Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Today is market day in the small town of Karukara between Kabale and Muko . There were stalls set up next to the road, and hordes of people coming and going. The idea seems to be cutting out the middleman -- the prices more or less 1/2 of what you'd pay in Kabale.

There's a tea plantation on our way into Muko -- the field used to be planted in potatoes, providing food plus employment for lots of field hands. The British came in and wanted tea. It seemed like a good idea that would be profitable since tea was in short supply, so the village agreed to allocate communal land to a plantation. Now the price of tea is down, many fewer workers are needed, so unemployment is up, and nobody can eat tea, so food supplies are down too. A common example of "good ideas" with unintended consequences -- there are many such examples here.

When we arrived in Muko, the sewing ladies were already waiting for the second day of sewing lessons. Sheryl got busy right away helping them begin their first project -- sewing a giraffe (stuffed animal). The first challenge was determining the right side of the material. Nobody can tell us much about the dying process, other than it involves wax, but the wrong side of the material is only a little bit blurrier than the right side.

They started on handwork, making the giraffe's thread eyes. The women critique one another's sewing and help one another, re-explaining and demonstrating. As they finished the first steps, they moved to the machines, mastering threading the machine and bobbin and practicing on scrap material. We have two machines. One was converted from a treadle machine -- it has one speed: fast! Luckily, the other is more modern and able to be regulated. As one woman sews, several others gather around the machine to watch and comment.

Ultimately we need to figure out fair payment for the women. Factors the women themselves consider include what they would earn if they spent their time working in the fields instead, how far they have to travel to be here (some of them need to spend at least one night to make it worth their time), and how long it will take them to become expert enough for their work to be accepted. Guma, who is in charge has to deal with quality control and also take into account how much we can charge for the animals in the US. It becomes a complicated process!

Several of the MEP (Muko Empowerment Program) women arrived and it was time for me to get busy interviewing some of them. Very few of them speak any English, so first Guma, then Maurice translated for me. The main thing the women wanted me to know was how much the program has helped them and their families. Two of the women I talked to told me they are HIV positive; many of them are supporting several children (5-8), not all their own. Working for ACT, making baskets, they are able to buy food, clothing, and school supplies for the children under their care. One woman had earned enough to buy a cow -- this earned a round of applause from the listeners. Another had bought land; most said they had significantly improved their families' conditions. They also tried to enlist me as a labor advocate, expressing their need for better pay and benefits (more than one explained the need for glasses, as their work is hard on the eyes). I dutifully fulfilled the job, presenting their needs to Dave Viele and Guma. It turns out we have already supplied a couple dozen pairs of reading glasses, but the need has been noted and we may be able to bring more when the next team comes in January.

The women showed me a little bit of how they work. The two materials I saw were papyrus and raffia, but I know there are others as well. The raffia is wrapped around small bundles of papyrus strips, so the papyrus is the core of the basket, but isn't actually seen. Some women worked with a needle, sewing one row of papyrus/raffia to the previous one; others worked with a sharp awl, making small holes through which they poked the raffia wrapper. Designs were made by using multiple needles with different colored raffia, carrying the unused color along inside the wrapping until it's needed again. Alternately, an unused color may be cut off, then reinserted where needed. Either way it's a painstaking job.

At the end of the day Lovina, the head weaver, inspected all the baskets. Those she accepted were given to Guma to record. Those that didn't meet her standards were returned with comments about how to improve the work. The women whose work was rejected were definitely unhappy -- no translation needed! I made myself scarce at that point.

The MEP women have decided to come back on Saturday for the ACT Assembly. They will make a presentation explaining their work to the community so others will be aware of what they do. Also, not everyone knows what materials are needed and some, like banana leaves, are routinely thrown away. The hope is for more awareness.

Larry, in between assignments for every team, requiring him to be several places at once, took pictures of individual MEP women so we can label their baskets more effectively for sale. Again, we needed Guma to translate -- their names, with consonant combinations that are unusual or non-existent in English, are difficult for us. Our names are difficult for them too. The sounds of "l" and "r" are more or less interchangeable in their language, so "Larry" presents a definite challenge.

One new solar panel was installed on the south side of the Center's roof today for the demonstration lighting project (the north side of the roof is full), and the charging station is complete. One battery has already been charged, and a light has been tested in the fairly dark storage room. The team will be ready to wire the first home in the morning. The homes which will participate in the project were staff-selected from among volunteer applicants.

Karen was excited to spend the whole day with the orchestra, and it was the first time the students played together as an orchestra -- an historic event! Four kids picked it up right away; 6 or 7 others were lost for awhile, but they were beginning to understand by the end of the day. The cello was introduced for the first time today and also, they are shifting from playing by ear to reading music -- a much more complicated proposition. Sadly, only about 1/3 of the expected students were there. The MEP women were charged with spreading the word when they go home tonight: violinists should come.

The HEAL team started their day earlier than the rest of us, with meetings with the Minister of Health, the Community Development Officer, the District Health Officer, and the Chief Administration Officer. Muko Sub-County has recently been redistricted from Kabale to Rubenda, making the plethora of administrative meetings a necessity. All the officials were very supportive and committed to working with us. A next step will be preparing a Memorandum of Understanding between ACT and the Ministry of Health, defining the roles of each.

The team also stopped at Muko Health Clinic to meet with the head physician, who was very supportive and will help us understand health issues in the villages. After lunch, they visited the Ikamiro Health Clinic. The clinic was built and equipped with funding from ACT, St. John's Episcopal Church in Midland, and Holt Presbyterian. It has had a difficult year, losing many potential baby deliveries to a neighboring health unit. That health unit (a small hospital) has more staff and services to offer, and can deliver a higher level of care. They therefore got a better rating from the government and qualified for USAID funding. Having government support, the hospital is able to offer labor and delivery services for free. Ikamiro Clinic offers pre-natal services for free, but has to charge 20,000 shillings ($6) for a delivery.

There was much discussion around what we can do to make the clinic more useful to the community. Two main ideas came out -- hire a midwife to up the staffing, or offer services (dental, perhaps) that aren't offered elsewhere.

Then Sue, Lisa, Generous, and Rauben spent the afternoon planning the training for the first six village health promotion workers, which will begin tomorrow.

We finished the day with dinner at the "camp" on Lake Bunyoni. The staff and their spouses joined us. After dinner we reviewed the ACT Life Pathways, a series of seven defined steps in the life path of an ACT orphan.

Ellie SchroederComment