Muireann taking photos in Uganda

 

Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool

 

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Suubi Weaving Course Success

06 Aug 2006

Suubi means hope. Weaving baskets provides hope. The Suubi Weaving Project trains disadvantaged women how to weave baskets, dye materials and keep basic accounts.

Hi all, August 6th 2006

It’s been a while since I’ve written a letter home about what my work is all about. Mostly I’m designing products most especially baskets. However since April 19th I have been coordinating the Suubi Weaving Project, which runs weaving courses for unskilled disadvantaged women taught in luganda. Ten Thousand Villages US and Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd have provided the funding for the 6-month project.
Last week we held a training course in Kyebando, Kampala in association with OASIS Uganda for carers and guardians of disadvantaged or orphaned children. OASIS provides schooling and some accommodation for the children. Mostly the children go home after school to stay with their guardians. OASIS has a family employment officer whose mission is to get the guardians in to a better financial position through employment.
This is where Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd stepped in with our Suubi Weaving Training course. We held it for 4 days at the Bambejja Project Centre. Twenty-one women participated including a very cheeky grandmother named JaJa Nagawa (literally Nagawa’s grandmother), an astute grandmother called Josephine and one teenager. Mostly the women were between thirty and forty years of age.

Back to basics:
Over and over again we have observed at training courses that observation by participants is not enough and that assumption is definitely the mother of all of life’s f*ck ups. Some women may have attended primary school but you can never be sure of what level they reached. Some have a basic grasp of English and others have none. To reach out to teach them you need to equip the women with the most basic aspects of what you are trying to teach them. That means you have to think they know absolutely nothing and you also have to think that they may not pick it up the first time you say it. Despite thinking that you must never undermine their confidence or ever let them think they know nothing. You have to make it fun and boost their egos at any possible moment.
The course outline includes topics like “How to use a measuring tape” and “How to mix colours together”. It would shock you how many women that use-measuring tapes don’t know how to use them or don’t know what a centimetre is and why it might be useful. It is the same with mixing colours, which some semi skilled women have seen demonstrated lots of times but still don’t understand how to do it themselves.

We encouraged our trainers to let the women take up the stick to stir the materials in the pot or to ask the trainees questions to see if they absorbed any of the information. What was a real buzz for me was seeing the trainers use the advice we had given them in their teacher training course. Once the women were asked to actively respond and participate we started to observe their sheer lack of education. Levering and stirring the material most shocked me. They really struggled and I hope that through their struggle they woke up and learned something.

Four days of basket fun:
We mixed paint together to form new colours on paper before moving the dyeing of materials, which moves quickly. We all wove together on the building verandah and in a small meeting room (yes I have learned how to start a basket and create a design). We had a group discussion about Fair Trade and how to sell the baskets where Josephine said that her eyes had been opened and that she had eaten the information and felt satisfied. Kenny translated for me as I taught the women about basic book keeping. Probably went over many of their heads but if at least the idea of it sticks in one head I’ll be happy. We held a graduation ceremony where all the women got awarded a certificate and grade for their baskets.

Getting to know the trainers better:
The three permanent trainers Dorothy, Milly and Kamulegeya were so much fun to be with. Kenny, Elizabeth and Uganda Crafts’ new intern Lauren also attended. We bonded over the week as the trainers helped Lauren and I to learn how to weave. We walked home every evening through the mud sharing jokes.

Milly speaks limited English and I speak limited Luganda so communication was extremely difficult. By the end of the week, however, I realized that Dorothy had a secret; she understands English very well but is afraid to speak in case she speaks “broken English”. She’s agreed to speak to me in English after I explained to her that I am speaking broken Luganda (coupled with sign language) so as to learn better Luganda. Oh my goodness you should see me in action, it’s embarrassing but I’m trying my hardest and everyone always laughs. Some maliciously but mostly they are thrilled that I am trying. Dorothy and the others had been teaching me a few things we went along and I think she understood that we have to make a bit of an ass of ourselves to get over the barrier. I’ve promised not to laugh at her. As a result in the taxi home she started yapping away. I couldn’t believe it because I’d only every heard her say two words of English together.

The hope:
I really hope to see the Bambejja women on a Friday showing us their baskets ready to sell. It doesn’t take a huge amount of capital (4 Euros is enough) to start their own weaving business but it does require some drive either through will or desperation. The first few weeks can be difficult when your baskets are rejected. You either give up or like some of our artisan you continue on learning and improving your baskets until they are approved each week without fail. My hope is that they can make the jump and continue trying.

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