach that morning, I requested we stop for a few minutes so I could collect my balance from the standing and shaking around caused by the heavily pot- holed game tracks. Dramamine and pepto to the rescue! Our hired park ranger guide, Sarah, received a call that we were very near a pride of lions spotted by another ranger! “What a perfect place to stop with vertigo”, I thought to myself … ” I’m sure his will help to make me feel better!” … ( joking)

We pulled up to a thicket, peered inside of a triangular shaped window formed by the bush and witnessed a couple of lion cubs with their mother resting and stretching. Moses turned the car off and we had a stop over to enjoy the company of lions camouflaged in the bush. Little did we know we would have a second encounter the next morning near the same area on the Victoria and Queen circuit. A huge male lay resting on his side, paws stretched out and looking confident and completely undisturbed by the multitude of safari vans now approaching with cameras flashing and binocs focusing, hoping to steal a glance of this park predator! I decided to crawl out of the truck on to a fixed metal bar rack towards the hood of the truck to get a closer view and more zoomed in photographs. Suddenly, the male propped up his head and displayed his dominance and full mane of hair enrobing his enormous feline face. Still in a seated position, my blood began to pump with a bit more vigor. Feeling a sense of courageousness, I asked Moses if he would take a photo of me and Simmy. Moses proceeded to open the safari truck door, step onto the tall grass and managed to disturb the lions in the thicket – to the male lion’s immediate left side.

” Rrrrr——aaaaaaa——rrrrrrr-hhhhhhhh!” Shouted the lion in dissatisfaction from behind the bush with mouth stretched open wide! Moses jumped into the front seat, shut the door quickly, while I scrambled to get myself off the exposed rooftop bars and back into the vehicle’s interior. Trying to get through this narrow space in a contorted manner while anxious was like being a small child afraid on the top of a set of monkey bars…. Totally freaked and wanting off ASAP!

Pulse check: 180BPM.

Exhilarating?

Yes.

Worthwhile?

You bet!

Next to a charging elephant later that day, this was surely a highlight of the trip. It made me realize once again that we are not in control. It also helped me gain a deeper appreciation of the conservation work that is being done to protect creatures in Murchison National Park from atrocities like those during Idi Amin’s rule when he reduced the 15,000 + population of elephants to under 2,000. They are slowly rehabilitating and repopulating various animals found here thanks to peace and dedicated conservation work.

I came to Uganda to learn from it’s people and the environment. Both have taught me many valuable lessons I will carry with me for a lifetime. I hope you feel as though you shared a bit in this adventure with me!

Xxx

Street Business School Insight: A Trip to Mutungo Village. 

Obwavu Bye Bye!  “Goodbye poverty!” in Luganda.

Over the course of the past two days I have witnessed the heart and soul of BeadforLife’s holistic poverty eradication model here in Uganda.  Yesterday, ” Standard Group” arrived one by one, having traveled great distances on overcrowded roadways to meet the 9:30 am sale start time. At the call of ” circle”… ( drumbeat- dum dum dum dum…) circle…. Da dum , dum dum… Circle!” The women mobilize for a short time of refreshing, and a chance to sing, dance, and clear their minds of all their troubles and worries for just a short while. Babies resting on hand woven mats in the humid equatorial sun, while their mommas experience an uplifting and engaging social group activity. Each of the 35 women belonging to Standard Group has a unique and captivating story to tell. While time didn’t permit me to speak with them all, their smiles and expressions told so much. The truth is easy to find in the gaze of one’s eyes. I’ve come to appreciate this silent communication.

I liken BeadforLife’s role in the communities to that of a shepherd, gathering the flock who have gone astray, left behind, and in need of guidance and leadership backed by love and genuine concern. Each group of women are hand selected to participate in the 18 month Beads to Business program or the shorter- condensed 6 month Street Business School program.

Today I visited the village of Mutungo- transport to which required a ride in a matatu as well as a Boda Boda in the interior of the village. Today’s session lead by 3 of BeadforLife’s entrepreneurial training staff ( Rachael, Clare, and Joanita) took place inside of the local church. I peeked into the boarded up space with simple roof and saw rows and rows of plastic white chairs, and one easel at the front of the class. On the wall hung three tear sheets reviewing yesterday’s lesson on the 4 P’s – in addition to the notes from session #1. Women arrived with supplies in hand, babies on their hips, and hope in their hearts! In the customary manner, we formed a circle and moved around singing and dancing like school children. I took my seat next to coach Clare, located at the front left side of the classroom, who acted as my Luganda- English translator and immediately started taking detailed notes. This highly customized and researched curriculum is based on core components which serve to engage, empower, and substantially improve the economic independence of these women holding no more than a 5th grade education.

On average, Street Business School members earn less than $0.60 per day and many earn 1/2 of that. This means they are unable to afford school fees for their children, they may not understand the rights to land ownership, nor are they aware of how they deserve to be treated as accepted members of the community.

Beatrice is one of these women. Both Beatrice and her 17 year old daughter Maureen attended today’s session with hopes of transformation. Maureen sat in the front row, so eager to learn and write down each and every word from the trainer’s mouth. Maureen, you see,  stopped going to school at the age of 12-13 at the conclusion of primary school. In order to continue to secondary school, fees are required for supplies and exams- fees her widowed mother of 15 years, Beatrice, could not afford. Having merely a primary school education herself, Beatrice makes her living selling raw sugar cane stalks to local children. Once a week, she walks about an hour to collect over 23kilograms of raw stalks and transports it on the top of her head all the way back to her village. She nets approximately 1,000 Ugandan schillings a week profit- or about $0.29 – a WEEK.

Following the training, I was invited into Beatrice’s home, along with her daughter Maureen and we talked about her dreams for her new business and how she could realize the potential inside of her. Reminded by the training earlier that day, she scanned through ideas while Joanita patiently and so precisely translated for me. We all giggled in this 10 x10 sq foot home with only a thin sheet hung as a front door. Naturally, we purchased a sugar cane stick from her and I sampled what I like to refer to as a “Ugandan lollipop”! Biting down on the coarse, fibrous stalk – you have to slurp out the little bit of sugary sweet liquid that is extracted when squeezed.
Maureen sat closely to me on the couch, her head curled up snugly on my left shoulder the entire visit. By the end of our visit, a crowd of neighbors and village children arrived at the front door peering in to see what all the commotion was! We were praising God and praying for blessings to come to Mutungo village. Laughing heartily, we moved outside of the dark, cooler interior of her home and outside into the bright sunshine.

Two doors down, we were invited into Rose’s home- a much smaller, less structured little home built of timber. Squatting down to enter her tiny front door, my eyes were greeted by two small beds, a dirt floor covered in blankets, and a small sitting chair. Rose has 4 children, and they all live with her in this space. Mosquito nets hung from the low tin roof, and we took a seat and listened as she shared her business with us. Unlike Beatrice, Rose has a steady stream of income selling cold sodas and waters in public gathering places such as matatu stops. I noticed in the corner of one of the beds, a heaping pile of belongings behind a sheet draped 1/2 way from the rear- forming a little partition. This was the extent of her belongings- her children’s few pieces of torn and tattered clothing, a cleaning rag or two, and a water can. Rose walks to fetch clean water. Her youngest daughter named JenRose- thin as a rail- introduced herself to me in English and caused the entire room to roar in laughter! In hysterics laughing, they were so impressed with her courage and inhibition. I am sure this moment created memories we will all cherish for a lifetime.
BeadforLife is the shepherd.

Destitute, down trodden women the sheep.
As this day draws to an end, I am reminded of the message in this week’s church bulletin on Faith, Hope, and Love.

       ” Those who know they don’t know it all, find it easy to believe. People who can’t control tomorrow find it easy to hope. People who have nothing to give but themselves, find it easy to love.”

This last sentence helped me understand why Maureen nestled so closely to me during our home visit. Love is what she has to offer to me, and how sweet the feeling!
To engage and help ignite 1 million women out of poverty through entrepreneurial training and mentoring, please prayerfully consider a donation by clicking here:  vegas.ignite1million.org

Love and blessings to you all!

Meet Gertrude 

Today I woke with the anticipation of meeting with a small group of women called the “special group”.  This group is comprised of a mix of previous Beads to Business members.  Some graduated as early as a two years ago, some pros go back to 2011.  This group of woman have gained tremendous business skills, and all have at least one other business in addition to Bead making!  Some have two and three small ventures due to the engaged mentoring model at BeadforLife.    This group specializes in rapid production and intricate designs.

The morning began with a few women arriving early to the monthly sale event, bags in their hands… Extra pre rolled beads, wire, thread, needles, and candles in the event quality control check is unable to accept the uniformity of the beads they have created.   The women travel from long distances, and often spend a minimum of one hour crammed like sardines inside of an overcrowded (22 person meant for only 14 ) non -air conditioned matatu.   The traffic in Kampala is an entirely separate post, which I will share with you a little while later.

The women are given trays to sort there wares for sale and hope eagerly that their products meet the production sample and measurements given to them ahead of time.  As this is an advanced group of beader makers, the overall acceptance rate of pieces is very high.   Each woman waits in line for her items to be meticulously inspected one by one by a minimum of two staff members- this is done to ensure the highest quality products for purchasers in the U.S. markets.    I had no idea how much work went into the sale of the beads at the office, as well as the length of time it takes to complete a sale.   I had the pleasure of sitting with each woman today and talking to them about their families, children, and how they are so appreciative of BeadforLife.

Two women in particular left an indelible  mark on my heart.  One was named Beifa, and she had the warmest spirit.  Her energy was calm, sweet, and had such an innocence that drew me to her like a magnet.  When you don’t speak the same language, body language is so incredibly reliable for starting conversations and determining who is willing to open up and share with you.  Beifa shared that she has four children and is able to pay for school fees for each one of  them! She kept her head down when she spoke, and even maintained a lower than usual gaze.  Partially shy, and a bit amazed that I wanted to hear about her success coming from extreme poverty to running a small business selling a few pillowcases, bed sheets, and a few assorted articles of clothing.  She buys supplies in local market and sells them at her business stand near where she lives.  Most of the “new clothing” purchased at small business stands in local neighborhoods actually comes from donations in America – various aid organizations.  These are sold as new items and are a luxury here for many.  She is one of the amazing success stories and proof that BeadforLife’s holistic model of poverty eradication is effective and sustainable.

Gertrude, is  another beauty.  While most members grabbed a small chair to sit and wait, Gertrude took a seat on the ground under a mango tree and rolled extra beads and perfected each of her designs prior to presenting them to the quality control staff.  Noticing her alone and off to the side, I engaged her and asked her to share her voice with you all on camera.

If you would like to know what a truly BRAVE woman looks like- it is Gertrude.  She speaks very little English, but didn’t hesitate to try to communicate with me.  I ask a LOT of questions ( I love to understand people and believe we learn best by asking questions and listening intently) – . Gertrude’s other business is collecting scrap aluminum, discarded copper wires, discarded plastic and other scap.  She buys the scap and re sells it for a profit to buyers in need of materials.  She is a model of bravery and success and I am honored to share her with you!

 

From Kibiri to Mbuya

Greetings on a cloudy cool day of rest in Kampala!  Yesterday’s boda boda expedition was loads of fun! Riding sideways on the back of a motorcycle in a skirt while squeezing in between cars, matatus, and other boda drivers making their way through congested, uncontrolled streets proved nothing short of an amusement park ride!   What a blast!  For approximately 1.50$,  I made my way through town, sun hat blowing in the wind, backpack in tow.   I had planned to visit the two local malls in the downtown area, however after a quick walk through one, I craved a bit of a “local connection”.  I saw the Kibuli – pronounced chibuli – mosque atop of one of the many hills in Kampala.  As locals are very friendly, I asked how I could walk there for a visit.  They suggested I take another boda- as it was quite far and up a series of steep hills.  Perfect, I thought to myself, just what I love! A long walk! Ask my husband- he will tell you I will walk all day every day from morning till night!

I started up the winding red path past many beautiful locals gathering groceries from small fruit and vegetable stands.   The sights and smells of Kampala were all around me….. Women washing up laundry in small plastic basins bent over in front of their humble homes.  Young girls ages 7-9 with babies strapped to their backs helping out while mom was tending to cooking or fetching water.   I inhaled the comforting smell of matoke ( local plantains) steaming in banana leaves and water in a pot over charcoals.   As houses are so small and confined families are outside all day!  Kibuli village was bustling with people heading to and fro.  It is so lovely to see communities outside talking to each other every day!

After a visit to Kibuli mosque, and a climb up one of the minarets for a birds eye view of Kampala, I made my way back down the hill through town.  To my left was the most beautiful market where women were selling large bundles of matoke- as well as chickens and heaping piles of coal.  I hesitated to enter, knowing it was not my intention to buy 25lbs of the freshly chopped tree.   I followed my gut and entered into this little space to have a look and met the loveliest woman named Zaina, with her mother Naigaga.   They had just purchased a bundle for less than the price of .80$ – this would feed her family of 5 for four days if consumed for lunch and supper.  We exchanged pleasantries, and Zaina insisted I walk back up the hill to her home.  “It’s just across from Shell Kibuli”, she said.   See, in Uganda, as there are no street signs, people use landmarks like a petrol station or food stall to mark a location.  Hesitant to accept her offer, I politely declined.  She continued to insist, “please come to my home for just a short visit! “. I remembered my pre- departure promise to say “yes” to any reasonable invitation before me while on this journey.   Zaina and I walked hand in hand around the bend past roaming goats and pecking chickens with chicklets in tow.   The matoke was strapped to a bicycle seat and a man pushed the bicycle up the hill to her home to complete the purchase.

Upon arrival, she welcomed me on her front step, pulled out a chair and said “you are most welcome here!”  Soon, I was joined by her sister Namaganda- Amina, her daughter Sarah, as well as Zaina’s son Mosa.  Both children were nibbling on a pancake made from simple mashed matoke and maize flour- fried with the most inexpensive oil available.   Our experience was deeply engaged, and I promised I would return to share a meal with her at her home one day soon.    I left feeling so refreshed, and renewed, making this new connection in the Muslim quarter that is called Kibuli.  What a blessing it was to have this experience!  God is so amazing!

…… Today I celebrated in a mass in a neighborhood called Mbuya.   The service was in English, and I praised and worshipped with such a full and grateful heart!  I was the only Muzungu in the parish with the exception of a couple of nuns.  I loved how the choir was integrated into the congregation- all facing same direction as the focus was not to be on them, but rather on God- as reminded by the  priest.   We sang jubilantly in English and at times in Luganda.  We clapped after the gospel, and clapped again after one prayer- so thankful! I can’t wait to visit in other churches while I am here.  It’s such a raw, truly heartfelt experience to sit inside of this place, steaming hot, and see people dressed in their finest attire.  I noticed a young girl aged 4-5 walking in her mothers high heeled shoes, or maybe they were just hers- and the only shoes available at the market for her mother to buy for her.  She teetered in those oversized shoes, but was presenting her very best to God that day.   The need is so great everywhere, all you have to do is be present and look around.  I am asked daily when walking around where I am working and if I am able to find him or her a job.  Last night on the way to dinner, I was asked by a young woman if she could wash my clothes or clean my house in exchange for a little money as she has two children and her husband has just left her.    There are too many more stories to share on this subject and my experience in the past 4 days since I’ve been here.

Attached is a photo of me with Zaina (left), Mosa her son on my lap, and Namaganda Amina- her sister on my right.  This was taken on her front step.

Muslim quarter to Catholic Church —Kibuli to Mbuya— God has shown great love and acceptance!

Tomorrow is Bead sale #1 at the office! Will share the happenings soon!

To help ignite 1 million women out of extreme poverty, please donate to my goal at vegas.ignite1million.org

The funds will help scale BeadforLife’s Street Business School program here in Uganda and will be multiplied in countries worldwide!

With love and gratitude,  Jennifer

 

Discovering Uganda For the First Time

Mujjebale!

“Hello! ”

And greetings from Kampala!

Today I’m headed downtown and will take my first boda- boda (motorcycle taxi) ride around the area with Steven- a designated and trusted boda driver.

I enjoyed an exploratory walk yesterday evening into a neighboring village called Mbuya to find a church to attend tomorrow, as well as practice a few Luganda phrases with passerby that I studied with Joann earlier in the day.   Perched on a hilltop with views of Kampala’s rolling hills and lush tropical valley I discovered “Our Lady of Africa” Catholic Church.  Services are held in both Luganda and English- with traditional and charismatic services offered.   The church is 200 meters from a UNICEF office and adjacent to a couple of outreach ministries serving locally infected HIV- AIDS community members.   As is customary in Uganda, I was given the warmest welcome by a staff member and thanked for coming to Uganda to serve with BeadforLife.  Greetings are an essential part of any conversation here- and to skip over them is considered impolite.  I will fit in just fine – a native mid- westerner…. When asked how we are doing, think of the old Beer  commercials and the exchange at the bar— you will often get more info than you planned!

A Luganda word I love:  “Bambi” (pronounced like the Disney film) Means Please…    How sweet!

Attached is a photo of a precious group of children I encountered while leaving Bugolobi hill where I stay.  They approached me with wonder and curiosity and greeted me with the most proper of British English accents  ” hello ma’am, how are you today?” My heart melted and we stopped to visit and take a photo together.  These moments are pure joy and pure bliss!

Landed in Uganda! 

Nsanyuse Okulaba!  That ubiquitous phrase means “you are most welcome!”, in Luganda.

Greetings from Kampala, Uganda!   I landed safely and made it to the apartment I will be sharing with Devin and her son Simi until they return home end of this month.   26 hours in travel and so happy to have my feet on the ground for a while!  Phew!

On the ride from Entebbe airport to Kampala, I was struck by the sheer number of locals walking the streets past midnight.  Boda Bodas- the local motorcycle taxis zipping around the many cars, matatus (mini bus taxis) , and folks walking around.  There are no street lights at night- not a single one.  I was surprised at the darkness of the night, while refreshed by the cool tropical climate breeze coming in through the passenger window.

Waking up for my first day of work at BeadforLife’s office was a delight! I crawled out from under my mosquito net fortress, enjoyed a cup of local Ugandan black tea with a slice of toast and we headed into work.  Daylight shone upon the beauty of the Kataza street… Red dust and big rocks in the middle of the road, chickens and goats buzzing around, and locals bustling to work.   One of the two main roads to cross are fairly interesting and time consuming to say the least.  There are no stop lights, stop signs, traffic signs, warnings of huge potholes and holes in general that appear on the roadside where locals travel.  It can take 15 minutes or more just to cross the traffic-laden Main Street!  This morning on my way to the market- I decided to follow behind a woman who seemed to have the gist of crossing far better than I!

The Beadforlife staff greeted me with a customary dance circle and drumming and placed me in the center to welcome me and show their appreciation for the visit!  It was so much fun as we all embraced and I knew It was the just the start of beautiful relationships with a team of absolutely soul-filled women!  I packed new earrings on cards and worked in the inventory department helping prepare shipments of new products launching this fall!  Lunch is shared daily on the veranda of the office… Everyone comes together for a meal consisting of local staples like matoke (local plantains steamed in the leaves and mashed) , posho (cornmeal and water formed into a polenta type consistency), cassava and sweet potatoes, white rice, sautéed cabbage, all topped with G-nut sauce- a blended aromatic sauce of peanuts ground up and mixed with spices and tomatoes- very delicious!   The on staff groundskeeper chopped down a ripe jackfruit from a tree and cut it open and shared!  What a succulent wonder of a fruit it was!  Sweet little golden pockets of ectasy hidden in long white fibers of flesh.

Today is the end of Ramadan- a national holiday in Uganda.  I picked up a copy of Luganda – English phrase book and will spend some time learning to speak the local language.  Smiles and pleasant greetings go a long way in any culture, and it’s one of my favorite things about international travel- communicating with locals in their native tongue!

Stay tuned for more posts- next week I will participate in my first two Bead sales- when members currently enrolled in the Beads to Business program come to the office to sell jewelry they have made!  It will be a day of dancing, joy, and empowerment for these women gaining confidence and skills to leave poverty permanently!   Later in the week we will interview new recruits in the Street Business School program- trainings that will take place in the local villages of the communities served.   More to come!

Sending love and well wishes to you all from Kampala, Jennifer

This is my new home.

 

Half Way to Uganda.

Meet my travel neighbor from LA to London- Annie Quinn.  Author, 2x breast cancer survivor, and my personal travel angel.  We had the best talks and I am so blessed to have had her company for 10 hours on that first leg of the flight.

Half way.

Boarding shortly for round two- London- Entebbe- another 9.5 hours.  Looking forward to laying down on a bed more than anything.  Have not slept a wink in nearly 24 hours.   God, please give me strength to push on, and please remind me that I am crazy for carrying such a heavy “not on rollers” carry on and a backpack.

P.S.  For those of you following from the beginning of my journey, I have not even touched my coloring books or crayons!

What is StandinLove?

There are no coincidences.

My mom and I began the morning with mass at St. Joseph’s on W. Sahara.  It’s a Sunday morning ritual we have grown to enjoy together.  We were welcomed by a new priest, Father Adam- a 30 year old native of Poland whose family immigrated to America and found their home in Chicago.  I felt as though the Lord was speaking through Adam today in a voice so loud and clear it made my hair stand up on my arms.  Todays 3 readings, which I will share were all about being sent out and heeding the calling in our lives.  These callings don’t begin and end with us, they begin and end with God.  He’s the creator of all things good, and creates us with distinct holes in our hearts that only He can help fill according to His purpose for our lives.  I praise God that he gave me a hole in my heart that is shaped like Uganda, the pearl of Africa.

Amos 7: 12-16

Mark 6:7-11

Ephesians 1:3-14

Ephesians 1:3-14 asks the questions,

Do I know  who I am ?

Do I know how deeply loved I am?

Do I understand that I am created ON purpose and FOR a purpose?

 Do I fully accept that I have been promised the covering of the Holy Spirit- to guide and protect me?

I marveled at this great mystery of faith today, and connected the dots from all readings to my journey ahead of me.   The powerful, bold, and slightly accented voice of Father Adam spoke to me today and to the congregation as he repeated with great certainty, “Do you know there are NO coincidences in life?  Do you know you are here today listening to this message  because you are supposed to be here?

One of my favorite scriptures is Ephesians 6 and the Armor of God… we are reminded to put on the armor daily, and to stand firm, stand against, and stand our ground… and this, I decided, was to be the theme of this journey…. to stand in love.   I am so excited to have you join me.  It gives me great strength, and encouragement, and for that I am so grateful.

Good night and God Bless you.

Three More Nights

……. Until I leave for Uganda to volunteer with BeadforLife.org.  Scared? Yes.  Ready to “ignite one million” women out of extreme poverty? Yes!

Bags packed, check! Immunizations, check! Malaria pills and all meds for 2 months- almost! In preparation for this journey, I have been advised to carry everything from electrolytes to Epi-pens!  I feel as though I am preparing to land on another planet- not knowing at all what to expect.  This is what makes the journey so incredible and makes me feel so alive!  My love for Africa began many years ago, and my dream is finally coming true to visit this amazing land.  I will have the opportunity to work directly with women in extreme poverty in Kampala and capture their stories of triumph, survival, and overcoming the odds in a country where business failure rates hover around 81%.   Women of second chances.  Women who are facing fears.  Women who long for change and step up to the challenge.

Today is my last day at work until mid September.  Three more nights with my husband Rusty, my English bulldog Desmond, and my sweet pug, Boomer.   Three more nights with my three stooges at home.  Historically, goodbyes have proven difficult for me.    I have said au revoir  to France, Israel, Greece, Chicago, and find it hard to part after relationships have blossomed, been watered, and grown roots in my deep connecting heart.

As a sufferer of anxiety, I have packed coloring books, crayons, pencils, and markers to ease my nerves while traveling 25 1/2 hours to my preliminary destination.  A friend shared with me an adult coloring book called ” The Secret Garden“, recommended for adults to help provide focus and stress-free activity for the mind.  I am planning on coloring my way to Uganda via positive affirmations, gardens, and beautiful butterflies in my secret garden.  The metaphor is a propos because life is like a secret garden.  Treasures to be discovered if we just make room to find them.  To be open to possibilities.  Open to discovering the unknown.  Open to inquiry, relinquishing our need to control every outcome.  Uganda will be my secret garden, and I can’t wait to plant my first seeds there!

To join the movement to empower, educate, and provide the promise of self-sufficiency for 1 million women in extreme poverty around the world , please visit : www.ignite1million.org

If you would like to support BeadforLife’s vision of expanding the Street Business School program and want to link arms with me, please donate to my fundraising goal of $100,000 here  : vegas ignite one million

Webale Nyo! (Thank you very much!)