Kim’s blog: week 1 – new beginnings
Kim Bilmer (above) began working as a Program Assistant Intern with the Women of Kireka last week. Over the next few months, she will be writing about her experiences on the Project Diaspora blog.
When I finally touched down on African soil, the word “excitement” definitely understated how I was feeling. After years of waiting to come to Africa, and after weeks of anticipation, it was finally time for me to be a part of the continent I had been longing to be a part of for years. Uganda is a country that I have always been drawn to through listening to the experience of past visitors and through reading the stories of those native to the land. These personal accounts truly strengthened my desire to one day visit this captivating place, and realizing that this would be the country for my first experience in this field of work, only deepened my feelings of excitement. When I stepped off the plane and felt the blast of heat from the sun, I knew the next few months were going to be fulfilling. I knew this would be an experience I would never forget, and only the beginning of my lifetime journey through Africa.
My first impressions of Uganda were very encouraging. It is always a bit nerve racking to come to a new place that is completely different from what you are accustomed to, but I already seem to have taken to the lifestyle quite nicely here. Compared to other places I have traveled, for some reason I feel more comfortable here in Kampala. The people of Kampala have a very warm and welcoming nature about them. One that makes you feel as though you have been here forever (and could stay forever too)! Although I was initially very anxious to explore Kampala, I was even more anxious to meet my team members and the women at the quarry.
When I first arrived at the quarry it was much larger and even more intimidating than I was expecting. There were many people of all ages scattered throughout this dangerous setting. It was hardly a place for any child to be playing or anyone to have to work without proper safety equipment. Not only was I taken aback by the sight of the quarry itself, but from my first encounter with the women as well. After reading so much about the women and their devastating hardships prior to my arrival, I felt very nervous to meet them and I was unsure how my presence would be received. However, within seconds of my arrival at the top of the hill, they rushed to greet me with welcoming hugs and friendly smiles. The quarry may have appeared dark and dreary at first, but seeing the women instantly added many colours to the surrounding environment. From their vibrant clothing, to their elaborate beads and especially their spirited personalities, the quarry felt full of life and simply inspiring.
The first meeting with the women was designed purely as an introduction in order to explain exactly what I was doing there. Although my shyness was evident throughout my first address to them, I still had a feeling that we were all going to become at ease with each other very soon. All I wanted was for the women to know that I had come for the right reasons. I really wanted them to believe in me. After everything they have been through in their lives, I knew that trusting a stranger might not come easily for them and I hoped I would be able to cross this potential barrier. However, I think I was even more nervous after leaving the quarry the first night. Now that I had met the women, seen their faces and witnessed what they and their children undertake everyday in order to live, my desire for this project to succeed was now at its strongest and I hoped that my efforts here would be able to contribute to the success of this project.
After spending my first week searching for tools, marketing materials, and training options for the women, I knew the second meeting was going to be a busy one. I met a wonderfully resourceful and incredibly clever woman named Evelyn who works with similar women in the north. Although our conception of the jewelry was similar, the jewelry pieces she represented were much more refined and unique. Her business methods were also much more efficient and organized. My team and I knew immediately that our women could stand to learn a lot from her and that she would be an essential asset to our project. With Evelyn on our side, my teammates and I had a lot to discuss with the women concerning the improvement in the quality of their work and also we needed to introduce the possibility of beginning workshops with Evelyn that would teach new ways of styling and making their work even more creative and polished.
At this second meeting, the women reacted very enthusiastically to these ideas; they realized that with a little help they were very capable of making their beautiful jewelry even better. With this positive burst of energy in the group, we began a photo shoot of each individual woman with their beads for some new marketing ideas. The women took control of the shoot, choosing their own location and poses for each shot. They really made me laugh, displaying their beads humorously all over their bodies and ensuring their poses were action packed.
Unfortunately, at one point the mood fell from light hearted and fun to slightly frustrating as everyone unsuccessfully tried to put together a jewelry order that was to be picked up that day. There was a lot of confusion with the jewelry requests and each woman was very determined and adamant about having their work represented in the order. We originally planned to hold a training session to be included in this meeting, but unfortunately due to time we had to save it for another meeting. We ended by giving the women notebooks and homework. After this second encounter with the women, my teammates and I really started to brainstorm what would be necessary to make certain business practices more efficient.
Presently, the women are mobilized and excited for the next phases of the project, and therefore we definitely want to make things as easy as possible for them in order to keep the momentum up. I loved leaving that second meeting with abundant feelings of optimism at the incredible potential that is all around. I now look forward to my meetings with the women; it is definitely the highlight of my week. The women, along with my team have made me feel confident in this project. Hopefully as my time here continues, I will be able to see the growth and success of this mission, along with the personal victories of each of these women.