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Published: January 27th 2011
Sitting under a jackfruit tree in a quiet compound in Kigo, surrounded by 15 women making beads out of old magazines and calendars it was hard to imagine that I hadn’t always been here in Uganda. Village life was continuing uninterrupted around me, people were doing their washing and cooking, and I was just another pair of hands working on the long bead making process.
Having gotten fed up with my job I made a snap decision that I was going to leave the black snot of the London underground and spend some time volunteering. After searching through numerous volunteering opportunities I settled on the Women Empowerment Programme run by the International Volunteer Network (Post script - although I loved my time in Uganda - I would not recommend this organisation - check my blog 'Pearly Reflections' for further details) because its aim was to teach women, especially widows and those who are HIV Positive, skills so they could earn a living and send their children to school. Little did I know that I would be replacing the black snot with red snot, as the dust of Uganda permeates everything and no matter how many times I blow my nose
the dust remains!
Ethiopian Airlines took me to Entebbe via Addis Ababa and I was met at the airport by James, who runs the IVN programme and Kristina, a nurse from the US working on the healthcare project. Having not slept on the flight I arrived completely exhausted and a little overwhelmed. An early night saw things back in perspective and I spent a morning learning about the programme, which has a huge amount of potential, and the afternoon visiting one of the groups and learning how to make the beads.
The following week passed in a blur of red dust and different women’s groups (there are about 60 women involved in the programme) and learning the bead making process. The women take old magazines, calendars, catalogues, posters or anything else that has a slightly glossy finish, cut them into strips and role them into distinctive beads. Every bead is slightly different as the makeup depends on what is being rolled. Once rolled and glued, the beads are varnished and then made into necklaces, earrings and bracelets.
The women are amazing; happy and positive despite circumstances and the longer I stay the less of a novelty I
am and the more they relax around me. Many of them are widows with children, some are HIV positive but all of them are uncomplaining and friendly. On a weekly basis I will visit four different women’s groups, helping make the beads and spend the rest of my time on marketing them. The aim to sell them in stalls in Kampala and overseas – but the sustainability of the project after I leave concerns me a lot.
I live with the family running the programme (it is a tiny programme, more of a homestay with volunteering) and I get three meals a day, running cold water and (at the moment) a room to myself. There are currently 7 children in the house but the majority will be going back to boarding school in the next few weeks. The compound is a hive of activity with people and dogs everywhere and constant noise – TV, music, dogs, cockerels. London will never seem noisy again.
When we are not working, Kristina and I (who thankfully get along well) spent our time doing hand washing and going for long walks around the area, accompanied by the cries “Bye mzungu (white person)” from
Brenda and Linda
Ugandan children. We have been on the lookout for monkeys as there are supposed to be plenty in the area but I have only managed a glimpse from a distance. We even visited ‘Prayer Mountain’ (a place for people to go and read their bibles) because there are supposed to be a permanent troop of colobus monkeys there but we have not seen any as yet. Our evenings are spent watching Filipino and Mexican soap operas which have been dubbed into English, the whole family is addicted!
The area we live in is a semi-rural area about 12km from Kampala, and compared to many of the neighbours we are living a life of luxury. Small children carry enormous jerry cans of water home up huge hills, do the washing and live on plantains and yet smiles are always close to the surface. Some of them have learnt phrases like “Give me money” but are not persistent and are far more interested in waving.
Our meals are plentiful and made up of potatoes and rice as staples, as well as pasta, cabbage, eggplant, plantains and a little meat (usually beef or chicken). This is followed by local fruit (Heaven!)
usually pineapple, watermelon and papaya. I am also thankful for the two or three cups of tea I manage each day.
We have managed very little sightseeing as yet – we were taken into Kampala on my first Saturday and were given a “tour” which involved having hamburgers and going to Garden City, a posh shopping centre, which was not my idea of sightseeing. We are planning on venturing out every weekend so I will eventually have some photos that aren’t women making beads or children, although I can’t really help myself – they are gorgeous!
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