Travel, Transformation, and The Girl Effect
As I sit in the Endiro Café in the middle of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, hearing the boda-bodas, motorbikes, speed by and the echoes of Lugandan’s oli otya, “how are you,” spoken in the distance, I reflect on what it means to transform.
Two weeks ago I was a different person. Sure, we all go through a natural, minuscule evolution moment-to-moment, day-to-day. This transformation that I speak of was more than a evolution: it was a revolution of purpose. I’ll start at the beginning…
About six months ago, my team and I launched a crowdfunding campaign for a concept called The Glow Exchange. We thought that we would partner with already formed non-profits and create a transformative trip for Westerners to raise money and participate in a leadership training. That vision was vague, leaving many questions unanswered.
Our high hopes for this crowdfunding were crushed when we raised only $1,200. Looking back, with such a spotty vision, that was an amazing start.
Nevertheless, I was bummed. I saw myself as a failure, an unrealistic dreamer. I turned paranoid in trying to figure out a solution. I was convinced I couldn’t manage or start a business. I was certain that anyone who worked with me didn’t want to and that my clients knew I was a fraud. I thought everyone I met was smarter than me. I thought everyone I met was better than me. Any energy I had left to build The Glow Exchange now went into propping myself up and pretending that The Glow Exchange was doing well.
Then I took a step back and saw that we had raised money. Quite a significant amount in many circles and it was enough to get me to Africa. While I was planning this trip, the president of Uganda’s The Association of Rural Women Professionals, Jackline Nanyunja, contacted me. (In true glow-effect style Jackline found me over Facebook at the absolute perfect time!)
Pictured: Jackline in white, Beninya of The Association in blue, Christine “Mum” of The Association in tie-dye and a Kasaali family (left to right): Nabakenyga – 45, Nasembe Mile – 25, Namlinda Amathulate – 18, Nampinga Josephine – 16, and Namsaka Aidah – 17.
Jackline and I decided that we would organize an empowHERment workshop and I would speak with her community about the development of The Glow Exchange. Yet, I couldn’t have imagined what these activities had in store.
Over the past week, I stayed with Jackline and her family in the village of Kaasali in Masaka, Uganda. You won’t find Kaasali on a map. In fact, you won’t find running water or electricity in Kaasali. Any power comes from faulty generators. Even Masaka town, home of giant, expensive hotels, often loses power.
What you will find from the community, however, is the utmost generosity and kindness.
Kaasali and the surrounding villages in Masaka are comprised of mostly women. Women buy, grow, and cook food for the family, conduct the housework, and take care of the children (including paying their public school fees).
Where are the men? you ask.
The majority of men (perhaps 20-30 total among hundreds of women) tend to be drunk. Of course there are exceptions, but the bottom line is that while in theory the men are in charge, in practice, women run the village.
This was the impetus for Jackline and other school teachers to launch The Association for Rural Women Professionals: to support, educate, and empower the women of rural communities.
Jackline reached out to me to assist in these efforts. We decided we will build The Glow Effect Center for Women and Girls, a sustainable facility that would provide training, community events, and an organic garden for Kaasali and the surrounding villages.
Now instead of me and my team, muzungus, “white people,” and The Association deciding what the women of the community want in a women’s center, we asked them. The first three days I was in Kaasali, Jackline, other women of The Association, our expert translator, John, and I interviewed 48 women about their wants and needs in a women’s center. (All interviews were recorded. Stay tuned for the upcoming video compilation!)
The crew and I discovered that these women need to earn money for their families. They want training in farming, craft-making, tailoring, hairdressing, computers, business skills, and self-expression. They communicated that their joy comes from seeing their families’ supported.
The way I write that makes it sound simple and obvious, but what I hope to convey is that these women are lacking basic support and empowerment. Since they have no idea how to change that, they tend to have given up hope.
It’s well known that when women and girls have the power to learn, earn, and save, families become stronger both economically and socially, student numbers increase, agricultural productivity goes up, while rates of child marriage, teen pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS go down. Women and girls have a unique ability to transform lives and end the cycle of intergenerational poverty. This is what the development program, Spring Accelerator, terms “The Girl Effect”.
The culmination of my trip was Saturday’s workshop. Over 225 women and girls from the rural areas of Masaka gathered under tents to hear about The Glow Effect: what it means, how they can create it as individuals, and how we can create a ripple of power through The Glow Effect Center for Women and Girls. The workshop created a glimpse of hope, a light of possibility beyond their current struggles.
Leading a workshop for the rural women of Masaka. Dressed in Gomesi, the traditional Ugandan dress.
Beautifully, at the end of the workshop, these women gave me a show of gratitude for the record books: effusive thank yous, cheers for the Apple computer given by mom, and hugs of familial strength.
The funny thing is that what these women gave me was way beyond any financial, technical, or structural support that I have or will share with them. They gave me hope for authentic connection between human beings, for a loving world community. They gave me hope for the tremendous power of women.
We experienced the definition of a glow exchange.
Before I left for Uganda, I was scared and overwhelmed. After living with these women, feeling the need first-hand, and experiencing the hope created by The Glow Effect, I know that we have nothing to fear. With the help of dedicated women from the Western world, we have the tremendous privilege of causing and experiencing empowHERment with the women of Masaka.
Soon, we will be launching an application process for the new vision of The Glow Exchange, a fundraising, leadership and travel opportunity to create The Girl Effect through the world’s first Glow Effect Center for Women and Girls.
Don’t leave without becoming part of our community. You’ll get weekly motivation and first dibs on scholarships seats, giveaways and other subscriber-only resources you can’t get anywhere else.