In July 2016, I embarked on a life-changing trip to Uganda with a team of four women, collectively called the “Village Wisdom Team.” During my two months there, we met with with women’s craft cooperatives and small business owners to learn and share best practices of fair trade, entrepreneurship, and equitable relationships. As we traveled around the country (mostly in the Rwenzori Mountain region in the west), we explored ways to sustain the livelihood of vulnerable women and children through innovative product design, building access to global markets, and women’s health empowerment programs.
The opportunity to return to Africa was long-awaited since a 3-month trip to Cameroon in 2009. My patience and open heart was rewarded with an amazing chance to travel with three awesome women from Asheville. For 6 months, we researched Fair Trade companies, small-group savings and loans programs, put on fundraising events, learned about cultural awareness, and carefully created a travel itinerary.
Across the rolling countryside and deep into the Rwenzori Mountains… we witnessed the lives of people who exist in far corners of this Earth. Ugandan people eagerly welcomed us with open, loving arms. They invited us into their world and told us about their struggles, needs, hopes… their businesses, how they sell their products, how they wish they could sell more… why they need an income… to pay school fees for their children… so they can eat, so they can survive.
We all shared stories of our different cultures and many prayers. They prepared our food, our beds in their homes, and fertile ground to sow seeds of love. They showed us how to weave baskets, how to harvest leaves and roots for dyeing raffia, and how to be resourceful and not waste anything.
Our team currently has two projects in the works:
We are planning to create a Fair Trade company, so we can work directly with artisan groups and help find new markets for their products (so far we have baskets, apparel, cattle horn products, and Arabica coffee.) Through innovative design development within their cultural tradition, we will co-create more refined products that are desirable on a global market. By assisting these artists to establish Fair Trade businesses, they will have the ability to generate a living wage, which will support their families, send children to school, and contribute to the overall livelihood of their communities.
I am continuing to develop a Women’s Health Empowerment project which I helped facilitate in a rural western village. Through our community assessments, we learned that many girls cannot attend school during their monthly periods because they lack sanitary products. This causes them to get far behind in class or ultimately drop out of school completely. With the help of community leaders, our Village Wisdom Team from USA (villagewisdom.net) partnered with Girl Up Uganda (girlupuganda.org) to facilitate a pilot training program. For two days, 150 women, girls and their female teachers traveled up to 4 km to attend this “training of trainers,” in which they learned how to sew their own sanitary pads and gained basic knowledge about sexual/reproductive health. Since the training, they have shared skills they gained amongst their friends and in their community. Overall school attendance has risen among girls who attended the training. This project is continuing to develop, and a return trip is being planned for 2017.
I am deeply passionate about and involved in both projects and have an intense devotion to art & handmade products, the preservation of traditional craft, skills and techniques, women’s empowerment, conscious consumerism, and mutually valuable relationships. I have been blessed with opportunities to make a living from creating art, so I want to share my knowledge in hopes that others may have the same opportunity for success.
I was blessed with a new way of seeing the world, humanity, and the rest of my life.
My faith was strengthened and my life purpose was solidified.
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