Alcohol and Development:

Yesterday Nick Kristof, visionary journalist with the New York Times, posted a blunt and incisive story about alcoholism in the developing world.  Read it here. The crux of the problem is that globally poor families tend to spend about 2% of their income on education, while spending 4%-8% on alcohol and tabacco.

This is a big problem.  And Uganda is far from immune; in fact it’s up there among the highest alcohol per capita countries in the world.

This challenge affects us personally.  At least one of the Ugandan women we work with has a husband who’s an alcoholic, and drinks through his family’s money even as they’re trying to pay for school and healthcare.

And to be honest, we’re not sure exactly what to do about it.  We pay our women through their individual bank accounts, so they hold the purse strings.  We take every opportunity to train the men along with the women in things like personal financial management, savings, and expense forecasting.  But he still gets his hands on the money, and would rather drink than come to a training.

There are shining examples of success, too.  Another woman we work with sat next to her smiling husband and described how they came together often to plan their finances.  They are thriving.

The truth is: not everyone is going to benefit equally.  Development is not immune to issues of character, shortsightedness, and addiction.  In fact it might be uniquely susceptible, as escaping poverty is a hard business.  Our job is to keep pouring into people and communities, keep believing in the power of hope and empowerment, and keep building opportunities for people to thrive.

And as Kristof rightly points out, keep learning how to mitigate the challenges.

Telling True Stories

This is great article about telling true stories in the ‘helping people’ field.  Read this excerpt, then click through for the rest:

It really is not going to matter whether we preach a sermon on eradicating poverty. It is going to matter that through our work we increased a community’s income by 20%. It is going to matter that we perfected a revenue-generating model that allows for the maintenance of the wells that we fund-raise for.  It is going to matter that through our work, 27 women were rescued and protected from the sex trade in the last month due to the donated amount. The marriage of what we do, how we do it, and why we do it, needs to be our focus and message.

Spring Babies, and a $500 Giveaway

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This has already been a very special spring in Acholi Quarters.  In the past few weeks two of the women we partner with gave birth to beautiful new babies!  (One boy, one girl.)  In celebration of this season of birth and rebirth, we’re giving away five $100 Acholi Beads gifts to lucky customers of our online store!  Make any purchase between now and April 12 and you’ll be entered to win.  Click here to shop!

I was talking to one of the mothers yesterday, Aciro Grace, and she said that before she started working with Acholi Beads having a baby was a frightening experience – she couldn’t afford hospital care for her or her baby, and had little hope for a brighter future for her children.

But this time, her fourth delivery, she got medical support and was able to afford everything the new child needed.  Not only that, but she foresees a bright future for her newborn, full of education, good health, and success.  This is why we do what we do.  Thank you for your support.

Envisioning the Future of NUPECA

This past weekend I took the leaders of our partner Co-op, NUPECA, on a leadership retreat to the shore of Lake Victoria.  It was an incredible couple days.  The goal was to give the leaders a space to cast a vision for NUPECA, and to take ownership of that vision and the organization.  And did they ever. 

They created a five-year vision that includes 100 members, four programs (including support for orphans and adult literacy) and a committment to innovation.  Then we went to the zoo and got to pet rhinos.  Great weekend.

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Tea and Tangles

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A guest post by jewelry designer Emily Grace Goodrich

Fortunately, it’s easy to find fresh ginger any time of the year in Southern California. This is important because it’s the ginger that sets African tea worlds apart from anything I’ve tasted before. It’s habit-forming, and the best mornings in Uganda begin with a blank page, a pen, and a shared pot of tea.

It’s been almost a week since I reluctantly rode a taxi through Kampala for the last time, toward the airport. And these are my attempts to stay behind in the smallest ways: reliving the smells, the flavors, the memories. Especially reliving the tea.

I’ve traveled many times before, often under the well-meaning premise of helping. To the slums of Mexico and jungles of Peru, to remote villages throughout Malawi, to the junkyard hideaways of the Roma in the heart of the Balkans. But this trip wasn’t about assistance, it was about collaboration. And collaboration is binding: I’m unsure of when and why, but I know it will one day draw me back to the red-earth hillsides, the sun and rain soaked landscape of Kampala.

There is something more vivid about the beadmakers in Acholi Quarters, a confidence and dignity that I didn’t often see in the women I met in Uganda, or even elsewhere in the world. They dress well, and their children are full and happy and in good schools. They laugh with ease and confidently make suggestions, they learn quickly and then become teachers themselves. Yet they are excellent students, they value knowledge and quickly absorb even the smallest drop that a trail of new ideas leaves behind.

In just a few short weeks this team of women has taken in a flood of new ideas: about things like color theory, fabric, ribbon, wire, and recycled plastic. And as much as they work together as a team, each contributes to the group in her own way. Esther is kind and patient, but has a definite competitive streak and walks a little taller when her work is deemed “just perfect.” Agnes and Gladys are among the youngest, but have the sharpest eyes for color and design. Ellen can make better fabric flowers than I can- on her first try. And Nighty consistently stands among the best and fastest learners while simultaneously wrangling a squirming toddler.

The brevity of my trip leaves me feeling as though I’ve rushed in, dumped a tangle of information in a big heap and then fled; but I am confident that the women of Acholi Beads will turn fragments into works of wearable art. When they ship the new designs to America later this spring, you will see just what I mean.

I’m wearing the same strand of paper beads around my neck that I wore in January, but I see them differently now. They are full of faces and names and stories. Though you may not know the details, yours are too.

Movin’ on up

I got some great news when I visited our Ugandan partners this morning.  The co-operative that we helped them found, called NUPECA, just rented their first office space!  They got a two room office on the main road through Acholi Quarters where they’ll be able to handle all of their projects.  And as with most things Ugandan, it’s colorful!

Below, Christine and Otto, two of the co-op’s top leaders, stand by their new office.

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Color and Light

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On the back of a motorcycle again.  A little one, whining its way through Kampala’s pock-marked streets.  Small raindrops poke the opposite of sparks into my cheeks, my forehead, my closed eyelids.  I am breathing.

A man that I just met is driving, a random stranger warding off the high-60s cold with a coat made for Alaska, who may or may not know where we are going.  But I know.  This is my seventh time to Uganda.  I know where I’m going.

The Cokes this time in Acholi Quarters are room temperature.  On hot days they are cold, sometimes with ice blocking the glass bottleneck.  And on this cold day there are the Ugandan version of donuts, which look like fried dinner rolls and need the Coke to disolve them before swallowing.

There is smiling talk in Acholi, and laughter that I observe and appreciate but cannot share.  And there is planning and checking of progress.  Always checking progress.  Always straining for more progress against the slow ironic calm of poverty.

But we are making it.  We are far, far better than we were a year ago.  So far that the past seems silly, a wonderland for the Alice of our family, with fantastical colors and bad surprises.  And so much joy.

This year is going to be better yet and again.  An exponent of previous years, an extreme makeover of an already beautiful world.  This year the flower will bloom.

I lean and step down hills covered in the kind of mud that God makes when he blows his nose.  Mud that sticks to things it never touches.  My shoes collect the orange mud and keep it.  It weighs them down.  It makes them real.  Everything I own is made real in this way, collecting the warm colors of Ugandan soil and bringing them into the American light.

Ugandan colors.  American light.  This year the flower will bloom.