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Presidential Slip

Wednesday, the President stood me up.  In fact, he stood up our entire town.

Hundreds of Ngara citizens had lined the soccer field across from the bank and were waiting patiently for the dust to clear after two helicopters had landed.  The President was scheduled to visit our remote and neglected region as part of his re-election campaign, and the whole town was excited.  Even the diligent WomenCraft crew had left the office an hour early to see him speak.  Read the rest of this page »

Artisan field visits and Burundi

This week, I’ve finally had a chance to get out of the office and into the villages where the women’s groups make our products.  It’s been wonderful, since it connects me directly to the whole reason I’m here.

The artisan groups are extremely diverse in terms of economic status, education level, leadership skills, and weaving expertise.  It has been great to get to know them each a little bit, and I look forward to knowing each of our 380 artisans on a personal level over the next 2 years.  Read the rest of this page »

dust in the face, branches in the wind

The past two weeks have been rather full of surprises. In addition to meetings on everything from production and procurement to marketing, there’s been lots of upheaval in the office team, which I’ll get to later. On a different note, though, today I realized that part of my brain is living in a Cameroon flashback after I greeted two different people on the street in French without thinking (um, Kiswahili is what they speak here, not French!).

As I told our grants intern, Ruth, yesterday, its a bit uncanny how similar the living situation here is to what I had in the peace corps in cameroon. I live in a pretty remote village that’s about an hour walk from a town. The town has a post office, a bank, a market, an internet cafe, and a few stores and pubs. It cost about $1 for a motorcycle ride from town to my village.  Read the rest of this page »

Mwivuza photos!


The entertainment at the opening ceremony was top-notch.  These men are doing a traditional dance from the area, originally used to celebrate a successful leopard hunt.


This dance and drum troupe came all the way from Burundi to share their talent with the crowd.

The Grants Administrator from the U.S. Embassy cuts the ribbon.


The Bishop of the Anglican Diocese blesses the building.

Umoja Group.  This is one of the three groups of artisans in the Mwivuza area who will benefit from the use of the new production facility.  Umoja (unity) hosted the ceremony, cooked the food, and showed their spirit through song and dance throughout the festivities.

Mwivuza Opening

On Thursday, the WC staff went to the village of Mwivuza for the opening of a new production building.  The building will be used by women artisans to weave during the monsoons and bad weather, and also will serve as a community center.  Since the village has very little in terms of common spaces to hold meeting, elections, community health clinics, etc – the new building will be very useful.  The ceremony was amazing, and was attended by about 500 people.

The most amazing part was the energy and passion displayed by the women artisan groups who were hosting the ceremony, cooking, dancing, singing, for hours on end.  Also the dancers and drummers from Burundi who came and performed were a joy to watch.  Speeches were made by the artisan leader, the founder of WC, the Grants Coordinator for the US Embassy – who had funded a large share of the new building, and the Bishop of the Anglican Church – our local development partner.  I even got to say a few words – litterally 🙂

I have great pictures and video, but today the internet is not agreeing to upload them (maybe because it’s Saturday and everyone in online today).

Stay tuned for pictures in the next week!

I’m continuing to meet people in the area who are also involved in development work and also learning about the production process at WC.

WomenCraft

In Tanzania, I’ll be working as the Director of WomenCraft, a fair trade enterprise that sells traditional baskets and other products to generate income and improve their community.

Situated in Ngara, Tanzania, on the border with Rwanda and Burundi, WomenCraft also partners with many repatriated refugee artisans who until recently lived in Tanzanian refugee camps and who have now returned to Burundi to rebuild their lives.

WomenCraft is committed to sustainable social and economic change while preserving the natural environment.  As part of the social sustainability component, WomenCraft aims to have Tanzanian operations 100% locally run as soon as this is feasible.  So, while I have committed to serving as the Director for 2 years, it is my hope that a local leader will be ready to step into the Director position by the end of this time.

During my time there I’ll be working closely with local counterparts to help them become proficient in budgeting, Excel, QuickBooks, inventory management, invoicing, pricing, distribution, operations management, human resources management, exporting, etc.  So in many ways, this assignment is similar to Peace Corps, where my goal was to work myself out of a job by transferring my knowledge and skills to local people.  Unlike Peace Corps, however, I’ll be jumping into an established development effort with a much higher level of organization, and with a strong and experienced team already in place

According to the current Deputy Director of WomenCraft (also a former Peace Corps volunteer), the job is “soooo different” from Peace Corps.. “in a really good way.”  Well, I’ll know soon enough!

Arrival!

So – I’m here!  Everything is amazing.  I have almost no time to blog right now, but I will say that the retreat house, where I’m staying for the next few weeks until I move into the Director house, is fabulous, and you should all come and visit, because that’s where you’ll be staying if you do.  The view of the Kagera River Valley from the back deck is amazing, the bedrooms and living room are super cute, and it’s in the same compound as the Director’s house and the office, so you’re right in the mix with WC staff.

Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to attending the opening ceremony for a new artisan production building in the nearby village of Mwivuza, which will be used by three different groups of WC artisans in the area.

More soon!

Back to Africa

In 5 days, I will be back in what I like to refer to as the Motherland – the continent where it all began for the human race.  Whereas my two stints in the Peace Corps were both in West Africa (Gambia and Cameroon), this time I’ll be in Tanzania, which is in East Africa. So even closer to the cradle of humanity.

Some cool things about the area in which I’ll be living include:

– It’s a stone’s throw away from Mt. Kilimanjaro – the 4th highest mountain in the world, Lake Victoria – the world’s 2nd largest freshwater lake,and Serengeti National Park – a World Heritage Site (and surely the somethingest something in the world as well).  I’m assuming here that you can throw a stone several hundred miles, which – I know I can.

– Swahili is the official language.  Because English is still used in government affairs and schools, English is a “de facto” official language, but Tanzania is actually one of the few African nations that does not list the language of its former colonizer as an “official language.”  Roughly 90% of Tanzania’s 40 million people speak Swahili.  Swahili is also the only language of African origin used as a working language in the African Union.

– The elevation is about 6,000 feet, making it cooler and less prone to mosquitoes and, by extension, malaria.  I seem to have a thing for living at high elevations lately, as Flagstaff AZ is around 7,000 feet and Foto, Cameroon – where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer – is somewhere around 6,000 feet as well.

– Last, but emphatically not least, I get to be the Director of a young but thriving fair trade enterprise comprised of nearly 300 women artisans.  More on this soon.

My address in Tanzania:

P.O. Box 124
Ngara, Kagera region
Tanzania
EAST AFRICA