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Home from Uganda
  by Mary Edgar  
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Preparing coffee husks to grow mushrooms in

Greetings from Sparta! I'm home! My continuing problems with getting a work permit persuaded me to return home early rather than spend another $100 on another special visa to tide me over. The work permit has been a long ordeal which probably could have been avoided with a bribe. It probably would have been cheaper too, in the long run, but condoning the rampant 'bribing' culture wasn't an option for me. Fortunately I anticipated an early return, so was able to plan the various activities so they were just about completed before I returned. The winter here that I'm experiencing has been a shock to my softened system... it's extremely cold and uncomfortable ... but you all know about it!

Renovations to the building that is to be the WENDWOA vocational school office and classrooms were completed. Unfortunately the official 'opening' is still to come and the plaque was in the process of being made when I left, giving the donation information - from the C.B. Powell Foundation here in Canada, via Yarmouth Monthly Meeting(YMM). I left my camera with Muki, who supervised the renovations, so that he could take all the necessary photos. At the end of my visit Winnie borrowed my camera to take pictures of mushrooms - and I used my ipod Touch. Unfortunately I don't seem to be able to transfer the pictures to my laptop - I have no help right now - but I'll get some and show you the pictures of the smart new building.

The mushroom project has been started in Padea and we were waiting for the mushrooms to germinate when I left. Winnie supervised the building of the mushroom house. The WENDWOA members in Padea contributed a large part of the building and all the labour, but the mushroom spawns and all the items needed for the actual growing of the mushrooms came from YMM. I must admit I regret not being able to see the first mushrooms emerging!

Another house for mushrooms has been completed in Koboko at the WENDWOA head office - all that remains here is for the incubation room to be separated, poles to be erected to hang the 'gardens' on, then plant the spawns and wait. The other district to grow mushrooms is Yumbe, where most of the building materials have been collected from members. They are only waiting for Winnie to help complete the building and help with the first planting.

Mushrooms have become very popular to grow. When I was in Kampala I visited a supermarket where rich people shop and there were masses of oyster mushrooms for sale, and they were quite expensive. I was told, there, that they sold very quickly. In the small town markets they are also there, and also sell well. An organization in Entebbe (in the south of Uganda) will buy dried mushrooms (oyster) as they have a contract with an importer in Dubai for as many mushrooms as they are able to provide. So it seems that there is definitely a market for mushrooms. The profit on fresh mushrooms is much higher than on the dried ones - but the dried ones will always keep and there is a constant buyer for those. A dryer (solar) is needed for this - costing about $150 - which we are hoping will be affordable after a few months of selling mushroom.

Gender roles are quite rigid in Uganda and one Thursday evening I was talking with some of the boy-students about it. At the time the girls were away collecting water from the borehole a kilometre or so away. We talked about how much more work women did while men relaxed and waited for meals to be served and so on. At the time, the boys decided that the following day they would change roles and let the girls relax. We told the girls when they returned. They were happy, but a little doubtful about the quality of meals etc! Early on Friday morning, I was woken to the sound of the boys sweeping the compound, starting the fire to make tea with the water they had just collected ... it turned out to be a great success! The girls relaxed and the boys worked hard. The meals were okay and everyone had fun! I was afraid it was only a game, but the boys decided it should happen every Friday! For the remainder of my stay, this became the routine! At least the boys experienced just how hard women work. I have a beautiful picture of boys washing dishes, but unfortunately it's on my iPod.

Monitoring meetings took place where the workshops had been. As I mentioned previously, we adapted the AVP workshop to be more focused on trying to motivate members to do things for themselves. We have been disappointed that more women haven't improved their lives through the various skills they had learned over the years. We returned to Padea to discuss their progress/feelings after their workshop. The members had specifically requested that the mushroom project be brought to them, so we knew they were really interested in pursuing the growing of mushrooms. The other skill learned in the workshop that has potential in Padea is soap making. One of the regular problems with making soap is the cost of palm oil - it is seasonal and the price fluctuates - but the best oil, and the cheapest, comes from just over the border in the D.R. Congo, so Padea is in an excellent position. The members are now already making soap.

Baskets made from plastic strapping were taught at the workshop, but they are proving to be not worth the effort because similar cheaper baskets are brought into the community from the DRC, so our baskets must sell for too little to be worthwhile. I bought all the baskets that were made at the workshop and brought them to Koboko to sell. The income from these baskets has gone towards a small, micro loan plan we have started. The amount is only about $50, which has gone to a group of three women who want to buy vegetables and sell them in the market. We are hoping it can be the start of a sort of rotating loan. Had I been still there we could have got things better organized - this is one of the problems caused by my early return home.

Medicine has helped a lot of the women and their families. Often transport to take the patient to the doctor or hospital is the main problem for sick people, and so many people postpone a visit until the problem becomes severe. We helped with transport. We bought a lot of malaria medication. Malaria is a continuous challenge - particularly for children and young people. Worms are also a common problem that we helped with. There was a meningitis outbreak in Koboko when I was there, so a few people who came asking for painkillers for a headache and stiff neck I sent to the local health centre, but fortunately I was being over-cautious! Many people have respiratory problems caused by dust, and for women particularly, from smoke when cooking.

Winnie also had health problems - 'female' problems - and we helped her pay for scans she needed, and then medication. Because Winnie had been trained in permaculture and was heading the mushroom project, we felt it was important that we take care of her, and indeed she is almost back to normal and full of energy and enthusiasm again.

A man with problem feet has been diagnosed as curable skin cancer (even though local people think it caused by witchcraft). The man has children, grandchildren and orphans who are dependent on him and because he is unable to walk or even stand, we have contributed to his treatment so that he can take care of his family by going back to digging his garden and providing food and income for his family. I also feel that solving this problem through medicine, rather than allowing the cause to be considered witchcraft and so only curable through a witchdoctor, is progress.

Five goats have been bought to give to families. They will be given to members who have faithfully given time and effort to WENDWOA over the years and have children and grandchildren to take care of. The women have been chosen, but the goats are waiting to be delivered.

In the cool hills of Zombo District, I was taken to a garden to see a mysterious vegetable that people were growing. When I arrived, it turned out to be a cauliflower! Cabbages are common, but cauliflowers are new! Women walk, carrying large, heavy sacks of cabbages - and now cauliflowers, too - on their head to market in Paider, about 15 kilometers away. Their load is heavy, and the road hilly and rough, but if they took any transport they wouldn't make any profit at all.

The last workshop before I left was Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) proper - level 1. It was given in Koboko, at the head office, to active members of WENDWOA from four branches, Koboko, Yumbe, Zombo and Nebbi Districts. The participants were very interested in helping WENDWOA grow and flourish. The hope was that these members would be encouraged to learn the best non-violent way to develop the organization, as well as helping in their own lives. As you may have gathered, we are worried about the lack of enthusiasm and energy in WENDWOA - almost an apathy - or the dependency syndrome. AVP might bring about a change, we hope. In fact the workshop was stimulating. When tackling the 'Building a New Society' exercise, the various forms of violence discussed in the workshop were seen to be in the organization - jealousy - lack of caring - greed, for example. As these were discussed we could see motivation for change being stimulated in the participants. It made me wish I wasn't about to leave to come home - I would have loved to have followed up that workshop with another to reinforce the energy. In fact, I am thinking of suggesting that the basket/ loan money be put towards another workshop - and crossing the bridge of the loan money when I return. I am going to phone Patrick, the chief AVP facilitator to discuss the idea. If WENDWOA can be stimulated and focused, then I am sure things will move forward quickly, and I don't want to miss the opportunity brought by the interest shown in AVP workshop.

This role-play was about land wrangles - involving greed, jealousy, and selfishness. The solution was brought about by discussions between the parties, advice from outside people, understanding and forgiveness. Perhaps WENDWOA can grow to benefit all members more with these qualities.

The welding equipment from the Canadian Friends Foreign Mission Board (CFFMB) didn't arrive in time for this 'tour' - but hopefully in October/November when I return we can move quickly with that. One of the vocational students who was 'desperate' to learn welding has been placed as an apprentice with a respected firm in Koboko town. Fortunately we were able to provide him with safety glasses and gloves to protect him in his training. Thank you for those! The other items are under lock and key, waiting to be put to work!

This year, as before, there are crafts made by the women from WENDWOA that I will be selling. If anyone is interested, please let me know. Probably I will be selling them again at the Horton St. Market in St Thomas, but don't hesitate to contact me if there is anything you would like.

Thanks for your continued support - and I hope we will meet over the summer - also at the Sparta Quaker 100 Mile Harvest Dinner in the Fall.

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