So who are the women with whom I shall spent the next two months working with as an experteer? Glad you asked, as I would love to take this opportunity to introduce them to you! I had no idea before arriving in beautiful Uganda, but I had created an image in my head, purely based on pre-consumed Google searches, YouTube videos and mainstream media. You could say I had a Western painted picture, hence it being a big question mark upon arrival. This didn’t bother me, as I like to explore new things and love an adventure. It didn’t disappoint!
Meet Kasana Mothers Creation
This is the group that made me tear up. They are 17 women from Kasana parish who formed themselves into a group supported by Integrated Villages. Most of them are from Ttagga village, a place even unexplored by Google Maps. I am currently staying there too, with a local family.
As of this writing I am the only “muzungu” (i.e. white person) who has ever actually lived in Ttagga. Therefore, I cannot complain about the amount of attention I get, especially from the younger ones.
I work with Kasana women from Monday till Wednesday and Luteete (whom I’ll introduce further down this blog post) on Thursday and Saturday. Kasana ladies are proud creators of recycled paper beads. Currently we are looking for ways to improve this product, with a focus to get more customers both locally as well as abroad. They all work as a team, sharing the profit equally. So far, the biggest success was from the sales by two previous experteers / volunteers, who brought the products back home to sell there.
Besides making jewellery and accessories, they need to take care of their farms, which are mainly owned by their husbands. Most of them are born in Ttagga village, but there are some who are from different regions. In Uganda, once you get married, you need to reallocate to your husband’s place of residence.
All of the women are religious, mainly Catholic, so their day starts with a morning prayer. My host family’s head, Mkisa, is a pastor. Often Mkisa reads or explains me certain parts of the Bible during our dinners. He is also quite openly trying to attract me to his religion and has plenty of arguments on how Catholics misinterpreted the Bible. I love his passion.
For the woman, it doesn’t end after taking care of the farm. Most families here are quite big, especially when compared to the Western standard. I have even calculated that in total those 17 women have 90 children. All of them are pretty interested how many kids we have in Europe. To be honest, I have never checked the official number, but I always say “two”. Probably it’s even lower..
“What? Only two kids? Who is fetching your water?” I feel so weird when I need to explain that we always have running tap water. Last week after doing my first hand-washed laundry, I asked them if they ever heard of a washing machine. They told me they have heard of this word, but don’t know the exact meaning. I explained the “white box” function, but somehow they were not overly impressed.
It’s no surprise when you listen to their dreams. Especially when you take the maths I have done on their monthly income into account. Are you curious to hear what the dreams of Kasana Mothers Creation actually consist of?
Well, most of them boiled down to one important topic, namely wanting to ensure that their kids get educated in order to get a good job afterwards. Some were more specific; they would like to afford their kids to go to university. There are a couple of families who don’t own any land, so their biggest dream is to have their own house and farmland. One of the woman, Annet, would like to have lots of cows so she and her family can drink milk every day.
Some of the dreams slightly differed and made us all laugh. I loved the one Magret shared. She lives a bit further away and is just a bit over 60 years old. She wants to own a motorcycle, which would make her commute a whole lot easier. Since it’s further from the main road, “boda-boda” (i.e. motorcycle taxi) isn’t available where she resides.
Sumin is one of the most excited ones to work on this project. Her dream is to visit Europe together with me. I also loved what Rose shared with me. She is dreaming about this project’s success and being able to show what can be achieved, which will inspire other women. I told her that we will!
Listening to those dreams was very special. Suddenly you get a totally new perspective about your own life. Lots of these things what they were talking about, were simply given to me due to the location where I was born.
Meet Luteete Mothers
This was the first women group I met during my onboarding week. They didn’t make me cry although they surely could have.
There are 22 in the group, with the big difference compared to the other group that most of them are widows or got neglected by their husbands who found younger wives. This makes a big difference to your monthly income, as highlighted in my previous calculation done for Kasana group.
Now, there are a few very interesting facts which are very difficult for me to digest coming from Europe. Most of them don’t own land. Why? Well, there are a couple of very interesting scenarios, which I will share below.
The most common one boils down to the husband who got land from his parents. After his passing however, you don’t have any right to inherit it. Joyce was telling a story on how she was thrown out of her home with four kids by her parents in law. She didn’t want to go back to her parents’ house, as there is nothing for her to do there. Currently she is renting a house and you can guess what she is dreaming about.
Another also very interesting one. Apparently many men work quite far away from their ‘original’ home. Often they create new families of which you never know until they pass away. They can claim his land if it was not inherited from the parents. Daphine, our project coordinator from Integrated Villages, was telling me that her family learnt about their father owning a brick factory. They only heard about this fact 10 years later after his death.
We are not there yet with the spicy stories. Saidat is a muslim, which means that her husband, whom died from lung cancer, had multiple wives. If you are not the oldest wife, tough luck on getting the land.
A will after your death exists but often people don’t write it or when they do, don’t do it very official. Usually you invite your best friend and prepare two copies. Daphine was telling me about a case when the will was stolen by one of the sons who accidentally found his father’s will. The reason? The son didn’t like the content. The will was never to be found again.
We have tried to do maths here too. What does a single mother with an average of five kids earn? They have really struggled to say, as it can fluctuate per month. It basically depends which and how many vegetables you sell. One month it can be €4, the another an even €8.
Good news is that they have sponsored primary school for their kids. They only need to pay for their food, but when it comes to the secondary education, you need to pay. From the current income, it’s obviously not feasible, so children’s education is a dream from most. And it’s really a big dream, as they realize that with the current income, it’s just not feasible.
They are not complaining this however. They say; “Look, we don’t spend much. We eat what we grow and that’s it.” Indeed, their lunch often times consists of just two boiled potatoes and they are happy with it. The only true concern is how they can enable education for their young ones. For example, Marie is dreaming that her oldest son becomes a manager in a company.
In the end, as Saidat said, we just want to live a simple life and that’s it. Rose is the most senior in the group and her dream is to own a water tank, so she doesn’t need to fetch it every day from a well. Additionally she would really like to build a roof for her piglet.
In the end, they have asked about my dream. With a small pause and thought, I answered “To help you make your dreams come true”. Upon hearing my answer they started to clap in an energetic Ugandan rhythm, which made me a bit emotional again. I managed to keep my eyes dry this time however. I am adapting to the new environment quite rapidly 😉
To help you make your dreams come true.My dream for the woman of Kasana and Luteete
These are the women who smile, laugh and work hard every day. These are the women who inspire me to move forward every day and remind me of my purpose here. They have high expectations and hopes from me. And they give a lot back to me. I’m looking forward to what the next weeks will bring.