I have arrived in Uganda and am getting settled in Kasaali, a small village 10 miles outside of Masaka. Straddling the equator, I am surrounded by small plantations of banana trees, coffee plants, cassava and coco yams. The sun shines directly overhead, drying the dirt roads until they crack. We are in the middle of the dry season and water is scarce. I am lucky that the house I am in has a water cistern that makes many daily tasks easier than if, like many others in the village, we had to travel to the far away stream to collect water by hand. Familiar sounds are grunting pigs, cackling roosters, crickets, children playing and fires burning, and women walking to and from their gardens with inefficent tools and heavy loads.
Gardens are central to life here, and women wake and sleep thinking of their gardens, as it is often their sole source of livelihood and feeding their family. When not laboring over their land, they are cooking, a process that takes several hours for each meal. She has many children to help her but it is rare to see her husband contributing. During this first week here I have mostly been an observer and participant in these daily activities of cleaning and preparation as they will allow me to do. Each day I am granted more chores as they recognize that I am not as weak and useless as they expected me to be as a white person.
The part of the day I look forward to is 3pm, when something magical happens. This is when women from the village meet at the house to practice skills that they have recently learned to produce marketable items that they will be able to sell for added income. The women are of all ages. There are some as young as 14, who were forced to drop out of school because their parents could not afford their school fees. There are others that are in their 30s which have few small children. There are also elderly women, who have borne children, labored over gardens for many years, and never until recently thought of the chance to learn something new.
Sometimes there are as many as 15 women, producing crafts such as woven hats and baskets, beaded handbags and jewelry, sewing clothes for children, practicing new organic gardening techniques, and teaching each other new hair styles and learning how to run a successful hair salon. They are productive, and eager to perfect their skills and to learn more, but they are chatty too, and laughing often. They speak to each other in the local Ugandan language so I can not understand what they are saying, but their camaraderie is apparent as well as how far they have come since August when our first set of Glow Exchangers arrived to co create life changing curriculums to help these women recognize their potential and succeed.
It is hard to imagine that this type of a meeting- women getting together, sharing valuable information, creating something new and doing an activity they enjoy- had never been in existence let alone fathomed of in Kasaali until recently. Having confidence in an ability to do something is a trait us Westerners take for granted. Since childhood we are cheered on, told “you can do it!”, “follow your dreams!”, “anything is possible if you put your mind to it!”.
Women in Kasaali are not cheered on. They do not get to choose their path in life. It is chosen for them. They will marry without choice, often very young so the parents can earn money, they will bear children, without say in how many or knowledge of family planning, and they will struggle to feed these children and send them to school without the opportunity to participate in the formal economy or be assisted by their husbands. That is why these meetings are so miraculous. The Glow Exchange has been a chance for them to break the mold. It is a chance to end the cycle of poverty, mistreatment of women and lack of education and opportunity, and it is working.
Women participating in The Glow Exchange have a new sense of confidence that allows them to open themselves to learn new skills and accomplish more. They are learning values of leadership that are helping them to better resolve conflicts at home and set a better example for their children. Lessons in self expressions have given them a voice to speak for themselfes and to share important information with their family and their community. And now the sense of community has taken on a new meaning. Now it means coming together to create a better future for their children- not as one but as many. It means integrity, it means support, encouragement, and opportunity. This is the Glow Effect, and it is so inspirational to see!
I can’t wait to share deails of the results of our pioneer program and how that translates into direct impact. I want to share the stories of these women whose lives are being transformed and who are excited to share their new knowledge as a part of the ripple effect to transform the lives of others. As I share these stories with you I want to hear from you. What inspires you? How would you like to see your community transformed? What does the Glow Effect Center mean to you and how would you like to be an agent of change?
Stay tuned as we hear from each program by spotlighting participants, sharing results, photos and videos, and about life in Uganda. To learn more about The Glow Exchange and if you would like to donate, please click here: Glow Exchange.