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Singing, Drumming and Dance Welcome Us to Kobulubulu

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Before we could see anything in the beams of our van’s headlights, we heard the women ululating in magnificent high trills which I cannot duplicate despite my best efforts.  Then there, right in front of us, the unembodied white flags waving in the darkness, and finally our vehicle’s high beams shone on women, dancing and waving, welcoming us, finally. We had arrived.

Ululations and waving flags

Our driver, unknown to me, knew the women had gathered in mid-afternoon, to prepare their welcome. They had practiced their dances and songs, and as the hours went by, may have wondered what their men and children would say when they didn’t return home before dark to prepare the evening meal.  But the 7 hour trip to the village from Kampala had lengthened into 10 due to unexpected car trouble and the compound was dark with just a sliver of silver light in the distance as the high beams on the van swept over the narrow path which served as the road at this point.

KRMA women dancing

KRMA women dancing

These jubilant women startled and awed me as I realized they were calling my name. The group I had met almost exactly a year ago were so solemn, weighed down by hardship and memories of a past that had come close to crippling this part of Uganda. Veronica had told me that the project had instilled hope; that my returning inspired expanded visions of a too predictable future. But I suppose I had dismissed her words as the kind of thing one says to a friend who has undertaken such an endeavor as this project represented. But here they were, singing, dancing, and welcoming me and my friend and colleague from the States, Lindsey.

Veronica’s compound had a generator which was used for a couple of hours each evening when she had visitors to her tribal home, and now the yard in front of the building where we would be housed allowed us to see these women whose names I did not yet know, but whose homes I would visit before completing this trip. Lindsey and I alternated between sitting in chairs provided for us, and joining the dancing. But dancing was not the only activity for this welcoming ceremony.

Songs of Welcome

Songs of Welcome

There were prayers of thanksgiving. A celebration of Veronica’s return to her home village from her work travels in Sudan and South Sudan. More dancing and song. And then the welcoming gifts.  Two lovely young goats were led out. One for me, and one for Lindsey.

The First of Many Gifts, Our Goats

The First of Many Gifts, Our Goats

There is an expected action in receiving gifts, to let the giver know you find the gift acceptable, that is, to touch the proffered gift.  Lindsey and I had no hesitation in stroking the beautiful animals. We both understood the value of all livestock in the lives of these women. We were honored. Overwhelmed really. And this was only the first night.

Lindsey, left, and Lois, right

Lindsey, left, and Lois, right, with Beatrice, KRMA chair

Greetings from Kampala, Uganda

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I am sitting at an internet cafe in Kampala.  Lindsey, my colleague, and I have returned to running water, electricity, and clean clothes!  I cannot write but a few words because the computer at the internet cafe requires more work than my brain can entertain just now.  We are safe. We are healthy. And we are very happy.  A very successful trip that i look forward to sharing with you day by entertaining day when I return on Tuesday.

Until then, thank you all for your support. For your caring. I carried you in my heart as we walked to each home of the 20 Kobulubulu women. We have been gifted by many chickens and goats, a few fresh eggs, and several baskets and woven mats.  When the two project supervisors received their new bicycles which we brought to them from Kampala, they were so delighted and commented that usually such a gift is called “my husband loves me.”  Their new bikes are being called “Lois loves me.”  Well, I do. And I am so delighted to have Lindsey with me.  The women gave her a grand welcome, and she has been such a help to me every step of the way!

I hope all of you are well.  Since I cannot upload photos and my phone does not work here so uploading from it is also not an option, I will sign off for now!

Gamboling Grace, aka Lois Helena Grace Stovall, President, KRMA-U.S. Partners

Launching KRMA-U.S. Partners Ltd.

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The learning curve is steep for those of us not technologically inclined, but I am determined. I’m trying to figure out LinkedIn. I’m learning about fundraising, and sending out e-mails that won’t end up in spam folders. Why all this effort? My motivation is 20 women in Kobulubulu, Uganda. I want the world to know about them. I want you to know about them. I want to share their determination to improve their own lives, and those of their children and the community.

Each week the KRMA women bring their 50 cents to the lockbox with three keyed locks, each retained by one of the women, and a fourth woman keeping the box in-between their meetings. At the end of the year, they paid their children’s school fees, and then they start all over. They want to get ahead, and show some profit, but resources are scarce in eastern Uganda and they have been unable to do so.

KRMA weekly meeting with lockbox

KRMA weekly meeting with lockbox

That’s where you and I come in. They have developed a proposal that builds on what they know best: small farming. They have chosen a product that survives their climate and has a known market: cassava, a root vegetable that doesn’t rot in the ground.  They have chosen two supervisors who, once you and I have provided the cost of bicycles, will check up on those who have received help in this agricultural project.

Take a risk on this ground level community- based project. I will be taking the funds with me at the end of July.

Although we are incorporated as a Maryland non-profit, we do not yet have tax deductible status. If we get it before the end of 2013 I’ll let you know if you provide me an e-mail. Please read on and help me help these women. Questions? Post them here and I’ll get back to you.

And thank you!

Gamboling Grace (Lois Helena Grace Stovall)

INFORMATION BELOW Re: Launching KRMA-U.S. Partners’ First Project in Uganda

In their book Half the Sky, authors Kristof and WuDunn note that what progress Bangladesh has made against its abject poverty can be attributed to its commitment to the education of girls and women.  A similar commitment is evident in the first joint project between the 20 women of Kobulubulu, Uganda and a support group I have started here in the D.C. area.

Several years ago, the founders of this women’s village savings group survived the rampage of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army by discovering if they cooperatively worked and shared resources that they could avoid starvation and care for their children. Now, these women and others who have joined with them are ready to move from lives of subsistence to a cooperative approach to commercial farming which will help improve their standard of living, and those of their entire community.

These women need capital investment to make this goal a reality, and have pledged to dedicate the first profits of our joint project to payment of school fees to ensure that their daughters and sons can remain in school through secondary level and beyond.

We invite you to get in on the ground floor of this exciting partnership. It all began last summer when Lois Stovall and husband David Smock spent time listening and learning about the established patterns of disciplined savings and group acquisition of livestock by the women known cooperatively as KRMA.

This is not a micro-financing effort. There are no loans or payback. Instead, the “payback” will be incremental self-sufficiency and avoidance of dependency on foreign aid. Funds will be an investment matched by time and sweat equity. The women will each expand their previously uncultivated land allotment (uncultivated due to lack of resources) by one acre, for a total of 20 acres. They will raise a cassava crop that has an established market.

Our capital funds will pay for cassava plants, plowing, weeding, transport to market, and transit storage. Capacity building and accountability will be enabled through the purchase of a portable modem and computer for the on-site project manager, and two bicycles for KRMA’s monitoring team.

The project’s goals include re-investment of all profits over and above funds needed for school fees into KRMA. This will decrease the amount needed from the U.S. each year so that within 5 years the cassava project will be self-sufficient. This project design counters the dangers of dependency feared by recipients of foreign aid. It has the added benefit of equipping us as a support group to partner with the women of KRMA to repeat what we have learned to assist another village’s women’s cooperative in eastern Uganda.

I will be returning to Uganda (paying my own way, not out of funds raised) in July 2013 to hand-carry the raised funds and to ensure that accountability and reporting structures are in place to maximize the chances of success for this relation-based enterprise.

This is an all-volunteer organization. No funds will be used for compensation of our members.

We are applying for 501(c) (3) status but the funds we raise are not tax-deductible at this point. If you are interested in knowing more please post on this blog. Checks in any amount will be appreciated and may be made out to KRMA-U.S. Partners Ltd., and mailed to Lois Stovall. Leave a message here or my e-mail at lois@congregationsalive.com and I’ll send you mailing information.

Thank you for considering this opportunity!

 

Living with Renewed Passion

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Last time I wrote on this blog I was reflecting on moving. Well, we are STILL moving! After six months we finally have a contract on the house we vacated last September. Meanwhile, I have fallen in love.  Not with another man. My husband is still the love of my life. But with a group of courageous women in Kobulubulu, Uganda.

Women of KRMA

Women of KRMA

Shall I tell you their story?  Not so very long ago, Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army rampaged the village and countryside around Kobulubulu, abducting young girls from their primary school, raping and pillaging and plunging this District into a state of terror. Eight women seeking to keep themselves and their hungry children alive at the nearby Internally Displaced Persons Camp gathered to pray.  They were known in the camp as the Widows Prayer Group because their husbands were off fighting Kony and everyone assumed they would be killed.

The women began working together to carry the tall, heavy, jerry cans from the water pump to a nearby restaurant where the owner would pay them in cash. In this way, the women and their families survived.

Jerry cans to be filled from water pump

Jerry cans to be filled from water pump

When the women returned to their home village they wondered whether the cooperation they had learned in the camps might serve them well in peace time. Even though many of the husbands returned from the fighting, the women believed they could now contribute to the family’s welfare in new ways. So the original eight women invited others to join them, and in 2008 Kobulubulu’s women’s cooperative was founded (KRMA).

Now twenty women, who along with their husbands and children represent over 100 individuals, work side by side in an agricultural economy to grow crops and livestock communally.  They desire to improve their lives, and the community in which they live, through movement from subsistence farming to commercial farming. They want to keep their children in school through group savings to pay for their fees and school supplies.

In their own words, KRMA desires “to improve household income, to ensure food security and livelihood, (and) to ensure faster conflict resolution and reconciliation among the community through peaceful means.”

At weekly meetings, the women pay dues at a minimum of 1000 Ush (less than $ .50) and pay 200 Ush. weekly for a welfare fund for those crises and emergencies in the community.  Latecomers to meetings also pay an additional 200 Ush. into a basket set out for that purpose. Through their savings they have purchased goats, chickens, and two cows. One long term goal is for each family to own a heifer. But heifers run about $500 U.S. and their current rate of growth makes this a distant goal.

In my next installment about the ladies of Kobulubulu, I will share how I met them, and something about the stories they have shared with me.

Moving: An Act of Value Choices

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In September we will move 15 miles closer in towards Washington, D.C.  These last 12 years we’ve been nourished by suburban country living with 2 acres of land, a lovely comfortable home, and wonderful neighbors. I thought this was my last house. That I wanted it to be my last house. But, with age has come a change in values.

Surprising to me, we aren’t downsizing that much. We’ve bought a house that is once again more space than we need. A baby step in down-sizing. Big enough for each of us to have a study. Unlike our current home, we won’t have room to house all the children and grandchildren should they come to visit at the same time. But, we’re open for business when one family comes at a time.

Critical to our move is proximity to close friends. With no extended family in our geographic area, we wanted to be near our “adopted” family of friends. Before moving, I made the rounds to check and see if friends had plans to retire elsewhere. The ones I spoke to all intend at this point to stay put. From others’ blogs I learn that many of you made decisions to move to be near family, or to move to a different climate. Will we change as we grow older? Perhaps.

But, we love the city. And, we’ve been neglecting all the opportunities the area affords. Because we’ve been “outside” in suburban countryside, I have easily talked myself out of volunteer activities, and cultural events. After three hours a day of commuting to work, my 75 year old husband has no interest in going back into town on the weekends. Our two lane road after dark, during the long winter months, has gotten a bit old these last couple of years. And David has no desire to retire, so another reason for the move is to reduce the kind of commute.

Besides friends, and distance of commute, and availability of cultural and volunteer activities, comes the awareness that we are closer to emergency services, to grocery stores and doctors, to our church community, and all those aspects of community that take on a different kind of meaning as one grows older.

Will this new house be my “last house?”  I find I no longer think that way anymore.  It seems a good house. I’m hoping it will be a comfortable home — a space for us to do the work and living of our lives in this stage of living. Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see.

In my next post I’ll share a bit about what I’m learning about myself in what I’m throwing away, and what I’m saving, in the inevitable sorting that comes with such a move.

I’m so glad to be back in the blogging world, and look forward to catching up with your postings as well.

 

 

Quaking Birthdays

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Then I saw what was not so obvious: that the holding together could only be done by “quakers.” . . . men and women everywhere who were prepared to quake.  . . . Perhaps, in the end, what mattered was how many people were prepared to quake this way, for such quaking spirits were the keepers of the keys.
The Chymical Wedding, by Lindsay Clarke, p. 385 (1989)

The Chymical Wedding

Although I can no longer remember the plot or the specific characters, I have never forgotten the passage on page 385 of my copy of The Chymical Wedding. And, as it does from time to time, it popped into my head on Sunday, on my birthday. I turned 62. I felt older Sunday morning after having been awake much of the night. That shaky feeling you get when your body is yelling at you that it needs more rest? That was what I was feeling.  Although “shaking” and “quaking” are two very different qualities, both were present on Sunday as images from the book floated to consciousness.

In this book, characters “hold the tension” of their divisive natures, and as a result of this holding, they “quake.” New York Times writer David Brooks wrote an op-ed about this “holding” the tension this week in response to the vigilante killing in Florida, and the killings in Afghanistan, reminding us all that we have the capacity for evil as well as good. And, it is up to us, whether by individual will, or by aligning ourselves with friends, family, and community to nurture goodness, and control outbursts of rage which can maim or kill.

In a conversation with a new friend, she shared with me that one of the things she is “doing” in her retirement is striving to be a “good” person, to notice if the clerk at the check out counter in the grocery store is looking attractive, and to say so. To speak and look into the eyes of the customer service representative who assists her at the bank. Slowing down her pace of living has prompted her to notice, to pay attention, to the day-to-day, and  moment-to-moment occurrences. She also expressed some embarrassment in sharing this intention with me. After a long and productive career, she noted, it doesn’t sound very ambitious. But somehow, she shared, it is very satisfying to choose to live this way.

There it is again, the matter of choice. Combined somehow with the matter of grace or gift. Perhaps this makes up “the Chymical Wedding” which I’m learning has a basis far older than any I imagined the first time I read it.  Reaching all the way back to the era of alchemy, the visions, the imagination, of the Chymical Wedding go back at least to the 15th Century with the illustrations by Christian Rosenkreutz.

When “The Chymical Wedding” was first written down, it was still possible to convey spiritual revelations as they are here conveyed, in pictorial Imaginations. Later, such Imaginations dried out into abstract, purely conceptual thinking. Today the time is ripe to enliven the intellectual consciousness into a renewed pictorial one. It is therefore in accordance with the spiritual demands at this point of time that “The Chymical Wedding” again begins to attract notice and that its beautiful sequences of imaginative pictures again begin to speak to our hearts and understanding. A Commentary on the Chymical Wedding

'Well of Initiation', into the interior of the...

'Well of Initiation', into the interior of the earth; picture shows also the Rose of the Winds over the Templar Cross, the Rose Cross, in "Quinta da Regaleira", Sintra, Portugal (built ca. 1904-1910). Further study: Anes, José Manuel, PhD, 33º. Scottish Rite, Os Jardins Iniciáticos da Quinta da Regaleira, Ed. Ésquilo, Lisbon, Nov. 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my reading I discover that it is in this original Chymical Wedding that Lindsay Clark must have gleaned her image of quakers as “keepers of the keys.” Although my reviewing this commentary written about the original Chymical Wedding leads me to believe this is highly esoteric stuff, the illustrations themselves are reminders of our tendency to take that which is imaginative and “dry” out the visual into “abstract, purely conceptual thinking.” I will research this a bit and report back in this space what I learn about the Chymical Wedding.

Today, though, my birthday re-membering is this: I’ve begun my new year on this earth having a quaking birthday. A time to recall something from my long ago past, and re-visit it in a new way. Even though my birthday was shaky from lack of sleep rather than holding the tensions of good and evil, it has led me to reflect, to feel, to imagine. And, be conscious of quaking, of holding together. Perhaps this may qualify me in some sense as one of those “keepers of the keys.” I’d like to think so.


Stopping a Moment in a Busy Day

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No time to write this week. That is what I had told myself. Piles of accumulated papers need to be sorted and filed. Pillows distributed throughout the house for 4 adult daughters and their husbands, and 6 grandchildren, arriving on Friday. Blue Diamond Original Almond Milk purchased for one daughter, and cucumbers for one of the grandchildren. Many other special requests to shop for. Dogs groomed. Airport transportation coordinated. All in preparation for a big birthday celebration for my husband.

But then I saw the jonquils had bloomed. Today. While it is still February. And I felt them call out for me to pay attention. Because who knows what the weather may be like tomorrow? Or, my life for that matter. For sure tomorrow I’ll be in more of a tizzy. But today there are so many of the jonquils I picked a few to bring in the house and put in my mother’s green vase.

I expect poet Mary Oliver has written a poem about Jonquils. She has written many about other species of flowers and animals. But the poem I recall is the one called Summer Day when she is celebrating the wonder of idleness, when she asks “Who made the grasshopper?” and falls down to kneel in the grass. And then, as if in response to one who would challenge her lack of accomplishment on a day dedicated to such reverie she proclaims:

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~ Mary Oliver ~

(New and Selected Poems, Volume I)
And so, I am thankful for this rainy cold day when the jonquils bloomed.