Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spring Break in Gulu

Auma Lucy's daughter Ruth, Ayel-Rwot Ruth, primary 7 at Mary Imaculate
photo credit Pete Muller

Spring break came to a close this week in Gulu as students packed up their trunks and school bags and headed back to class for the next term. This is an exciting term for the children of our One Mango Tree tailors - we're launching our school fees stipend program, which provides a lump sum payment to our tailors for each school term. We've been collecting donation gifts from our online shop, as well as funds raised from events for the past six months. I'm happy to announce that between donation gifts and profits, our school fees program is now sustainable.

For each child in nursery school, tailors receive $15 per term. For primary school students, the stipend is $25, and for secondary school it is $50. For most of our tailors' children, this fully covers the costs of their school fees, which greatly reduces the cost burden - allowing our tailors' salaries to go further at home. It also gives the tailors some leverage to improve their child's education, as they can also use the stipend to reduce the costs of sending the child to the best school available. Lucy chooses to do so, sending a some of the older orphaned boys that she cares for to vocational programs so that they can learn a trade.

We offer the school fees program to our tailors after they've worked with One Mango Tree consistently for one year, and we monitor the program by requiring that tailors submit receipts to verify payment, and we also collect report cards to review at the end of each term. For more detailed information on development and implementation of our program, contact us at

Interested in supporting the program? Check out our donation gifts section and give the gift of education.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Retailer Profile: Revive Fair Trade

I thought I couldn't possibly be happier about the article about One Mango Tree published in the March edition of Ohio Magazine. That is, until I heard from Lisa Dunn, owner of Revive Fair Trade - a shop at Legacy Village in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Revive is a member of Fair Trade Federation, and it grew out of Lisa's desire to promote the best companies and organizations offering fair trade products, who respect the producers, the planet, and the consumer as well. Lisa was interested in our products, and I'm happy to say that One Mango Tree is now a part of Revive's fabulous product line.

In January 2009, Ohio Magazine awarded Revive "Best Clothing with a Conscience."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fair Trade Wages: An Example

Lunch time in Owino, Lucy and Sarah
photo credit Stephanie Makosky

One of the ongoing challenges we face at One Mango Tree is equitable payment. There are no set guidelines for what constitutes a fair wage for handicrafts, as the products and geographical circumstances add a lot of different variables to the mix. So how do you decide what's "fair"?

We pay our tailors on a per-product basis and train the tailors on our entire product line. Lucy, our head tailor, receives the orders and delegates the work evenly amongst the tailors. This past September, we implemented a percentage-based payment system, where tailors were ranked based on their skills and gave a percentage of their earnings to Lucy, which provided a salary for her training. While this system looked good on paper, once we started seeing the effects on our tailor's pay, we were disappointed. It was very beneficial to Lucy, but kept the rest of the tailors at a much lower salary, and since promotion cut into Lucy's salary, there was a big disincentive to advance the tailors based on their skills.

This month, in unplanned conjunction with World Fair Trade Day, we changed our payment structure.

We decided to set a monthly salary for Lucy for the training and management work that she does with One Mango Tree. We then raised all of the tailors - both new and old - to the same level of payment. As long as someone completes a quality product, they get paid the same amount for their work. More skilled tailors naturally will earn more, because they can produce higher quality work at a faster pace. It's a natural promotion scale which creates built-in incentives for efficiency.

In addition, we commit 20% of the group's generated labor into a community savings account, which the women can then use at their own discretion. It's a great way to get the tailors to start thinking about their collective success, and to use those savings to invest in their business and build their local customer base.

Most people in northern Uganda earn $2 per day. That just about equates with $60/month salaries I've seen at many textile production facilities. Our tailors earn an average of $150/month, in addition to their bicycle and school fee stipends.

Want to learn more about setting fair trade wages? Check out these great sites:
World of Good's Fair Trade Wage Guide
Fair Trade Federation Principes: Pay Promptly and Fairly
Who's who in supporting producers

And for a quick crash course read on fair trade:
Fair Trade: A Beginner's Guide

I'm always happy to answer questions, so please do feel free to send an email to

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mango Season/Sunday at Prisca's

Mango season - trees heavy with ripening fruit, mango peels litter the ground
photo credits Halle Butvin

It's not all that common for my trips to Gulu to include a full, non-working Sunday. Yesterday was one of those unique days, so I took a trip out to Prisca's for an overdue cooking class #2 (read about cooking class #1). The house was relatively quiet this time around; it was just the two of us in the kitchen and the girls twirling around outside giggling and knocking mangoes from the tree with a long stick. Goretti came in and out of the tukul, sticky with juice and the fibrous orange flesh, offering me hand-selected mangoes. To her amusement, I ate them all.

Prisca with daughters Goretti, 3, and Cynthia, 7
photo credits Halle Butvin

Lucy's daughter Claire was over for the afternoon watching Cynthia and Goretti so that we could cook in peace - again a three-hour affair including rice, chicken stew and macaroni. When I arrived I'd seen Claire around the side of the house plucking feathers from the unlucky bird that lost its life minutes before. I breathed a sigh of relief and set about cutting vegetables and sifting through the local rice to remove small stones.

Prisca and I are the same age, and the more time we spend together, the more she feels a bit like a sister - definitely an older and wiser one! After cooking and bathing, we took a walk down to her husband's family's compound, where we watched a telenovela and a nature show about bears in North America. Her brother-in-law walked me back to the junction to catch a boda back to town, while Prisca and Charles stopped by the dwindling celebrations from a neighbor's wedding.

There's nothing better than a boda ride on the outskirts of Gulu when the sun is setting in golden hues and the air is losing its heat. Especially when you have a belly-full of sticky sweet little Gulu mangoes.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

One Mango Tree at Yoga Within

One Mango Tree yoga products in the Ugandananda Yoga Banda at Yoga Within

Yoga Within is a beautiful studio in Munyonyo, a community nestled on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kampala, Uganda. Kevin and Gavin, the studio owners and both teachers themselves, created a truly peaceful space and a thriving yoga community. I started teaching yoga classes at their studio upon moving to Kampala, and was thrilled when Kevin approached me about equipping their studio with yoga props. Yoga Within was the site of a month-long, 200-hour Yoga Alliance teacher training course in April. One Mango Tree provided bolsters, meditation cushions, large cushion covers and eye pillows to outfit the studio for their training and growing classes. The meditation cushions and eye pillows will be available for sale in the US in June, so stay tuned! They promise to sell out quickly.

If you find yourself in Kampala, please be sure to stop by the studio for a class. Sunday mornings are my favorite, followed by tea and treats and then an afternoon of reading and swimming at Speke Munyonyo, which is only a short walk down the road.


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