Monday, December 22, 2008
We have come back to Lake Bunyonyi to spend Christmas - I am in town today to connect and say happy holidays before heading back out to the lake with more supplies this afternoon.
It was a special treat for me to be able to participate in facilitating an "appreciative inquiry" process last weekend with about 40 households on the peninsula where my friend Wilfried is developing the Amasiko eco-tourism and youth training community development project.
Women, men and youth were divided into groups and facilitated through the same exercises for discovering their own capacities, developing their own visions, and making mini action plans for change that builds upon what they already have. Then we combined everything to develop a vision for the village 5-10 years from now. It was my appointed role to watch all of the groups and identify what was working and not working in the communication process, and advise the facilitators on how to get back on track. The facilitators were wonderful, and the villagers really achieved a lot.
Some of the outcomes, which I've pasted below, have added some special meaning to my holiday season this year, as we head back out to the lake today to spend Christmas. May they also add meaning to yours.
From the village of Hamukaaka, Lake Bunyonyi, SW Uganda
CAPACITIES WE HAVE
Knowledge and Skills
Proper planning and accountability
Effective utilization of resources
Honesty and trustworthiness
Sustainable agriculture methods (for beans and irish)
Collaborating with other organizations/programs
Borrowing money from groups (STRENGTH)
Equipment (knapsack sprayers)
Child/family help (STRENGTH)
More profit/increased income
Building a house
Waking up early (STRENGTH)
Carrying things on head (STRENGTH)
Buying equipment (ie utensils/knapsack sprayers) for the group
Group joined NAADS
Improved methods of farming (for Irish potatoes and beans)
Training and advice
Access to money/capital
Dream exercise 1
Close your eyes for 3-5 minutes and imagine what you would like your community to look like 5-10 years from now.
Women dreamed of:
forming a group to make handicrafts, planting irish as a group, raising poultry as a group… to build a primary school, improve the local road (to make it easier for children to reach school), building houses for teachers, building a secondary school.
Men dreamed of:
- poultry raising and piggery activities through group contributions and cooperation
- zero grazing cattle activities through mobilizing and training each other
- building a school with the teachers, children and land they have, through cooperation and group contributions
- building better roads communally,
- building a nearby health center through assistance of the government and group contributions
- having abundant food and good diet for children through planting a variety of foods, attending workshops to learn better methods of organic farming
- better hygiene and sanitation through home monitoring visits and incentive gifts for those with clean homes
- gravity water near to them through help from NGOs and their own contributions
- Improving the market for their produced goods through better roads
Youth dreamed of:
Making bricks, raising pigs and poultry, and beekeeping (all as group activities)… to build permanent houses for themselves.
Dream Phase 2
Imagine that 5-10 years from now, the village has won an award given to villages who make the best plans and achieve them. The task at hand is to write a letter to the President of Uganda, informing him of how the award was won and the plans that the Village had managed to achieve.
Each group completed a letter, and the 3 letters were combined into one, as follows below (the bolded items were identified as immediate action points).
A letter to the President of Uganda
We the people of Hamukaaka village, over the past 5-10 years, have managed to achieve the things written below in our village.
We have managed to produce handicrafts, plant irish potatoes on our land, rear goats and pigs, cows and poultry. And we have managed to put up a school. We have constructed water jars, built a market, made bricks, and constructed our own permanent houses with iron sheets, leaving the grass thatched houses. We have also built houses for our teachers, and constructed a secondary school.
We have managed to accomplish these things using our knowledge, good leadership, our own strengths, advice and assistance from NGOs like Africare and NAADS, hard work, honesty and commitment.
And at the end of it all, they danced.
From my wwworld to yours, I wish you a wonderful 2008 holiday season that is blessed with special meaning and unanticipated joy.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I had a really strange experience back in 2001, that I didn't understand very well at the time. I'd be lying if I told you I understand it all now; I don't know that I ever will. But all these years later not a day goes by that I don't think about it. It was one of the best worst experiences I've ever had.
The only way I know how to describe it is that I had a vision.
No, not the kind of vision you are encouraged by mentors to develop for your life or business plan, nor the kind of acquired visionary skill that gives really smart people an edge in the world. This was a bolt out of the blue - a crystal clear picture of cross-dimensional possibilities I hadn't considered before, dripping like Dali's clocks with a hope-filled intuition I could hear like a voice in my head that was speaking from the bottom of my soul. It was beautiful, exciting, and frightening at the same time. It was so BIG.
Quite Frankly, I didn't know what to do with it or how to understand what my role in it was supposed to be. All I knew was that I had seen something in my mind's eye that wasn't real, but possible, and ultimately inevitable. It had been a vision - exploding in detail right in front of my mind's eye over an intense period of 4-5 days - of a new grassroots driven macro-economic system emerging.
With the vision came an understanding of the context in which my life and my work would coincide with massive, irrevocable change in the world. Global warming, and all that implies, is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of the intense changes our planet and it's people are experiencing right now, and have been for some time, on so very many levels. The "Armageddon" that many folks fear is not something that might happen someday, it's something that is happening now. I believe this to be as true as I believe that 2+2=4.
From the vision I understood with a certainty I would have bet my life on 7 years ago that the US led global economy was headed for a major crash, and that the global economic systems that we've known would dramatically change very quickly. I understood this would be really painful and scary for many people on a micro-level, but necessary on a macro-level. I saw that when the smoke and rubble cleared it would start to become apparent that new systems were already in place to carry us forward to another kind of world. Those new systems would offer a new kind of global safety net, to be woven by the new kinds of collaborative caring connections we are able to create with each other.
In the "vision," I also saw Africa. I understood that the Internet was not going away, but that it's usage by the world's poor majority would continue to increase until they became the majority online. I also understood that the global safety net I was seeing would not save us with money but with our ability to work together to plan and execute change, all over the planet, simultaneously. Action for change would become a new currency.
I understood the digital challenges Africa would face, and the non-digital divides that would need to be bridged, were Africa to participate on a level playing field in shaping these new systems. I understood that untold numbers of others were working on their own small pieces of the big picture I was seeing, and that eventually their collective efforts would become more visible in the main streams of society. Their kind of change would provide the inspiration upon which better world systems would be built.
I saw all of this very intensely in my mind's eye, and didn't know what to make of it, so started googling. Lo and behold, I discovered with an awed sense of shock that ancient religious texts from all over the world (including the Bible, which I'd never really read) foretold about a coming time of great change that should be upon us right about now, in terms that resonated very strongly with many elements of this strange "picture" of a process that I was seeing in my head.
And then it got weirder.
A few days after this vision thing exploded into my life, the World Trade Center quite literally came tumbling down. Given the magnitude of what I'd experienced, and this obvious manifestation of crumbling world systems, I took the events of 9/11 as a confirming sign that the world as we've known it had indeed entered into a period of irrevocable, massive, unimaginably stormy change, at many cross-dimensional levels.
The coincidence of 9/11 coming on the tale of this bolt out of the blue "thing" that I'd experienced played weird games with my head, and many people close to me thought I had gone off the deep end. When my project and my marriage then both went up in flames around me, I have to admit I was very lost from myself for a while. Trying to explain to people what I had seen in the vision experience was a really bad idea. Try as I might, I couldn't make sense of it; it would follow that to many others it all sounded like nonsense. As I've written of before, regaining my sense of emotional stability since that time has been a process that has taken many years. But they have not been idle years.
The pathways open for bringing Africa's grassroots changemakers into the picture of participatory global development (as a vibrant, valiant collection of victorious voices) was the piece of the vision I was left with the strongest lingering mental blueprint of, to continue to examine in imagined detail once the alarming strangeness of the vision experience wore off. When I close my eyes and allow myself to look at it now (for it's still there) it's kind of like a map of a mountainous region, with many tentative paths leading to the same destination, but no main road to make the traveling easy for large numbers of people. I see a blueprint-like image of the kinds of tools and services that could enable Africa's changemakers to jump across gaps, avoid danger zones, and cross more comfortably into the people-to-people development systems now emerging.... as participants who actually matter.
During these 7 post-vision years I have initiated one social experiment after another, designed with intent to explore and find ways around some the challenges Africa faces and will face in the systems for people-to-people impact that I believe will soon dominate our global development landscape. There have been times during these post-vision years of experimentation that I've felt lost in the mountains, wondering if I'd ever get back on the right track. Though I will probably always be a little on the wacky side, there is a consistency in the craziness that I am grateful to be reminded of when I look back and examine where I started, where I've been, and where I am now. When I re-read Ashoka's pre-vision description of my work, I find comfort in seeing that it pretty much matches where I feel like Life in Africa is right now, as I get ready to leave.
I have come full circle. For reasons that are hard to articulate, I feel pretty good about that. The new idea, as it was in the beginning, has been strengthened by both the vision and the passing of time. Not understanding what happened, or why it happened doesn't scare me any more.
Throughout these exploratory, evolutionary years, the website at lifeinafrica.com has been my canvas for trying to illustrate the the picture in my head, and engage others - both in Africa and abroad - in various forms of direct grassroots-to-grassroots participatory development. My aim has never been to build something new, but to use existing technologies foster the kinds of global grassroots relationships that can catalyze radical mind-shifts in how we all think about what we can do to make meaningful change happen. The interim picture I leave on the canvas as lifeinafrica.com transfers into the control of others who will hopefully make it their own is my last attempt to get this vision out of my head and into some kind of practical form. That part of my work is done now. Take a look.
Now that that's behind me, I am excited to see what comes next.
Friday, December 12, 2008
At the time there was a possibility we'd be leaving Uganda in December. Our departure date for moving back to Europe is now set for mid April instead. Meanwhile, some extra stuff to do came up - especially during this past month - which has meant I've not even been at the pArtY much lately. But wait! Don't go home yet! There's still so much to say! Then again, do I really want to draw this "winding down" process out any longer? I'm on the fence about what will happen here after the holidays.
The thing I didn't expect to happen was the "community" part of blogging. I've been super active at a couple of online communities in the past - virtually addicted to them for the support they can provide to someone like me, far from home and grappling daily with the complex challenges of trying to do something useful in a place that's sometimes hard to understand. The very tiny part of the blogosphere I've taken the time to explore over the past few months also has that capacity, to make you feel like there are others out there who care. Trust me, in my line of work, that's really valuable and important.
Thank you, fellow bloggers, for your kind feedback and interaction.
I have to admit though, that almost the very moment I really started to feel that sense of community forming I also became distracted with some other big stuff, and haven't spent as much time following through on developing my new relationships with other bloggers as I might have wanted to. There are some overdue "Thank You" links due that I'd like to finally take the time to mention.
The iGive for Life in Africa challenge
I started a contest and then completely dropped the ball on getting the word out. There weren't enough resonses to have a reader poll on. Nonetheless, some folks participated and deserve a warm mention:
First AND Second Prizes go to RE, who posted about the challenge on three of her blogs: BadGals Radio (a way cool blog that's one of my favorite offbeat reads), Recycled Frockery and Mama Asid's. Thank you so much, RE, for your heartfelt support to the cause! Please be sure to send me your mailing address so I can have your JungleBeads sent off to you!
One thing I wanted to explore during this sojourn into blogging was online games that could be designed to get some good things done. Seeing and experiencing some of the game-like ways in which bloggers interact with each other has been interesting. I might have some ideas brewing on how to initiate blogging games that can do something more than just link to others... plan to spend some time over Christmas thinking more about that. Meanwhile, I again thank Mr. Windy, who not only posted about the iGive for Life in Africa Challenge, but also included me in some blogger games.
First, he sent me this lovely award:
1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
2. Nominate at least 5 blogs (can be more) that for you are Uber Amazing!
3. Let them know that they have received this Uber Amazing award by commenting on their blog.
4. Share the love and link to this post and to the person you received your award from.
My own five nominees for the Uber Amazing Award are:
- Awakening: I am so very proud of how my good friend Grace's blog is shaping up about her visits to grassroots organizations in Uganda.
- Amasiko: After visiting my friend Wilfried's eco-tourism project a few months ago, he also started blogging, and I love the way he's writing about his experiences.
- Mature not Senile: a no nonsense take on stuff in general that I always enjoy (and thank you Jude for promoting the iGive for Life in Africa Challenge in this post.)
- Live Passionately: feels like it comes from a friend, though I've never personally met Christine
- Retired and Restless: always seems to capture a bit of Americana in his story telling that makes me feel nostaligic for home.
1) Take a picture of yourself right NOW!.
2) DON’T change your clothes, DON’T fix your hair… Just take a picture.
3) Post that picture with NO editing.
4) Post these instruction with your picture.
5) Tag 10 people to do this.
So there's me in my blogging nook.
The people I tag to show yourselves are the authors of the following blogs I also enjoy: Kireka Concerns, Mature not Senile, Turnip of Power, Success Bound, A World of Progress. (Yes, I know that's only 5 but my internet connection is acting up and it's taking way long to collect links... I really want to get this posted before heading back to the theatre today!) Others I'd add who've enriched my short blogging experience in some way are some fellow expat bloggers, including Basbas (a dutchman in turkey), Martin (a Brit in Bulgaria) and Tiddlywinks (an Australian in The Netherlands). And of course RE at BadGals Radio.
All in all, when I started here I was curious about whether I'd like blogging. Clearly, I do, and the community building possibilities are encouraging. Starting with this blog's short-term concept has been a great way to get my feet wet; now I'm already thinking about what I could try to achieve through blogging in the future...
Don't worry, this pArtY isn't over yet! But I thought it was high time to offer a ToASt to the blogosphere... for the heart you show, for the creativity you give, and for the possibilities to do good with your craft that you hold. Thanks for being part of my wwworld.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
I've been trying to write briefings for various people on various issues with regard to the organizations I've just retired from. The thoughts spill out until I think I've explained something thoroughly, then I read it the next day and see that there's just too much information to be useful. So after a week of garbledy-gook I finally managed to get an email out today that broke about 25 pages of thought into 4 main points. Don't know yet if I've they were understandable by all of the parties concerned, but it's a relief to have at least piled up all the scattered thoughts and cleared my mental desk of them for a while. Especially since tomorrow night is opening night!
Yes - in between the typing and pacing there has also been singing and dancing, in preparation for the Holiday Pantomime play that's put on each year at the National Theatre by the Kampala Amateurs Dramatics Society. It's always a very silly show with men playing women's parts and women in men's roles, candy thrown to kids in the audience, pie in the face to a well known personage in the audience, and lots of jokes about local happenings written into a spoofy script.
This year, it's Robin Hood of Mabira Forest. The Mabira Rainforest became a hot political topic in Uganda this year when local sugar barons wanted to cut it down to plant more sugarcane. The sugar barons are of Indian decent, so when the environmentalists brought the problem to light some racial tensions in the Ugandan population got out of hand for the first time in a long time. Luckily that part of the conflict simmered down as soon as it erupted, but not before 2 innocent people (both of Indian decent) died at the hands of angry crowds. Eventually the sugar barons were defeated, and Mabira Forest won't be cut down. (By the way, I've written about Mabira Forest before - we stayed in that amazing rainforest lodge there after our horseriding adventure along the Nile.)
In our play, Robin Hood and his "Merry Women" live in Mabira Forest, where they steal from the rich sugar barons to give to the poor people of Kampalaham, like me and my children (who play one of 2 poor families in the show). I play Mama Wine, and my youngest kid is named Bobi... here in Uganda Bobi Wine is a very popular local musician. He wears a t-shirt wih "Ghetto President" on the front, lots of bling and an oversized cap - my Lucas, who has lately decided to become a hip-hop king even offstage - is totally in his element in the Bobi Wine role.
The other mama and I share the lead vocals on a rewrite of the old Katrina and the Waves song Walking on Sunshine, and Lucas gets to have a breakdance spotlight during part of it. TWICE! (in both the opening and closing scenes) . The kids are so sick of it they don't want to ever hear the song again, but it's always been one of my old favorites so I'll probably keep it shuffling in my mp3 collection even after this over. (It was popular in clubs when I was 18 years old and lived in Finland as an exchange student... a certain friend of mine there also loved it, so we always boogied together whenever it came on.) Learning to sing it well has been quite the ordeal (!!), but I think we've got it now and plan to have lots of fun with it onstage. The woman who plays the other mama is loads of fun to work with.
Christina (N's 16 year old niece who also lives with us) inherited a couple of new lines TODAY (on the night of the final dress rehearsal) when it became clear yesterday that our Robin Hood was just not getting it, and got kicked off of the cast! So a girl Christina's age who was playing the 3rd child in the other poor family has jumped into the lead role at the 11th hour. The rest of the cast is completely relieved and rejuvenated at this last minute change, risky as it might sound. We're all excited about performing again, which made a huge difference in tonight's mostly great dress rehearsal. Christina absorbed some of the other girl's lines in the kids' scenes and did just a great job. There's a song she gets to do with Maid Marion that's just darling.
They say you're not supposed to wish cast members luck but say "break a leg" instead. Today my third child in the play, Thomas, quite literally broke his leg. OK well it's not broken, but his knee got injured at school and he's now limping and with an ace bandage on it. Nothing a costume can't hide, but it's hard to find time to get him to the doctor right away. We've identified a window of opportunity during his PE class on Friday, and decided he won't be break-dancing with his brother in the play after all. Which might be for the best, as they were still having a few synchronicity issues yesterday. The good thing is, the bad leg didn't keep him from being able to throw the pie tonight!
So - we've already broken a leg, and there's lots of drama within the drama, but we're still walking on sunshine and ready to get started with the 8 show run! My very hardest challenge with this fun family undertaking has been orchestrating FOOD - rehearsals are right at dinner time, so we have to take our meals with us. And since I'm taking dinner for me and 3 teenagers (and I'm really worried that they aren't eating well enough) guess who everyone else in the cast comes to if they are hungry?! I don't mind sharing actually - it's fun to play the mama role to the rest of the cast offstage. Makes me feel useful, even if my voice still cracks on that one line in the song.... I'm thinking tomorrow might deserve a cake or something. Hmmm, though I doubt that will do our singing voices any good. Maybe some sliced mangoes for everyone instead?
I haven't done something like this since my early high school years. It's been interesting and fun to do together with the kids - we've learned a lot together about theatre and how it all works behind the scenes. Not sure I'll do it again right away, but maybe I'll feel differently afterwards.
N. will be in tomorrow's audience, by the way, so I'll try to get him to take some pictures.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The first time I ever heard the term social entrepreneur was just a few days before my interviews to become an Ashoka Fellow in August 2001.
At that point, I'd been pouring my soul into Life in Africa for nearly 3 years, and everything Ashoka stands for spoke to the very marrow of my being. It was an absolute thrill for me to learn that there were others around the world like me, driven by an inexplicable passion to do whatever they saw they could to develop new system changing ideas. I knew clearly in those days that the possibilities for using the Internet for development I was seeing from my side of the world could change whole global development aid system. I wanted to help shape that new people to people system, and it was exciting to learn from Ashoka that I was not alone in having the audacity to think that big.
But by the time I was actually offered the Ashoka Fellowship - 4 months after the interviews - my immediate response was to turn it down. Sept 11 had happened, completely upsetting the online equation I’d built LifeInAfrica.com on. I later learned that many other promising online projects from Africa failed in the post 9/11 shift in global attention too. Nobody had time to think about Africa any more, traffic to our website completely died, and so did the programs it was raising funds for. I worked myself to into a manic frenzy that fall trying to come up with new ideas that could save it. By the end of 2001, my family had lost a ton of money in the venture, my marriage was ending, and the organization I’d poured so much of myself into was going down in flames. I was a blubbering, burnt-out basket case.
So when the Fellowship offer came from Ashoka, I turned it down. But since I was to be the first full Fellow in the East African region, the local Ashoka Director worked really hard to convince me not to. Ashoka isn't about projects, it's about a certain type of person. They had no doubt that I would continue to pour my heart and soul into trying to make replicable, large scale change happen. They were offering 2 years of financial support to help me start over, as well as lifetime membership in an elite global professional network, with access to services and opportunities designed to help people like me grow our big ideas.
But I was in dire need of a break. My whole life had gone down in flames around me, and I wanted to do nothing but sit and rest, and watch the world go by for a while. The local Ashoka director had told me that if I didn’t take the Fellowship then, it wouldn’t be available again. I later learned on a visit to Ashoka HQ in Washington that I actually could have deferred it for 1-2 years. Since the Fellowship was new in East Africa, the local Director probably didn't know. Anyway, in the end I accepted it, with the obligation to continue my work and submit regular reports for 2 years.
In retrospect, not taking a personal break when I knew I needed it then has been the worst professional mistake I’ve ever made. It has hampered my vision, my professional judgment, and my emotional capacity to do my job as a leader in ways that I sincerely regret, for far too long now.
There is a particular strength of character - a good amount of resilience, patience, confidence and determination - that a social entrepreneur must have alongside a deep sense of personal integrity in order to succeed. Sincerely speaking, since my life fell apart in late 2001, that strength that I know I did once have has failed me again and again and again in my work. I look at the past 7 years and know that I have not been the type of leader I’d hope to be if I could do it all over again. I have far too often made decisions based on desperation to just find a way to keep the project going and keep myself emotionally afloat. That’s not to say I’ve achieved nothing of value or made no impact – what I did do was a lot. But my ability to effectively lead others and exercise balanced judgment has been sorely compromised these past 7 years by feeling that I was now obligated to give from my battered and badly bleeding heart, and forcing myself to rise to the task.
For the past 4-5 years, I have worked with intent to develop Life in Africa into an organization that would be carried forward by Ugandans – not because of the weak leadership patterns I now see in retrospect, but knowing realistically that I might someday move on or die. The past two years, in particular though, have been just horrendous. The intensity of the heartache when things started to go very wrong from an unexpected direction was paralyzingly painful. I watched others I love here in Uganda fall apart too, not knowing how to fight against what was happening to the vision we had all put our hearts and souls into making real.
The sense of community we had managed to build locally and globally through Life in Africa was wonderful, but proved to be very fragile... and easy to sabotage by those who felt excluded from the magic in some way. Some of the back stabbing was brutal. At one point we found ourselves in a political war against small town bullies who knew how to fight better and dirtier than we did. I didn’t know at all how to handle the situation, and under the grief of it all I simply shut off. Transitioning to an organizational structure that could give the Ugandans control over Life in Africa took on an unfortunately desperate nature.
I botched up a lot of things and made a lot of decisions I now question, in an intense eagerness to get myself out from under the horrible emotional pressure. That's not the kind of leader Life in Africa needed. And in the middle of that transition (earlier this year) my mother-in-law died, changing many things in my personal life very suddenly. I had planned to spend most of 2008 on a working sabbatical in the USA, building a website to support the new Life in Africa structure. Right or wrong, I chose to stay in Uganda to help my husband and his family get through their crisis instead. With another badly needed break from Uganda thwarted and new challenging demands at the family level, I kept myself shut off from Life in Africa for most of the first half of this year. I let the website go stale, and didn’t pay enough attention to the resulting operational challenges until it was too late.
Among other factors, my inability to effectively lead when others were expecting me to has created all sorts of confusion and imbalances in the transitional plan we worked so hard to design with Life in Africa’s stakeholders. An under-resourced LiA USA providing sole financial support to the Ugandan orgs has unfortunately created the kind of unhealthy dependency relationship that the LiA of my visions was meant to help fix! That feeling of dependency has kept the Ugandans looking to LiA USA to give them the boundaries of what they are allowed to do or try in Uganda. The Americans have been trying to tell them what to do but don't see the Ugandan's vision or reality clearly, so communication between all of them about expectations has broken down. The relationships have steadily become very confusing for everyone involved, with many misunderstandings and well intentioned misfires on both sides, eventually leading to a point of crisis.
It became clear to me over the past month that I had become an unnecessarily dis-empowering presence as a middlewoman in these new relationships between the Life in Africa organizations, that I’d hoped would support and empower my Ugandan colleagues. LiA USA was still looking to broken down me (instead of to the Ugandans) for vision, and I just don’t seem to have the current capacity to provide it. So I’ve done the only thing that feels responsible in the face of this latest LiA crisis, and taken myself completely out of the management loop. About 10 days ago, I officially announced my retirement from the board of LiA Foundation, and submitted my resignation from the Board of LiA USA.
A few months ago I received a surprise sum of money from an investment I'd made with my ex years ago in Europe. Last week I transferred most of it to Life in Africa Foundation (Uganda) as my parting gift, in the hope that it can help to break my Ugandan colleagues' feeling of dependency on LiA USA and give them a chance to fly on their own, while at the same time allowing LiA USA some breathing room to regroup and refocus their ways and means of providing fundraising support.
I've advised the LiA USA Board to start taking their cues from Life in Africa Foundation’s Director, Grace Ayaa, and I am really excited to see how Grace is embracing the challenge of letting her own visions for Life in Africa's future be known. The LiA Kireka community of war-affected families has also received some funding through the gift I made, to be used at the discretion of the community's elected Board. I've been told in a letter from the community's chairman, Peter Ndelo, that they will use it to start at least one community income generating project from among the many plans the community developed this year that lacked funds to get off the ground. I got news from the USA this past weekend that a new website is finally under development, and that sales of the crafts we exported to LiA USA last year have started to pick up.
So things are still moving. I still believe I did enough right to ensure that Life in Africa won't die, and I do believe the new group of Life in Africa orgs that the old Foundation has become will find their footing in the end. I have a tremendous amount of faith in all of the people involved, and I trust them with Life in Africa's leadership more than I trust myself with it any more. I hope to become a model supporter and remain a lifelong Life in Africa fan. If you're reading this, I hope you will also think of doing what you can to support their continued efforts to use the internet in new ways to support African development - whether it's visiting and commenting on the blogs of LiA's leaders, clicking on sponsored ads, helping a grassroots project promote a chip-in campaign, or doing your holiday shopping through iGive, there are many small things that anyone who spends time online can do to help make big change happen. I'm including some links below.
I know others may have mixed feelings about my decisions of this month. I also know that others not understanding me doesn’t change who I know I am. Now that I know what a social entrepreneur is and have lived this life for 10 years, I don’t believe I will ever be able to turn off my desire to make a long-term positive impact on society with the talents and knowledge I have been blessed with. I will always be that particular kind of person who sees connections and opportunities where others don't, who is driven to try new things if they might benefit others, and who takes responsibility for what I put out there in the world very seriously. But I have learned a critical lesson about recognizing my own limits, and committing of myself only what I know I realistically, humanly can.
There’s a lot at stake in my line of work. I owe it to any people and issues I’ve committed to working with to give them my very best. Someday, the leader I know I can be will re-emerge in an evolved form – stronger, with a more level head, and once again ready to face the heart and soul level risks that are always involved in tackling our planet’s most pressing problems, like poverty in Africa.
Once a social entrepreneur, always a social entrepreneur. I fully intend to someday become a better one.... after I've finally taken that long overdue break.
Thanks for reading.
Kampala, Uganda (East Africa)
Founder, Life in Africa Foundation
Ashoka East Africa Fellow (2001)
blog by Grace Ayaa, Director, Life in Africa Foundation (Uganda)
- Kireka Concerns
blog by Peter Ndelo, Chairperson, LiA Kireka community
blog by Shawn Kelly, President, Life in Africa USA
- Life in Africa global discussion group @ ned.com
- LiA USA discussion group @ ned.com
- Life in Africa group at facebook
- Life in Africa @ cafepress
- iGive for Life in Africa
Thursday, November 20, 2008
There is the life in Africa that was.
There is the life in Africa that never was.
There is the Life in Africa that will continue to be.
And then there is me.
I close my eyes and try to embrace the waves of change that crash over me.
Without me doing anything at all.
When I see the wave coming that I think might take me closer to shore,
I grab it and hang onto it.
The turbulence propels me,
and I am lifted to a new place... beyond it.
Now I can watch, and cheer my fellow students on.
Ours is not goodbye, after all
from a new point of view.
My work here is almost done.
Life in Africa continues
and so will my own life,
richer for all I will cry for when I leave
Putting events of the past couple of weeks into words - or putting anything into words while these things have been happening - is proving itself to be an emotional challenge that I feel myself avoiding. There is the part of me that longs to commit the process of change-making to words; there is the other part of me that longs to sit quietly and just BE for a while.
If you've ever hosted a party and felt like you had to sneak away for a minute to have a breather and freshen yourself up a bit before going back out to face the crowd, well... I guess that's me right now. I've not abandoned the pArtY here - just giving myself a minute to breathe before I come back to start filling y'all in on what all's been going on.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions...
My sister in law is an artist who creates and sells wonderfully unique garden stepping stones, like the one in the picture above. The first time I saw them (and fell in love with them!) the Life in Africa community in Kampala had just recently started doing some work with war-affected children in Northern Uganda. We'd had some great experiences with art-therapy workshops making peacetiles (another collage concept) so I immediately started dreaming of how we might also make stepping stones with those kids.
Over the course of two decades, the Lord's Resistance Army abducted many thousands of Northern Ugandan children, who they brainwashed through extreme violence to serve as soldiers in their brutal rebel army. At the time I was thinking about the stepping stones (circa 2005), there were still thousands of child soldiers "in the bush" with the LRA, but peace talks seemed likely to happen soon. A local radio station had started broadcasting messages from families, telling the kids that they would be forgiven if they came home. It seemed to be working - many children were finding ways to escape and make their way into Northern Uganda's main towns.
I allowed myself to dream for a while of creating a "real" path to peace for those kids who wanted to come home, out of stepping stones that other war affected children had made. We could create the path extending in 4 directions outward from Gulu town (the Northern capital), and keep adding newly made stones that would reach further and further out to the kids. If they could find the path, they could follow it to safety.
I worked on making materials lists, costed it all out, talked to a potential partner about it, thought seriously about how we could get sponsors involved through the website, and got some favorable feedback when I wrote about the idea in a community online. Then I went to Gulu for another peacetiles workshop, and asked the 20 recently returned child soldiers who were participating what they thought of the idea.
They were ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED.
When they proceeded to give us a real insider's view of the reality they had been living, we just dropped that idea like a hot potato.
Not only were the stepping stones sure to be destroyed by the rebels, they told us, but certainly any child soldier caught anywhere near them would be shot dead on the spot - probably after s/he had been made to destroy the things, probably in a physically painful way, and probably in front of many other kids just to make sure they all got the message loud and clear.
We were at a reception center, where kids who'd escaped or been rounded up by the army could stay while the UN provided some medical and psychological care and tried to track down their families. Among the experts advising us were a 15 year old mother of 3 who'd been given to a commander while in the bush, and a 13 year old boy who'd lost a leg because he was denied medical attention by the rebels for a foot injury. Some of the teens had been with the rebels for years. They all had their hair-raising stories, and clearly knew what they were talking about. I probably have more years of education than all 20 of those kids had together, but boy did I feel stupid.
It was a pretty dream, but even lovelier is that thousands more child soldiers have made their way home since then... without stepping stones to guide them.
Which is for the best anyway, since I never could get the cement mixture right. I like to think that was with God's intention.
By the way, my sister in law also makes customized stepping stones to order. They really are very special, so be sure to check 'em out at her shop Selkie Moonlight Design on Etsy.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Here's a quick thank you to the Entrecard members who've visited this pArtY the most over the past month.
I moved to Africa and became a polygamous woman.
Well, no not really, but kind of... it's rather complicated!
I have to say, I have the best ex-husband one could possibly hope for. Not that I ever hoped to have an ex-husband, mind you, but it is what it is and I am very grateful that we're able to get along so well now. We've separated twice, both times for several years. He left Uganda about 1.5 years after we separated for the second time, right around the time I met N.
N is a wonderful Ugandan man with years of experience living abroad, who the kids and I are all crazy about. It was pretty much love at first sight for all of us. He won't be leaving Uganda with us right away, but does plan to catch up with us when we hopefully move on from Europe to Asia in a couple of years. N and I currently live together in what Ugandans would call a common law marriage. In Ugandan culture it's normal that I refer to him conversationally as my husband and he refers to me as his wife, even if we haven't had an official ceremony. He and my ex get along great, by the way, and we both also get along well with my ex-husband's Greek girlfriend of several years.
But actually, my ex is not officially an ex yet... and may never be.
A warning on the risks of international marriage: the kids' dad and I are still legally married on paper because it's near impossible to figure out where to get a divorce! I am American, he's Dutch, we met in Switzerland, we got married in NYC, we owned property in Belgium and we now live in two different African countries.
Normally, international law says that the court in the country of domicile has jurisdiction over an international divorce. But in the country he lives in, there is no divorce. In the country I live in, divorce is a sentence handed down by a judge when someone violates the law of marriage. One party has to make a terrible case against the other, and conspiring to divorce (ie, divorce by mutual agreement) is against the law.
So my reality is that I kind of have two husbands.
We all get along, and the kids get a lot of love. People always laugh when I tell them that the four of us adults have gone out together with the kids on occasion and had a really great time. I guess it would seem more "normal" for us to be living with much more animosity and pain. If that's the case, then I'm quite happy to be abnormal. Better to laugh at the joy of reinventing new ways for our family to still function than to keep crying over the ways that it didn't, I say.
Sincerely speaking, I never intended to innovate a new form of polyandry but it's working for our multinational family. Don't worry though - I've no intention of pushing it as far as some of Africa's polygamous men do... two is definitely all I can handle!
Get ready to LaUgH!
ThiNkiNg: life after Africa
Monday, November 3, 2008
BLOGGERS: You can still support Life in Africa by placing an iGive badge on your site. If you do, we'll reciprocate with your badge on the front page of LifeInAfrica.com through mid-February 2009.
Here's the badge:
Please link it to:
When you've added the iGive badge, let me know where to find it in a comment to this post, and I'll arrange for your badge to get on the front page of lifeinafrica.com
Many, many thanks!
If you have a blog, this christinaswwworld pArtY chALLEnGe is for you! Yes, there will be prizes. AND it's for a great cause. Read on to see what you need to do to participate, make an impact, and win!
The holidays are coming soon, and even if we're all tightening belts this year, chances are there's a few gifts you and your readers are going to need to buy, and you'll probably be buying some of them online.
The online Mall at iGive.com features over 700 trusted online retailers like Lands' End, Staples, NORDSTROM, JCPenney, eBay, Expedia.com, Barnes & Noble, QVC, & PETsMART to name just a few, who've agreed to donate a portion of iGive member purchases to good causes the members choose. You'll NEVER pay more when you reach these stores through iGive.com, in fact if you take advantage of the many coupons and free shipping deals available to iGive members, you might even save a few bucks!
At Life in Africa, we're using iGive.com to raise money for the school fees need in Uganda that I wrote about in my blog post of 29 October. When you (and hopefully your readers) sign up at iGive to support Life in Africa, part of your purchases on Christmas gifts, office supplies, computer software or whatever else you plan to buy anyway can help send Ugandan kids to school. Make a purchase within the first 45 days of sign up, and iGive will even donate an extra $5 to the cause.
They've also got a new Yahoo! powered search engine that you and your readers can use to earn school fees for Ugandan kids with every search.
Well, but you know how the internet works. It could be cool... if only enough people would actually sign up and use the iGive service to channel their favorite merchants' generosity our way.
If you have a blog, that's where you and this chALLEnGe come in!
I'm challenging you to a creative blog contest that helps me get the word out, by writing a post on your blog that encourages your readers to sign up for iGive to support Life in Africa through their holiday shopping and/or searching online for the rest of this year.
All qualified submissions will be voted on in an online poll to be held December 1-3 at ned.com - a cool online community where lots of Life in Africa members and supporters hang out. You and your readers can join and vote too. See below for further details on how to make sure your post qualifies.
What's in this for you?
1. Participating in this challenge is going to expand your creative range as a blogger and expose your blog to new audiences.
2. Even if you don't win, you will have the gratification of knowing you helped to fulfill very real needs in the lives of others: these war-affected Ugandan families really need help with the costs of educating their children and the orphans in their care, and a fellow blogger you know with limited connectivity (that would be me!) really needs your help to help them.
3. If you win in the online reader poll, there will be prizes - I've tried to make these special so you'll put your heart into this!
- A free ad (125x125 above the fold) that links to your winning submission on all ourwwworld team blogs (including this one!) from 5 December through 5 February 2009
- 500 Entrecard advertising credits
- A link to your blog's main page and your chALLEnGe submission on the front page of LifeInAfrica.com from 5 December through 5 February 2009 (btw - we're currently updating the Life in Africa site; you and the rest of our supporters will be specially invited to see the effects of the facelift that prominently features your blog on 5 December.)
- 1 dozen free Jungle Bead bracelets for you to keep or give away as unique holiday gifts. Jungle beads are made from recycled magazines and cereal boxes by the Life in Africa women in Uganda whose families you will have helped by participating in this chALLEnGe. The beads are waterproof and really gorgeous!
- 250 Entrecard advertising credits
- A link to your main page and your chALLEnGe submission on the front page of LifeInAfrica.com from 5 December through 5 February 2009
- A free 16" single Jungle Vine necklace made from recycled paper by the Life in Africa women in Uganda whose families you will have helped by participating in this chALLEnGe.
- 250 Entrecard advertising credits
- A link to your main page and your chALLEnGe submission on the front page of LifeInAfrica.com from 5 December through 5 February 2009
How to participate
1. use this link to sign up for iGive to support Life in Africa (you can sign up to search and refer others even if you can't shop online or don't plan to shop right now)
2. make a creative post on your blog that tells the women's story in a way that moves, encourages or offers an incentive for your readers to support Life in Africa's school fees 2008 campaign through the iGive shopping or search service or both (feel free to use your own iGive referral link to keep track of your results if you'd like. Just make sure the cause you specify is Life in Africa.)
3. In addition to the iGive sign up link, include the following in your post:
- a link to http://christinaswwworld.com
- a link to http://lifeinafrica.com/children/schoolfees2008/
- a link to this post: http://christinaswwworld.blogspot.com/2008/11/igive-for-life-in-africa-challenge-to.html
5. Sign up for a free account at the Ned.com community and wait for December 1 to vote in the online poll.
Why an online poll?
Ideally I'd love to have you win because of how many people you recruited or how much money your shoppers helped to raise, but in order to protect donor privacy iGive doesn't provide us with access to all that information. I can see the overall results and names of people who signed up on my link, and you'll be able to see who signed up on your referral link, but how much each person's activity at iGive contributes to the cause is only known by that person. (I will aim to keep readers updated on the overall fundraising impact when we start to see it work - you can keep track of how much your iGive activity has contributed to that when you're logged into your iGive account.)
So then I thought maybe a drawing would do, but that would mean that someone who put a lot of effort into this chALLEnGe would only have as much chance to win as someone who just posted a sentence or two. What I'm excited to see (and will ask readers & LiA supporters to vote on) is your blogger's creativity in telling this community's story!
There's some content already available that you can feel free to use - there's a cause toolbox at iGive that provides all sorts of pre-written texts, ads and search boxes to help explain and engage readers in using iGive services. If you're participating in the iGive 4 Life in Africa chALLEnGe, you may also feel free to use content from any of the following places online in your submission:
Life in Africa @ Flickr
Life in Africa @ YouTube
School Fees 2008 campaign
I want to draw your attention especially to the video below (made by a Life in Africa supporter who visited us in 2007) that gives you a good picture of the level at which the families who will benefit from this effort survive. Most were forced to flee their homes because of the war in Northern Uganda, and resettle in the "Acholi Quarter" you see in the video, where quarry work is one of the very few income generating activities available.
As you can see in the video, these families really really need some additional stability and opportunity in their lives. After months of consensus building, the adults who are members of Life in Africa (mostly women) have all agreed that getting help to educate the children in their care is the number one most urgent need that they all face. Please help me to help them. With your help I am hopeful we can make a meaningful impact on at least some of their situations.
Thank you very much in advance on behalf of Life in Africa members in Kampala's Acholi Quarter for participating in this chALLEnGe. Here's to bloggers like me and YOU making good things happen in their world!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
There are stories I am afraid to tell.
I wish I could tell you it's been all sweetness and light, working to try to empower African communities. I wish I could tell you that I achieved all - or at least part of - what I set out to accomplish. I wish I could tell you that I clearly see the lessons in whatever these trials and ordealswere supposed to teach me.
Were I able to find nuggets of wisdom in the wreckage, I would want to share them in a way that inspires others to do better, to be smarter, to achieve more. I fear sometimes, that I might never find them.
And yet, there is the painful process of sifting through the mess of memories that my mind's eye is compelled to try and do. I lie awake nights imagining where to begin, and how to combine the memories of magical experiences with an acceptance of how things changed... of how my understanding of what I was up against changed... of how I changed. Writing is a tool that can help me with the sorting through. But I fear sometimes, that I won't tell the stories right.
At the gut of it all, I fear that the failures are all my fault. It was egotistical of me to think that my social experiments could offer value, to people I was presumptuous enough to think I could help in ways I thought were important. Who was I, after all, to think that giving the community control would be empowering?
One of my biggest AHA moments - when I finally started to realize just how off track I was - came after years of trying to convince the Life in Africa community (mostly craftmakers displaced or otherwise affected by the war in Northern Uganda) that they could design, manage and control their own activities. The thing was, they didn't actually want that level of control, and it took them a really long time help me understand why. One woman finally explained to me they were willing to ride on the metaphorical Life in Africa bus, to wherever we were going. But if they were supposed to build the engine and drive it too, I needed to realize that they simply didn't have those skills.
Few in the community I was working with had the basic literacy and numeracy skills required to manage community programs, and most who did have those skills weren't necessarily in a position to handle the responsibility well. That left very few people capable of getting the work done. When the community did take control over activities that I initiated, it got me in trouble more than a couple of times. Does their inability ever stop being my responsibility? On the flipside, at what point does advising the community from experience become dictating what they should do?
I sometimes fear that I'm no better than the decades of colonalist-minded fools who came to Africa before me, with their misdirected intentions of "developing" other human beings to fit successfully into a foreign values system. Some have argued that a mistake the colonialists made when they left in the 1960s was not leaving a strong enough capacity behind for the former colonies to manage their own governance systems. When I think about how Life in Africa Gulu fell through mismanagement as I pushed them to become more independent, I feel guilty. I should have known.
It's also true that in post-colonial times, well intended Western "charity" has created many new monsters in Africa, and brought out the worst in some monsters that were already a part of societal mentalities here. The best of my efforts to fight against the charity mentality were simply not strong enough. At the end of the day, an offer to work together with others to create a community-based social enterprise they would all own could not compete with charities offering ready-made free services.
Participating in professionally managed foreign charity programs is far easier, less time consuming and more immediately gratifying than participating in building and owning community operated services. From a consumer point of view in the charity driven economy they know, I really can't blame them for comparing. Why did I ever think that community owned and operated would be better? I know there were once some lovely, lofty sounding reasons. Whatever they were, though, they weren't good enough to convince the average Life in Africa member that a community owned and operated social enterprise was something they really wanted.
What they really want, more than any one thing as a united community, is charity to help pay for their kids' education.
Building the capacity to raise the money themselves is a nice idea, but would take too long. Meanwhile many of their children are growing up without consistent access to a structured learning environment. This is an urgent problem, that resurfaces every term when it's time to pay school fees, and causes persistent chaos and heartbreak at the family level. The amounts that Ugandans pay to educate even one child are high compared to average local incomes, and the vast majority of families have more than one child. Many have taken on caring for the children of relatives who have died.
Knowing that the school fees were there would GREATLY stabilize their lives in so many ways. I get it. I see it. I cannot deny that the need is very real. After all these years of me trying to fight against the charity mentality, the truth is there is no group I can think of who really needs charity more than these war-affected Ugandan women, for the purpose of giving their kids a better chance than they had.
After trying so hard to encourage them to define themselves as a community of purpose, I've no choice but to accept what they choose to become. It's painful for me though, to know that what remains of the innovative social enterprise ideas that Life in Africa pioneered, is a group that thinks charity is really the best thing for them after all. Maybe I was just wrong.
The cutting edge of change bleeds with unsuccessful attempts to make an impact on societal mindsets...
I sometimes fear that my heart has bled dry.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Yowza! I'm blushing...
This blog has won a prize!
pArtY @ christinaswwworld has won first prize in the Blogging Buddha's Small Blog Big Heart blog contest! The winners were decided upon mainly by these criteria: innovativeness, age of the blog (new blogs are given more points than more established ones), presence and absence of ads and affiliate programs, the usefulness of the blog, regularity of posting, etc.
I've been following the Blogging Buddha's ethical online money making tips over the past couple of weeks. If you are learning to blog, it's quite an interesting read.
It's an honor to be recognized. Thanks so much Buddha!
Friday, October 24, 2008
The day after we came back from Lake Bunyonyi last week, the kids flew off to play on the beach with their dad in Zanzibar. Lucky dogs - Zanzibar is another place that I'd call one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. The people there live very basic, relaxed lives, but they are not poor like in other parts of Africa. The swahili culture and food are just lovely, and the beaches are to die for. I'm sure the kids are having a great time.
I bought the painting above years ago, somewhere on the street in Stonetown (Zanzibar's capital). It hangs on our living room wall, and seems to be smiling at me today. I'm happy dancing with them because the boys are coming home tonight. Yippee!
I was recently asked about selling African artwork online. I must admit I've been out of that loop for a while. If anyone knows of any online marketplaces for art, I'd be really happy to know about them! I wonder how much my silly dancers from Zanzibar would fetch.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
View from the Amasiko peninsula, Lake Bunyonyi (Uganda)
Uganda's Lake Bunyonyi has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Sprawling through valleys created by southwestern Uganda's very old volcanic mountains, it's said to be Africa's deepest lake. Mountains caught in the middle become islands, large and small. I've been told there are over 100 of them, mostly family owned and terraced to grow crops which are ferried by canoe to a small dockside market near the main road to Kabale, South Western Uganda's largest town.
My family has a decade of gorgeous memories from weekends spent at Lake Bunyonyi. It was the ladies in these mountains who originally inspired what would become the Life in Africa logo, almost 10 years ago, and there is an energy there that calls us back every 2-3 years. We've stayed at many places on the lake. This past weekend, we visited the future site of a wonderful community based eco-tourism project that our old family friend Wilfried van der Veen is developing there.
Wilfried, his his adopted daughter Viona and his partner "Nice" (pictured above, that's her real name!) have spearheaded the establishment of an Association for community development called Amasiko, which means "hope" in the local Bakiga language. So far, the association has purchased 12 small lakeside agricultural plots at the tip of a peninsula in Lake Bunyonyi, easily accessible from the main road to Kisoro - a popular gorilla tracking destination at the Rwandan border, about 60 km away. Since kids under 15 aren't allowed on the mountain gorilla trips, the site could offer families an affordable place to stay where parents could safely leave their kids in a supervised eco-learning environment, while the grown-ups spend the day tracking in Kisoro.
Abroad, the site could be promoted as an organic retreat facility for groups and/or individuals who participate in alternative communities of practice like ECOlonie and others in Europe which Wilfried has ties with. The plan is that proceeds from the eco-tourism and organic farming activities will not only sustain the site's operations, but also finance additional projects in the neighborhood that they will invite the local Bakiga community to design. Friends in Holland have established a foundation that can help raise additional funds for community-developed projects. What Amasiko needs most right now is to get the eco-tourism site ready for visitors and volunteers.
Identifying a source of funding for some basic construction has been Wilfried's main occupation for the past year or so. After a recent trip to Europe he's hopeful but still essentially empty-handed. This week, he's taking up residence at the site to start planting some organic plots and doing what else he can to the landscape, until his promising leads on funds for construction start to come through.
I have a lot of faith in Wilfried. I've known him for 10 of the 19 years he's been in Uganda. He was actually a good friend of the kids' dad in grade school. Shortly after we moved to Uganda, their parents ran into each other randomly in Holland after years of not keeping in touch, and discovered the coincidence of their sons both being in Uganda. Wilfried showed up at his old friend's office unannounced within a couple of days, and has been like a part of our family ever since. Like me, he loves to explore the cutting edge of new ideas in holistic approaches to development. What he's shared with me from his experiences with alternative community building techniques like appreciative inquiry, and personal healing approaches like The Journey have had a major impact in shaping some of my own project ideas.
Wilfried first came to Uganda as an agriculturalist, so when N. and I needed help with a plan for developing our farm project, we hired him as a consultant. I knew his report was good when we then traveled to Thailand to witness sufficiency economy based farming methods practiced by the Asoke communities there, and saw some of Wilfried's key recommendations in practice (like planting a biofuel producing hedge-crop called jatropha, for example.) While he was with us at our farm, we also talked a lot about his plans for Amasiko. It was always clear to me that there were a lot of parallels in terms of what we wanted to accomplish. Now that I've been to see what he's got to work with, I find my mind involuntarily puzzling through ways that I might get more involved. Ally? Promoter? Investor? Partner? Any of the above is fine with the kids, of course, as long as we also get to be occasional visitors. They had a great time!
In How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, David Bornstein concludes that all of the truly innovative social entrepreneurs he studied had a very personal story that led them to discover the unique impact they could make. That's the part that anchors my faith in Wilfried. His vision for the ultimate impact he's out to make with Amasiko is about helping troubled girls, and it comes through his personal story as Viona's adopted dad.
Though Wilfried has never fathered a child, circumstances brought the orphaned Viona into his life about 10 years ago and gave him the chance to excel at fatherhood. By engaging Viona in his life as an active explorer of innovative personal healing and community empowerment approaches, he has watched her blossom from an orphaned, abused and withdrawn child into a hopeful, intelligent and outgoing young woman with extraordinary insights into other people's needs. She's now in Senior Secondary school (S5) and has plans to study social work in the Netherlands. The Amasiko project is her dream too.
When the full scope of Wilfried and his daughter's dreams come to pass, the Amasiko Community Based Eco-Camp will offer a haven where orphaned or abused girls and young women like Viona was can come for a while to work, receive hands on training in sustainable living and hospitality skills, heal their emotional wounds, and come to life - as adults at peace with themselves and well prepared to make an impact in their own homes and communities, wherever they later go.
As it happens, life's circumstances have also brought an orphaned girl into my own care. Through my experience with her and with some of the children I've worked with through Life in Africa, I have also seen first hand how culture and traumatic circumstances clash very often in the lives of girls and young women in Uganda, to quash any sense of self they may have once had. Wilfried and Viona's compulsion to help girls in emotional challenging circumstances find the best in themselves is something I can really relate to. It's a great idea.
The more I think about how this project fits together with my own passions and convictions, the more excited I become at the prospect of investing of myself in it in some way. What shape and form that might take is what remains to be puzzled through - Wilfried and I talked a lot last weekend, and my still head reels with ideas. I somehow doubt this will be the last time I talk about it here.
Meanwhile, should any of you party guests be on your way to Uganda an want to pay the Amasiko Community Based Eco-Camp a visit, let me know and I'll do what I can to help arrange it!
To you, Wilfried, Nice, (and Viona who we didn't see this time) thank you for an absolutely wonderful weekend, and hats off for your family's vision and meaningful dedication to creating such a very special kind of "hope" in your little piece of heaven on earth. From the bottom of my heart I wish for you nothing but blessings and success in achieving your beautiful dreams.