Ruth E paid a flying visit to Kampala, Uganda during the February half-term. Ruth takes up the story…

Busy, sweaty (37 degrees! And hot swollen feet and ankles – not my most attractive look to date…) flying visit to my home-away-from-home – Uganda School for the Deaf – and now can’t believe I’m already back in the UK (nearer 3 degrees!). Won’t be too long before I return though, with a team of volunteers in tow to share some of their own expertise, experience and training and no doubt learn a few humbling things along the way, as I do with each visit.

This trip was slightly different as it was funded by the British Council, so there are connections with my day job but it was also an opportunity to start putting things into place ready for our Summer conference. The conference itself will be aimed at mainstream as well as deaf specialist schools, but we’ll be hosting it at the school here in Ntinda.

Aunty Flo’s Rag Time band was finally in action this week – straight from VE Day celebrations with our Y6 class at school, I had “make do and mend” at the heart of my preparations. As I anticipated, when I arrived and started talking to the vocational teacher, her response was, “We wanted to make sanitary towels, but there was no money to buy the fabric”. Another organisation had visited the school distributing hand-made washable towels complete with instructions on how to use and wash, an encouraging, hand-written letter about embracing womanhood, and a calendar page to log their menstruation cycle. I panicked slightly – are we too late to be bringing this to them in the summer?

However, I had come armed with cast-offs, off-cuts, an old umbrella covering and even a flight blanket that may or may not have accidentally fallen into my bag on the plane – they do say to make sure you take everything with you, and the fabric was a really decent quality that looked quite absorbent…

Nakiho Prossy was a student at the School for the Deaf some years ago. She communicates through Ugandan Sign Language (which I do not…) and lots of patience – thankfully she is at least familiar with the two handed finger-spelling alphabet! She trained as a tailor in Kenya and later returned to Uganda and the School – as a number of students do. She now teaches the pupils needlework and other crafts, although there has been very little activity recently, as there has been very little budget and therefore very little in the way of materials.

Prossy and I spent a day in the vocational room, playing with some of the different patterns I’d found on Pinterest and printed out. Using the only functioning pedal sewing machine, we followed patterns, looked at pictures and created things of beauty – if a little crudely done… I re-read patterns, worked out where we’d gone wrong when they came out too bulky or with the poppers on the wrong side and we continued to work.

Thanks to a small amount of project funding from the British Council, we were able to shop for fabrics, and sewing and craft materials. I don’t anticipate these being used for sanitary towels directly, but I’m encouraging the “waste-nothing” mentality when it comes to off cuts. Hopefully, with the pupils able to develop their skills they can also generate a small income through sales to visitors to the school and thus buy more fabric.

But here’s the rub… as I mentioned, of the seven sewing machines the school own, only one is functioning…
Inspired and emboldened by a conversation earlier in the week – “…the small organisations in the UK are so good at tapping into funding, raising cash, running marathons…” – I asked what it would cost to fix them. Nulu, one of the deputy head teachers at the school, arranged for someone to come and look. He carefully listed the costings and requirements and included his fee: 515,000 Uganda shillings – on the current exchange rate, approximately £110. Within 5 minutes, I had set up a virgin moneygiving page through our charity’s usual channels, sent the link to Facebook and LinkedIn and within the hour the money had been gifted. Amazing! Thank you to all who contributed!

But it didn’t stop there. With project funding we had also purchased timber for the school carpentry workshop, but again, Julius (school carpenter, also a previous pupil) looked sorrowful as he signed that the tools were damaged or old and unusable. The giving continued and by the time I flew out of Entebbe less than twenty four hours later, we had reached around £400 including giftaid. By Sunday, we’d smashed the target – truly humbling. And enough to buy a small range of necessary tools for teaching vital skills.

Part of the project was to challenge gender roles and explore gender equality – we’ll be linking a similar project here in our school in the UK. I’m hoping to see photos of the girls in the workshop and maybe a few boys at the sewing machines, making aprons for woodwork, once we’ve transferred funds to make the purchases.

Today I received photos from Nulu – the machines are fixed; immediate impact!

By the end of the trip, I had discussed ways forward with Prossy. She selected a combination of two of the patterns we had tried, thus taking ownership of the plan, and agreed to continue making towels and teaching the girls how to make their own. As they perfect their skills and design they might also start to generate income. By the time we reach July’s conference, rather than the Mzungu turning up telling the Ugandan people what we think they should be doing, staff from the School for the Deaf will be able to share their journey and experiences with their fellow people and encourage them to take up the challenge.

You can still be involved – get stitching and creating – we’d love to be able to take out packs of samples to distribute to the schools who attend our conferences. Comment below and I can send out contact details for posting.

If you’re not a stitcher, spread the word with those who are.

Maybe you can even take up the challenge yourself to reduce the waste we create through our disposable materials day in, day out, by making the switch and using washable, reusable items yourself?

Happy stitching, my lovelies!
Ruth x

Share →