Joyce Meng's Blog

Day #15 - Arts and Crafts Village

January 5, 2010

My trip to Uganda slowly draws to a close, and each day, I increasingly feel the pressure to complete all the work that I set out to do. I really hope that the drawings, letters, journals, photos, and videos that we collected can be assembled into something both simultaneously inspiring and profitable for the Peace School. Although Jia and I set the overall framework, in the end, we have very little control over the actual content – it all depends on the ideas and creativity of the young people we work with!

The day started very slow. I hung around the yard and watched the children play. The plan was to go shopping at the Arts and Crafts Village Complex near the National Theatre, and then head to the zoo. With all the complications of paying the roofer and painter, we didn’t head out until noon – nearly an entire morning had passed.

The Arts and Crafts Village was mainly a series of stylized outdoor huts in which individual vendors sold a large variety of goods. Bargaining is an essential part of standard protocol – overall, the goods were of decent quality, not necessarily the finest, but perfect for memorable keepsakes and gifts. To enjoy bargaining requires a certain personality and mentality that I lack, but despite my initial reservations, I managed to find a fair price for all my purchases.

I bought so many interesting items! As Joanita’s family covered all the costs of food and housing (a remarkably generous gesture for which I am deeply grateful), I had much money remaining from the 100 pounds that I exchanged to purchase beautiful traditional crafts. I admit, however, that I felt rather bad spending 65,000 shillings on two hand-carved wooden leopards and a Africa-shaped chess set when so many expenses and materials remain unpaid for the relocation and expansion of the Peace School. But a list of purchases include: 4 beautiful soapstone painted plates, 4 bean-shaped soap stone boxes, 1 ivory soapstone fish box, 1 wooden chess set, 1 large wooden hand-carved lion, 2 sets of soapstone coasters, and 1 snake-in-the-box trinket. I estimate that I spent about 150,000 shillings (about $75 USD) – not a paltry sum, but definitely exchanged for a large quantity of beautifully ornate handmade crafts. Now, I just hope that I won’t have any trouble bringing these gifts back to the United States!

We came back around 5 PM, in time for a very late lunch. After lunch, I forced myself to stay awake to take advantage of the last few hours of sunlight to carry out the remaining interviews. Jia felt somewhat sick still, so I did the interviews of Morris and Helen by myself. In particular, Morris was a very good spokesperson for the school, though I regretted not having a microphone to clear out all the background noise, but hopefully we can edit and clean up the material. (I’ll be posting some of these videos soon to my blog for your viewing!)

Then, Jia woke up and together, we did the interview of Isaac and Ibra. It was perhaps one of the most casual interviews we conducted, as both boys are very outgoing and highly engaged with western culture. Compared to the other boys, they really stand out in terms of their maturity, comfort with English, knowledge of American culture, and overtly teen behavior.

[Below is a picture of Isaac with his drawing of what he would buy with $50. Both him and his brother love art – Ibra aspires to one day go to art school, and upon graduation, start a gallery in Kampala featuring the work of orphaned children. All proceeds from the sale of the art would then go back to the orphans! Ibra is definitely very talented – he draws in a graphic novel style, with an alien twist. Photo courtesy of Jiashan Wu.]


I promised the kids that I would show them how to create a website – all of them are fascinated by computers and the internet. In fact, Isaac’s goal after graduating from high school is to start an Internet café. According to Bashir, internet access is expensive – about 500 shillings (~33 US cents) for 20 minutes. On appearance, this may seem like a paltry sum, but for the kids, 500 shillings is actually a lot of money. For reference, Zamu told me that for 500 shillings, you can get someone to come to your house for a personalized manicure and pedicure. From the games that we played and the interviews that we conducted, I know that none of the kids have ever owned 100,000 shillings ($50) at any given time in their life.

Sometimes I forget because to repair the school, fix the roof, install the solar upgrade, among other work, we have spent an extraordinary amount of money, at least 10 million shillings ($5,000). In the interview with Morris, of the ~225 kids who attend the Peace School, about half are on reduced or free tuition and the entire cost gap comes from: 1) Marylove and Joanita, 2) the chicken farm operated by the school, 3) Givology and AHEAD, 4) funds provided by the family through sale of agricultural goods and donated time as staff. A substantial portion of the costs are borne by the two sisters who live in Richmond. Joanita is not wealthy herself, but she has a lot of love and care such that she contributes as much as she can of her savings to run the school and sustain the family. Without her, Peace would have difficulty fulfilling its mission of targeting the neediest children, the ones least able to play.

In terms of priorities, the school needs: a library, a computer lab, permanent classrooms, and expanded dorms for the orphans to accommodate for more children. Alas, hopefully, some of our work at Givology can be used to fund these meaningful investments!

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