Tag Archives: Uganda

Paper Beads & Paintings Now For Sale Online!

jewelry & paintings for VK website-8

Dearest, patient online Vigilantes, the long-awaited day for you to purchase paper bead jewelry online is finally here. In case you simply can’t wait another moment, pop on over to our store to shop. I’ll wait here.

Because of seed money donated by Vigilantes prior to my last trip to Uganda,  Vigilante Kindness was able to purchase 1,000ish gorgeous paper bead necklaces and bracelets. I bought up every bit the women of Bungatira created and I thought surely 1,000ish pieces would be enough to last us for sales for a year.

I was wrong.

So very wrong.

I brought them to one local speaking engagement and had 2 small jewelry parties and POOF! all but a few pieces were snatched up before I could even breathe, let alone get the pieces loaded vigilantekindness.com to sell.

Honestly, it was a great problem to have. Once again, Vigilantes, you completely knocked my socks off with your generosity and support for the people we’ve come to love in Uganda.

The good news is that there are a few lovely pieces remaining and the even better news is that this year’s jewelry sales have guaranteed that this project is now self-sustaining. It makes me want to jump up and down a teensy bit. Okay, more than a teensy bit.

Before you head over to buy some beautiful paper bead jewelry, please take 2 minutes to see how the paper bead jewelry is made.

Loving you with all my liver,

Alicia

P.S. While you’re there you can check out the three remaining painting we have for sale by Ugandan artists Calvin & Seddrick.

Vigilante Kindness Evening of Stories

Hi, Vigilantes!

You’re invited to an Evening of Stories on October 17th from 4:30pm to 6:00pm in the Community Room at the Redding Library. I’ll be sharing stories and photos from our latest adventures in Vigilante Kindness in Uganda.

Paper bead jewelry and paintings from our Ugandan artisans will also be for sale that evening.

This event is free and open to the public.

If you’d like to help out at the Evening of Stories, please email me at vigilantekindness@gmail. com. We’re in need of people to help with some light set up, to prepare snacks, and to man the paper bead jewelry table.

I can’t wait to tell you stories and show you photos of all the great things your generosity has done. This evening is a small way of saying thanks for partnering with us in acts of Vigilante Kindness in Uganda.

Fondly,

Alicia

Doable Things

On my last day in Gulu I saw Sister Rosemary for a few minutes. I hadn’t seen her since my first trip to Uganda-before the story of her life became a best seller and a movie, before she became a world renowned speaker and before Time named her one of the 100 Most Influential people.
Sister Rosemary is an enigma to me. She’s hilarious and down to Earth. She drinks Guinness like a fish. She’s a devout nun. She’s the essence of warmth. And Sister Rosemary gets things done because when she gives you a direction, you follow it.

This is what led my mom and I back to her home at Saint Monica’s Tailoring School on our last day in Gulu. We’d run into Sister Rosemary and some of the good people at Pros for Africa at a cafe in town the day before and Sister Rosemary invited us to visit her. By the time we left the cafe, her invitation had become an agreement that we’d come. And when Sister Rosemary tells me to do something, I drop everything and do it. She’s the kind of woman who inspires equal parts fear and awe in me down in my trembly parts.

On the day we visited, my mom and I found her sitting on the step in front of her house picking out lace to cover the coffin of her cousin who had passed away the day before. Even in her grief, Sister was welcoming and warm and insisted on showing us the pop tab purses that had been made with a donation of soda pop tabs my mom had brought to Uganda to give to Sister Rosemary. 
 After showing us where and how the purses are made, Sister Rosemary gave each of us a purse, an unnecessary and lavish act of generosity considering how much each purse would sell for and how much revenue that would bring to the school. 
We only stayed a few minutes because funeral preparations are elaborate in Uganda, but before we left I told her how much I’d appreciated what she said in her interviews on the girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. She thanked me and said, “We must speak of doable things.” She went on to explain that so often we speak of large problems and large solutions, but really we should focus on small things each of us can do to care for each other, to extend kindness, to wash the muck off each other with a little grace.

Sister Rosemary runs a school for women, many of whom were forced to be child brides of LRA soldiers during the terrorizing insurgency led by the warlord Joseph Kony. On campus there’s a sewing school, a culinary school, a health clinic, a restaurant and a host of other opportunities for the women of Uganda to learn life skills. What Sister does is incredible, but she would be the first to tell you, she’s taking one small step at a time, just trying to follow the will of God. When she speaks of doable things, it’s because she’s living them day in and day out.

On the day of our visit, we hugged goodbye and I promised to visit Sister again when I return next year. While my mom and I waited for our boda driver to get us, I ran my hand over my beautiful pop tab purse, a purse sewn of small doable things.  


As I pray for direction for Vigilante Kindness, pray for direction for this upcoming school year, and frankly as I pray for direction for my life as a whole, I’m praying Sister Rosemary’s words and asking God to give me that same heart for doable things.

Maybe you’re overwhelmed by the problems of the world, frustrated in your job, exhausted with worry for your family, or just plain asking for direction. Sweet Vigilantes, let’s commit to speaking of small doable things and then doing them.

Are you with me?

Love and Struggle With Carrie Underwood and Mister Rogers

Leaving Uganda is always bittersweet. I know how fortunate I am to feel at home in two such distinctly different places in the world, I know what a rare gift that is. This trip has been unlike any other, all of our projects going smoothly or taking unexpected turns for the better. My husband likes to remind me that it’s ok, good even, that things went so smoothly.

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For me the biggest challenge has been balancing being a mother, being a daughter, and being true to the beliefs we hold dear within Vigilante Kindness. It was a tightrope walk for me. My prayers were often petitions for grace and wisdom and strength and understanding. My actual prayers were not that eloquent. They were more like, “I’m out of ideas here, God. Can you let me in on the plan?” Or “God, remind me to be kind. Help me understand.” I prayed that one a lot. But do you want to know the prayer I prayed the most? I hope you find this as funny as I do. I’m not even a country music fan, yet over and over again I prayed-and I wish I were making this up-I prayed, “Jesus, take the wheel.” I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s true.

There were times on this trip where I was bad at being a mom, bad at being a daughter, or bad at figuring out where to go next with VK. Sometimes I was bad at all three at once and I’d take a quiet moment, most times while I was washing my clothes in the shower, because there’s something about water that makes me think, and I’d say out loud, “Jesus, take the wheel.” Then I’d throw my soapy hands up in the air like I was releasing a steering wheel. No joke.

I’m new to this mothering thing and this year I got to know my boys better, got to see some of their less desirable qualities. They also got to know me better and I’m sure saw some of my less desirable qualities, too. Mix that in a bowl with my shortcomings as a daughter and two cultures that often operate in opposite directions than one another and you’ve got a big lump of mess.

A big beautiful mess.

But over and over again we chose to love each other, to navigate our differences, our disagreements, to build bridges across the chasms created by our cultures.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a quote from Mister Rogers about how the verb love is an active verb, like the verb struggle. Love is a choice we make over and over again. And to love someone as they are in this very moment, perhaps in an ugly mess of a moment, when love is the last thing you want to speak, and yet you dislodge loving words from your throat and speak them anyway, that is love.

I don’t know about you, but isn’t that great news, that in the throes of difficulty we can choose to love? Better yet, in tantrums of our own worst selves, we have people who choose the struggle, choose to love us. Best of all, God chooses every day to love our imperfect, praying in the shower selves.

Moms out there, I don’t know how you do it. I really don’t. This motherhood thing isn’t for sissies. Maybe you’re like me, and you and your kid are unveiling the vulnerable and sometimes messy sides of yourselves. Maybe you aren’t bridging the cultural gaps we’re traversing, but maybe your kid is residing in the very foreign land of Teenager and you aren’t finding common ground. You’re not alone.

In the moments when you’re on empty, borrow Mister Rogers’ words. Choose to struggle for love, choose to struggle in love, choose love. And in the moments when all you can do is throw up your soapy hands and give up the wheel, Carrie Underwood and I are here for you, too.

Dominoes and Tractors

At this very moment, I sit writing by the Nile, the Albert Nile stretching out mere steps away in front of me. The river is glass, hiding crocodiles and hippos, a whole underwater world of hungry life. The rain has gathered in the river, engorging her, bringing the banks higher than I’ve seen before. Tiny dragonflies flit all around me and I can’t help but think of dominoes when I think of the path that led me to this moment, sitting at the feet of the teeming river. 
I’m amazed at the way things play out, the way life unfolds like a curving line of dominoes, one domino tipping and then colliding into the next and the next and the next. I’ve never been any good at setting up domino mazes. I’m too impatient and I can’t ever seem to get the spacing or the angles right.

Yesterday I returned to Te Okot to check on the well, to deliver 46 more solar lights and to meet with the elders and community about next steps for building a school for the children of Te Okot. On the way to Te Okot I passed the village of Got Apwoyo. “Got” is the Lwo word for mountain and “apwoyo” means either “rabbit”, “hello”, or “thank you” depending on intonation and context. Got Apwoyo the village is named for Mount Rabbit, but each time I pass the Got Apwoyo sign, I’m can’t help but think of a mountain of thanks.

This year Got Apwoyo has taken on a truly special meaning.

When I returned to Te Okot, I was so eager to see all the people I’d come to love last year. I was excited to see the well still pumping out fresh, clean, healthy drinking water and I was glad to deliver a second round of solar lights.

But in the pit of my stomach I was nervous at telling the group I’d not yet found a suitable organization to build their children a school and that I’d not raised nearly enough money to even begin such a project. 

 In the same way I believe that all people should have access to healthy water, I believe all children should have access to education. There aren’t public schools in Uganda, even the schools built by the government charge school fees.

 Though I’m careful not to make promises I can’t keep and I hadn’t promised Te Okot a school, a large part of me felt like I’d failed them. As if any of this is about me or depends on anything I do. Really my feeling like a failure was quite arrogant.

While I was lost in doubt, God was smiling and setting up lines of dominoes. Isn’t that the best news? In times of failure, God is delighting in unfolding a plan we can’t even begin to see. 

After tramping through the bush to see the well, I returned to the community meeting, sat with my shoes off on a papyrus mat next to the Lapyem, the musee of Te Okot.
 After roll call, Lapyem began the meeting, greeting my mom, Denis, Bitek and I.  

 Then it was my turn to speak. I took out my small notebook and in a quivering voice, I read the speech Olive, the daughter of my language teacher, had helped me write.

Apwoyo ludiro magitikany, ki apwoyo Lubanga me ripowa. Bed ma cwing wu tek. Pyen Lubanga ti ked wu. An bene wiya pe wil i kum wu. Pol kare ka amaro pi, atamo pi wu. Cwinya yom pyen wu tiki pi maleng, maber pi yot kum. Anyeyo ni lyec dong pe ka yelowu pyen mac tye. Amarowu matek. Apwoyo.

Greetings to the elders. I thank God for bringing us together again. God is still with you and you are always in my heart. Whenever I drink water, I always remember you. I’m happy because you have clean water, which is good for your health. I hope the elephants aren’t disturbing you anymore because you have lights. I love you all very much. Thank you.

The people at the community meeting were very gracious and this time I didn’t even need someone else to translate my attempt at Lwo into real Lwo. Phew!
During the meeting, we revisited the three needs of Te Okot from last year: water, a school, and a medical facility. I braced myself to bring the news that we were far away from building a school.

That’s when Francis, a mechanic and the brother of Lapyem, stood and reported. He said that what they really need most is a tractor. A tractor would allow their children to go to school and also prevent many of the health issues they’re facing. 

 A tractor??? A tractor would do all of that?

I asked Francis to tell me more.

Over the last year, parts of Uganda have been divided into different subcounties. Got Apwoyo and Te Okot were rezoned into a subcounty called the Got Apwoyo Subcounty. Te Okot was included in this redivision because Te Okot now has a source of healthy drinking water. To think that the well was one of the influencing factors in allowing Te Okot to become part of the new subcounty blows my mind.

The important thing about becoming a part of a subcounty is that the government can’t have subcounties without schools or access to medical care. So now that the villages of Te Okot and Got Apwoyo have been designated together to form Got Apwoyo Subcounty, the government will have to build a school and a medical care facility.

I tried to remain calm on the mat, but I was flooded with excitement and relief. I know nothing about building a school. Less than nothing.

 Francis continued explaining that their land is too difficult to farm using hand tools. I nodded emphatically. I’ve walked to the well enough times to know that the hard ground, sloping terrain and lush bush are monumental obstacles. Plus there are those pesky elephants who eat whatever they please.

 I still wasn’t understanding how a tractor would help with the issues of education and health, so Francis continued. If they had a tractor, they could farm and grow enough food to not go hungry, eliminating many health problems related to starvation. Plus a tractor would allow them to grow food crops to feed their families and cash crops to sell at the market, so they could earn and save money to pay for their children’s school fees when the government school is built.

“So instead we want to the government take care of building a school and a hospital and we want you to partner with us in buying a tractor so that we can take care of our families.”

I nodded my head vehemently, in complete agreement, but still Francis continued.

“From the time we first know ourselves until we are old like that musee, we work the fields, from morning to night and morning to night again, but still we grow only enough to eat and not always enough. Our poverty is deep and if we had a tractor, we’d be free.”

If we had a tractor, we’d be free.

Even now I get a lump in my throat from those words.

I marveled at the simple, yet elegant solution.

A tractor.

I listened as Francis continued speaking, asking questions when needed, but mostly just listening. As I listened I realized that Francis thought he needed to convince me, that the reputation of mzungus is to come in with our own plans, to splash our names all over new school buildings and pat ourselves on the back. The ego of it all turns my stomach and makes my heart sick.

I listened until Francis was finished. Then I stood and told the group, “I’m so relieved not to have to build a school! I don’t know anything about building schools! You know my only talent is writing stories. I don’t know anything about tractors either, but I know that you do. I think a tractor is a wonderful solution. I’ll bring it to my board and to our donors, but I think buying Te Okot a tractor is very possible. I’m so glad you felt comfortable telling me your new plan. We want to be an organization that listens to what you need to help you solve real problems.”

Denis translated for me and the relief that washed over the faces of the people I love in Te Okot was remarkable. There was a little more discussion amongst members about various kinds of tractors and my mom even spoke to the community. 

 Then I passed out a suitcase full of solar lights and sat on the papyrus mat, cuddling babies, hugging and shaking hands with a throng of adults, and doing my best to gracefully accept all the thanks pouring from their mouths.

  As Bitek drove us away from Te Okot and toward the place we’d stay at the bank of the Albert Nile, I sat in shock. A tractor. I don’t know anything about buying tractors, but then again I didn’t know anything about digging wells either and we all know how that turned out.

Vigilantes, my arms are prickling with goosebumps, waiting to see exactly what God is going to do next, waiting to see a new line of dominoes fall perfectly into place. 

Lanyero & Sons Chicken Farm Project

I wish I could take you on the road to the chicken farm with me, the wind against our tanned faces on the backs of boda bodas cutting through the red dirt ribbons of roads. Ladies, I’d show you how to tuck your skirts in while you sit side saddle so your beautiful, billowing skirt doesn’t accidentally billow right into the back wheel and leave your backside wanting for modesty. Then we’d pass by the rock quarry, where women sledgehammer rocks into shards while carrying babies on their backs and not even breaking a sweat. Their strength would make you sit up a little taller, proud to be one of womankind with them. We’d ride past clusters of smiling children waving and calling out, “Munu, bye! Munu, bye! Munu, bye!” Maybe, just maybe as we ride, you, too, would fall in love with the village. 
Today I took that ride to visit Lamuno, screaming Baby Patience, and the chicks that have, at long last, arrived at the chicken farm. 

 Lamuno was gracious as usual and my oldest kid, William, met us there. The solar lights Vigilante Kindness had donated to light the chicken house were charging in the sun.


Almost immediately, William and I got to work taking photos of the chicken house and the chicks themselves, who were fuzzy, cheeping, little fluffs.  

 

 Another video did survive, it’s a video of William thanking you for supporting the Chicken Farm Project. I tear up each time I watch it and when I’m somewhere with bandwidth that supports uploading videos, I’ll share it with you, too. Some of you who have been around Vigilante Kindness since Day 1 know William’s story, have heard me speak of William, about his time as a child soldier and about his miraculous escape. To see the kid, who at a young age often had to choose between his life or the life of another, now stand before me as a young, entrepreneurial chicken farmer makes me burst with pride. William took the lead on the chicken farm project, pricing all of the materials, having them delivered, hiring the construction workers, and doing a host of other tasks. He took his position as the older brother very seriously and didn’t squander a minute or a shilling. He knows the power of a second chance and understands in ways I’ll never truly know that the chicken farm is a chance at a better life for him, for his brothers, and for the widows and orphans of the community. 

 When our work at the chicken farm was finished, Lamuno presented me with a water jug and a millet sifting basket. Lamuno lives in poverty, identifies herself with no agenda of gaining pity, as a poor widow. When she handed me these gifts, I knew they were a sacrifice, that many hard earned shillings had been spent on these precious items. I accepted them with tears in my eyes and told her that I love her very much. 

 I wish I could take you to the chicken farm with me, that we could cut through the red dirt roads to hold fluffy, yellow chicks in our hands. I wish you could breathe in the green that is Uganda and wave at the children who run to the roads, smiling and giggling at our passing. Most of all I wish you could shake hands with William and listen to gentle Lamuno speak. Maybe, just maybe, you’d fall in love with the village, but this I know for sure, you’d fall in love with the people. 

Back to Bungatira

I know the road to Bungatira like I know the road to my own house. I feel the bumps in the road in the pit of my stomach that flip flops with nerves.
This place has broken my heart and going back I feel that same heart thud in my chest. I rest a hand on my bag and feel the small spine of my notebook, which contains the short Acholi speech I’ll be giving if asked to speak. The words are still so foreign on my tongue and that, too, makes my nerves bounce inside my rib cage.

Denis catches my eye in his rearview mirror. “Itye maber, Lanyero?” Are you good, Lanyero?

“Atye maber,” I breathe in the air whipping around me and focus on the red road spread before me.

Our first stop is the Bungatira Boda Boda Association Office. Denis has been voted their chairperson and today some of the executive board have gathered to greet us.    

Their association has a membership of over 300 and has written a full constitution. Denis hands it to me and I read it, smiling at the fact that so many of the tenets are the same as the constitution we revised with the Bungatira community group two years ago. They even have a microloan program for their boda riders.


Walt Whitman rises from my heart. Indeed nothing is ever lost.

We board our bodas again and ride the ruddy singletrack roads to Mama and Musee’s home. The bush thwaps against my skirt and my nerves are jumping again. I look out over the valley and pray small prayers like. Yes. and Thanks. and Help. Sometimes that’s all I’ve got and thankfully prayer is less about the words I say and more about God who hears them.

We arrive at Mama and Musee’s house and Mama sings to me, a song about welcoming her daughter home. She dances and claps and is sunshine and love and warmth. I squeeze her tight and hug her at least six times. I hug the other members of the family, too. I’m relieved to see only the family is there, and only about thirty of them.

  

   
I sit on the papyrus mat with the mamas and the babies and the children who are growing up too fast and I’m home.


The mamas chatter and make paper bead jewelry while babies coo in their arms.


I play rounds of peek-a-boo with the kids who eventually take me to the garden to show me maize and tomatoes and malakwang.



Back in the compound Vickie and Mama have prepared lunch for all of us. They’ve slaughtered a chicken and cooked millet and posho and beans and bo’o and rice. It’s a true feast and I eat until I’m stuffed and still they want me to eat more.

The rest of the afternoon is full of mamas and babies and dads and kids. Mama asks if I’ll stay with them for a few weeks or even just a night. I feel loved, but decline knowing that my presence is one more mouth to feed.

As we prepare to leave Musee speaks and I blink back tears when he expressed appreciation for everything I’ve done for them, everything we’ve done for them. He humbly asks if I’ve brought more lights because his battery is low. I tell him I have both and will be back on Saturday to deliver them.

It’s my turn to speak and I read my speech in Luo haltingly like a first grader learning to read. I stumble over words and sounds and my son William still has to translate my speech. They applaud my effort and Michael, Denis’ older brother, says “I didn’t understand it all, but I understood the part where you said, ‘God loves you,’ and I say it back to you.”

On the ride home, my nerves are gone because that is more than enough.