Skills for Life

Parental Problems

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Harriet came to live with us last year when she was 16 years old, with a one week old baby. Her mother was sick, the family had no food, and things were desperate.

Having never been to school, Harriet joined Literacy, then went on to Tailoring. She graduated from Basic Tailoring when we were there in April and is now in Advanced Tailoring – here she’s learning to use an interlocking machine. She’s quiet but smart and focused and happy, and doing really well.

But now her mother is making her leave.

Her mother has decided to return to her village with Harriet and her siblings, so that Harriet can support the family with tailoring. (Reminder, Harriet is now just 17 years old and not finished with her training…)

These are the situations that are so discouraging for me and for the team. As a mom in the West, I can’t imagine making my child leave an opportunity to take care of me. For the team, who sees what happens to these girls in villages, they worry for Harriet’s future health and safety.

And you know what? There’s nothing we can do about it. That sucks.

Damalie and Sarah spent a long time yesterday talking to Harriet, and she said she has no choice but to do what her mother is asking of her. Legally, it’s a little grey, but in their culture, it’s unambiguous. Harriet will, at 17, become responsible for feeding, housing, and clothing five other people.

So what do we do now?

We are putting together a video for DonorSee to get Harriet a non-electric sewing machine and basic supplies. She will also take her mattress with her, and the clothing and other items she’s been given in the year since she arrived. We normally do a “exit package” that include food and household goods, but we feel the machine is the most important thing.

Please check our Instagram and DonorSee pages tomorrow for this project. We’d appreciate your help and, if possible, your sharing it so we can send Harriet off with hope for her future.

Mwebele nnyo,

Jennings

When the Ladder Has No Rungs

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14-year-old Rachelle, on the left, lives with her aunt and five other children in a bad part of the Namuwongo slum. (Yes, even in the slum there are bad parts!)

Earlier this month, Rachelle started in our Literacy program, the first time she has ever attended any kind of school. As you can see, she is now beginning to read simple books out loud! Hesitantly, with a little embarrassment, but still — she’s READING.OUT.LOUD. in less than a month!

When we were planning our Literacy program, we knew that most of the girls who came through would have never attended school before, and even those that had would have had only a few terms under their belts. Teen girls are not known for their ability (or desire!) to sit still and be serious — as my mom, Susan, said on our trip a few months ago, “They are JUST like giggling teenage girls everywhere!”

But they are consumed with a desire to learn, to speak English, to read and write and know how to use money (and not be cheated). To be MORE.

Without Touch the Slum, the girls in our program will always only be less-than. They are less than the boys in their family, who get to go to school if there’s the money for it. They are less than the younger children, who get food first because the teens should be able to “go out and get money” (meaning from sex work) if they need incidentals like food and sanitary pads.

They know they are at the bottom of the social ladder — and that, without basic literacy and a skill, that ladder has no rungs.

But YOU believe in them, and so they believe in themselves!

And that’s enough.

Mwebele nnyo!

Jennings

PS Our monthly sanitary pad project for June is 87% funded – we just need $44 to get sanitary pads to 250 girls. If you want to help, click the button!

JUNE SANITARY PADS

PSS The well contractors have still not shown up. (Don’t worry, we haven’t paid them anything except for the surveyor who came twice.) Apparently, they’ve been trying to line up multiple jobs in the region to do back-to-back, but didn’t tell Gideon that until Friday. Our Touch the Slum team took the overnight bus back to Kampala Sunday night, and will return once the trucks are ON SITE! This is Africa…

New Term, New Skills

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Do you remember your first day of a new school year? Even if you knew most of your classmates from the year before, it was nerve-wracking! New teachers, new expectations, a different schedule and flow, the feeling of starting from scratch…

Term 2 started on Monday with 75 students — up 10 from last term — and a lot of nervous excitement. Half the girls from Literacy moved up to a vocational skill, which involves a lot fewer games and a whole lot more equipment!

We also expanded our literacy class so that we have 30 girls, divided into two sessions of morning and afternoon. (No more showing up for both – we don’t have the space!) More than half of these girls have never been to any kind of school in their lives.

THEIR LIVES WILL NEVER BE THE SAME!

In other news –

In case you missed it, we have now funded over 250 projects on DonorSee since we began on the platform in September 2021. We are so grateful for those of you who have given there (and through DonorBox!). If you’ve never checked out our page on DonorSee, click here to see what it’s all about.

Unfortunately, as I’m writing this on Tuesday afternoon, Ronald has emailed me to tell me that a would-be thief knocked him off a boda and tried to rob him on his way home today. His phone screen is broken and his laptop won’t start. Other than a bruised knee, he seems to be okay — I’ll know more tomorrow. We may need to do a project to replace or repair his vital equipment. (He’s using the media team’s basic phone at the moment.)

And also on Tuesday, I got confirmation from Gideon that they have found a location for our well in Rwakobo with an 80% chance of water. (They won’t mobilize until they have a 75% chance, so 80% is great!) The surveyor stayed several extra days and scoured the area all around the school, going above and beyond, and we are SO thankful. They are negotiating with the landowner for the right to use his land, and we should be ready to drill very soon!

We can’t thank you enough for your support and encouragement. You really have no idea how many lives you are changing every single day!

Tweyanzizza nnyo, tweyanzeege — we are so grateful, thank you very much!

Blessings,

Jennings

PS Resident teen mom Leticia has just started in Hairdressing and we have project up for her supplies. You can see it by clicking the button!

Leticia’s Project

Oh, Hey! (Yes, I Forgot!)

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Let me apologize for forgetting to write this blog yesterday… When you work both from home and 7 days a week, sometimes keeping track of the days is a problem!

But lots is going on as we get ready to start up Term 2 next week. Here’s a recap:

  • The Literacy girls did not have a break, and they’ve been working and playing hard with fun activities, games, and puzzles that Teachers Fortunate and Moreen have given them. Some of the girls are moving on to Skills for Life next term, but over half are staying in Literacy.
  • Literacy will expand from 20 to 30 girls next term, thanks to our friends in the Expat Money community.
  • We’ve expanded and updated the clinic during this time between terms, and we’re ready for the new term. We do have a project up to help with this expense, so just click here if you’d like to help!
  • We’ve had a TIA experience on the clinic re-registration. (“This Is Africa” – said when people who work for the government get… creative with their job roles.) First we had 36 hours to find an autoclave, which we will NEVER need since we use pre-sterilized and packaged supplies and instruments and send difficult cases to the hospital. Second, he now wants to hold up the registration over not having a poster outside the door, which he never mentioned before. Ronald reports that he is (so far) remaining calm!
  • Sylvia is mostly back to her normal self after the loss of baby Alpha 6 weeks ago. Obviously, grief is like a wave, and nights are hardest, but she’s fully back to activities and I get video of her laughing and joining in, which is good to see. Thank you for helping us give them a proper ceremony and burial.
  • The crops at the farm are growing like gangbusters – check out the reel I posted on Instagram last week to see the beans and maize in particular. We are so thankful for our little farm!

The new girls will come next week for orientation in Skills for Life – we’ll have an update on the new “class” next Wednesday! (And yes, I’ll remember! haha!)

Thank you for all your support and encouragement!

Webele nyo!

Jennings

PS Bridget is joining the Literacy class next week. Her project for supplies is over 60% funded and we just need $50 to close it out. Can you help? See her story and donate by clicking the button!

Help Bridget with suppli

Rescued Puppies, Rescued People

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The Friday we were in the west, we were supposed to go to Rwakobo Village and do a walking tour of the several surrounding miles. This village is the poorest I’ve ever seen in Uganda, and is where Wells of Hope Primary School is located.

The best laid plans do go awry, and it POURED down rain that morning. The unanimous decision was to cancel the time at the village and go on to the lodge to start our “safari weekend” early. Cold rain, terrible roads, and herds of cattle trying to keep their feet out of the mud by standing on any hills in the roads made the drive take twice as long.

Then we came to a herd that just would not move. They stared at us, those huge Ankole horns pointed our way, and then William saw why: there was a small puppy in the middle of the road!

The puppy was huddled up and crying and very young, its eyes barely open, and there was no way I was leaving it. I hopped out of the car in the rain and the cows let me pass. I picked up the puppy but heard more crying – and there were two more in the ditch, completely soaked and shivering. Soon all three were in the car and they quickly found the warmest spot! And the cows parted for us to pass.

Even in a culture where dogs aren’t “man’s best friend,” the staff at the lodge jumped into action, started making phone calls, and found the owner of the puppies. Everyone thanked us for rescuing them. And of course we did — no one could have left them there to die of exposure.

Every day at Touch the Slum we rescue girls who are dying of exposure – exposure to exploitation, to malnutrition, to neglect.

Thanks to you, we can offer them a warm place, safety, food, reconnection with lost family, training and education, and — most importantly — HOPE.

We can’t thank you enough! Mwebele nnyo!

Jennings

PS Our clinic restock project on DonorSee is 78% funded and we just need $85 to complete it! We’d love your help to make sure we have the medication and supplies Nurse Sherry needs to keep our population healthy. Click below!

Clinic Restock

Our Time Is Coming to an End

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I can’t believe we leave in just a few days! The time has flown by, but we’ve gotten so much done while we were here.

Last time I wrote about Susan’s art classes, which continue through today. She taught a group of boys (and Fauza) yesterday, and they painted funky chickens. Today I’ll assist on a class for the staff, who were feeling left out!

Our trip west was great. We had LOTS of dancing and singing presentations by the students at both Hopeland and Wells of Hope Schools. We filmed video for some upcoming projects – one of which is introducing “Sister Schools” to US elementary schools to try to connect and reinforce ties with kids the same age.

We didn’t get to walk Rwakobo Village with Gideon as it POURED down rain all morning that Friday, but we did get to do the boat and driving safaris… And saw a leopard! (Rare!) We were 10′ from giraffes as we walked along a trail, and saw everything from a huge croc to young zebra to an eland at the top of a hill.

Now all the focus is on graduation!

This is our biggest one yet, with 33 girls graduating Skills for Life on Saturday. (See the PS for more!) The ceremony starts at 9am and celebrations will go (literally!) until dark… My mom and I will bow out after lunch and let the girls dance and celebrate to their hearts’ content!

We’re so proud of the work they’ve done, the skills they’ve learned, and the effort they’ve exhibited. We are equally proud of the creativity, compassion, and playfulness they’ve shown –– these aren’t found in great abundance in the slum, but will lead to a gradual change in the culture.

Thank you so much for your encouragement here and on social media during our trip and for everyone at Touch the Slum. We’re very grateful!

Mwebele nnyo!

Jennings & Susan

PS The biggest graduation means the most costly one. We had to make more gowns, and while we’ve limited each girl to one guest only, we also have speakers and staff to feed as well as a very big tent to protect us since it’s rainy season. If you can help with our graduation celebration, click below – 100% goes to the project!

GRADUATION ROCKS!

Art in the Slum

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One of the two main reasons my mom, Susan, came with me to Uganda was to teach art classes to our Literacy class girls. (And the staff is begging for their turn, so they’ll get a class on Thursday!)

Susan has been an artist pretty much all of her life, and currently paints in both oils and watercolors. (Find her on Instagram at @susanfloridaartist) She teaches classes in our hometown in Florida, and loves to share her love of art.

When kids are in school here, there are occupations that are acceptable — the ones the parents want their kids to choose — and then there are those that are actively discourages. If you want to be (or say you want to be) a doctor, teacher, or lawyer, that’s great. An artist or musician? Absolutely not.

Since our girls haven’t been to school, they were thrilled to get art lessons. We’ve done one class for each Literacy class, and today they’ll do a combined class (all 20 girls!). As with anything, some girls took to it faster than others, but they all loved it and can’t wait to do more. We’ll be leaving all our supplies here, and Ronald has already started looking for more paint sets, paper, and brushes, for when these wear out.

It’s very important to us that we bring creativity, art, books, music, and fun to our programs. These are things that are rarely seen in the slum, and that are vital to critical and creative thinking.

And the girls love it!

This is our last week in Uganda, and will culminate with graduation on Saturday and Easter dinner with the residential girls on Sunday before we head to the airport.

On Thursday, I’ll update you on our trip west to Hopeland and Wells of Hope Primary Schools! It was long (3 car breakdowns!) but good (except the car breakdowns…!).

Thanks for all your well wishes and comments on Instagram! If you haven’t checked out our videos there, click the icon below.

Blessings!

Jennings (and Susan)

PS We could really use your help for our graduation. It’s the biggest (and therefore most costly) one yet, with 33 girls graduating! Click below to help – 100% goes to the project!

GRADUATION SUPPORT!

Ready, Set, Run!

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If you’re from the US, you almost certainly played the kids’ game Red Light Green Light when you were a child. (For those of you who didn’t, kids line up and the caller yells out “green light” for them to start running, and “red light” to immediately stop. If you keep going, you’re out. The first to the finish line wins!)

As one of our staff retreat team building exercises, we played the game with a twist – you had to link arms with your randomly chosen team mate.

The staff had, of course never heard of this game – not the least reason being that stop lights here get very loosely interpreted at the best of times! – so the first round meant 12 teams charging at me at full speed and totally ignoring (like most drivers here!) my high-volume “RED LIGHT!!!!”

Once round one was out of their systems, rounds two and three proved a lot more successful and hilarious. Accompanied by millions of tiny lake flies, the runners skidded, flailed, screeched to a halt, and ran each other over. Teachers Beatrice and Gloria sensibly just ambled behind, avoiding the chaos.

In short, it was a huge success!

The 6-hour retreat was a great chance to play games, learn skills – my mom taught on PTSS and how to help our girls’ mental health, and focus on our annual theme of Vision Passion Sacrifice.

What these great people do every day is hard. Rewarding, yes, but hard. Giving them tools to help, opening communication, and celebrating them is vital. As were the chicken and chips!

Today (Sunday as I write this) my mom and I are taking the day off. My mom is painting and I’m reading up on regenerative agriculture (and reading my latest No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel). We’ve had a full and fun week, and it’s nice to relax before diving back in tomorrow.

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for all the latest — we’ve been busy busy, and that’s the best way to keep up! (Click the icon below!)

Blessings,

Jennings

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PS Our graduation is coming up on the 8th, and the girls got to do their photo shoots last week. Most of these girls have had minimal to no prior education which disqualified them from “traditional” vocational programs, but they got to get dressed up, wear makeup, and celebrate themselves. We’re so excited to be here on the big day! We have a project up to help with our biggest graduation to date – just click the box!

GRADUATION ROCKS!

Graduation Is Coming Up

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Yesterday was our first full day of work, and it included my mom modeling the cap and gown that the tailoring class makes for graduation. Since this is our biggest ever graduating class (33 girls!), they’ve been busy making more, along with doing their exam work.

We also walked several miles in the slum to visit the families of many of our Literacy class girls. Through very narrow alleys, across (disgusting) trenches, over broken bridges, and along the polluted canal we walked and slid. Trust me when I tell you that the slum in rainy season is even worse than normal!

A group from a new small community organization came to chat with the staff as they solidify their mission to work with girls and women.

My mom met with the social workers for a couple of hours, chatting about how they do what they do, what resources they feel like they need, and getting to know the challenges they face.

I met with staff about our media needs on this trip, budgets (always budgets!), and the upcoming staff retreat on Saturday.

In short, we had a long day!

Today, my mom will be teaching art classes to the Literacy girls while the rest of the girls continue with their exam projects. We’ll have another meeting on the retreat, eat Mama Santa’s delicious food, and maybe shop with her at the local produce market.

And tomorrow the farm!

Many of you have emailed and messaged me your well wishes, and we so appreciate it. It’s so great to be back at work here!

Mwebele nnyo!

Jennings

PS We saw Jenifer yesterday, who has started her own small business but is still struggling. I’ll be bringing back 6 bags to sell in the States, and will send her the proceeds. A lot of you have fallen in love with Jenifer and ask after her often, so stay tuned for photos of the bags to claim yours!

Clothes Everywhere!

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Packing for this trip is a little more complicated than usual, since we’re going in rainy season. Looking at the forecast, we’re doing to have nights as low as 59, with highs in the low 80s. And rain. And more rain.

As I was looking at my clothes and deciding what combination of spring and summer I was going to make, I got a file of photos of Sarah and Santa shopping for clothes with two girls in Literacy Class. Shopping takes place on the street, with clothes piled up on tarps and blankets in no particular order. There’s no trying on, no finding a different size. What you see is what you get.

We just had a project fund on DonorSee to provide clothes for 13-year-old Irene, whose mother makes less than $1 a day. She had one outfit, one pair of underwear, and her one pair of shoes were worn out. She’d only worn clothes given to her and never got a choice.

Now, thanks to you all, she’s gone shopping! She got to look through clothes and pick what she liked. She has undergarments so she’s not washing them every night and hoping they dry by morning. She has two pairs of shoes.

A lot of what we do every day is the small stuff. But all those small steps add up to confidence, to letting go of shame, to the beginning of dreams. All of those small steps change a life, like Irene’s.

Mwebele nnyo!

Jennings

PS We leave on Sunday afternoon! We’re flying from different airports on different airlines, but *hopefully* we will land 25 minutes apart. We’d appreciate your thoughts and prayers on Sunday and Monday — you’ll be the first to know how it went!

PSS Long-time residential teen mom Christine will be graduating on April 8th from Advanced Tailoring! We’re so proud of her! We’ve got a project up for her exit package as she transitions to independent living, and it’s almost 50% funded. We’d love your help to set her up for success! Click below —>

Christine’s Exit Package