Tuesday, January 26, 2010

workshop mascot

I brought my dog, Henry Ford (aka Henry, Hank, Four-door, Cutie Pie) to Uganda. He spent about a month in Kampala before making the four-and-a-half-hour trek up to Gulu with me last week. I was a bit nervous about bringing him to the workshop - unsure of what the ladies might think of this furry little animal. Oddly enough, everyone loves him - and he loves them! Some people are unsure of what, exactly, he is. Here's a great video of Anena Nassarine braiding his hair after lunch. He was definitely being a good sport about it!

have a heart

Aloyo Concy is by far our quickest tailor. Each morning she's early for work, and pulls her sewing machine out to the veranda. The separation from the usual production floor chatter helps her to focus. She's a single mom raising daughters, and she puts every shilling into bringing them up properly. When I saw her sitting on the couch on Saturday taking an uncharacteristic break, I asked what was wrong. "Nothing," she said, "only that the work is finished." She'd already sped ahead of the rest of the staff and sewn her batch of market totes for our current order.

A light bulb went off in my head, and I ran to our inventory to pull out scraps of our popular Autumn fabric. Concy and I sat down in the office and drew hearts until we found just the right shape. The past two days, she's been sewing and stuffing these little hearts with our fabric scraps and just enough of our relax herb mix to give off a pleasant scent. A perfect little Valentine's Day gift, from a lady with a really big heart - for both her work, and her family.

Watch for our Hearts on sale this February.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"...in the village"

On Sunday, Akello Pamella invited us to pay a visit to her family's home "in the village." Pamella was born in Awac (pronounced ah-watch), but when she was just two years old, her family fled to join relatives in Gulu town. Awac - just 17 km from Gulu center - was a serious fighting ground for the conflict in Northern Uganda. Pamella's father shared stories with us about the brothers and sons of brothers who were lost to the fighting, and how the rebels had killed or stole their livestock, and thus, their livelihood.

The family scraped by in Gulu from 1988 to 2009. After twenty-one years away, they returned to their land in Awac last year. With nothing left of the home they had fled so long ago, they began to build anew.

Pamella herself lives in Gulu town with her children, Innocent and Maria, and she care for her nephew, Felix, whose mother passed away in 2009. Since her family fled in 1988, she'd only visited Awac once - for her sister-in-law's burial last year.

It was quite a juxtaposition to see the difference between Pamella's children and those in the village. Felix and Innocent (pictured above with Pamella's brothers) wore new matching outfits with trainers. Maria's hair was elaborately braided. In contrast, Pamella's nieces and nephews were barefoot, many with the swollen belly indicative of malnutrition.

We joined the family for lunch, eating traditional foods - millet bread, sweet potatoes and rice, with sesame paste (odii), greens mixed with sesame paste (malakwang) and a bowl of beef stew, washed down with boiled milk and sugar. As guests, we were instructed to eat with the men - Pamella's father and brothers, while the women waited in the kitchen hut. After the men had their fill, mats were laid out on the earth under the very traditional Acholi family - while her father speaks impeccable English, he has two wives, and his sons have followed in the tradition of polygamy.

For me, it was a glimpse at the life left behind when our tailors come to work at One Mango Tree. Pamella has become a beacon of pride for her family (pictured above right), but with her accomplishment also comes responsibility. All of these family members in the village will now rely on her for support. That didn't seem to bother her one bit. As we drove back to Gulu and dropped her off at home, the kids were nodding off in the back seat and Pamella wore a big grin.

"I am very happy," she said.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

a visit to lucy's

Every time I visit Lucy's home (photo, left), I'm simply amazed at the changes. Her homestead is a true testament to the effect One Mango Tree has on women's lives in Uganda.

Her homestead, which always seemed spacious, is now filled with new buildings. She re-roofed three of the grass-thatched huts last year (an expensive endeavor in itself - this cost her $500). I was so shocked by the new buildings that I had to sit down with Lucy at work today and review all the changes. She took a break from her training class and joined me in the office. I pulled out a calculator and Lucy started running through improvements.

When I first visited the homestead in 2008, she had four grass-thatched huts. There are now nine, and a three-room brick home being built by her orphaned nephew, John. One Mango Tree helps to pay the fees for his schooling, where he is learning construction at a vocational school.

Lucy told me a long time ago that the homestead (photo, left) was not really her home. That land belonged to her brother, who had died during the war. In Acholi culture, that means that Lucy has no real ownership of the homestead - it belongs to her nephews. She'd always dreamed of buying her own piece of land. In 2009 she did just that - she saved up $2,250 and bought her own land not far from the homestead. This year she plans to start construction on her own house there - fulfilling a long-held dream.

We got pretty teary-eyed at the office today talking about the changes. All the children are speeding along in their studies, and Lucy's dad was cheery during our visit on Friday - sitting outside the new brick home his grandson is building (photo, right). She's now sending money to the village, where many of her relatives have returned to that Northern Uganda is peaceful.

It gives a lot of hope to all of us to see how things can really change.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

adong kevin, tailor

Adong Kevin, left, with baby Aber Juliet

Adong Kevin, age 19, is enjoying motherhood and doesn’t seem to mind at all that infant daughter Aber Juliet comes to work with her every day. Skilled at juggling her sewing tasks with frequent breastfeeding time-outs, Adong Kevin sits happily at her sewing machine for hours with her baby strapped to her back, Ugandan style, or sleeping nearby.

To get to work, she bicycles four to five miles over bumpy, traffic-filled roads – and, yes, it’s with a baby tied to her back. At home, her family is larger than it sounds. She and her carpenter husband, Odong Geoffrey, care for three other children whose father is dead and whose mother is in a village some distance away; the children live with them in Gulu in order to attend school.

Adong Kevin, who enjoys playing netball, dancing, and entertaining friends, is one of One Mango Tree’s more experienced tailors; she was already sewing in the Gulu local market before OMT started production. She’s happy that now she is earning a larger income at One Mango Tree and hopes to save enough to buy land and build a home.

origin uganda - getting excited about Uganda's craft sector

"What is AGOA and how do I become a member?" Betty Kinene, Director of Uganda Crafts

"Many countries, like China, are getting ahead by mechanizing their production. Should we not mechanize the production of our handicrafts?" MP for the Disabled in Uganda

"There are many women in Karamoja region making beautiful crafts. How we can export their products?"
Hon. Ms. Auru Anne, MP Moyo District

These are just a few of the questions raised by attendees at the Origin Uganda event, sponsored by USAID's COMPETE project. The event itself was a big success - held at the beautiful Emin Pasha Hotel in Kampala, it was attended by Susan Muhwezi, the Government of Uganda's (GoU) Special Assistant to the President on African Growth and Opportunities Act; Major General Kahinda Otafiire, the Minister of Tourism, Trade and Industry; and several MPs from Uganda's more vulnerable districts. Newspapers and NTV sent journalists, and USADF, the Chamber of Commerce, and various business development organizations showed up as well - all curious to see the beautiful crafts being produced in Uganda.

Together with NAWOU, Uganda Crafts, Wrap Up Africa, Sseko Designs, and Wawoto Kacel, One Mango Tree participated in the event to raise awareness about the enormous growth potential in Uganda's craft sector.

Enthusiasm is definitely there - particularly on behalf of the AGOA office, which is placing its focus in 2010 on growing craft export in the country. One Mango Tree will advise the office on issues from a grassroots perspective, helping to create a streamlined process for groups to take advantage of AGOA's duty-free benefits. This includes work on applying for Category 9 exception - a section of AGOA which permits products made from handmade fabrics to qualify was duty-free.

Watch this space for updates as we work together with GoU in 2010.

Monday, January 18, 2010

awoto margret, tailor

Awoto Margret, left, with son John, and husband, in front of their newly built home

Each workday 44-year-old Awoto Margret pedals her One Mango Tree bicycle about six miles along a busy, dusty road to reach the OMT workshop. Even with the long ride, she arrives about half an hour before the 8 a.m. start time, ready to work. When she is not stitching aprons or weekender bags, she is carrying out her new task of tagging, checking quality, and packing products. Her strong work ethic sets a good example for younger tailors.

Each day during her ride Awoto Margret passes the now-almost-closed Unyama IDP camp where she and her family lived, along with some 20,000 other internally displaced persons from 1995 to 2008. Awoto Margret and John, her husband of 20 years, are happy and grateful to live in a new traditional hut they built in a peaceful clearing, well away from the road. Their pride and sense of family is seen in the home’s tidiness and the family photographs on display. Their youngest child is age nine. They usually have four children at home while another four are in school, in town. No doubt, One Mango Tree’s help with school fees has eased the family budget.

Awoto Margret , also called Owot Opio Margret, says the best thing about One Mango Tree, for her, has been “learning something new.” We hear that she’s an expert at telling stories with a moral; maybe one day she’ll be telling a story about how the became a part of One Mango Tree.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

adokorach monica, tailor

Adokorach Monica, left, with Elvin and Becky

Not far from One Mango Tree's workshop is the homestead where Adokorach Monica was born and where she still lives along with her mother, five brothers, and three sisters - a fine example of expanded family sharing resources and maintaining close family ties. Huge mango trees shade several traditional thatch-roof huts, spaciously placed to accommodate the adult families (her youngest sibling is a teenage boy); the bare dirt between the huts is swept to clean perfection, African style landscaping!

Adokorach Monica, 24, is the mother of a six-year-old boy, Elvin, and caretaker of a three-year-old girl named Becky. When she is not busy, Monica enjoys playing soccer – or football, as it’s called here.

Adokorach Monica was already sewing garments for clients of Auma Lucy’s tailor shop when One Mango Tree gave her a full-time job. She says, “One Mango Tree has helped me a lot. I am making more money now, and they help me with school fees.” She also enjoys the camaraderie of the women and appreciates that her savings account is a start toward her dream of owning land and building a house. “Why would you ever want to leave this wonderful place?” we asked. “So I’ll have a place for my son to live and to build his home someday.”

we know our status. do you?

On Friday, One Mango Tree was converted into a mobile HIV/AIDS testing center. The Visions in Action (VIA) clinic set up shop on our front proch, and our apparel section was changed into a private counseling room. CP and Josephine, social workers with Visions in Action, spent the morning with our tailors, providing quick-tests and individual counseling to share results and discuss HIV prevention.

The ladies were thrilled to be tested, and VIA made it very easy by bringing testing into the workplace. Once everyone was tested, VIA passed out condoms, posters and leaflets on HIV awareness. They'll be back in three months to provide a follow-up session, and helping the women to get used to a regular routine for getting tested.

They'll also be back to provide a family planning session - a welcome lesson for our tailors who just gave birth and want to learn to space their children.

Visions in Action provides free HIV/AIDS testing and outreach in Northern Uganda. They will test and counsel 10,000 individuals per month in 2010.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

akello pamella, tailor

Akello Pamella, right, with her daughter Maria

You need only talk with Akello Pamella a short time to realize what an intelligent, creative person she is. Like so many Northern Ugandans, she was subjected to cruel treatment during the long war waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) but she has risen above the trauma to become a talented tailor and in her personal life she found an outlet through songwriting; her ballad “Uprooted and Forgotten” expresses poignantly her early experiences. The fact she wrote it in English is testament to her good language skills, despite having to interrupt her schooling early due to pregnancy.

At age 23 Akello Pamella is the mother of two daughters (Maria, 2 years, and Innocent, 6 years) and the caretaker for one boy (Felix, a 6-year-old nephew). Her husband works as a welder in another town, so he is only at home every few weeks.

Akello Pamella was the only daughter in her family and remains close to her family of five brothers, her father, and – especially – her mother, although they live 12 miles apart and she is not able to visit as often as she would like. As is the custom in Uganda, Pamella’s dwelling is with the family of her husband.

She wants to “keep sewing and learn to use a computer.” Her long term goal is like that of many Ugandans – to save enough money to buy land. She says “One Mango Tree has helped me a lot, especially that now I have money in my savings account.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

HIV testing and counseling at one mango tree

Visions in Action community educator Ochora Christopher spent two hours with One Mango Tree's tailors today, providing them vital information on HIV. He spoke about the ABC approach (Abstinence, Being faithful to one partner, and Condom use), the effectiveness of the latest antiretroviral (ARV) medications, and the voluntary testing procedure being offered at One Mango Tree. Using 'rapid testing,' VIA staff are able to inform clients of their HIV status almost immediately and provide private counseling and referrals, if needed.

This counseling and testing came about as part of a needs assessment conducted by Ruth Martin, a One Mango Tree volunteer in Gulu. The ladies were eager to know their status and learn about prevention and treatment. In partnership with VIA, an organization with experience in Northern Uganda, we set up a free testing and counseling session for the ladies. Tailors will also bring their husbands/partners and any other family members who wish to be tested, as VIA's mobile testing center will set up shop on our compound on Friday, January 15th.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

origin uganda. crafted by hand.

In partnership with COMPETE, USAID's East African Competitiveness and Trade Expansion Program, One Mango Tree is organizing Origin Uganda. Crafted by Hand.

The event is a private reception for Ugandan Government officials and other civil society members - to show the diversity and beauty of crafts being produced in Uganda. We're aiming to illustrate that handicrafts are a viable export industry that can create sustainable jobs for women in Uganda.

There are a lot of barriers to export for craft groups here, one of which being the high cost of exporting - namely shipping and duties - and what can be a very difficult process in taking all the appropriate steps to operate legally as an exporter.

Origin Uganda is a big first step to bring together the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) office, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and other key players - so that we can show off the amazing products being made by artisans around their country, and make it easier for other groups to enter the global market for handmade products.

For our part, One Mango Tree is working with COMPETE and the Government of Uganda to apply for Category 9 exception from the US Dept of Commerce. This exception allows handmade textiles to qualify for duty-free status, allowing artisans using these fabrics to increase competitiveness in their pricing.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

new year, new faces

After enjoying a holiday week with their families, the One Mango Tree tailors were back at the workshop - with some new faces in the crowd.

The new year kicked off a new training program, inviting ten women to learn how to make One Mango Tree products. These women are part of our partnership with International Organization for Migration (IOM). In late 2009, we won an in-kind grant that enabled us to purchase equipment in exchange for providing training and jobs for ten of IOM's most vulnerable referrals - mostly women who are ex-combatants.

Aside from learning a useful skill and earning a sustainable income, the job training we provide has a huge indirect benefit - building community. In a survey of our tailors last fall, we asked their favorite part of the job: "singing, laughing and working with the other ladies." The tailors form a tight-knit community, helping each other through hard times and providing much-needed emotional support. For our new ladies from IOM, this support is exactly what they need - and exactly what is needed to stitch Northern Uganda back together.

Stay tuned for updates on this initial training, which is led by Auma Lucy (aka Mama Lucy) and lasts three months. Check out the photo, above right, of Mama Lucy with our new trainees, going over the basics of caring for the machines.


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