Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wheels Turning - Back to My Fair Trade Roots

Our first real blog is long overdue, and I am sorry for that! Things have been busy for Awava, getting everything set up, meeting with artisans, designing products and placing orders!

We have gotten some excellent feedback from our inaugural post. Thank you so much to everyone who has given all kinds of support, be it encouragement, money, volunteering your time and skills, etc. This is going to be a wild and exciting ride because of you all!

Last week I traveled to Soroti to visit my old housemate Daniel. Daniel has been working in Latome and Soroti for the past few months with DED and is preparing to return to Germany (but he will be back). Daniel knew that I had been interested in finding a group of Women who make various types of beaded jewelry, and he found one! Daniel had samples made and they were wonderful! These Women live in Latome—Karamoja, an area which continues to experience conflict which is underreported by both international and national media. Awava hopes to bring attention to this conflict while providing income generating activities (IGAs) for those caught in the middle.

Soroti is a beautiful little town set down in the middle of a flat landscape. Outside of town, there are periodic rock formations that are nothing like I’ve ever seen. It is said that these massive, rather out-of-place mountains of sorts were used in delineating between tribes. Their structure is as mysterious as Devils Tower and Stonehenge to me.

Soroti is about the same size as Gulu (where most of my time outside Kampala has been spent), but the architecture is completely different. There is a definite India feel within the town, which is home to beautiful Hindi and Sikh temples. The buildings are all low with ornate designs decorating the doors, windows and tops of the buildings. The roads were well maintained (although dusty, of course), there were few cars or motorcycle bodas (taxis) and people were friendly.

Soroti was a very nice break from Kampala, and it was hard to leave. I only had a day and a half to enjoy the place because I had to get to Mbale to help my Ugandan family with their coffee harvest!

My first trip to Uganda was with United Students for Fair Trade ( We traveled to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda studying fair trade coffee. JJ, my Ugandan dad, started the fair trade coffee coop in Uganda which we were studying (Mirembe Kawomera). He is absolutely one of the most amazing people I have EVER met. I met Lauren and Jon in Mbale, and we went and stayed with JJ and helped with the coffee harvest. On Friday we celebrated Shabbat with the slaughtering of a turkey (rest in peace Fred), and were forbidden to work on Saturday. We had made plans to go an meet with Kikyre, the current president of the coop, and his wife made us food (even though they were fasting for Ramadan)as we watched a pirated copy of the Black Entertainment Awards.

The day was winding down and we still needed to make it to the main market in Mbale town to purchase beads for the Women in Latome from Martin. This was all I knew. We found him with very little problem (the Mbale market is surprisingly orderly!) and bough A TON of beads!!

We headed back up into the village, back to JJ’s house, just before Shabbat came to an end. We pulled up on bodas and there was a new little boy added into the mix (there are children everywhere at JJ’s house). Lauren and I looked at each other and she said, “Is that Aron?!” Aron was the star of the fair trade trip. Then four, he was one of the cutest kids in the world and one of the biggest flirts. It had been two years since I had seen him, and I thought it would be even longer because he stays at boarding school much of the year. Now Aron is six and he’s still one of the cutest kids in the World! We sat in the living room, JJ playing guitar and singing while Aron fell asleep sitting up next to me. It was wonderful.
The next day was an early day! Lauren, Jon and I got up at 7am (that’s sleeping in to a coffee farmer) to help pick coffee before going into town to catch a bus back to Kampala. We picked for about an hour (a great task for someone quitting smoking, let me tell you) and then sat around and said our goodbyes to the family.

In August, there was an article about JJ and the coffee cooperative in Oprah magazine. JJ had two copies sent to him, so I was sure to get a photo of JJ and Aron reading the article in Oprah magazine. It is wonderful.

We headed back to Kampala with dirty fingernails and smiles on our faces.

This last week has been hectic but great. I was really, really sick for about 24 hours, and then had a ton of catching up to do on everything and there’s still so much to do!

A lot has been accomplished for Awava which is fantastic! Our first round of all products have been ordered (materials purchased and sent to Soroti, Gulu or kept right here in Kampala), we have a handful of US and Uganda sales scheduled for November and December (stay tuned!!), labels are being made, our staff of volunteers is growing quickly and enthusiastically and I have much to be thankful and excited for. And so do you!

To purchase Mirembe Kawomera coffee (there’s a chance Lauren, Jon or I picked or cleaned it ourselves) visit the Thanksgiving Coffee website (they buy 100% of the coops coffee because they’re awesome) at!!

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