Wednesday, December 30, 2009

art and identity in uganda

Do the crafts produced by artisans represent their cultural traditions and community values, or have the crafts changed to reflect those of the western market? Do western market demands influence the value system of the culture? Do these organizations build sustainable self sufficiency for artisans?

During the summer of 2008, a George Washington University student named Shaina Shealy was in Gulu asking these questions. She spent time with the One Mango Tree tailors in Lucy's market stall and visited our training programs in the IDP camps, always questioning and gathering information to answer these questions. Check out the result of Shaina's work in this beautiful slideshow of her photography, which is being featured at GWU's Smith Hall of Art (exhibit pictured at left), and the YWCA in Birmingham, Alabama. One Mango Tree is featured at the two-minute mark on the video.

Here are some excerpts from Shaina's (below, right, with Lucy and trainees at Bobi IDP Camp) research:

"As I conceived of this project, I saw national identity and globalization as two separate and opposing themes. I saw the unique artistic qualities of Ugandan artists as targets threatened by globalization. Yet, I found that globalization had not weakened the cultural expression, but rather it redefined it. National identity as expressed through art is in constant re-formation. It is built through experiences, impressions and perceptions which are fluid. Each artist featured in this study had been exposed to globalization, yet each artist maintained a strong national identity in her work."

"During this project I saw, first hand, the economic and psychological benefits the artists reaped as a consequence of the art they produced. They found their voices in their art. But the ultimate gift of self-sufficiency was obtained as a result of being a part of a supporting organization that offered life skills trainings, support groups, and/or basic security for its participants in addition to a forum for the produciton of art. Economic independence is crucial for women in developing countries."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

a christmas eve gift

One Mango Tree is really celebrating this Christmas. We hope that you are doing the same - cherishing the holiday season with your family and friends.

As a gift to you, our customers, we asked our tailors to share some thoughts on Christmas - how they'll be spending the holiday, and how it's different this year.

We caught Lucy on video giving thanks, and interviewed some of our other tailors too. Here's what they had to say.

A message from Lucy:

Lucy's Christmas message from amy karr on Vimeo.

And, to hear from our other staff, Amy went around the workshop right before the holiday vacation started and asked our tailors a few questions about how they'll be celebrating this year.

Apiyo Prisca
How will you spend Christmas this year?
I am going to spend it well and have a party with my family to celebrate. I will be cooking all day!

What is your New Years resolution?
I want to complete the house I have been building by having my job and working hard.

If you could pick one thing to have for Christmas, what would it be?
I would choose happiness!

Adong Kevin
How will you spend Christmas this year?
I want to spend Christmas with my new baby and my family, we go to church and celebrate in our community.

What is your New Years resolution?
I want to start saving for the future to get a house for my family and plan for the future.

If you could pick one thing to have for Christmas, what would it be?
I would choose lasting peace in our community and happiness for my family and friends.

Akanyo Margret
How will you spend Christmas this year?
I will be cooking Irish potatoes and chicken for my family.

What is your New Years resolution?
I want happiness for the year.

If you could pick one thing to have for Christmas, what would it be?
Happiness and peace for my children.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

anena nassarine, tailor

Anena Nassarine, outside her home

In Acholi, the name 'Anena' means "to see" - and Anena Nassarine has to keep a steady eye on the fabrics and her scissors as she carefully cuts One Mango Tree patterns. Anena Nassarine is in charge of our cutting section, using patterns and a cutting machine to make sure our products are uniform in shape and quality. When she's finished cutting, she doles out the components to the other tailors to stitch on their Singer manual treadle machines.

Born in Bobi IDP camp, 20-year-old Anena Nassarine left the camp and moved to Gulu after receiving tailoring training from One Mango Tree in 2008. Her 3-year-old daughter still lives in the camp, cared for by her sister.

"I just want to earn money to help my family. I want a good family," she says.

Monday, December 21, 2009

aber grace, tailor

Aber Grace, right, with five of her seven children

Her infant daughter, Sonya, is the newest of Aber Grace's seven children; her oldest is age 15. Aber Grace, who is 33 years old, is the sole support of her large family. She lived in Bobi IDP camp for displaced persons for five years, but was able to leave in 2008 and move to Gulu after receiving tailor training from One Mango Tree. She started working full-time at the One Mango Tree workshop in July 2009. Although she has little time in between childcare and sewing beautiful accessories for One Mango Tree, Aber Grace likes to grow vegetables.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

nagawa grace, tailor

Her creativity shows up in her modest but imaginatively-decorated banda (traditional round thatched hut), as well as in her sewing. Born in Kampala in 1986, Nagawa Grace married an Acholi man, and in 2006 they moved to Bobi IDP camp.

Grace took part in One Mango Tree's training program in Bobi IDP camp in 2008, and started working full-time at our workshop in July. Now her expanded family (pictured, left) lives in Gulu near the One Mango Tree compound and includes her 88-year-old grandmother, sister, husband, a 5-year-old boy, a 3-year-old girl, and her 15-year-old stepdaughter. She's the sole income-earner in the family.

"I pray to God for One Mango Tree to continue and to give me work. Now I have a skill." - Nagawa Grace

Saturday, December 19, 2009

a shilling saved...

The One Mango Tree Savings Program started out to solve a problem. On trips to Gulu, I often had a line of ladies out the office door asking for loans for various things - medical bills, advance payment on rent, buying school uniforms for children, etc. I realized that our tailors really were making enough money in their monthly wages to cover these relatively small expenses - so why were they always coming to me?

After a some questioning, I learned two very important things about our tailors:

1) they didn't know how to create a family budget, and
2) they didn't know how to save.

The OMT Savings Program has proven to be a success for #2. Each woman agreed that One Mango Tree would withhold 15% of her monthly earnings. On monthly pay stubs, we break down the earnings like this:

1) total labor earned
2) monthly savings
3) cumulative savings

On payday I often see the women pulling out past pay stubs and lining them up on their sewing tables to check my math. I hide a smile as I walk through the workshop. They love seeing #3 grow, and often compare savings with each other. I decided to up the ante a bit to really boost the incentive for saving - if the women do not withdraw from their savings for one year, One Mango Tree adds 10% of the full amount saved as a bonus. No one has withdrawn from their savings yet, and no one asks me for loans anymore!

Next task: we're putting together a family budgeting class in the local language so that the tailors learn to prioritize their spending and set goals. We'll learn what brings that twinkle to their eyes when they see their savings grow - and help them to realize their dreams. Check out the photo above right - that's Apiyo Prisca's son Isaac, 6, learning money management early on as he buys a sim-sim ball from a young vendor in the market.

Friday, December 18, 2009

christmas dance party

Aloyo Concy, breakin it down

I'm home visiting my family in Cleveland, Ohio for Christmas. It's freezing cold and a bit snowy (yay!) out here, the halls are decked and the holiday gifts all wrapped under the tree. At times it feels a million miles away from Gulu - and today I wished I could somehow be teleported back to our workshop for the One Mango Tree Christmas Party.

Our ladies really know how to party. The event, complete with local food and a screening of the IOM production video, turned into an all-day Acholi dance-a-thon. Check it out:

one mango tree christmas dance party from amy karr on Vimeo.

The production floor was transformed into a movie theater:

Our party kicked off the Christmas holiday week for our tailors. Our workshop is closed, so the ladies will spend the week with their families. Each tailor also received her annual bonus, which will go a long way in making 2009 a wonderful Christmas.

We all hope you are doing the same!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2008-09: a year in photos

Take a tour through photography from the very beginnings of One Mango Tree in early 2008, leading up to the move into our new workshop in Gulu. You won't believe the journey through faces, landscapes and products. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

human rights day - december 10th

Nagawa Grace, at home with her daughter

Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the 1948 signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What does it mean to you?

"It is difficult to imagine today just what a fundamental shift the Universal Declaration of Human Rights represented when it was adopted sixty years ago. In a post-war world scarred by the Holocaust, divided by colonialism and wracked by inequality, a charter setting out the first global and solemn commitment to the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings, regardless of colour, creed or origin, was a bold and daring undertaking."

--High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour

I just finished reading Half the Sky - Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's collaborative work on human rights issues facing women around the world. It encouraged a timely shift in my thinking about the work we do at One Mango Tree, and the effect of economic empowerment on women in places like Northern Uganda. What does our work have to do with human rights?

The majority of our tailors had no work prior to employment with One Mango Tree. Most of them had very little education. They often sat at home, caring for their children, but with little voice and less opportunity. Gaining reliable employment is more than just a job - it's emancipation. As these women gain skill, they develop a louder and stronger voice. They send their children to school. They stand out as positive examples to the huge number of youth in Northern Uganda. They show what is possible, taking a strong, confident stance in the workplace, at home and in their communities.

Women aren't the problem - they are the solution.

This Human Rights Day, help One Mango Tree emancipate more women - shop our products and spread the word. The more you buy, the more jobs and opportunities you create for change. That change is truly a gift worth giving.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

dreams of sewing machines...taking stock

this post is cross-posted from my personal blog, Locus Amoenus - some thoughts on running One Mango Tree.

I'm back at Schiphol Airport again.

It really hasn't been that long since I was last here - it was summer then, on my quick layover back to Entebbe. One thing is certain - I always feel very far away when I'm here. It's cold and dark. It's almost 8 am and the sky is still inky black.

So, in my usual habit of reflection at Schiphol, here's the list.

  1. I climbed Kilimanjaro.
  2. I made a second visit to Zanzibar and got a henna tattoo on my butt.
  3. I survived malaria.
After surviving malaria, I succumbed to workaholic syndrome - putting aside everything else in my life to focus 110% of my energy on One Mango Tree.

dreams of sewing machines...

Personal merged with professional, and my emotions suddenly linked up with the ebb and flow of doing business in Africa. In short, over the past few months I thought I was losing it. Coming out on this end, surrounded by the sterile organization of Schiphol, I can now say that I've "learned lessons" and "overcome challenges." Starting a business in Uganda is no easy task - trying to make it sustainable is even more difficult.

  1. moved into our new workshop
  2. hired a cook/cleaning woman, compound manager and armed guard service - fired compound manager for pimping and hired a new compound manager, suspended new compound manager for stealing airtime... and so it goes
  3. started up the One Mango Tree Guest House, and quickly discovered that being a landlord is a full-time job in and of itself
  4. hosted Stacey Edgar, founder of Global Girlfriend, who visited our new workshop and gave me a schooling in all the things I didn't know - she more or less lit my ass on fire
  5. worked with Hilary Dell, our first design intern, to design 5 pieces of apparel for Global Girlfriend - a cami, scoop neck tee, tee dress, cardigan and wrap dress - production on 7,500 pcs. starts in December
  6. started working with Gihan da Silva - a Sri Lankan living in Uganda who knows everything - about apparel production, textiles, used cars, rally car racing, government bureaucracy, how to talk to Acholi women to make sure they show up for work, etc. He is my saving grace and my best friend in Uganda, and he's now working with One Mango Tree
  7. found a Ugandan lawyer and went through the annoying process of registering as a national NGO in Uganda, which took months and cost $1,000 and about a dozen trips to the lawyer's office, only for him to send me home to collect additional documents. Our complete certificate sat on the NGO Board Director's desk for weeks just waiting for her to show up and sign it, but it is now complete
  8. went through a similar lengthy process to acquire a TIN number (like the EIN in the US)
  9. faced slightly less run around and acquired an export certificate
  10. build a relationship with a mostly reliable shipper, dropping our costs from over $12/kg to about $4/kg (thanks Gihan)
  11. learned how to fill out oodles of customs paperwork - commercial invoice, packing lists, GSP Form A, and continued my education on AGOA policy (handbags don't qualify), Category 9 exemption and HTS codes
  12. learned how to procure packing materials - carton boxes, poly bags, sticker labels - the things you don't really think about until you get an order for 4,600 pieces
  13. completed a 4,600 pc. order for Global Girlfriend - definitely our biggest accomplishment this year - through this production we brought all of our tailors up in their skill levels and perfected quality control. The change this created in our capacity was incredible, and we had to bring on three new tailors to get it done - the end result was 133 cartons of One Mango Tree products shipped to Seattle
  14. received a grant from International Organization for Migration (IOM) to take on referrals from their partners (ex-combatants, vulnerable women) for training and employment, training program starts this month, wrote a case study for their Labor Market Analysis
  15. found a textile designer and worked with volunteers Anna and Zach Thompson to design four of our own fabrics for 2010 - all organic and absolutely beautiful - allowing us to cut ties with the Chinese wax print knock-off market we relied on in the past
  16. signed off wholesale distribution in North America to Global Girlfriend
  17. brought on Alison Farley to be our independent sales rep through Global Girlfriend
  18. received another order for 3,000 pcs from Global Girlfriend
  19. made our first projections and income statement
  20. somehow squeezed in production for Christmas and gave the website a face lift, with help from new intern Amy Karr on photography and editing
  21. since June, our staff went from 6 to 25
And finally, at 8:20 am, the darkness is lifting outside. Welcome North.

artisans: paper craft africa

The green hills of Kampala are rich with pineapple, banana, papyrus, elephant grass. You can see the bounty of these natural gifts on any roadside market in the country - stalls filled with juicy pineapples, big bananas, tiny bananas, green matooke bananas, winnowing baskets woven from grasses and papyrus.

Paper Craft Africa sees another use for the unused parts of these abundant crops - fiber for paper. Founded in 2006, Paper Craft Africa creates jobs for women in a village on the outskirts of Kampala. Not far from Entebbe Airport, there's a small sign pointing to the workshop - a brick house tucked into the hillside, with a front yard filled with drying racks. When we visited, the racks were filled with a beautiful lime-green paper.

The artisans at Paper Craft know the process inside and out, and the beautiful finished products really shows their talent.

First, fibers are gathered and chopped into small pieces. They are then boiled with water over a large fire (photo, above left) - a giant steaming cauldron of pre-paper stew. Once the fiber is boiled down, it's left to cool and then stored in large plastic containers. The larger pieces are further broken down using what might be the world's largest blender (photo, right).

When the pieces are small enough for the specific type of paper being made, the water and paper mixture is poured into vat, and a screen stretched over a wooden frame is submerged in the vat. When it's lifted, the fibers stick to the screen. (photo, below left) They are hung to dry in the sun.

Once dry, the pieces are stacked under a large press - making them flat for writing. Voila! Handmade paper, which the Paper Craft ladies then craft into beautiful products like our Journal and 2010 Diary.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

beautiful one mango tree video

Our friends at International Organization for Migration (IOM), with whom we partner on community reintegration, put together this gorgeous video of our tailors working in our new workshop. Check it out and pass it around!

Monday, December 7, 2009

help women in africa in less than a minute!

All One Mango Tree products are available through Global Girlfriend, our exclusive US wholesale partner. Check out this great video on how you can help women in Africa in less than a minute. Shop at One Mango Tree and Global Girlfriend this Christmas!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

revive holiday trunk shows december 12-13

Thursday, December 3, 2009

a message from summer intern: sejal shah

submitted by Sejal Shah, who interned for One Mango Tree during summer 2009

One Mango Tree Readers! My name is Sejal Shah and I am a senior in high school. I participate in school activities, but still keep my grades at an above average level. I enjoy going to the beach with my friends, and exploring new things to do every day. When I was given the opportunity to intern for One Mango Tree, I took full advantage of it. I worked with Halle, an amazing organizer, and flew out to Uganda only months after making my decision. Spending four weeks in Gulu has to be the most fun I have ever had in my life. I met people that I will never forget and enjoyed experiences that I only could in Gulu. I worked with the tailors of One Mango Tree every day, seeing them at work, learning about their lives and hardships, teaching them basic inventory and computer skills, and even going to their homes for traditional lunches and watching dances. I got to hang out with the women and form relationships with them. Throughout my trip, we would call each other on weekends to see how we were doing. Watching these women at work was inspiring for me, and a life changing experience. After living a month in Gulu, I learned the most valuable lesson; life should not be taken for granted. I admire these women, and all the people of Gulu, with all my heart. I know for a fact that I will be back working with One Mango Tree soon in my future, because of the amazing experience I had the first time.

Interested in volunteering opportunities with One Mango Tree? Send an email to


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