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Posts in category Africa

A Training in Making Straw Products

Scarlett Chidgey | Posted September 28th, 2011 | Africa

Since Benedicta Nanyonga and Kinawataka Women Initiatives invented the plastic straw products a few years ago, the organization began with training women in Kinawataka to make the straw handicrafts. Most of the straw products are still made in KIWOI’s workshop in Kinawataka, but the organization also started training disadvantaged women in other parts of Kampala and now across Uganda. Especially in rural areas where it is extremely difficult to find employment, the straw handicraft production offers a potential source of income, while enabling women to work from anywhere, with their babies and young children by their sides.

In the very same week that Benedicta was preparing and packing up her products to take to a gift show/exhibit in Los Angeles, California, a group of five women came from Gulu, a city in northern Uganda, for training in the ten-step straw production process. After four days, they returned to their homes with the instruction to practice, practice, practice. About one month later, Benedicta traveled to Gulu to check on their progress. When the trainees have mastered the techniques, they can teach the process to other women in the community and hopefully use these unique skills for income-generation.

For a glimpse of the training of the women from Gulu, check out the video. It highlights most of the steps in the process‚ with the exception of straw collection (as there were many straws already available at KIWOI) and the final stitching and finishing of the products.

Safari in Murchison Falls National Park

Scarlett Chidgey | Posted September 20th, 2011 | Africa

In northwest Uganda, about 300 kilometers and a five-hour drive away from Kampala, is Murchison Falls National Park. The savannah, tropical forest, and other ecosystems of the largest national park in Uganda are home to wildlife galore—elephants, hippos, giraffes, baboons, Ugandan kobs (type of antelope), water buffalo, crocodiles, scores of bird species, leopards, and lions! The Nile River flows through the park, and as it narrows through a gorge about ten feet wide, it cascades 141 feet, creating a magnificent waterfall, the centerpiece of the park. Those who have seen the African Queen with Humphrey Bogart may recognize the famous Murchison Falls.

Murchison Falls view from the Nile River
Murchison Falls view from the Nile River

Murchison Falls view from the Nile River

Just last weekend, I stood close enough to those mighty falls to feel the spray on my face. I had left Kampala that morning in a van, with a multinational group of seven other travelers and our driver. We were on safari and a short hike to the falls was our first activity in the park.

Our first night, as I headed to my safari tent to sleep, rain began to fall. And for about twenty minutes, I sat on my bed listening to the pitter-patter on the canvas and the loud thunder roll through the sky as white lightning flashes illuminated the otherwise pitch black tent, feeling as though somehow it made my African safari experience all the more authentic.

The new safari chic - a plastic straw safari bag!
The new safari chic - a plastic straw safari bag!

The new safari chic - a plastic straw safari bag!

The next morning, I woke at 5:30 am. I was very tired, and it was cold and dark, but once I was up and dressed, packed breakfast in hand, I was excited for our 4-hour game drive through the park. We hopped in our van, drove about a kilometer to the water, and were ferried across the river to begin our drive. With the roof of the van popped up, I stood on my seat and leaned my head outside, with an unobstructed view of the wildlife we could see from the dirt road. I have seen giraffes and elephants in zoos, but to see them in their natural habitat was stunning. My favorite part of the drive was undoubtedly spotting the female lion, on the prowl to hunt some unsuspecting kob in the distance.

Giraffes are a-plenty in Murchison Falls National Park
Giraffes are a-plenty in Murchison Falls National Park

Giraffes are a-plenty in Murchison Falls National Park

Momma and baby elephants saunter across the savannah
Momma and baby elephants saunter across the savannah

Momma and baby elephants saunter across the savannah

Female lions are the hunters in the family
Female lions are the hunters in the family

Female lions are the hunters in the family

Ugandan kob (left) and water buck
Ugandan kob (left) and water buck

Ugandan kob (left) and water buck

In the afternoon, we set off on a boat cruise along the Nile toward the base of Murchison Falls. Along the way, we spotted crocodiles, hippos, baboons, and a group of elephants. We passed by a sign that marked the spot where Earnest Hemingway had crashed a plane back in 1954. Although not as exhilarating as the game drive, it was a relaxing way to enjoy the Nile River, the wildlife on its banks, and learn a bit of history. Sleepy, I closed my eyes for a while under the sun’s glow with the gentle rock of the boat. When we approached the falls, we stopped at a rock where each of the boat’s passengers could quickly jump on to pose for photos.

Karla and Scarlett pose on a rock in front of Murchison Falls
Karla and Scarlett pose on a rock in front of Murchison Falls

Karla and Scarlett pose on a rock in front of Murchison Falls

Despite my cruise snooze, I was still tired after dinner, so I headed to my tent early and was asleep by 10 pm. But shortly before 11 pm, I woke up to a funny noise that sounded somewhat like very loud munching, crunching, and snorting. My tent-mate had not yet come to bed, so I was on my own, in my tent, while a hippo was circling around it!

Hippos are dangerous wild animals and the one circling my tent was bigger than this one!
Hippos are dangerous wild animals and the one circling my tent was bigger than this one!

Hippos are dangerous wild animals and the one circling my tent was bigger than this one!

When we first arrived to our camp, we were warned that the hippos sometimes came up from the lake nearby and roamed around the camp. Though they seem so nice and friendly, hippos can and will charge at humans with slight provocation. Hippos (reportedly) cause more deaths than any other animal except mosquitoes here in Uganda. So, we were told, if you see a hippo, walk the other way. If that hippo is standing between you and the restrooms, use the other restroom. If it’s bedtime but that hippo is standing between you and your tent, you go sleep someplace else. But they didn’t tell us what to actually do if they come stomping around your tent while you are in it! I knew that no matter what I should not open my tent, but I didn’t know if the hippos would try to knock the tent over or get inside. I just sat on my bed, alert and quiet, while I waited for it to disappear. Through the tent window screen I could see the beast’s dark, massive form eventually saunter away, and when I could no longer hear its funny noises, I carefully unzipped my tent door and heard some people say, “You can come out!” I would be completely lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous while that hippo was surrounding me!

Hippo tracks on the dirt path in front of my tent - the morning after its visit
Hippo tracks on the dirt path in front of my tent - the morning after its visit

Hippo tracks on the dirt path in front of my tent - the morning after its visit

Warthogs will actually get inside your tent if you leave food in there, and they don't use the zippers!
Warthogs will actually get inside your tent if you leave food in there, and they don't use the zippers!

Warthogs will actually get inside your tent if you leave food in there, and they don't use the zippers!

On our final day, we left Murchison Falls and drove a couple of hours to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Once, rhinos roamed around Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo National Park, in northeast Uganda. However, rhinos were poached to local extinction, primarily under Idi Amin’s regime, and the last Ugandan rhino was supposedly killed around 1982 or 1983. In 1997, a program was initiated to breed white rhinos in the country by bringing the animals from other parts of the world to the sanctuary. In 2009, the first baby rhino was born in Uganda in 28 years. They named the baby Obama, after President Barak Obama, because the mother was from the U.S. and the father was from Kenya. Today, there are 10 rhinos—six adults from U.S. and Kenya, and four babies bred and born at Ziwa. At first we only saw two sleeping rhinos, a mom and her baby. But after some insistance, we were able to continue our rhino tracking after lunch, and we came across a group of three rhinos. A momma, her baby, and Obama, who is a guest in their family while his own mom is taking care of his baby sister (the only female rhino born thus far at the sanctuary).

Obama - the first white rhino born in Uganda in 28 years!
Obama - the first white rhino born in Uganda in 28 years!

Obama - the first white rhino born in Uganda in 28 years!

I don’t think I could have asked for a better first safari!

The Children of KIWOI

Scarlett Chidgey | Posted September 1st, 2011 | Africa

Uganda is a country about the size of Oregon, with a population of nearly 33 million people. About 55% of the population is under 18 years old, and according to the most recent data (2009, UNICEF), an estimated 2.7 million of these children are orphans. Many of these orphans have lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS (1.2 million) and two decades of war in northern Uganda, in which parents were killed directly in conflict or died from disease or malnutrition in IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps.

Although some orphans are able to live with extended family, they often pose too much of a burden for family with already strained resources. It is encouraging that a number of NGOs, foundations, church groups, and other organizations have stepped in to care for orphaned children, but I can’t guess how many kids still struggle to survive without any support.

Before my arrival in Uganda, I hadn’t realized the scope of the problem here; and I had never before visited an orphanage. But now, because Kinawataka Women Initiatives (KIWOI) operates a children’s home, I spend most of my days at one. Not all of the children who live there are actually orphans; but for one reason or another their parents are unable to care for them. In total, 16 girls and 1 boy currently live at KIWOI’s headquarters under the care of Benedicta Nanyonga. KIWOI also supports the education of four additional children, who remain with their relatives.

For three years, KIWOI has partnered with Possibilities, a UK-based charity, which supports orphans in Uganda. Thanks to the sponsorship of Possibilities, all the KIWOI children attend school. The charity also provides additional funding and support for projects that will benefit the children. Benedicta ensures that in addition to education, the children receive skills training and can learn how to help make KIWOI’s straw products.  She explains that teaching them these skills is critical to their future success; for if the children are unable to continue education past secondary school due to lack of future funding, they should still be able to earn an income.

My second day at KIWOI, I met the kids who live there,  ages ranging from 2 1/2 to 14 years. I thought I would never remember all of their names or stop mixing up who is who. Since the children attend school six days a week, and I’m often busy working in the office, I didn’t get a chance to interact with them much in my first six weeks. But the past two weeks they’ve had school holidays, so I have seen a lot more of them. Together, we have gotten up to some pretty silly shenanigans, including taking photos with the PhotoBooth application on my laptop and dancing around to the latest album by my friend’s soul band. I have especially bonded with the littlest one, who was so shy when I first met her. Now she runs into my arms when she seems me.

Having Fun with the Wheelbarrow
Having Fun with the Wheelbarrow

Having Fun with a Wheelbarrow

Several weeks ago, I had told Benedicta that I wanted to do something nice for the children. She suggested that I take them to a recreation center/pool one weekday during their school holidays, and we decided to keep it as a surprise. I invited Josephine and Peruth (the other two women I work with) to bring their children, too.

When the special day finally arrived, I was a bit nervous. Benedicta was out for meetings, we didn’t have our transportation arranged, the sky was threatening to rain, and I wasn’t sure if the children would be ready in time to make it worth going. But somehow, everything came together, and Josephine, Peruth, and I chaperoned 5 adolescents and 18 younger children to the recreation park. I had never before been responsible for so many kids, so it was a bit of a new adventure for me. But they were so well-behaved, sweet, and fun, they made it easy! They donned their swimsuits, jumped in the kids’ pools, and splashed around. Then we rode on a train around the park while drinking our sodas, played on swings made of old tires, jumped on a trampoline, and threw around my volleyball. It was definitely one of the best days of my Uganda life.

The kids go back to school this week. I’m going to miss seeing them around all of the time!

Playing on the Swing Set at the Recreation Park
Playing on the Swing Set at the Recreation Park

Playing on the Swing Set at the Recreation Park

Enjoying Sodas on the Train around the Park - We Saved Our Straws!
Enjoying Sodas on the Train around the Park - We Saved Our Straws!

Enjoying Sodas on the Train around the Park - We Saved Our Straws!

Receiving School Supplies from Benedicta
Receiving School Supplies from Benedicta

Receiving School Supplies from Benedicta

A Brief Tour of Kinawataka

Scarlett Chidgey | Posted August 20th, 2011 | Africa

At least five days a week (sometimes six), I leave my comfortable home at the Red Chili Hideaway, don my helmet, and hop on board a boda boda (motorbike taxi) for an eight-minute ride to Kinawataka, the slum area where Kinawataka Women Initiatives (KIWOI) is based. Most days, I walk home with Josephine, my colleague at KIWOI, since she passes Red Chilli on her way home. One day, our walk home took about an hour longer than it should because I was inspired to take some photos of the people and places in Kinawataka, the community where I work. Please check out my Flickr set to see the entire series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Straw Story

Scarlett Chidgey | Posted August 6th, 2011 | Africa

One day about eight years ago, Executive Director Benedicta Nanyonga and some other women from Kinawataka Women Initiatives (KIWOI) discovered that the garbage polluting the nearby drainage ditch had reached a critical mass and needed to be picked out to unblock the flow of water. In one of the plastic bags that frequently litter the ditches, they found a few empty bottles and some plastic drinking straws. It was then that Benedicta struck upon a truly innovative idea: why not use the plastic straws to weave mats and bags, as they were already doing with natural fibers. So Benedicta adapted the traditional weaving technique and developed a process to create the plastic straw products. Her first product was a mat, for which she spent 500 shillings on materials (for water and and detergent) but sold for 7,000 shillings. A new income generating activity was born, enabling women of Kinawataka and beyond to, as KIWOI says, “turn a burden into a benefit.”

Discarded waste builds up in ditches, blocking the flow of water, and providing a breeding ground for nasty germs
Discarded waste builds up in ditches, blocking the flow of water, and providing a breeding ground for nasty germs

Discarded waste builds up in ditches, blocking the flow of water and providing a breeding ground for nasty germs

Before the plastic straw innovation, KIWOI made and sold bags and mats woven traditionally with natural fibers
Before the plastic straw innovation, KIWOI made and sold bags and mats woven traditionally with natural fibers

Before the plastic straw innovation, KIWOI made and sold bags and mats woven traditionally with natural fibers

When I first read about Kinawataka Women Initiatives and the expansive line of straw products, I was impressed by the array of unique handicrafts that could come out of recycling other people’s trash. But I was also curious as to how such a large quantity of plastic straws was to be found. Personally, I don’t like to drink out of straws, so I rarely use them and had no idea they were so popular. Yet, various online sources claim that somewhere between 60 million to 500 million plastic straws are used daily in the United States! Most of these would be properly thrown away in bins before reaching their final destination of a landfill (a majority are made from polypropylene, a plastic which is not as commonly recycled). But slum areas in the developing world often lack proper waste disposal and collection; and garbage, including used straws and especially those polythene bags (locally called kavera), can end up carelessly discarded, polluting the environment, embedded in dirt roads and piling up in ditches like the ones in Kinawataka. The kavera degrade soil, harm animals who ingest them, and serve as breeding grounds for disease-spreading germs.

The road to Kinawataka is polluted with polyethylene bags
The road to Kinawataka is polluted with polyethylene bags

The road to Kinawataka is polluted with polyethylene bags

Many of the kavera that are not tossed by the wayside are burned in heaps of trash, releasing nasty dioxins and other toxins into the environment. In recent years, Ugandan Parliament passed legislation to ban polythene bags in the country; however, the ban has still not been implemented. A Ugandan newspaper called New Vision reported just two days ago that Members of Parliament on the Natural Resources committee are threatening to block the budget for the Ministry of Water and Environment if the minister does not implement the ban on kavera. Should the ban be enforced, I am not sure how long it would take for the kavera to be eradicated from slum areas.

KIWOI has worked to inform the community about the hazards of these bags, hoping to persuade households to instead use reusable alternatives such as the straw bags, made out of locally available materials with local labor. Sturdy, reusable, washable, and  eco-friendly, the plastic straw shopping bags provide an excellent alternative to the kavera, indeed.

Since the invention of these woven plastic straw products was fairly new, I wondered if plastic straws had always been so voluminous here in Uganda. Benedicta explained they hadn’t been, but the popularity of straws increased with the spread of HIV/AIDS. She said that a lack of knowledge about virus transmission gave rise to fear of infection from such things as improperly cleaned drinking glasses. It is quite common to use straws to drink out of glass soda bottles as well—some might be concerned about how sanitary the bottle necks are or find it more elegant to drink from a straw. Many beer bottle necks, at least, are covered in foil, which one can unwrap before drinking. I seriously can’t imagine using a straw to swill beer, but apparently some people do!

As KIWOI’s straw handicraft production ramped up, the collection of the straws became quite a difficult chore, because the pickers had to go far and wide to acquire enough. Eventually Benedicta thought to ask the Coca-Cola plant if KIWOI could take the straws from there, for free. This is where I was a bit fuzzy again: why were there so many used straws at the Coca-Cola plant? Well, glass bottles fetch a deposit refund and are often returned to the plant with straws left inside. Coca-Cola required some paperwork and that KIWOI employees were properly decked out in proper refuse collection uniforms, but agreed to the request to collect the straws from the plant.

Empty soda water bottles, with straws, to be collected and taken to the plant for a deposit refund
Empty soda water bottles, with straws, to be collected and taken to the plant for a deposit refund

Empty soda water bottles, with straws, to be collected and taken to the plant for a deposit refund

This was a boon for the straw business because it vastly reduced the amount of time needed to collect the straws and would provide a large quantity of free materials. This is one reason the straw products have been such a successful endeavor. KIWOI has engaged in a number of income-generating activities since its formation in 1998, including mushroom growing, wine-making, and basket-making, but these other activities are more capital-intensive. For the straw products, most of the cost is for labor, which provides a number of women (and several men) employment opportunities across the ten steps of the production process (collecting, sorting, sterilizing, cleaning, drying, pressing/flattening, weaving, joining, cutting, and stitching). Conveniently, most of the weaving can be done at home.

KIWOI member and employee, Peruth, pressing straws manually with a knife. The smile is deceiving, manual straw pressing is no fun!
KIWOI member and employee, Peruth, pressing straws manually with a knife. The smile is deceiving, manual straw pressing is no fun!

KIWOI member and employee, Peruth, pressing straws manually with a knife. The smile is deceiving, manual straw pressing is no fun!

Collection no longer a challenge, straw pressing is the chief problem in production. Hand pressing is inefficient and often painful. It typically takes two minutes to press a single straw flat, but can take up to ten minutes a piece for the really tough straws! (I haven’t yet determined how many straws it takes to make a bag, but suffice it to say—many). Benedicta has been on the hunt for a machine that can press the straws, but the ideal machine has remained elusive. Last year, a grant enabled KIWOI to purchase a custom-built straw press, guaranteed to work for six months without repair. However, the machine lasted only half that time and the manufacturer refused to fix it without additional payment. So back manual pressing for the time being. There is clearly not a big market for plastic straw pressing machines, so it is very possible that one needs to be designed and built specifically for this project. A machine would enable increased production and, thus, increased employment opportunities for women in the community.

Kinawataka Straw Fashions Head to America

Scarlett Chidgey | Posted July 20th, 2011 | Africa

The day after I arrived in Kampala, Benedicta told me that she had been invited to bring the straw products that Kinawataka Women Initiatives (KIWOI) produces to exhibit and sell at a gift show in Los Angeles, California. Although the straw products have already debuted in small quantities in the US, the gift show would provide Benedicta and KIWOI much greater exposure to the US market and an opportunity to meet with contacts who may be interested in becoming a US distributor. She would also have the chance to meet and sell products to friends of existing American customers, separately from the gift show.

Belts are one of the many products KIWOI makes out of plastic straws
Belts are one of the many products KIWOI makes out of plastic straws

Belts are one of the many products KIWOI makes out of plastic straws

Before I entered the scene, Benedicta had received a formal invitation letter from the organizers of the show, which she used to obtain her visa to the US; but she still needed to secure an airline ticket, make hotel reservations, and confirm and pay for booth space, among a number of other things. Although she has traveled abroad to such places as Italy, India, and Canada, this would be her first trip to the US (and her first gift show). So there was much to be done, and I was happy to pitch in.

Benedicta with newly packaged straw earrings
Benedicta with newly packaged straw earrings

Benedicta with newly packaged straw earrings

 

Nicely packaged earrings
Nicely packaged earrings

Nicely packaged earrings

Her first request of me was that I tell her which airport she should fly into for the gift show. Once she had her airline ticket, she needed to book her hotel. This is where my credit card came in handy—she does not have one and it was required for the reservation/payment. Then, after a few back-and-forth emails with the gift show sales agent, there was finally a contract and invoice to complete and return. I was a bit flummoxed that a gift show that has a whole section of world goods imported from a variety of countries would seemingly be oblivious to some of the constraints facing businesses from outside the US—as mentioned, neither Benedicta, nor KIWOI as an organization, has a credit card, but one was required for payment for the booth. Furthermore, the contract was supposed to be faxed back to the sales office in Los Angeles. Fax machines are not so common here (outside of big offices); even the computer/Internet shop down the road from KIWOI doesn’t have one. To send a fax is definitely a time-consuming/challenging endeavor.

Helping make arrangements for this trip has been a learning process for all of us, I think! Since I’ve never been involved in the export of goods to sell in a foreign market, I was not aware that Benedicta would also have to get permission from the Uganda Export Promotion Board. Luckily, mere days before her departure, she called the Uganda Women Entrepreneur’s Association, of which she is a member, to ask them about these kinds of particulars.

Peruth attaching labels (strawbags.org) to the products heading to the US
Peruth attaching labels (strawbags.org) to the products heading to the US

Peruth attaching labels (strawbags.org) to the products heading to the US

Two days before Benedicta left, we started packing the products in large, sturdy bags which she would check in as her luggage. She borrowed a scale so that we could weigh the bags in advance of arriving to the airport. We realized that we would need to check an additional two bags (at $180 a piece, ouch!) As it is difficult and pricey to ship the goods to the US, I hope she can somehow leave the remaining products with a contact there.

Setting up a borrowed scale to weigh the bags to be checked in as luggage
Setting up a borrowed scale to weigh the bags to be checked in as luggage

Setting up a borrowed scale to weigh the bags to be checked in as luggage

Meanwhile, I tried to think of things that would be different in the US that Benedicta should know before she arrived. For example, I warned her that sim cards and airtime, while ubiquitous in Kampala, are not so easy to locate in the US, and that waitstaff in restaurants and taxi drivers will expect a tip of about 15%.

Scarlett helping Margaret as she sews the bag with stretched plastic straw
Scarlett helping Margaret as she sews the bag with stretched plastic straw

Scarlett helping Margaret as she sews the bag with streched plastic straw

When the day arrived for Benedicta to fly westward, we loaded four large bags, 16 children (the orphans she cares for), and 7 adults into a matatu (minibus that serves as a shared taxi) that we arranged to take our group exclusively to Entebbe and back. Indeed, many wanted to see Benedicta off on her way. This is obviously way more humans than the matatu (which often squeezes in far more than the legally allowed limit of 14 adults), seems like it should carry, but the children were small and sat on each others laps, somehow fitting all into the last two rows of seats. After departing Kinawataka, we stopped en route to pick up Benedicta’s daughter and two of her grandchildren. As we slightly rearranged people and things to make room, I said, “Oh geesh,” thinking, how is this even possible? But Benedicta chuckled at me, and said, “This is Africa!”

Children in the matatu, en route to airport
Children in the matatu, en route to airport

Children in the matatu, en route to airport

And we drove on as raindrops struck the windows of the matatu and a delightful chorus of children’s voices rose from behind me, an English and Lugandan soundtrack for our ride. I was so touched by this beautiful send-off, my eyes welled up, and I couldn’t help but feel joy and fortune to be here in Uganda, with these amazing people, part of this journey.

I can’t wait to hear how Benedicta and the line of products made of recycled plastic straws takes California and that gift show by storm!

Benedicta at the airport with her luggage (bags of straw products)
Benedicta at the airport with her luggage (bags of straw products)

Benedicta at the airport with her luggage (bags of straw products)

I Have Arrived

Scarlett Chidgey | Posted July 12th, 2011 | Africa

The journey from Rome to Entebbe was long and I was exhausted after a series of flights and long layovers in the wee hours of the morning; but as we approached the airstrip, I saw Lake Victoria and the lush surroundings. Wow, I have finally arrived, I thought. My eyes welled up with tears out of joy and excitement, and I was thrilled with anticipation to meet Benedicta Nanyonga, who was to greet me at the airport. Yet, as I waited…and waited…and waited for my suitcase to come along on the baggage carousel, that joy and excitement began to wane. An hour or so after we landed, I realized my bag had not made the entire journey with me, and naturally disappointed, all I could do was file a lost baggage claim.

But I would not let this defeat me! As I finally exited to the waiting area, I saw Benedicta, whom I recognized from videos and photographs, holding a sign with my name on it. I walked straight to her and introduced myself. When she realized who I was, she showered me with hugs and kisses! Then another woman, Margaret, approached and presented me with a beautiful bouquet of white and orange roses. I was so touched by this welcoming.

Road between Kampala and Entebbe
Road between Kampala and Entebbe

Road between Kampala and Entebbe

From the airport, we drove about 35 km directly to Kinawataka, a slum in southeastern Kampala, where Kinawataka Women Initiatives (KIWOI) is based. The property serves as the workshop, office, Benedicta’s home, and an orphanage for 20 children. The children were not there because they were in school, but I met Josephine, the secretary at KIWOI. She served Benedicta, Margaret, and me a delicious lunch of beans and cooked plantain (called matoke) and I learned that the “K” in “Kinawataka” is pronounced as a “Ch.” Benedicta then gave me a tour, showing me the straw products; the awards KIWOI has received; the many news clippings of stories about her, the organization, and the strawbags;  the rooms of the house; and the backyard, filled with trees, a chicken and her chicks; a cow named Benedicta, and her calf, Benedicta Jr.

Benedicta and Josephine making earrings outside of the KIWOI workshop
Benedicta and Josephine making earrings outside of the KIWOI workshop

Benedicta and Josephine making earrings outside of the KIWOI workshop

Inside the KIWOI workshop many of the the straw products are being organized
Inside the KIWOI workshop many of the the straw products are being organized

Inside the KIWOI workshop many of the the straw products are being organized

It wasn’t long after lunch that Benedicta arranged for a Boda Boda (motorbike) driver who I would hire on a regular basis to transport me between KIWOI and the Red Chilli Hideaway, my home for the summer. After about a 10-minute drive, we approached a dirt road that we drove up and arrived at a guarded red metal gate. This was the entrance to Red Chilli. After checking in and paying for a full month (to obtain a 10% discount), I was shown to my room, a bit quiet and secluded. Though not very large, it is spacious enough for one person, with a table, a shelf, and a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling above the single bed. As I walked around the grounds, I noticed that this Hideaway was massive— with a number of buildings for lodgings, a tiny “plunge” pool, and goats, white monkeys, and black and white birds roaming about. (The next morning I discovered that these birds are very, very loud!) After settling into my room and unpacking a few things I had in my carry-on baggage, I went up to the restaurant/bar area, drank some soda water, used the free wi-fi, and tried not to feel so lonely, surrounded by tourists that I would likely not get to know. When I went to bed, I sprayed plenty of insect repellant all over me, the room, and the mosquito net which I carefully draped completely over the bed.

Red Chilli Hideaway Reception
Red Chilli Hideaway Reception

Reception office at the Red Chilli Hideaway

The entrance to my room at Red Chilli Hideaway, my home for 3 months
The entrance to my room at Red Chilli Hideaway, my home for 3 months

The entrance to my room at Red Chilli Hideaway, my home for 3 months

In the morning, my Boda Boda driver Julius arrived about 10 am, and I went directly to KIWOI. Our day was busy: I accompanied Benedicta to a meeting at a university business center, where she met with an advisor to discuss the development of a proposal package and business plan for a potential investor in the Netherlands. That evening, I explained the Advocacy Project model to Benedicta and proposed the idea of the quilt made of the recycled plastic straws. She said that she hadn’t fully understood the concept of the quilt project before, but now with my explanation she liked the idea and thought we should go forward with it. We thought it best to invite the women weavers who would participate to make their own design for a 1-foot x 1-foot panel that could be joined into one piece. One of the many products that KIWOI produces is a straw mat. To make a mat, several pieces of woven plastic straws need to be joined together. I think this same method can be employed for the quilt.

Benedicta joining woven straw pieces
Benedicta joining woven straw pieces

Benedicta joining woven straw pieces

I also learned that Benedicta had been invited to attend a gift show in Los Angeles, CA where she could market the straw products. Over the next couple of days, I assisted Benedicta with travel bookings and preparations for this trip. This will be her first trip to the U.S., and she leaves for Los Angeles on Sunday, July 17 for 10 days!

Clever marketing as these bags are made of straws that were otherwise destined to be trash!
Clever marketing as these bags are made of straws that were otherwise destined to be trash!

Clever marketing as these bags are made of straws that were otherwise destined to be trash!

On Wednesday I found out that my baggage finally made it to Entebbe, so in the early evening after a number of appointments, Benedicta and I went back there by hired car. It seems absurd to me in some respects that “stuff” would be so important, but I can’t overstate how happy I was to be reunited with my luggage. Finally, I could wear more than two sets of clothes, wouldn’t have to go to a clinic to get a new prescription of anti-malarial medicine, and had my special pillow with my superman pillowcase. Now, I felt as though I truly had arrived and was far better prepared to tackle the rest of the week and even the next three months.

The Adventure Is About to Begin

Scarlett Chidgey | Posted July 2nd, 2011 | Africa

Tags: , ,

Since I was young, I have longed to travel to Africa. I imagined climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, going on a safari, and peeking at great silverback mountain gorillas. But this summer I am embarking on an even more exciting and rewarding adventure! In just two days, I will arrive in Kampala, Uganda to work with the Kinawataka Women Initiatives (KIWOI). KIWOI is an NGO established by Ms. Benedicta Nanyonga in 1998 that promotes women’s empowerment, community development, and environmental protection. The organization achieves its mission through the production and sale of goods such as woven bags, mats, and even shoes—all made from recycled plastic drinking straws.

As a Peace Fellow, I am thrilled to combine my passion for human rights with my love of travel, writing, and photography in support of KIWOI. I also plan to work with the organization to create a quilt of recycled plastic straws that can be both artistic expression and an advocacy piece, which will hopefully be shared and displayed outside of Uganda to raise awareness and garner support for the women of Kinawataka. A number of AP Peace Fellows have worked with partners to create quilts, which have been powerful tools of advocacy and fundraising. Who knows what kind of quilt KIWOI might make with plastic straws. Nonetheless, I think with some creative thinking, we just might come up with something spectacular!

Although I am the first Peace Fellow to work with KIWOI, I have had the opportunity to learn more about Benedicta and the organization by watching a video profile created by Annika Allman, a 2010 Peace Fellow, during her time working with Vital Voices in Kampala. It was this blog post and video that has helped to inspire the partnership between AP and KIWOI, and I look forward to being the first of hopefully many Peace Fellows to work with KIWOI. I had my first phone call with Benedicta about two weeks ago; hearing her voice was comforting and exciting. I truly look forward to meeting her and the other women of KIWOI, and beginning the adventure of a lifetime.

Fellow: Scarlett Chidgey

Kinawataka Women Initiatives


Tags

Environmental Protection Uganda Women's Empowerment


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