Saturday, July 9, 2011

East Africa Day 53 (Tues July 5): MEND Tour & Krochet Kids

I’ve gotten probably too comfortable riding bodas. This AM I ate a peanut butter sandwich while sitting on the back of a boda, heading to Barclay’s in Gulu town:) It entertained Charlie, who was riding on a boda behind me. While traveling down Juba road towards Gulu town, we passed bright yellow UN World Food Program tents on the right-hand side of the road, inside a fenced in compound. Nikki later said that there used to be something like six when she first arrived, but only one or two are left. I hope that’s a good sign? When we got to Barclays, I found a sick and poorly looking small retriever-type dog in the yard. It finished off what was left of my peanut butter sandwich.

We then headed out of town to the Invisible Children MEND compound, where the women that IC pays to make the MEND bags work. Nikki said that the women used to work in a smaller building. This building has a lot of windows, and a concrete floor.

photo: the MEND building, taken from the front yard after entering through the compound gate.

When you first enter the building you find yourself in a large room containing rows of sewing machines. The MEND women were sitting at the black metal singer-style sewing machines that I’ve seen all over East Africa, smiling and working on their projects. The room was full of good energy.

Head to the back of the room and you’ll find a smaller room where women were doing another step in the process, on table tops. Then hang a right and you are in another small room where a Ugandan man was cutting the pieces for the bags from larger pieces of fabric. I watched him bang nail holes into certain parts of the drawn-on outline, and then use a machine to actually cut the fabric.

After passing through that room you'll find the room that holds all of the canvas and cotton fabrics that the women use to make the bags, the supervisor Richard's office, the social worker's office, a bathroom with a USA style toilet bowl and sink, and then at the end of the hallway is a sort of storage room, where finished bags and materials that are included inside the bags are stacked, and laid out on tables.

photo: Richard, me, and MEND's social worker - ah, I forgot her name!

Charlie, Annette and I each picked out a MEND bag to purchase.

photo: We all got the same style bag - not this one, but this was the other style available for purchase.

Each MEND bag contains a tag, sewn into the bag, with the name of the woman who made the bag printed on it. Each bag also comes with a postcard inside, that tells the story of the woman who made the bag, with a photo of her included. We got REALLY, really lucky and got to meet and take photos with the women who made our bags! My bag was made by Betty.

photo: Charlie and the woman who made her bag

photo: Annette and the woman who sewed the bag that she bought.

photo: Betty and I with the bag that she made, now mine!

After taking the MEND tour we went to the Krochet Kids compound, which isn't far from Nikki's house.

photo: upon entering the KK compound.

I first learned about Krochet Kids at San Francisco's Treasure Island Music Festival last fall. The organization had a booth set up. I was attracted to a t-shirt that had their label printed on it, which was hanging up in front of the booth. It says "LIVE" with the "I" being a map of Africa. I had forgotten that the organization works in Gulu, Uganda - with the corporate HQ being in Costa Mesa, CA. (San Diego area.) I was so excited to get to tour the KK compound!

When we walked through the gate - same style door as all of the compounds I've seen in Uganda - we found several buildings, rented by KK. But most striking were all of the women and their young children, sitting underneath a mango tree in the yard, and under a tin roof on a concrete floor, adjacent to one of the buildings, that KK recently constructed for the women.

Sean, who arrived in Gulu 1.5 months ago from CA I think, gave us a great tour.

We met Cody, who is interning with KK for 6 months. I think he arrived about a week ago. He's a college student at a school in So Cal - ahh, I forget which school. He was really, really nice and filled in some details for me.

photo: Cody, Sean and the ladies.

I think KK's women are broken up into groups. Each group is assigned a hat style (and maybe a color) for each week. The women then make their hats, and put them in their cubby with their respective name on it, in one of the buildings. We looked through the hats and tried some of them on.

Then the hats are checked for quality control four times - one step involves Cody trying on every single hat! The hats that will be sold then receive their labels. Each hat gets a KK label on the outside. The women sew a label with their name on it, inside of the hat. They sew the labels on themselves, using one of the two sewing machines in the same room as the cubbies.

The hats that have been sold to companies (like Nordstrom) are shipped from Kampala to the purchaser. The other hats are sent to the Costa Mesa office for final quality check.

We got to go through boxes of hats that didn't make it through quality control. While we were having fun with the hats, Cody told us about how he found out about KK. His friend's boyfriend has something to do with KK. He and Sean were so nice!

After the KK Tour, we met up with Hillary at the Lebanese restaurant in town, for lunch. We got to meet Lizzie, who is joining Hillary in the IC office for a month. Lizzie is from England, where she has been working on child soldier and LRA issues for a while - organizing like-minded groups together into a coalition, and trying to reach England's elected officials. She told me that IC had an office in London from early 2009 through the end of 2009, when it closed. She was volunteering with IC in London. When she decided to do some fieldwork, she was eventually connected to an organization in Uganda HEALS run by Jolly from IC, where Lizzie is working in the community. She's helping Hillary with metrics for a month where she's looking forward to learning about IC's programming in Gulu. She was really nice!

Following lunch we went to the Bus Park in town. Parts of the first IC film were shot at the Bus Park. The children used to sleep in the Bus Park, with armed guards posted at the entrances and exists, to protect the children from being abducted by the LRA. Nikki told us that the youth had to be where ever they were going by 3pm. It wasn't safe to be out after 3pm. THREE PM! Where were you at 3pm and thereafter today?

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