Back in Uganda


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Coming back to Uganda, was in fact an anti climax. I was really looking forward to it, and believe me, I am happy. I love Africa and everything that comes with it, the food, music, and general life – but sometimes I’m struggling with feelings of what the heck I’m doing here. What work are we doing, and how will it affect the people here? They are not helpless and could maybe handle the situation better themselves, with some simple tools and resources. Who is going to provide people with these “resources” then?

To understand the level of failure that charity & giving can accomplish one need only look at Africa. I agree when Moyo argues (in her book “Dead Aid”) that not only does aid actually destroy much of the potential economic development of African nations and enables corrupt leaders to maintain their power, but at the same time it encourages would-be dictators to attempt to overthrow existing regimes, which in turn creates more war and more poverty.

Food is in fact one of the most brutal forms of aid. Many countries receive aid in the form of agricultural products brought from abroad. The result of these gifts is that local farmers cannot compete with free food, and any chance of self sustainability vanishes. In Africa the world’s aid is destroying the capacity of the people to become self sustaining, resulting in a vicious circle of aid, corruption and more (not less) poverty. It’s my beliefe today, that a better way of working lies in the small scale, grass root level. If food is needed in an area, you should buy products from farmers around, but then – should you give it away to the people in need, or go into a kind of co-up and agreement with them? Or should you just stay away? Who will then provide for these people? In general, Africans that is better off doesn’t seem to bother – enough.

How can we affect and turn the circle of giftisism, dependency and exploition?

Today Africa is covered with corrupt leaders. Not a day goes without reading something in the newspapers about how corrupt the continent of Africa and its leaders are. Although corruption is a universal phenomenon and exists in all countries, not the least my own country Norway (as well as system dependency and greed) it seems a bit more serious matter in Africa as they are receiving billions of aid money. This is not only about political leaders though, you find it everywhere – from the little leader in the village to the big leader of a country. This is really depressing! The first that met me coming back as well, was people asking for money. I’m sorry to tell, I have learned from my mistakes, and will not give away a penny again. I will rather look for other ways of helping out, through co-operation. If my work here should make any sense, I have to start with the people themselves. Go into discussions on how to move forward, and how to eventually work together.

The line between need and greed is very thin and often difficult to distinguish.

So, my perspective – and this is also a growing view in general, giving money and volunteering in foreign countries doesn’t solve the world’s complex problems. In Africa, aid supports the structures that continue to entrench contries in a cycle of poverty. So what works?

Moyo argues that the answer to Aid in Africa, is to replace “free money” with capitalist money. I’m not sure about the level of that, but instead of giving, you should include, go into partnership, invest and create work opportunities. I will never, ever be the white colonialist though, introducing my business ideas, and hire Africans to work for me. I would rather start a business circle that has potential to grow from the resources already existing in Africa, help out, and then give the key back to the workers. This is the only way to help out, that I personally believe in.



For Jessie and her Mango tree School / Jessie bygger skole i Malindi

Sorry, this text is in Norwegian only! Will come with another one about Jessies school project in english soon!

Denne deler jeg for Jessie, som selv opprinnelig er fra Uganda. I dag bygger hun skole under et mangotre i den lille landsbyen Malindi. Skolen ligger i et utrolig vakkert landområde, helt nede ved Nilen. Til og begynne med bygges kun en enkel konstruksjon: et tak. Jeg liker dette prosjektet, da det er svært inkluderende. Landsbybeboerene er selv en del av prosessen, og er med på å forme utviklingen av den. Jessie begynte ikke med noe annet enn skyggen fra mangotreet, og nå tar sakte en konstruksjon form. Det er ca 60 barn i landsbyen som trenger skoleplass! Når ikke de kan reise til en skole, må skolen komme til dem!


Det er imidlertid ikke bare barn som trenger skoleplass, også kvinner i landsbyen har behov for læring, og det vil gis tilbud oggså for disse. Analfabetisme er fremdeles et problem blant landsbybeboere. Mange ønsker virkelig å lære, men har ingen muligheter for det. Samtidig er utdanning uten tvil ett av de mest effektive redskapene for å bidra til å utrydde fattigdom. Endring begynner med menneskene som er en del av det, og vi som kommer utenfra kan hjelpe der det er umiddelbare behov. Det ses som viktig å arbeide direkte med de det dreier seg om, og ikke tvinge inn egen ide-sfære og agenda.

Skolen vil utvikles trinnvis. Du kan støtte om du vil! Informasjon finner du på kortet i galleriet under (Klikk for større versjon). Betyr mye for mange lærelystne barn og kvinner i den landsbyen!

Jessie er powerkvinnen bak Mama wa Miti – “alle trærs mor”.

Galleri: første dag på skolen, 30 januar ’12. Siden den dagen er antallet elever mer enn doblet.

Knitted ties

The social entreprise project Soft Power progresses, and we’re into something new and fun. We’re going to produce:

Knitted ties

When published about SP’s mission driven venture on our Facebook page, a friend shared this cool image – of David Hockney and his knitted tie. That really inspired to get started with the brand! Ties are easy for the women to start with, simple and fast to produce – and we truly believe: have potentials for giving some income! Let’s hope a lot of young and old, flashy and smart, men and women out there – wants some very special knitted items from rural Uganda. As a good add you support local job creation!

We now have 5 machines for the women in Malindi, thanks to givers from Fredrikstad area, and Skiptvet in Norway! Follow for updates about the production in April ’12!

Women Empowerment – and knitting!

With March 8 in mind
by Amina

When I went to Uganda for the first time, I was full of predictable thoughts about poor developed rural African women, and on what level I as a western women could empower their lives. After short time I understood one thing:

It’s not correct that women in underdeveloped communities are not capable of taking care of themselves. They’re able to handle rough conditions and at the same time take care of both own and passed away family-members children. Most women are doing quite hard fieldwork to secure food supplies, and some also sell their produces and pay school fees through this. People in areas struggling with outside (environmental) issues like drought and hunger is of course a different discussion, but when it comes to handling a challenging situation, African women are in general stronger, more initiative rich, and has more revolutionary ideas than many western women I’ve met.

Travelling Africa you’ll of course find people in real hardship and need. Other takes advantage of this need and on the pitying image western people have built up. What I see in my own homeland though, is the same (self-) pitying and (Govern) dependency, than you’ll find among Africans – or any other people. We are not so very different as humans, but our opportunities indeed are!

Social empowerment Uganda

With the above in mind my aim with my work with the women groups in Uganda is to use art & design as a tool and resource to contribute to the change of social norms that prevent women from working in the formal labour market. In Uganda, women still needs husbands’ permission to participate in village savings and other economic questions, as one example. Other aims are to question our perspective on poverty, and play a role in exposing corruption. Corruption is major obstacle in anti-poverty fight.

Knittings with Heart and Caliber
Site inspired knitting business for rural women

Voices and stories from women in Uganda, was the driving force for developing Soft Power. The knitting business venture is on the go and all up to develop and prosper. The motivation was first to provide skills training in the use of old non-mechanical kitting machines, and then to create win-win small-scale business circles (of women – or any man interested). I have never been specifically interested in knitting, but my mum sure was. She could come up with the most original and unexpected design. When she died, my interest for all she once was increased, and now I even find knits quite fascinating! I’m not patience enough to knit myself, but with a machine I find designing quite fun!

The circles will be self-sustainable in this way:

  • Local “green” yarn production (based on plant fibers from already existing banana, corn and bamboo fields).
  • Local saving groups.
  • Chains of women that exchanges favours.
  • Both local and international trade.

My own contribution is first and foremost design, training of the first women groups, and to organize and provide the necessary tools. I’m in the process of developing the brand, which to start with will include baby sweaters “with a message”. The message is simple: power can change poverty into plenty. A (funny) quote says “I either want less corruption, or more chance to participate in it”.

After being trained, the first women will be able to train others, so that the chain will continue in this way without the need of external resources. The goal is a win-win sustainable livelihood, and a business that has possibilities to grow. A future goal is to put up a building for production in Malindi, Eastern Uganda.

Roll up your sleeves and jump in!

We are all living on the same little globe, under the same sun, on each our little (connected) “pon”. There are rich people in both Africa and in the West that are rich because others are poor. This fact will not create a sustainable world.

Soon back in Uganda!

ArtPon & partners will be back in Uganda medio March 2012, to stay and work for three months. Roll up your sleeves and jump in!

We will develop new saving circles in Malindi, start the first knitting circle, hold work shops on savings and small-scale businesses in Gulu, Nothern Uganda – together with the Small is Great / Mother Courage team, continuing with the mattress project & collective storytelling and develop Soft Power. Looking so forward meeting Sarah, Hajat and all partners again aswell!

If you can’t join, you can support our work through MyGoodAct or The Mirembe Fund as well. Would be great seeing you though!

Creating a fundraiser plan

First: the information booklet about Soft Power (the Norwegian version) is finished! Will use it as an extension of the fundraiser plan.

Still looking for a good encounter, so that info will be up on the Mirembe web site later. The idea is to put up a web based system that is transparent and simple for people to follow. Will keep you updated! Let’s make sure that Soft Power will be up and running soon, and that Sarah’s house will be able to grow, and take in more teens in need as well! Right now I will start raising money for a digital knitting machine to make the first draft of the design for the corn/banana/bamboo yarn baby sweaters. It’s quite expencive ($5-6000), but I’m positive!

Updates about Sarah

Sarah has started school, got a new, nice school uniform, and is having a good progress. Her illness (Elephantiasis) has also improved, and she can now do activities she hasn’t been able to do for years. She’s a kid again!

Hadjet has sent some pictures:

Organize or Starve

Found this image (to the left) by googling: In the 1930s demonstrators marched through the streets of London carrying a banner reading “Organize or Starve”. This message is as true today – change must come from within.
Uganda is one of the countries in the world that is characterized by rampart corruption, and at the same time: one of the biggest aid receivers. Despite this, there seems to exist a taboo in discussing corruption – especially in humanitarian assistance.
Personally I found it difficult to trust people in Uganda (also got the ‘pleasure’ of beeing robbed as well as having my bank account hacked & ripped off), but have learned that it is necessary to find a balance between trust & control, trust & my own anxiety. You’ll meet a lot of sad situations when moving around in Uganda, but I got a feeling that some of them was also created by my own prejudices and values as a visitor.
The most important thing I learned was the necessity of including the locals in projects. There’s a big need for a more effective communication, and to include locals in whatever supportive work you do. Fighting poverty starts at home and in the community.

Style Your Poverty

Art project in progress

The photographic series “Style Your Poverty” is a part of an exhibition project titled The Dependency Syndrome. The project questions the role of foreign aid as a development tool, and is a political and ironic comment on the culture of aid – “Poverty as a trap” vs. “poverty as fuel”. The dependence syndrome in Africa has come to mean the surrender of valuable national assets in return for cheap trinkets and poorly designed and manufactured transient goods and equipment. Not the least: aid is correlated with corruption, has fostered dependency and implanted bureaucracy.

I use an analogue Leica for this series, and will publish the work later, but sharing a couple of snapshots.

A mattress for Rashid

Rashid is home from hosptal until the 17th, when the next surgery will take place. I visited him with and brought a mattress, given by Tonje Dahle from Norway. Until now he has shared one with his brother. To prevent the risks of infections and other conditions, it will be good for him to be able to sleep alone. Thank you!

Leaving Uganda – for three months

I´m leaving Uganda today! Going to Kampala in minutes. I’m leaving with a double feeling of ‘wanting’ and ‘not wanting’. It will be good with distance for some months, but It’s a bunch of people I’ll really miss over here! Hope to come back with some renewed energy, and some good perspectives on further work. I’ll miss the site & people in Malindi. Doing barbeque by the river Nile – picking corn and sugar canes.

When returning to Uganda with my partner in March ’12, I hope we are ready to start building Soft Power – even short time to raise the money. I’m leaving Uganda, and beginning Norway. Beginning the work to ensure that Soft Power is raised. That will be an interesting challenge!

This has been two intesive months, but the next period here will perhaps be even more intensive – if the knitting business is in progress, and we can start training the women. Planning to stay at least three months upon arrival then. Will start preparing asap! I’m leaving Uganda, but Uganda is not leaving me.

‘House of Two Sarahs’ is getting ready…

The temporary House of Two Sarahs is getting ready! It’s very simple, and in the same standard as the rooms of the rest of the kids & youth at Hadjets’, but the girls loves it! Bought them new mattrasses, bed nets, some curtains, a mirror etc., and then also some new clothings and books. Sharing a few pics (my digital camera was lost in the robbery, so these ones is by Jessie).


It’s said that 60 % of street kids and youth in Jinja live of theft, as a means of survival. I just met a couple of them – on my last evening in Uganda, and my bag containing money, camera, some documents and my passport, is forever lost! Had to postpone my travel, as I needed time to arrange with a new passport. Anyway, I wanted to stay an extra week, and so I was given… New retour is December 8.

There has been some experiences during this trip, both positive and negative, and I would say 99% of the negative ones have had to do with money (in one way or another). Some people seems to think that europeans can use money like it’s falling from a tree. There is a lot of stories told, one more sad after the other – but truth and lies mesh and blend. People are desperat and lie very easily. The most tragic lie I’ve experienced was a story about the death of a son, to have money for the funeral. I have paid school fees for kids, to experience that the next moment the kid is beeing used to get more. I’ve been provided with the most interesting budgeting!

Said this, there is good people around! The situation here is just making some people frantic. Even indulging in self-pity now, I would recommend coming here! Just have to be a little bit careful!

The re-creation of Ntuyo Rashids hand

Rashids operation went well, but for medical reasons the doctor desided to do it in two steps, so have to wait a bit to see the result of it! Next operation will be in about three weeks. The extra time makes it a bit more complicated for the parents, but Rashid is in a brand new, private hospital in Jinja, and is taken very well care of. They all are actually.

Final budget ended on $739.80 (NOK 4341,-), so a little higher then predicted – but this includes physiotherapy in the aftermath as well. Rashid and his family wanted to thank all supporters from Norway! They could never done this alone, and is very, very grateful. The costs covered is years of income for this family.

I’ll leave Uganda in a couple of days, but my partner will be here – and follow the next step.. So will come back with updates!

Land for Soft Power

Today we had a walk around the ‘Mama Wa Miti‘-land in Malindi, and the location where Soft Power is intended raised! It has a view to the river Nile! The realization will happen as a co-up between Mama Wa Miti, and Norwegian Mirembefondet (The Mirembe Fund), wich is a new established project fund for developing women-own sustainable businesses in the area of Art & Crafts in Uganda. There is also plans for rooming and training of teens without network/family, through House of Two Sarahs. Mirembe was a name given by the womens network in Malindi. As a gesture of respect, as they are an important part of this, it was decided used for the fund. Mirembe means ‘peace’ in Luganda.

The project has already got it’s first funding: NOK 5000,- from a company in Norway, Nordic Shelter AS.

Soft Power can be built right on the top hereThe land is beautiful!