Monday, December 22, 2008

Special Holiday TrEaT! an Appreciative Inquiry in a small village in S.W. Uganda

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



Knowledge and Skills

Proper planning and accountability

Hard working

Effective utilization of resources

Honesty and trustworthiness

Sustainable agriculture methods (for beans and irish)

Collaborating with other organizations/programs

Good leadership



Borrowing money from groups (STRENGTH)



Equipment (knapsack sprayers)

Group contributions

Child/family help (STRENGTH)



Buying land

Paying debts

Feeding children

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

Water jars

Planting trees

Constructing road

Improved methods of farming (for Irish potatoes and beans)

Buying utensils

Training and advice

Good leadership

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

ThiNkiNg about vision

The more we can allow ourselves to see and accept new possibilities , the more we will ultimately achieve.

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 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 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

a ToASt to the blogosphere!

When I started this blog, I told myself I would write here for 4 months. Now here it is almost Christmas, and the pArtY I'd planned should soon draw to a close.

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!

Third Prize goes out to dear Mr. Windy at Windmill on the Hill, who is particularly adept at making other bloggers in his wwworld feel valued.

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:

Windy's award comes with rules and a task to recognize other bloggers, as follows:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. Live Passionately: feels like it comes from a friend, though I've never personally met Christine
  5. Retired and Restless: always seems to capture a bit of Americana in his story telling that makes me feel nostaligic for home.
Mr. Windy also sent me a "pot-shot tag" - another kind of a blogging game - that has it's own rules:

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

Walking on Sunshine

"Robin Hood of Mabira Forest" goes well!

Here are some fun pics from the 1st night's performance...

Singing Walking on Sunshine (before we become poor!)

Mama Wine and children (hoping Robin Hood will help us!)

Young Christina with Maid Marion

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

dAnCe & drAmA! Robin Hood of Mabira Forest starts TOMORROW

You'd never know it by the looks of this blog, but almost all I seem to be doing is writing lately...

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.

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