Friday, July 30, 2010

Our Uganda Friday: 30 July 2010

by Kate von Achen

The Awava Team has decided that every Friday we will bring a little bit of Uganda to our amazing customers (that's you!) outside of this lovely country.

The decision to do this was based on two things: 1) it is important to us that you not only know about the products and the wonderful women who make them, but we also want you to know about the place they come from; and 2) out of our frustration with Western media and how they depict places like Uganda. Uganda and all other developing nations are more than poverty. They are more than corruption. They are more than human rights violations and war. But unfortunately, the positives coming out of these countries don't sell like the negatives. Uganda is a beautiful place with so many amazing people, just like anywhere else in the world. I fell in love with this country the first time I visited in 2006 and have now lived here for three years!

Every week we will bring you something positive from Awava's home! Music, art, photos of animals. Who knows?! It will just depend on what we're feeling!

This week, we bring you a music video by Maurice Kirya. Kirya has made quite a name for himself internationally as a musician (he even played South by Southwest this year) and has hosted a monthly variety show in Kampala for the past few years in an effort to boost the local music and arts scenes.

Please enjoy his song and video, "Boda Boda" (my primary mode of transportation for my first two years here) below!

*note: "Our Uganda Friday" was inspired by Cary Grant's "His Girl Friday". Why? Why not?!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Get Free Awava Products with our Renegade Marketing Strategy!

Do you love Awava as much as we love bringing Awava to you? We sure hope so!
The Awava Team has decided to launch a contest for Awava lovers across the United States to help make our wonderful products even more accessible to you and those who are missing out!

In January 2010 we kicked off our wholesale program and it has been going so well that we're ready for more!

Where do you come in? Is there a store in your area which you think should be carrying Awava products? A store that you think would be the perfect new home for our baskets, wax print bags and/or our awesome paper bead necklaces? Of course you do!

What we would love for you to do is mention Awava to that business and get the contact information for their buying department and send it to us! What we would love to have is:

1) The name of the store;
2) The name of the person in charge of buying;
3) The store's snail mail address;
4) The email address for the buyer or the general email address.

What's in it for you, you ask? FREE PRODUCT! IF the store you send us picks up a wholesale account, we will alert you that your proposal was a success and you will get to pick any Awava product of your choice from our website FREE OF CHARGE! It's our little way of thanking you for helping Awava grow!

Convinced? Motivated? email the information above to no later than November 1st!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Awesome New Products Available @ The Community Mercantile in Lawrence, Kansas!

These bags are fantastic because not only do they help empower the women and families Awava works with in northern Uganda, but they also empower US families to help the Earth and help themselves by carrying nutritious, home-prepared meals to school and to work!

*Product expected to be available at in September 2010!

A fabulous day with the Uganda Craft artisans!

photos by Autumn Magiera and Kate von Achen

Yudaya tells us a bit about her life.

Kate discussing the interest free credit structure after discovering the various immediate needs of the artisans.

Lunch with the Uganda Craft artisans at an amazing new local food joint just behind the store!

Ssanyu Rose makes products for Awava and works as a shop attendant at Uganda Craft. Her smile always brightens our day!

Uganda Craft has hands down the best basket collection in Uganda.

Uganda Craft!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Photos from our Last Trip to Gulu!

photos by Autumn Magiera, Ryan Gibb and Kate von Achen

Crossing the Nile River at Karuma Falls on the way to Gulu!

Baboons! The highlight of the drive between Kampala and Gulu.

Popo (papaya) trees at Florence's home.

Andrew trying his luck at rolling paper beads!

Lanyero Florence's new home outside of Pece IDP Camp! Florence tells us that the money from Awava orders made this new home possible.

Inside one of the ladies' huts, buying lots and lots of paper bead jewelry!

Konye Keni, the paper bead ladies, outside of one of the women's huts.

Pece Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp~where the paper bead ladies (Konye Keni) live.

Mama Lucy enjoying her favorite, the "Awava burrito" (chapati, nutella and banana happiness!)

Mama Lucy trying to get some work done amidst many distractions.

Lakot Rosemary and Andrew! He was quite popular with the ladies....

Ocen Esther and Andrew!

Auma Lucy ("Mama Lucy") in a fabulous padlock print dress!

Gulu Town~where the Awava magic happens

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Two More Awava Artisans Receive Interest Free Loans!

by Kate von Achen

On Friday July 16th 2 more Awava artisans received interest free loans!

Each time I walk in to Uganda Craft, the first thing I see is Rose Ssanyu’s big smile welcoming me in as she sits on her stool working on her latest masterpiece. I walk to her, squat down and shake her hand for a while as we ask each other how we are, how our families are doing, etc. before turning around to greet all of the other employees. Roses’ greeting always ensures that my Uganda Craft experience that day is sure to be amazing.

Rose is a widowed mother of three who suffers from disabilities brought on by polio, and cares for her elderly parents. She has worked as a shop attendant at Uganda Craft since November of 1984. Rose cares for her parents and children on income earned through her job with Uganda Craft as well as making small banana fiber baskets, woven key chains, and beautiful banana fiber angel ornaments (Awava has sold tons of these around the holiday’s!). Rose was in need of money to finish paying school fees for the term, and to pay for medicine for her parents and she received that money, along with an expanded Awava order (new products by Rose coming in September) on Friday! Her children will now finish out the school term uninterrupted and her parents will be receiving some much needed medical attention!

Yudaya Nakibuka was our featured Artisan this month! A wonderfully charismatic woman with 3 children and 3 grandchildren who has been suffering continual headaches due to poor eyesight. Yudaya needed money to pay for an eye exam and glasses and asked for a bit more so she could buy basket materials in bulk to get a better price as well as make her dying process more efficient by dying larger batches of raffia and banana fiber.

When Hanna and I reached Uganda Craft, I saw Yudaya sitting outside waiting for us. I was expecting to be greeted by her big mischievous smile which is ever present on her face, but I could tell something was wrong. Something beyond her frequent headaches. Yudaya informed me that she had lost her 28-year-old nephew in the Rugby Club bombing on July 11th. My heart sank. I could feel her sadness and it consumed me. I had sent a message to check on all of the artisans and Uganda Craft staff first thing Monday morning and was told everyone was alright. Yudaya’s nephew died Wednesday morning at Mulago hospital from injuries sustained in the blast. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Yudaya’s family in this difficult time.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bombings in Kampala, Uganda

by Kate von Achen

Hello everyone. By now you have all heard of the heinous terrorist attacks carried out by al-Shabab, a Somali terrorist organization, on Sunday, 11 July 2010 here in Kampala during the World Cup final at two popular viewing spots. We are beyond thankful to report that ALL of the Awava team is safe and unharmed, and all of Awava's friends are also alright. We consider ourselves very lucky and we are deeply mourning the lives lost that day.

Security is quite tight around the city and caution is high. Another bomb was found in another area of town yesterday and thankfully was defused by police. Rumors of additional explosions have been circulating which is incredibly frustrating because all of us are already quite paranoid but there's little to be done to stop that.

It is a sad, sad time for a country that I have been in love with since 2006 and this feeling of insecurity is an experience I have never felt here. This place has been my home for three years and held my heart for four and seeing such hatred turned on a place that I love so much has totally discombobulated me. I am confident that this too shall pass and I and the Awava team deeply appreciate all of the love and support we have been receiving from the US.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Awava Partners with the Keep It! Campaign to Raise Funds for Ivory Park Project

The "Keep It!" Campaign mobilizes young people to make a sustained, focused commitment to developing their capacity as social entrepreneurs. The idea is to provide organizations that have well-established track records of success with a steady stream of youth volunteers who are willing to make a more substantial commitment to helping those organizations achieve their goals.

The mission is to help build a community of hope in Ivory Park, South Africa by connecting individuals throughout the United States with opportunities to support the following initiatives by members of the Ivory Park Community: 1) the building of a comprehensive Community Center in the heart of the township; 2) the building and support of a library; 3)income generating projects; 4) youth programs and 5) intergenerational programs.

Awava has partnered with The "Keep It!" Campaign giving our beautiful products the opportunity to not only empower the women making our products, but products purchased through "Keep It!" also benefit the amazing community of Ivory Park.

To support this amazing joint effort so that your purchase has a double impact you can periodically purchase Awava products through The Keep It! Campaign's Ebay Giving Works store.

To learn more about The Keep It! Campaign, check out their website and join them on Facebook!

Meet the Artisan: Yudaya Nakibuka

Yudaya Nakibuka was born in Luwero and moved to Mpigi when her husband died. She completed primary school but stopped school in 1973 when her parents could no longer afford her school fees. Yudaya tends to someone else's garden and weaves baskets to provide for her family. She lives with two of her grandchildren and supports another granddaughter who is in boarding school and has three children of her own.

Yudaya is full of spirit, in Uganda people say she is “stubborn”, meaning she likes to joke around. She has a sparkle in her eyes that make you wonder what mischievous thing she is plotting next.

Yudaya makes the Ekibbo Baskets for Awava and is working on a new product coming to you in August 2010!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Amazing New Product Coming Soon!!!

Kibegabega Bag

Our new Kibegabega shoulder bag is our newest addition to the Awava family! The main compartment zips tight to keep your goodies safe, and two outer front pockets are perfect for quickly throwing your smaller items when in a hurry. The single strap length is perfect for wearing over the shoulder.

12.5”L x 7”W (top) x 3”D (bottom) with 10” strap.
Wash in cold water with like colors, air dry, warm iron.

New Prints for Products You Love!

These new prints and many, many more are now available at!

Musoke Basket $26.00

Amata Apron $15.00

Buziba Sling Bag $28.00

Eddembe Laptop Sleeve (for macbook and macbook air) $37.00

Ejjiba Sling $23.25

Ssebo Necktie $15.00

Monday, July 5, 2010

Field Notes—Interest-free Credit for Artisans Pilot Program Kicks Off with a Bang!

by Kate von Achen

Wednesday, June 30th, we woke up early, Andrew and Autumn, Awava’s US visitors in tow, and headed for the EMS shipping office on Kampala Road to ship a very important special order to The Community Mercantile before heading to Bat Valley to meet the Uganda Craft artisans making items for Awava.

Uganda Craft is the only Fair Trade Certified craft store in Uganda, and our partnership with them is quite different than that of our other groups. With this partnership, we go through Uganda Craft for products instead of going directly through the artisans meaning that Uganda Craft also receives a small percentage of the cost for coordinating orders and handling quality control. The artisans with Uganda Craft set the price they want to receive and then Uganda Craft adds their fee into the equation meaning Awava is not simply supporting these artisans but also supporting the single craft store in the country devoted to promoting fair and alternative trade. They are a great organization and Awava is proud to pay a little bit more than they have to in order to play a part in helping Uganda Craft thrive.

Typically we are able to see the artisans making goodies for Awava on Friday mornings when they come to sell their products to the store, but we were hoping for an extra bit of quality time with the artisans and decided to schedule a meeting for Wednesday.

Autumn, Andrew and I pulled up to the store and the ladies were all sitting outside eagerly awaiting our arrival. We were greeted with smiles, hugs and handshakes and an eagerness to sit and talk. We formed a circle with some stools and mats outside as I greeted the women and suggested we all go in a circle and tell each other a bit about ourselves. Two of the women do not speak English (and my Luganda is severely limited) so Rose, one of the artisans who is also a shop attendant for Uganda Craft, was kind enough to translate.

As we were all chatting, it became apparent to me that most of the five wonderful women were needing various things which they rarely had enough money at one time to cater for. One woman desperately needs and eye exam and glasses, a few others need to finish paying their balances on their children’s school fees, one even needs corrective surgery for what appears to be a very bad cataract in her left eye. Awava has been planning to provide interest-free credit loans to artisans, and piloting the program with Uganda Craft artisans since the store would be able to provide some very necessary logistical support, and to me this seemed to be a great opportunity for kick off.

We finished our introductions (now, I know this sounds stuffy but I assure you it was not) and I asked that the artisans go into the store and pick each of the products that they make, not simply the one’s for Awava.

Yudaya Nakibuka, the artisan who makes Awava's Ekibbo Baskets.

While Autumn and Andrew helped pick and carry items and arrange them on mats, I spoke with Nina, the manager of the store, to see if she thought it was a good idea to announce this program and if she could come help to translate. Nina’s eyes lit up and she said “absolutely”!

With the ladies’ beautiful products displayed on mats on the ground, we regrouped and each woman showed us and told us about the process of making their products. We took lots of photos, ooed and awed over their creations and then returned them to their proper places within the shop. And then met once more, with Nina, do announce the roll out of our credit scheme! The women were ecstatic as we explained the program and how they would pay their loans back. We made sure to reiterate that loans would be available only when Awava had the extra money to give. Their excitement and my excitement were almost too much!

After explaining how the loans would work and answering lots of questions, we decided that it was time for lunch and that when we returned to the store Nina and I would sit down individually with the artisans and see how much they were needing, what it was for and how they would pay back the loan.

The 9 of us got up and moved about 300 meters to a new restaurant near Uganda Craft for lunch (compliments of Awava of course). This place had some of the best local food I have ever had, buffet style, and the ladies made fun of how little us bazungu (white people) eat aside from Andrew who managed to go back to the buffet for a second heaping plate of deliciousness, taking a break from his extensive conversation about World Cut football with Rose.

I took lots of notes and committed to returning Friday afternoon (after the ladies were done selling their things to the store) with money and contracts in hand.

Nabalema Edith, creator of Awava's Musoke Basket and loan recipient.

Thursday ended up being a day filled with down time due to multiple defiant colons. We had big plans of going to Kiembe and Owino to pick up loads and loads of tailoring materials to send to Gulu (Awava has a seriously massive bag order coming from a very exciting partnership…..details on this later) but alas, this was not going to happen. Andrew and Autumn needed to get well before heading for Tanzania to visit another project early Friday morning. So Thursday I spent getting things ready for our exciting kick off to the Awava credit program!

At midday on Friday I arrived at Uganda Craft and was greeted again by two of the artisans seeking assistance. Nina and I met with each separately and went through the contract, signing and handing over loans.

Nabalema Edith who makes Awava’s Kasayi baskets needed money to top up her children’s school fees for the term, and Nayiga Bena, the woman making the Musoke baskets, needed the same. Awava needed to order many more of these baskets so we placed an order of 30 of each, and upon delivery, Nayiga Bena will have paid 60% of her loan off and Nabalema Edith, 50%. What we’ve done is let the artisan set the amount of money that is withheld from each piece in order to pay back their loans. This way they are still receiving some money, but some is withheld by Awava for loan payback. The most exciting part of these two meetings to me was that both women asked if they could also bring cash to put toward the loan when they had extra. They want to pay the loans off quickly but keeping their children in school, uninterrupted is the most important thing to them. This program allows for this. The majority of the population here in Uganda lives “paycheck to paycheck”. Saving money is very difficult, not because people are spending frivolously, but because they make very little yet have so many expenses. Awava’s new interest-free credit is an easy way for the artisans to keep up with the more expensive things, like school fees or medical treatments, and even investing in growing their businesses.

Nayiga Bena is the creator of Awava's Musoke Basket and loan recipient.

Later this week Awava will be meeting with a couple of other artisans to sign contracts, deliver on their loans and come up with re-payment plans.

The fact that Awava is finally at a point where we can offer these services is astonishing to me. It makes me feel like we’re doing an awful lot right even if we often feel lost from time to time. The differences we see made in the lives of the artisans makes such a huge difference in our lives, and hopefully the lives of the consumers.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Field Notes: The Awava Burrito and other Ramblings

by Kate von Achen

On Saturday, June 27th Awava welcomed two visitors, Andrew and Autumn, to Uganda to take a firsthand look at Awava has been working towards on the ground and to spend some quality time with Awava’s phenomenal artisans. We only had six days to make the rounds and chose to head to Gulu to meet with the tailors and Konye Keni, the women’s group making our paper bead products first.

We left Kampala in “Ravi” the Rav 4, Gulu bound around 9am, tying luggage to Ravi’s rack, topping up our fuel, samosas and apples from the Shell Bugolobi petrol station. Worried that our musical selection would be severely hampered by the seemingly useless stock stereo, Ryan’s magical powers finally got the tape adaptor to work and the Ipod was blaring greatness (with a splash of Air Supply…..Ryan….) in no time. We finally pushed through the traffic in Bwaise and Kawempe (which was nicer than usual seeing as this was the first day I had driven a manual transmission in Kampala traffic and it is not fun) and were off to my favorite little town in Uganda!

The road between Kampala and Gulu used to be the most atrocious and frightening road ever. My first visit to Gulu in January 2007 felt like I had ridden to Gulu in a blender. Each of my subsequent bus rides for the next 2 years felt eerily similar. Now the road is (mostly) great! Smooth sailing (aside from the irritating police checkpoints) and we reached in about 4.5 hours. The passengers slept a lot of the way only to be periodically awakened by me either screaming because a big bus was coming and they freak me out or because I saw monkeys or baboons. Or once when I’m pretty sure one of the baboons tried to jump in the passenger side window.

We reached Gulu Town and headed straight for Hotel Kakanyero. This is the “nice” place I stay when I have visitors and each time I feel like I’m cheating on my people at Bora Bora Pop In. We checked in, hauled all of the fabrics I had brought with me from Kampala up to our rooms on “Rainbow” and “Universe” floors, got cleaned up a bit, I threw Autumn and Andrew on boda bodas for the first time in their lives and we headed to Kope CafĂ© for some mediocre “Western” food.

After getting some sustenance we headed on foot to Gulu’s Owino market to greet the tailors! And what a greeting it was! I hadn’t seen them since March and it appeared that they missed me just as much as I had been missing them. I introduced Autumn and Andrew and Ryan to the tailors and within a minute it was like they had all known each other for years. We sat on various stools and benches inside the stall and watched as Lucy’s market stall was flooded by bazungu (white people) in Gulu volunteering for the summer months. Within the first year of me working with Lucy she quickly became the “mzungu tailor” due to the different, “Western style” product designs she has displayed around her shop. I cannot express how amazing it is to see how the various designs that I have been working on with her for the past three years for export to the US market have created a thriving local business for her as well. I remember her asking me long ago if it was OK to use our designs for customers locally and I said absolutely! Gulu is her town, her market. My market is in the US. The fact that she can sell designs that we have made together in the local market, Lucy’s market, is an added bonus that I am ecstatic to see thrive.

We sat with Lucy, Rosemary and Esther for a few hours, me regularly getting in the way checking out all of the beautiful Awava products they had finished and grabbing fabrics off of the shelves to buy from Lucy and incorporate into the new order I would be placing with them the next day. The sun was setting and it was time for the ladies to go home for the night so they gave us a push to the hotel, hugged us goodbye, and wanted to make sure we would meet them in the market early the next morning.

The four of us decided to have 45 minutes of down time to get cleaned up and relax before heading back out for dinner. That 45 minutes flew by and we got Ravi and headed out to Bomah for another meal of mediocre “Western” food. We talked about the ladies and how absolutely fantastic they are, ordered an amazing amount of food and got extra due to some miscommunications and Andrew’s niceness, and ate and watched the Argentina v. Mexico World Cup match. Andrew laughed and me and Autumn’s “amateur” reactions to the match while I kept repeating “if all football matches were like this I would really like this sport!”. We headed back to the hotel and collapsed in our beds to prepare for an early morning with the tailors.

After breakfast on Monday, Andrew and Autumn headed toward the market with several bolts of liner fabric in tow. Ryan and I headed to the room to give me time to spread all of the wonderful new waxprint fabrics all over the room and develop and assign a new Awava order. This process begins with photographing all of the new fabrics, counting the yards of each print, assigning a liner color to each print and then deciding what products and how many of those products to make out of each print, which also means calculating the number of each product which you can get out of each yard of fabric. It can be a dizzying process. About 2 hours later I was done and the fabrics were all packed and Ryan and I headed to the market looking like a couple of human pack mules.

We arrived to the tailor’s stall to music, laughter and the comforting clack, clack, clack of the foot treadle sewing machines and three beautiful tailors with massive smiles on their faces. Icho ma ber! (good morning!) they greeted. And we flung our bags and backpacks filled with fabrics down for a rest. We chatted for a while and then it was time for me to start counting finished products and figuring out how much money I owed the tailors for their hard work over the last few months. I am telling you, spending large sums of money has never felt so good.

At two we headed back to the hotel to meet Florence, the leader of Konye Keni, to have some lunch, check out some of the group’s newest creations and to head out to visit the ladies’ homes. We piled into Ravi and headed out toward Gulu University where Florence now lives. Florence has been one of our greatest, or at least starkest success stories. When I first started working with the women of Konye Keni, they had all been living in Pece Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp on the edge of Gulu Town. In this last year, Florence has managed to move out of the camp, buy a plot of land, build a 4 bedroom home where her brother, mother and children live and plant several crops and keep chickens. Her home is so beautiful and truly impressive. Lots of room for the children to play, a nice toilet and detached kitchen and space. I am still in awe of how far she has been able to come. THIS is what it’s all about.

Florence and her family showed Andrew, Autumn and Ryan how to roll paper beads while I worked on improving my own rolling skills (I have seriously come a long way), being outshined by one of the children who made about 5 beads to every one of ours.

Knowing the other women of the group were waiting for us, we piled back in to Ravi and headed back to and then across Gulu Town to Pece IDP camp where the other women are still living. We met the group and went through greetings and introductions and then walked through the camp to visit each of the women’s homes individually.

When we were done we all gathered in one home and paid for the beautiful beads (and they were many) that each of us bought and I placed yet another order for Awava. The sun was starting to set and we still had to return to the market before the tailors left so we headed back into town, dropped Ravi at the hotel and walked back to the market, along with Florence, to introduce her to the tailors. Florence sat with us for a while and then headed to a nearby clinic to visit her nephew who was receiving malaria treatments.

The sun was almost gone and we were unwilling to say goodbye just yet (the plan was to head back to Kampala early the next morning) so we decided to come back the next morning to finish counting products and say our proper goodbyes.

Tuesday morning after breakfast and checking out of the hotel we headed eagerly for the market. Again, we were greeted by smiles ear to ear and mouths shouting “Icho!” I told Lucy we would need some chapatti and some bananas and asked if Rosemary or Esther could take our visitors into the market to find those things. Lucy smiled big, knowing exactly why we required such items, and Ryan, Autumn, Rosemary and Esther were off in search of my request. I sat down and finished counting and packing products while Lucy put Andrew to work snipping off corners of the fabrics for the new Awava order, taping them in her Awava order book and writing the products and quantities to make out of each.

The troops returned armed with chapatti and bananas and I busted out the jar of Nutella. I introduced this treat to Lucy a couple of years ago and now the site of Nutella makes Lucy happier than anything else in the world it seems. I sat down on a stool and spread Nutella on each piece of chapatti, Andrew pealed the bananas and placed them in the chapatti and rolled them up and passed them out and we gave this treat a name that day, the “Awava burrito”.

Our treats were finished (clearly I left the jar of Nutella with Lucy….I don’t think she would have it any other way) and items packed and it was coming to 10am so it was time for the much dreaded goodbyes. Not a single one of us wanted to go, but it was time. We gave multiple hugs goodbye, picked up all of the Awava goodies and headed out of the market, back to the hotel to pack up Ravi and were soon out on the open road. Tape adaptor for the Ipod still complying, we were moved to Kampala by Lady Gaga, Snoop Dog (old and new), Young Money and a little Peter Bjorn and Jon to get us through the Kampala traffic.

Tired and hungry, we stopped and had a delicious Italian feast in Bugolobi before heading back to my flat for showers and downtime to digest the amazing two days we had with the artisans in Gulu, and me to prepare and pack up the order for The Community Mercantile to be shipped off to the US the following morning.