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Uganda Update: Meetings…

… have been amazing.  It would take dozens of pages to record everything we’ve learned thus far about Uganda and the gender and development work being done here, plus our evolving thoughts on where and how our programming is most needed.  I’ll try to share some anecdotes that will give you a glimpse of how things are going.

After our magical visit with SHED on the Ssese Islands, we headed up to Kampala and paid a visit to the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) headquarters.  UWONET arose from the 1993 East African Women’s Conference held in Kampala.  Director of Programs Betty Kasiko explained UWONET’s structure: they’re an umbrella organization built of district-level women’s networks and encompassing associations like the Center for Domestic Violence Protection and the Association of Women Lawyers in Uganda.  UWONET has a myriad of programs and activities: capacity building and networking, research and policy advocacy, ICT support, institutional strengthening, financial support and grant application facilitation.  I hope that Rwanda will have its own RWONET someday.  UWONET connected us to several new potential partner organizations in northern Uganda and agreed to help distribute applications for our Academy for Conscious Change when we begin work in Uganda.

Full of new ideas and plans inspired by UWONET, we headed toward downtown to meet Rosemary Nyakikongoro, who was recommended to us by Global Grassroots’ former program associate Gillian Porcella as an expert on gender work in Uganda.  Rosemary worked for many years at Action for Development (ACFODE).  She picked us up, and we headed to dinner at the colorful Nanjing Motel.  In the car we found out – we’re talking with a newly elected MP of Uganda!  In fact, Rosemary just found out about her victory and is coming straight from a celebratory rally.  She plans to continue championing women’s rights and women’s involvement in leadership from within parliament.  Rosemary is fast-paced, passionate, and seems to know everyone involved in gender and development in Uganda!  She gave us advice about working in post-conflict areas of Uganda and provided additional contact information for potential partner organizations and advisers.

Next stop: Jinja!

Over Monday morning breakfast, we were chatting with a couple in our Jinja hostel about Ugandan cell phone rates and smoothie flavors when we mentioned that we worked for Global Grassroots.  “Oh, of course we know Global Grassroots,” they told us.  They turned out to be the representatives for Global Giving – a wonderful website that connects social projects and donors – in East Africa.  Caitlin and I have helped some of our Global Grassroots teams develop and maintain profiles on Global Giving, so meeting them in person was fun.  They were rushing off to do a training in the area, and we were rushing because the (incredible) founder and director of Jinja’s St. Francis Health Care Services was about to pick us up in the parking lot.  In between scarfed bites of baked beans, we compared notes on our exit strategies after an incubated social project has become a sustainable, impactful organization in its own right.  They offered an email contact to ask for training materials to help get more of our teams on their website.  I jotted it down.  Life is just perfect sometimes.

Faustine Ngarambe founded St. Francis Health Care Services 12 years ago, and St. Francis currently serves more than 10,000 HIV/AIDS patients and their families.  Their holistic approach to HIV/AIDS care, advocacy, and social support is incredibly innovative, and they’ve achieved great success and recognition (www.stfrancishealthservices.org).  We visited the library, teaching vegetable garden, and colorful dormitories at Omawana House, their child rehabilitation center.  Faustine took us to see the site of one of their grandmothers projects – support networks and community income-generating projects for grandmothers who have lost their children to AIDS and must now care for their HIV-positive grandchildren.  We admired the pigs, vegetables, and nearly completed chicken coop.  We also talked with Faustine about his partnership with Lenny Williams of Mandala House, who will visit Uganda soon to train the St. Francis counselors and other staff about healing through yoga practices.  We hope to partner with their yoga trainees to provide follow-up support in trauma healing and personal transformation for our Academy of Conscious Change partcipants (i.e. our social project team leaders/change agents.

Next, the long drive up to Gulu!  Updates on meetings in northern Uganda to come.

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