Friday, October 5, 2007

the women of luchan rebe ~the poor unite

yesterday i finally got to meet the women from locan rebe. the translation is "the poor unite" which is exactly what these women have done. they are all mothers from northern uganda -lots of them from the region around pader, where we visited the resettlement sites. they've lost their husbands and kids to the war and like all the others were forced to relocate to the idp camps and live in the inhumane conditions there for years. somehow, this group of women found each other (networking would be next to impossible given that the were all spread out at different idp camps throughout the entire region of northern uganda so i have no idea how they found each other). they relocated themselves, and what was left of their families, to the urban city of kampala. they started their very own business making beads, baskets, clothing...etc... when diana met them they asked for one thing, a market to sell their products. this is almost unheard of (given the level of poverty) that they didn't ask for grants but instead an opportunity to create their own income.

there are 170 women altogether and they support a community of 500 orphaned children. for the concert series, we purchased 1000 beads. 500 necklaces and 500 bracelets. the women have never had a transaction this big and have had to learn a ton around accounting in the process.

our big hope is that everyone attending every concert will purchase these beads and we'll sell out by the last concert!! that way, we'll go back to them and order more to distribute throughout portland. these necklaces and bracelets are just beautiful and represent something so meaningful for these women. they're reclaiming their lives and their children's lives with every bead they make. (they're made from recycled calendar paper)

when we first arrived to their shop, we turned down this back alley that looked pretty trashed. giant potholes full of mud, lined with torn down shacks with dilapidated roofs. but these women created an amazing atmosphere of celebration in this alley. they're all from indigenous regions so although they are now living in the very urban city of kampala, their culture is very much a part of what they do and how they live. (which isn't as common in the more "modern" cities) when we arrived they were singing, dancing and playing drums to welcome us. a woman named betty (different than the betty we were traveling with) spent all day fixing an amazing meal of chicken, curried peas, sim sim (a delicious sesame seed dish), matooke and so much more. we weren't expecting to eat and we had just come from a huge lunch, so every was pretty difficult to put down. but it did taste awesome even thru the pain... (i strategized on spreading the food out just so, so it looked like i ate way more than i did, i felt like i was in 7th grade again)

the leaders each got up and introduced themselves and then they presented diana, betty, james and me with gifts. it was like we were royalty, it made me feel weird but i knew it was HUGE honor. they gave me such a gorgeous traditional dress (!!!). they had already given the others new names and told me my new name was "ayero" -the selected one. this was the leader, betty's mothers name so it meant so much to me. we all danced a ton together and then a few of us went in the back to finish the payment transaction for the 1000 beads. i can't imagine a bigger honor than working directly with these women. each of them has redefined their lives and community and to have the concert series be part of that is beyone significant. it was a pretty emotional event for all of us...

we had to leave for the airport and and said our goodbyes. these women were soulful in the truest sense. i LOVE that these concerts will feature their stories and their beautiful work.!!!!!

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