My 4th of July Kibbutz Volunteer Experience

I don’t know what it is about the 4th of July that scratches my insatiable travel itch but I have my suspicions.

Perhaps a dose of nostalgia?

Or the undeniable truth that I have a deep-seated passion for global adventures.

I long to explore untraveled parts of the world in order to connect with locals,  to communicate in unfamiliar languages,  to discover new sights, sounds, smells, tastes,  and to collect incredible stories along the way to share with friends and family.

One of my favorite 4th of July travel memories dates back to the summer of 2000.   I willingly agreed to join my dear friend Jesica in Israel en route to a volunteer job on a small kibbutz in the beautiful Negev desert.

Our assignment:  Harvesting the world’s most plump, succulent, mouthwatering dates.

Journey

We connected at Ben Gurion airport in the wee hours of the night, completely jet lagged, yet buzzing with anticipation of the mysterious adventure that lie ahead of us.   Our unairconditioned room was sparsely decorated and I specifically recall sleeping with the overhead light on to deter the scurrying cockroaches in search of a cooler oasis.  Little did I know this wouldn’t be the last time I’d be sleeping with the lights on;  The volunteer housing I would call home for the next 3 months had similarly sparse and buggy decor!  Yikes!

The following morning, volunteer assignment in hand and typical overpacked backpack & acoustic guitar in tow, we traveled 4.5 hours south to our home away from home,  a charming hilltop kibbutz named Grofit.   Located in the Aravah valley of the Negev desert, this place would serve as a classroom of sorts, rewarding us with the kind of life lessons that only stepping out of your comfort zone provides.

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Kibbutz Grofit with date fields in the distance (left). 

 

Kibbutz Life

A kibbutz is essentially a commune of people sharing land, resources, and the desire to enjoy a family friendly, relaxed lifestyle.  Today, kibbutz residents represent only 2.5% of Israel’s total population and while current modes of operation are far from the pioneering days, they continue to attract tourists as well as locals seeking a peaceful getaway from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

What I cherished most from my experience was the daily community fellowship, the meals enjoyed together prepared by loving hands, and above all, the opportunity to experience multiple cultures, languages, and rich conversations daily.    It was a chance to serve the needs of the kibbutz and in exchange we received the freedom to embark on once-in-a -lifetime adventures including an overnight hike up Mt. Sinai, lead by a team of Bedouins and camels,  snorkeling in the Red Sea in Dahab, and the thrill of meeting a local Jordanian family thanks to our taxi driver who insisted we stop in for a visit at 11:45pm to meet his relatives!   I will never forget that night!

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Each day, I shared 10 hours with migrant workers from India & Thailand,  as well as volunteers from Belgium, Poland, France, Denmark, and South Africa!  Talk about the learning opportunities!

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At dawn, our team drove into the date fields, feeling the coolness of night before the sun rose to the east over the Jordanian mountains.

The work was physical, the heat oppressive.

At times,  I  pondered the social injustices of the world as I placed nets around the unripened date fruits high in the sky.   I marveled at the agility and fearlessness of my Thai and Indian teammates, and admired their fortitude despite the dire circumstances which brought them thousands of miles away from loved ones in order to make a living.

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Lessons

Freedom to travel is a gift.

Service to others is a gift.

Relationships are a gift.

Learning is a gift.

Curiosity is a gift.

and gifts….. well……

Gifts are meant to be shared with the world.   Thank you for allowing me the gift and freedom of sharing this story with you!

What is your favorite 4th of July memory?  I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Until next time friends,

Stand In Love,  Jen xo

Jennifer Miller is a Las Vegas-based dōTERRA Wellness Advocate and  Community Partner volunteer  for global nonprofit BeadforLife and Street Business School whose mission is to provide entrepreneurial training to 1 million impoverished people globally by 2027.   Click here for a listing of upcoming events, or Follow her on Instagram or Facebook @standinlovejen .  To begin your natural health and wellness journey today with essential oils, click here .

 

 

 

 

 

Say Yes to the River

The river is everywhere.  – Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Rivers inspire.  Rivers give way and rivers give life.

Rivers are part of the life-giving water cycle:  incessantly moving, shaping, and transforming.   Cleansing rivers have beginnings and ends, like the famous Jordan River,   washing away the sins of ancient believers emptying them into the Dead Sea where life ceases to exist.   Powerful rivers, like the Colorado River, channel wild, rushing water and carve beautiful canyons and deep valleys.  Melodic rivers, like famed Czech composer Antonin Dvorak’s Serenade in E Major, relax our senses and guide us into calming, soothing waters.

A river is like an opportunity,  beckoning our hearts to listen.   Like rivers, opportunities come in all shapes and sizes.

I heard the concept of saying yes to the river by CEO and cofounder of Beadforlife, Devin Hibbard, during a recent podcast interview with MergeLane cofounder, Sue Heilbronner.   Her firm discovers, invests in, and accelerates great women and the companies they run.

Saying yes to the river for Hibbard meant heeding the call to begin a heartfelt journey with BeadforLife- a global NGO whose mission is providing sustainable opportunities for women to lift their families from poverty by creating a circle of exchange that enriches everyone.    Women in Uganda create beautifully hand-crafted paper beaded jewelry and engaged volunteers and advocates create markets for the sale of their goods.  Proceeds are directly reinvested into program expansion initiatives.

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Beifa Nighty, places finishing touches on the Radiance Collection Necklace.                                By: http://www.standinlove.org

In 2004, Devin,  Torkin Wakefield-Devin’s mother and former peace corps volunteer-and Ginny Jordan, said yes to the river that is now known as BeadforLife.  What started 12 years ago as an intention-setting meditation has grown into an active,  global movement placing entrepreneurial training directly into the hands of the world’s most impoverished women. The scale and depth of this work is unprecedented as evidenced by the recent expansion into six African nations outside Uganda including Burundi, Rwanda, and Kenya.  This hands-on, mobile classroom approach, aptly dubbed the Street Business School, provides tailored business training through a successful network of implementing partners. Devin’s ambition and belief underlie her goal of reaching one million women by 2027.

Challenges

Saying yes to the river does not come without challenges as Hibbard points out.  “We are and continue to be a learning organization”, she shared when asked how an entrepreneur without formal “business” training has achieved this level of success in her organization.  She added,  “We felt like this was something the world wanted us to do…and athough we didn’t have the right CVs to pull it off, we said ‘who are we to say no to the universe when it is giving us something’.”

Hibbard combines a passion for social entrepreneurship and international development with a network of engaged supporters,  worldwide donors, and a team of devoted colleagues working in Kampala, Uganda, and Boulder, Colorado, the nonprofits’ U.S. location.

Devin is not the only one who says yes to the river, exercising courage and plunging feet first into the deep, often unknown future.  The Street Business School encourages its participants to say yes to the river– the river of fresh opportunities where chances at renewed life replace the familiarity of poverty, dependence, and social exclusion.  The members of Street Business School, often rural subsistence farmers living on $0.60 a day, are challenged to trust not only the program’s leadership and it’s initiatives, but also- themselves.

Belief

Saying yes to the river for a vast majority of BeadforLife members means learning to read and write, and courageously stepping into a mobile classroom environment joined by neighbors and strangers from familiar socio-economic backgrounds as well as women who have successfully transitioned from poverty to economic independence.  The program graduates serve as mentors while lending credibility to the program’s effectiveness.

BeadforLife resembles a braided river,  whose multiple channels connect flowing streams of believing, compassionate individuals.  The river’s source- LOVE.

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Ariel view of New Zealand’s braided Dart river located in picturesque Glenorchy.                   By: http://www.standinlove.org

When was the last time you thought about saying yes to the river?

Chick-Fil-A-Eight

Lafayette welcomed the “Chick-Fil-A Eight” as they have been nicknamed, two days ago from Dayton, Ohio.

A franchise owner of two Dayton suburban locations took Chick- Fil-A’s official corporate mission statement to an entirely new level.

“To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.  To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-Fil-A.”

As her Miamisberg location, the nations top performing location in 2015, undergoes expansion renovation, her employees were given the opportunity to earn their normal wages while serving flood diaster victims here in Lafayette.

A team of 8 workers, including Dayton training director Samantha drove 14 hours Wednesday to serve while their shop’s reopening date was pushed back.  Ranging in age from 18-23 years old, the team of 8 joined leader Bob for the most difficult job assignment in this area to date.

The homeowner is a recently widowed man living with his pregnant daughter and son as well as his granddaughter age 3.  Next  to his home is his machine shop where he makes his living.  This property is still under water and the devastation has compounded leaving homeowner utterly hopeless.

Enter Samaritan’s  Purse team of 17, including the “Chick-Fil-A Eight”. 


Amidst the debris, festering mold spores, and dampened memories rested an American flag, soaked in standing flood water.

Dylan, a recently injured U.S. Marine now working full time for the Chick- Fil-A franchise outside of Dayton, respectfully folded the flag with  coworker Brittin and  presented it to the broken-hearted homeowner’s son, Trey, in a solemn moment at the end of the day.


Not only had Trey recently lost his mother, now his home and life as he knew it had been washed away in the flood.

The team will return to the site again today to continue the work as well as bring light, hope, and the message of the Gospel to this family hurting from life’s tumultuous storms.

This morning’s group devotional called us to ponder the reason for our volunteerism.  To consider the states of our hearts. Are we here for our own plans, or are we woven  into the tapestry of Lafayette for a purpose much larger than our current understanding?

The longer I stay here, the clearer that bigger purpose has become. It is in these moments of deep connection with humanity that we contemplate our true, meaningful existence on Earth.  These times of trials are Faith’s most glorious chance for refinement and reinvigoration.

I have fallen in love with the people of Louisiana, and Lafayette in particular is making what will soon become an indelible mark on my heart.


These are the moments I live for and I am on my knees in humble gratitude for God stirring my heart to come.

He always knows just what we need, right when we need it.

 

“For I know the plans I have for You declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ” – Jermiah 29:11

 

May the floods in your life remind you of what needed to be washed away, so that new beginnings may take root.

Share your thoughts in the comments if Louisiana has touched you in any way.  We learn from each other and take comfort knowing we are not alone in this life.

Stand in love, ❤️

Jen

@standinlovejen

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Jennifer DeBough Miller

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Pedestrian Observations

“Our main business is not to see what lies dimly ahead, but to do what lies clearly at hand”- Thomas Carlyle

There is something euphoric about arriving at a destination by foot.

 Why?  

The richness of experience and revelations that exist between two points….

Case in point, today’s urban hike into town for a piping-hot cup of dark roast coffee and eventual jaunt to REI to research sleeping bags for the next big adventure.  (hiking Macchu Pichu’s Inca Trail-  a wish-list destination, at which, I prefer to arrive by foot. )

Urban hiking.. a freshly added “no fees attached” recreational activity  … loosely defined as get out of your house and walk somewhere interesting…see what you discover .  This may not sound like a new phenomenon.   You may be thinking to yourself, “… people live in cities, bustling to and from by foot, bus, taxi, and all other sorts of public transport.”  While that’s true, I think the percentage of Las Vegans living on my side of town commuting this way remains quite small.   And while hiking is popular here, it’s generally directed west, towards the Red Rock conservation area.

Today’s suburban expedition led me to the discovery of the RTC’s city bus timetable, and piqued an interest into commuting to work via public transport  for a change.  Feels like traveling for some reason, rather than commuting.  Traveling on a journey takes many forms.   As I passed a bus stop on my left, I looked down and noticed 3 poinsettias and 3 prayer candles in a mini vigil  presumably to a lost loved one.   The wicks were burning brightly, suggesting I may have just missed intersecting someone sorrowfully ruminating their loss.    On another part of today’s journey, I was able to stop and smell the roses outside a cast iron gate entrance to a perfectly manicured golf course I pass by in my car daily.  Smelling fresh ivory and magenta colored roses growing wildly in the desert in January counts as simple abundance in my book.  I tucked that experience in my mental backpack along with unanswered questions such as ” I wonder how many people ride the public bus here for work?  How much does it cost to ride the bus these days?  Could I try to get to the strip on this route? ”  Carrying on, I reminisced about  those impressionable  junior high days I relied on the public bus for transport to school while my parents worked hard morning to night to provide for my brother and me.    I then contemplated if  I had ever noticed these roses while in my car at that familiar intersection stoplight.

Ever notice on a walk in your neighborhood how the bushes will stretch their limbs north-facing in order to catch a glimpse and bathe in the afternoon sun passing overhead mid-late morning?   So beautiful to behold nature’s silent conversations and it’s ceaseless intricacies.

After a 9 mile round trip trek around town today, I am particularly interested in exploring with you the differences in the experience of consuming a cup of coffee at a Starbucks, versus a McDonalds.  Understandably, geography plays a part.  I am speaking about these two particular shops near my home.

Today I chose to unpack my day-off arsenal of books, sharpies, index cards, and spiral notebook on the outdoor terrace area at Starbucks.  Having just schlepped into town on a cold morning, my body temperature was up, and I profited by sitting in the direct sunlight at an empty patio table for two.  Meanwhile, inside the bustling ,iconic coffee house,  I was struck by the multitude of business people, cyclists, computers, I-pads/phones/pods, and the energy circulating all around me.    I listened to two men conversing in French, their words like music in my ears,  behind me as I stood in line, a line much shorter than the one full of cars in the drive through.  Hip music playing, fresh coffee brewing, employees buzzing, guests working, typing, and talking… it was a complete 180  in terms of experience from the day prior at Mc D’s.

There,  as I sat in an old formica pebble stone topped booth, I was confronted with the realities and prevalence of poverty.   A homeless man I see routinely was seated across from me,  with his bicycle parked outside the front sliding screen doors.  Reading and journaling, I have grown accustomed to tuning out the noise of his video games or songs that blare haphazardly.   We both don knit caps over our heads to keep warm, and are both sipping a cup of freshly brewed and rather affordable cup of coffee, comparatively speaking.  What I love about the McDonald’s experience is that each time I choose to have coffee there, I am able to bear witness to all of God’s wonderfully unique creations.   The woman and her husband having breakfast turning to the other homeless man and regular visitor behind them asking , “are you hungry?  Would you like something to eat? Would you like hotcakes?”    Or the man in his warm ups that shows up for breakfast at the same time each morning, who gives a sack of food to the homeless man sitting in front of me.   Sometimes, they talk, and the stranger takes a seat with the homeless man and engages in conversation with him about how to use the phone or whatever else he may have in his possession at the time.   My heart feels FULL when I see the young hourly paid employees coming over to ask guests, including the homeless, if they need refills on water or coffee.  After all, they are paying guests too.

I love to sit and partake of this shared human experience.   Listening to the old folks newspaper crinkling as they turn it’s black and white pages while discussing loudly their closest friend’s most recent doctor’s appointment results.   Or ….witnessing acts of generosity.  Reminded me of the “pay it forward” movement that takes place in drive through lines at Starbucks… when you randomly pay for the order of the person behind you.  While this is a great demonstration of sharing and giving, it is not likely that the person behind you who drove in their car to pay $4.00 or more  for a coffee is in need financially of the gift.    The person who is in financial need, is the homeless man or woman with his own two feet as his sole mode of transport.  The man or woman who falls asleep in the booth after a  hot and filling meal of hotcakes, sausages, and eggs… getting rest, warmth, and replenishment after a long, cold night outside.   The socially rejected and avoided men and women who, being human, crave interaction with others too…. say hello, offer to buy a coffee or a meal inside.. or just give a bag of food.    It is all about perspective…  the big breakfast that “has so many calories” for one, may be  a life -sustaining meal for another.  Let’s pay that forward.

The beauty of today’s journey lies in the pulsating, penetrating heart of man.   Bearing witness to the love inside of each us… and the cravings we all have to share that love with others.    May your feet guide you always on the path toward love.  May you continuously choose love for others, and experience the richest spiritual rewards.

Have you witnessed amazing acts of love?  Please share, I’d love to hear your story!

*pardon the lack of the accent over the “a”… my keyboard is speaking without french accents at the moment… *


Roadside vigil


Homeless man receives meal
 

Meet Annet Namulondo: Successful Entrepreneur in Uganda

Riding into to town to do business.
Riding into to town to do business.

It was our 3rd home visit in Bulogo of the day… the afternoon ripe with the sound of the African sun warming the fields as we pulled up to see Annet outside of her home working with banana leaves while her daughter was under the umbrella- like shade of a banana tree putting the finishing touches on the most beautiful  hand woven palm branch mat.   Freshly picked maize cobs adorned Annet’s front yard- some full of plump butter yellow kernels for roasting, and others stripped of the kernels which lay in a giant pile to the side waiting for the sun to dry them inside and out before being pummeled into flour for market.

Annet is 32 years young, with 4 children ages 16, 14, 10, and 8.  Three are girls, and one boy.   I was struck by the beautiful chartreuse and yellow patterned dress she was wearing, especially the small candle with a flame inside one of the inner circles- the flame glowing and burning bright, like her future thanks to the Street Business School courses she has completed under the protective mango tree in town.

A plastic rosary adorned Annet’s strong neck like a halo of spiritual encouragement.   We squatted on a small ledge outside of her thatched roof kitchen and exchanged probing questions with heartfelt, quiet-voiced replies.   The sort of answers given by someone wholeheartedly believing- and wanting- the listening audience to be larger than the sole interviewer.

Annet, I learned, began her first business with 5,000 Ugandan Schillings. – about 1.50$.  She purchased supplies to weave 3 traditional style mats, which she ended up selling and reinvesting the profits to launch her second business of selling plastic shoes.  Who doesn’t need plastic shoes?  Smart business investment.    She told us that after her business training, she decided to rear goats in the village in order to save up the first 5,000UGS to launch her mat- making business.   Taking one week to weave a mat from start to finish, we were so impressed with her ability to take things one step at a time, and develop her skills one day at time– knowing she would increase her speed and design diversity as time came to pass.

Such an interesting parallel to life- taking things one step at a time, and being involved with people, one person at at time.  As I was jogging the other morning,  I heard  a message reminding me ,

” we cannot fix everyone, or everything, but we can help someone, or something. “

Start small.

Start where you are.

Have you reached the point in life where you are done “making a point”  and would like to “make a difference” ?

“I was feeling a bit lazy, and weak… but now, I am out of my comfort zone, ”  shares Annet when I asked her to share how BeadforLife’s training has helped her in life.

The comfort zone.  Safe place to be, but spiritually impoverished.  If we rest in the places that are only familiar to us, how will we ever grow?  How will we give ourselves an opportunity to evolve and carry out a purpose bigger than ourselves?

I purchased Annet’s green and white checked palm branch mat at the end of our interview, appreciating her hard work and the beauty of the time and dedication represented by each folded branch.   This palm branch mat is like an organic tapestry, telling the story of her former life being folded over, and made bright and new.   I am so excited to have this piece of art to share with others and remind me continually to challenge my personal comfort zone.   For it is in these times of discomfort that our wings are stretched allowing us to fly a bit higher, soar a bit further, and rise a bit taller.

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thanking Annet for allowing me to purchase this beautiful mat.

If you would like to consider taking a small step today and step outside of your comfort zone, visit :  http://vegas.ignite1million.org

” it only takes a spark to light a whole blaze”- lyrics by Unspoken, “Start a Fire”

to be encouraged musically, please listen to these soul-lifting lyrics of Start A Fire! I just LOVE LOVE LOVE this song!!!! It starts with each one of us!

Bulogo’s Banana Business Superstar

We pulled up the long rural driveway with Julius, our driver, coach Ritah- one of the compassionate and dedicated street business school trainers in Bulogo, and my BeadforLife colleague- coach Phoebe- to our final on-site business visit for the day in Bulogo village, about 45 minutes drive north of Kamuli town. What a wonderful surprise to end the long day of field interviews! Monica Mwesigwa was seated on a small wooden bench outside of her free standing outdoor brick kitchen with a thatched roof,  rolling out carefully prepared and mixed dough for her newly launched and thriving small business selling banana pancakes. These are not the traditional pancakes to which we are accustomed, light and fluffy golden colored cakes topped with melted butter and dripping with maple syrup, but rather a dense sort of croquette– a mixture of locally sourced and hand processed cassava flour, smashed bananas and a pinch of baking soda. Rolled out and cut into small circles with her multi purpose plastic cup and empty recycled glass bottle, she handed them to her daughter – 1 of 6 children ranging in age from 17 to 1 and 1/2 yrs- who was tending the indoor charcoal fire over which rest a pot of boiling hot oil to deep fry these sweet little snacks! As we talked with Monica, age 33, we could just sense her incredible entrepreneurial spirit! Waves of smoke escaped from the small outdoor kitchen, encircling our senses as we snapped photographs and filmed quick feature videos, highlighting her amazing success!

Bulogo Women’s Group.

Monica enrolled in November 2014 with the first class of Bulogo Women’s Group, consisting of 20 members.  Bulogo Women’s Group is one of the first partner organizations to replicate the business training curriculum and mentoring developed and introduced by BeadforLife’s Street Business School program- currently under expansion with the goal of  providing entrepreneurial training for 1 million women living in extreme poverty worldwide.  By December, only a couple short weeks after her first few business building training sessions, Monica had already launched her pancake selling business! She sold 1 chicken at the rate of 11,000 UGS (approx $3.25) to obtain the capital she needed to get her small business off the ground.  Monica shared with us that she used to eat chicken she raised until she learned in one of the trainings  she had the choice and opportunity to sell one instead- giving her financial means to save and invest for a business.

Sparked by these fundamental business lessons, one of which encourages women to “start  small” and understand the temporary nature of their present difficulties, Monica applied herself in earnest.   This takes wholehearted belief and trust, and Monica decided to embrace change and take that risk.  Investing the profits from her pancake business, Monica launched her second business – selling a homemade secret recipe banana juice. She sells these by the 400 or 500 ml cup in town. She shared with us that she earns about 2,500-3,000 UGS profit daily from her juice (approx .75-.80) as well as a profit of 3,000 UGS from her pancake business daily. She is now earning close to $2 a day and is continuing to expand. She has more than doubled her income and her graduation date is set for next month in Bulogo village! Like all entrepreneurs, Monica faces challenges. Currently, she told us she is challenged by lack of access to the specific variety of ripe bananas to meet her growing demand for the juice. Tending to her 6 children in addition to running her businesses proves challenging, but Monica is so passionate and driven we are unequivocally convinced she will have continued success!
I asked Monica what she is most proud of in her business and she replied,

” Now, I am able to afford things I couldn’t before- without the help of my husband- whom she called “boss” with a smile and laughed! …. ” if I would like a piece of meat, I can buy it… If I want to have my hair done or buy a special lotion for myself, I am able to do so and am not depending on my husband.”

As we left her bustling home workshop, we thanked her profusely for her time,  as well as her earnest efforts in English to help us film a short video of her tremendous accomplishments.  What a courageous and brave woman- so incredibly wise for her young 33 years.

I left home early July with a particular definition and understanding of the words  “courage” and “bravery”, and enjoy experiencing the evolution of this definition with each passing day shared with some of the most enterprising, and tenacious women I will have ever met in my life.  I am truly blessed for these encounters and for the lessons they have continued to teach me along this unimaginably profound journey.

xxx

rolling out Cassava flour, bananas, and baking soda to prepare her pancakes for sale.
rolling out Cassava flour, bananas, and baking soda to prepare her pancakes for sale.

Harsh Realities of Life in the Developing World.

Greetings from plot 96 on Bunyoni Rd, Kataza district Kampala, Uganda! Finished up a load of hand washing as the morning rain finally ceased and the sun will shine for exactly 4 and a half more hours- just long enough to take the heavy dampness off my two boldly printed, safety pinned waistband maxi skirts and pair of light weight cotton pajamas drying on the rusted metal clothes line we share with the neighboring apartment housing two brilliant young sisters- both university graduates still seeking employment opportunities after two years.  Seems the complexities of my first three weeks in Uganda- and first time in sub Saharan Africa have finally brought me to a moment of deep contemplation, even fearful realizations I had to address. I am writing from the comfort of my humble abode today, recognizing the need to hit the “pause and process” button on my African adventure transistor radio. Monday’s completed field visit to Bulogo women’s group was the pinnacle of this “Awakening” – an expression I borrow from shame researcher and author, Brenee Brown. I returned late that evening after a difficult return trip stuck in hours of typical rush hour “jams” as they are called here. The nights can grow so dim, literally no street lights, only the burning flames of small kerosene lamps aglow lighting small tables of smoked fish, unrefrigerated meats, fruit and vegetable stands, and the scent of burning piles of rubbish in the air thick and heavy with the darkness of night. The traffic in Kampala hits a head in the am for three hours and at night for at least 3 hours. The city streets are literally gridlocked- with cars, matatus, bodas, cyclists, and people scrambling for a place to inch forward. I liken crossing one of these streets to a human game of “Frogger” – without the slightest bit of exaggeration in the analogy.

It was bound to hit me- the wall. And so yesterday morning brought me to a halt. I landed in Uganda and have remained a human funnel – wide at the top desiring to take in as many fluid experiences as I possibly could these first 3 weeks that I was like a cheerfully colored latex birthday party balloon gorging down air filling to the widest stretches of itself before bursting in excess – in my case – emotional overload. I sat paralyzed at my desk in the inventory room shared by a young American named Steve, and began to think I may not be able to handle any more. My arms and neck stayed stiff like boards, hands felt like jittery fingers in the middle of a cold winter’s day. The “clip clip clip ” of the gardener’s shears on the bushes outside my office were literally fraying my nerves. I grabbed my phone, plugged in the little white earbuds and attempted to drown out the surfacing feelings with some orchestral Italian harp music I downloaded in the early hours the morning of my departure from home- unable to sleep. Recognizing the signs of anxiety- I reached for two things- my phone and two calming homeopathic sleep tablets called Calms Forte. Unsuccessfully skyping my husband and parents with whom I had not communicated in two days – for lack of wifi access- I had to follow the normal self- soothing protocol and realize this time was bound to come and was totally normal.

Today’s working from “home” has allowed me to experience tremendous insight into my work here, as well as space to process the varied experiences so far. I think I arrived in Uganda with my ” wow this is all novel! ” lenses, then transitioned to ” hmmm, that’s odd but I understand its part of life here”, to ” oh my word, life is just so difficult here, and I am totally overwhelmed by the daily realities for so many Ugandans” lenses. Humans don’t share much in common with these transition lenses outside of the different cast of light they let in your frame of view. I am learning and experiencing the time- consuming tasks of hand washing, line drying, and ironing every piece to be sure to singe any trace of mango fly eggs that were hatched on your damp clothing – lest you forget and it buries itself and hatches underneath your skin like it did to our neighbor Lee the week we arrived- requiring a small incision to be made to remove the worm under her skin that had grown.

I am learning to allow myself to feel the raw feelings of fear – as they relate to embracing change and accepting discomfort. Living with roaches, armies of ants, geckos on the walls, mosquitoes everywhere, all while viewing the injustices all around of people living in abject poverty will take it’s toll. Each day for the past 3 weeks as I leave the iron gate of my compound in Kataza and walk down Bunyoni road to begin my Teva- sandaled trek to work, I am confronted with the horrible realities of life in the developing world. I have lived and worked abroad in Israel, and various places in Europe for extended periods of time, but none of those trips would be able to properly prepare me for the sights I would witness in sub-Saharan Africa. I’d love to be able to insert more specific and startling statistics on things like the lack of indoor plumbing and running water data,or the rates of incidence of untreated bronchial infections in women and children due to daily cooking over and inhaling charcoal fumes, in the country- which I know would be astounding, however I very quickly became used to the fact that I do not have instant access to wifi when and wherever I want.

Today’s quiet day allowed me to reflect and write stories on the members of Bulogo Womens group. Space to process. Space to pause and to revisit my commitment of coming here in the first place. Humanity is a shared experience- this is proven to me over and over again as I make it through another day on the ground.
I love the write up by Tara Sophia Mohr called, “10 Rules for Brilliant Women”.  
Rule #1: Make a pact. 
She writes, ” No one else is going to build the life you want for you. No one else will even be able to completely understand it. The most amazing souls will show up to cheer you on along the way, but this is your game. Make a pact to be in it with yourself for the long haul, as your own supportive friend at every step of the way.” 
This piece of advice aligns with the core messaging of the Street Business School training I attended in Mutungo last week with the 12th enrolled class of over 75 women and some of their children. YOU are the business. YOU are the capital. YOU must believe in the power YOU have in YOU and make a commitment, a pact, with yourself and trust in it’s potential.
I challenge you to think about a pact you would like to make with yourself. What would it look like? What would it say? What would be the impact of this self commitment? Know it may be scary along the way, but in retrospect, an adventure worth the risk it took to get there!
Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to be transparent and real with my thoughts- we don’t help anyone by acting like we have it all together all of the time- vulnerability and truth lead to connectivity!
Make a pact to implement a small change and share with someone you love!

Female Micro-Entrepreneur Spotlight: Regina Nakalanzi 

On the road again Monday morning by 7:30 am heading towards Kamuli, Uganda in the east.  About 45 miles north of the town of Jinja- the source of the Nile River!  I’ve come to anticipate an adventure each time I embark on field work.  Travel, traffic, and the sights on the ground mix around me like an unfamiliar collection of spices from a foreign land.   Traveling east on Jinja road, we passed through a bustling meat market town called Najjembe, where hoards of workers dressed in blue uniforms wave sticks of street meat – mostly chicken- trying to get your attention!  As you slow down to pass through this food refill town, your vehicle is essentially overtaken with people pressed against all 4 windows trying to sell you sticks of meat, bags of bananas- over 5 varieties-  avocados, tomatoes, as well as cold bottled beverages like water or orange soda pop!

Our driver picked up a bag of sweet bananas, and my colleague selected a sack of roasted plantains to be enjoyed on the ride to our destination.   Shortly after that smoke filled meat rest stop, we passed through the lush valley of the Mabire Forest.

Our work today centered on field interviews with current members of the Bulogo Women’s group- the first partner organization here in Uganda to replicate and test the Street Business School 6 month entrepreneurial training methodology for the poorest women in the rural village of Bulogo.    Led by the warm and nurturing mama Esther and coach Ritah, we were introduced to a quarter of the group due to graduate next month!

Each and every visit to the women’s homes and places of business was exhilarating and encouraging!  We were seeing first hand the impact that BeadforLife’s Street Business School expansion project was having in rural villages in Uganda!

Meet Regina.

Our first encounter was with the loveliest woman named Regina Nakalanzi.  Regina is 49 years old, married, and has four children.  Inspired by the content of her very first training session at the street business school (held under a large mango tree with the trunk of the tree posing as an easel for white paper held up by two members), she managed to string a couple of independent thoughts together and sold a small basket woven of palm branches for a mere 15,000 UGS- a bit less than $5USD.  After the sale of a second basket, she invested the proceeds in order to buy a piglet!  Embracing the notion of “starting small” with her business, she continued to put lessons to practice at home and begin to save and eventually have her own male pig which would help her financially!

When she’s not busy running her most profitable business, the piggery, she works as the village hairdresser!  An old passion of hers that went by the way side due to life’s daily struggles with farming and subsisting- she decided to rekindle  her love with this business as well!  Honing her skills, and dedicating more energy than usual on this, she has become one busy beautician- especially in December around the holidays!  She weaves baskets on the side, and also grows and sells small harvests of sim-sim- sesame seeds- for additional profits.   Regina was raised by her uncle after her father passed away at a young age.  She never made it through secondary school, and while she had a later opportunity in life to attend a nursing program, she failed to complete it due to lack of school fees to fund her studies.  She found herself in a stagnant place – feeling restless, tired, defeated, an complacent for a number of years.

Thanks to BeadforLife’s partnering with Bulogo Women’s group, Regina’s dreams to be independent and successful in life came true!   She rose up from her lowest point- having lived in a mud hut with a tin roof when she arrived to Bulogo village and not able to send her children to school.   Selling small bags of maize which she harvested by herself, she was able to purchase 7 iron sheets to begin to provide a better shelter for herself.

When asked what advice she would give to other women who may be considering joining a business training program, she said ” you must be patient in marriage, and in business.  Save, be creative, and always remember to take a portion of your profits and reinvest them to expand you businesses!”   Spoken like a true entrepreneur!

I asked which business she liked most, and she replied with a chuckle, ” the piggery, because it’s the most profitable!”

I was blessed to have the village hairdresser demonstrate her hair braiding talent on my muzungu hair and that was fun for us both!  She has never braided a white person’s hair and I have never experienced the fast paced, super tight small rows placed nearly on my scalp!  It was great fun and a shared blessing indeed!  I was incredibly inspired by her hard work, and enterprising spirit!

To learn more about how you can help light the spark in a woman’s life living in extreme poverty, please visit :

Vegas.ignite1million.org

Or to learn more about all of BeadforLife’s programs, please visit:

http://www.beadforlife.org

Love Hunger: Stella’s Story

Thankful for this cool, cloudy Sunday morning for spiritual refilling at Mbuya church.   Enjoying the lullaby of  a heavy -early morning rainfall, I woke up from a Benadryl’s night rest.  Benadryl has been a good friend to me helping reduce the swollen itchy welts all over my legs- which after two weeks in Uganda look like a battlefield of scratches, scabs, and discoloration after many a night of itching, digging, smacking, pinching, fingernail pricking and any other manner of reducing persistent itching, swelling, and irritation.   I share this only to show how it pales in comparison to the annoyances and aggravations faced by  nearly each and every woman I meet in the programs here at BeadforLife.  Suffice it to say that today’s message at church about complaining and provision by God – taken from Exodus 16-  and John chapter 6 helped put my wandering thoughts about perceived difficulties back into perspective.

I joined fellow BeadforLife staff member and friend, Phoebe, yesterday for a meal at her home in Buziga- a beautiful neighborhood accessed by a series of bumpy, severely pot holed dirt roads.  Her home is so lovely and is as open as her    Giant heart!  Papayas, green beans, avocados, passion fruit, and more grow in her garden outside, while wild turkeys and chickens frequent her front porch!

I love cooking- and Phoebe provided the first real opportunity to prepare local Ugandan cuisine together with her in her cozy home with husband Ben, and two children- Tendo almost 4, and Carol-2.   Matoke steaming in fresh banana leaves on one burner, rice boiling on another, and gorgeous halved plantains sautéing in golden bubbling hot oil in another saucepan! We were friends cooking together over a hot stove, talking like women do- enjoying the simple gift of each other’s company!  What a blessing it was!

After sharing a hearty meal, we loaded up Tendo, Carol, and some cousins from down the street and headed to Ggaba village – a small bustling fishing waterfront district on the coast of Lake Victoria.   We walked hand in hand through the Saturday markets where one can purchase anything from saucepans, to wooden spoons, to firewood for cooking.  Heaping piles of tomatoes and “Irish”- white potatoes- stacked like cairns on a hiker’s trail marking the way!  A sensory overload- a feast for the eyes and the nose!

I held hands with two precious young girls – Sylvia age 7, and Stella age 6.  Sylvia is a cousin of Tendo and Carol by blood, while Stella is a relative by love and tenderness of Phoebe’s extended family who took her in as a baby 6 years ago.  See, Stella’s mother is a prostitute in a red light sort of district here in Kampala.  It is believed her father may have been an Asian tourist- as her characteristics show evidence of mixed backgrounds.  She is an absolutely beautiful girl who is incredibly shy, severely underweight for her age, and just overcame a bout of both malaria and typhoid which she obtained by eating ice cream made with unboiled water.  This precious orphan girl is living with a 70 year old auntie of Phoebe’s who just had the heart to provide a home for her when she was left unwanted as a baby.   Being adopted myself, I feel tremendous compassion and connection with these girls here.  I could feel her longing for love, longing for a sense of permanency, longing to have someone to call “mom”.  Stella stole my heart from the moment I laid eyes on her- I could just tell she had a different story.  Again, a silent communication of sorts that said, ” will you please give me your love today, and I will pretend you are my mommy today while we are walking around hand in hand on a Saturday afternoon”…. “I will pretend, just for this hour that you love me unconditionally, and you don’t judge me because I was left as an unwanted orphan girl , daughter of a prostitute mother I have never met, and a father who probably doesn’t even know that I exist and would not care if he did.”

After watching birds nosedive in the blue lake searching for food, storks perched on the edge of rickety and sun faded wooden boats, we held hands again and returned back through the bustling marketplace.  On our right, outside of a crowded firewood marketplace, I noticed a girl about the age of 10-11 years old sitting on a stool covered in the most horrendous 3rd degree burns imaginable.   Her skin was black and pink in areas where regrowth and healing had occurred, and yellowish-green and bubbling puss covering  the length of her right arm, right leg and foot, and right side of her face.   Unable to continue to just walk on, I asked Phoebe- and she suggested we approach and offer to assist if we could.  Turns out, the young girl- named Susan- was the victim of a severe petrol fire.  The co-wife of her father set fire to her home in a rage of jealousy.  In an attempt to kill Susan’s mother, believed to be inside, the deranged woman killed Susan’s younger sister and severely burned Susan by pouring petrol on the house and lighting it on fire.   Susan’s mother ran inside and was able to to rescue Susan, severely burned. Unable to seek treatment in their local area of Masaka- they were referred to treatment in Kampala- over 4 hours away by an overcrowded taxi making frequent stops.  Susan’s mother sells firewood collected to help get money  for her daughter’s treatment in the local hospital.  All I kept thinking was that if this was at home, this young girl would be hospitalized and her open bubbling 3rd degree wounds wrapped with care in gauze by a nurse in a clean facility with antibiotics given to prevent infections- not to mention some type of generalized pain relief.  Yet there Susan sat, people staring at her in dismay and with despair- wondering what her story was.  We gave to help her mom what we had available in our hands at that time.

Stella grabbed my right hand, and Sylvia my left hand.  I think even these two young girls were frightened by what they saw.   When our fun day together was over, I gave the girls big hugs and took photos with Phoebe’s energetic son Tendo and contemplative little girl Carol.  After rounding the corner of her foster home, Stella peered back, and ran to me again for another big big hug! I held her sweet little head against my belly , hand on her head as she snuggled in for more affection.   What a precious little girl- hungry for love.

What are you hungry for in life?  Do you crave the material things the world tempts us with?  Those things  designed to help us forget momentarily our appetites for something deeper, more fulfilling? How do you get your spiritual filling and are you even aware that you crave nourishment of another kind?

I will be reminded of the Stellas of the world, the Agnes’ of the world, and share the light I have in me given so generously by the grace of God our Heavenly Father from above.

For as it was preached today’s message, ” it is a blessing to be hungry for this kind of spiritual fulfillment”. To hunger this way is in itself a blessing onto us. ”

Photo:  left- Stella(red and white dress) Jen, Sylvia, Joseph, front: Tendo and his baby sister, Carol.

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