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New BeadforLife Party Video

We have just completed BeadforLife’s new party video. If you are not familiar with BeadforLife and the wonderful work this NGO does for women in Uganda go to http://beadforlife.org. BeadforLife is an income generating project which creates a circle of connection and compassion between women around the globe and women in Uganda who are trying to lift their families out of extreme poverty. Women in the slums of Kampala roll beads out of recycled paper and women in North America and Europe sell them. The money is returned to Uganda to help women care for their families, provide food, shelter, health care and education. BeadforLife has also launched an initiative in war torn Northern Uganda where women gather shea nuts for shea butter which is used in cosmetics. BeadforLife also offers a curriculum for middle and high school students to raise awareness and get them engaged in the fight to end extreme poverty.

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BeadforLife on 9News

Thanks Bazi Kanani of Denver’s 9News for doing this wonderful story about the income generating project, BeadforLife.  If you would like to host a bead party visit http://beadforlife.org.  The organization is on its way to booking 100 parties in 100 days.  It’s time and money very well spent and the women of Uganda will rain blessings down on you for helping their families rise up from poverty.

http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=157154&catid=188

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

 

 


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Beads, Bricks and a Better Life

It was the most amazing coming out party.  A small village outside Kampala, Uganda, full of women, celebrating the miraculous accomplishment of rising up from life crushing poverty to become homeowners and landowners.  They started singing and dancing in the morning and the festivities did not stop until midnight.  One of the most joyful sights I’ve ever seen.  Thanks to BeadforLife, the people in the bead circle who support this NGO, and to HDNet’s World Report which gave us a home for this remarkable story.  Hope the video makes you smile.

Beads, Bricks and a Better Life from Vicky Collins on Vimeo.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Fallout from a Bombing

I received a call this afternoon from a young man named Thomas Kramer from Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. I could tell that he was very young.  In a most tentative voice he said “Is this Ms. Collins?”  I answered yes in the skeptical voice I use for phone solicitors.  Then he told me the most amazing story.  Turns out he is just 14 and was in Uganda for three weeks volunteering with a mission group.  Thomas was in the Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kampala, Uganda watching Spain play Netherlands in the World Cup finals when the horrific bombing happened on July 11.  If you remember an Al-Qaeda linked Somali terrorist group called Al-Shabab bombed two locations in Kampala killing 74 people.  They were pissed because Uganda had peacekeeping troops in Mogadishu and this was destabilizing their evil efforts.  Thomas was eight feet from the bomber and was one of the 85 people who were injured.  Another friend of mine named Matt Anderson, who spent the summer in Kampala volunteering for BeadforLife, (http://beadforlife.org) was on the other side of the wall at the same restaurant and was unhurt.  Thomas is recuperating from 105 staples in his leg and a skin graft.  Matt is probably part of the reason he is alive.  Matt was being hurried out of the restaurant after the carnage but could not turn away from the injured American boy.  He helped Thomas that night and alerted our embassy too.  Because I wrote a blog about this episode Thomas found me and asked me to put him in touch with Matt so he could thank him.  I am so completely inspired by this and by the fact that my blog may bring these two together.  For those of us who feel we blog in obscurity it’s so wonderful to know that sometimes we actually make a difference.  OYE!!

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Kampala World Cup Massacre

I had hardly stopped fist pumping in the air over Spain’s victory in the World Cup when I heard the news about the simultaneous bombings in Kampala, Uganda.  What caught my eye immediately, besides the death toll in the senseless attack, was that one of the locations of carnage was the Ethiopian Village restaurant in Kabalagala.  When we were in Uganda in June we stayed on the hill right above this district and would walk down to Kabalagala to eat and use the internet.  The Ethiopian Village had an enormous TV in the main room and people would crowd in to watch the World Cup.  We were in Uganda when African teams were still in the hunt so people would spill onto the street.  You would often see enthusiastic fans packed 100 deep on the street looking into some bar with a tiny TV just to get a glimpse of the action.

When I heard about the bombings, I immediately worried about my friend, Matt Anderson.  He’s a student from the University of Colorado, on his first trip to Africa, who is helping BeadforLife with its inventory this summer.  He was staying in the same guest house where we were and it would have been completely logical for him to have walked down the street to the Ethiopian Village for a Nile Special and the finals between Spain and the Netherlands.  Ethiopian Village has great food and my colleague, Paul, and I took Matt there one night after we all were done surfing the net across the street at The Lion’s Den.  My instincts were right.  Matt was in the bombing.  I received an email shortly after the attack from Devin Hibbard, our host and one of the founders of BeadforLife, that yes, Matt had been there but he was alright.  Thank God.  This morning I received this email:

Vicky,

I’m OK.  I was at the Ethiopian Village when the bomb went off.  Thankfully, I was in a side room watching a smaller TV, not the large projector screen, so there was a wall between me and the blast.  I wasn’t hurt at all by the blast but helped some Americans who got shrapnel in their legs – everyone’s instinct was to rush out as fast as possible but these people were on the ground and couldn’t move, I had to do something.  Eventually, people kicked me out saying it wasn’t safe even though these Americans were still inside and injured.  I didn’t know what to do until someone yelled at me to call my embassy.  Thankfully I had the number in the Uganda phone Devin gave me.  I called the embassy and shortly afterward greeted an agent who arrived on the scene.  This is all very scary and unfortunately put a damper on the whole trip.  I don’t know how much longer I will be staying but friends at BeadforLife say that there will be political unrest for a while… we’ll see.  Thanks for the email.  I’ll keep you posted.  Matt

A Somali group called Al-Shabab, which has ties to Al-Qaeda, is taking credit for this massacre.  A leader for the militants said “Whatever makes Uganda cry, makes us happy.”  The group has a beef with Uganda because they have peacekeepers in Somalia and have ties to Ethiopia.  There are worries that there will continue to be instability leading up to next year’s Presidential election.  According to news accounts, the bombings at the Ethiopian Village and at the Rugby Club killed at least 74 people.  This is unthinkable.  This is so senseless.  During my visits there I have always been amazed by how safe I feel in Kampala.  It is such a shame that radicals would disrupt and disorganize the place like this.  And it is such a shame that my friend Matt, who was so overjoyed by the opportunity to do good in Uganda, had to witness such evil.  I hope he doesn’t lose heart.  Please pray for the people of Uganda and most of all please pray for peace.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.





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Deed for Life

Ndagire Sarah walked the red dirt carpet in her perky hairdo and a beautiful blue and white gown. She carried herself like a rich lady in a gomesi, the formal dress of women in Uganda. When I saw her I was overcome with tears of joy. I had met Sarah in 2006 when she was so sick with HIV/AIDS that she could hardly breathe. She lived in a slum in Kampala and was poor beyond belief, a widow who could not afford to feed her family or send her children to school, one of the hundreds of millions of women who live around the world in extreme poverty. But that was then. Today, just four years later, Sarah was being honored, with 21 other women for an incredible achievement. She had paid off a home that she built for herself in the village of Mukono, and was being awarded the title to the land she sat on. Sarah, who just a few years ago thought she would die and leave her children with nothing, was now a homeowner and one of the very small percentage of women around the world with land in her own name.

Ndagire Sarah in 2006

Sarah’s transcendent moment came because of her partnership with BeadforLife.  For many months she rolled beads out of recycled paper and saved her money for a down payment.  Beads became bricks and a ladder out of poverty.  She didn’t eat the profits, worked hard, and became an entrepreneur who also raised poultry. Sarah was the pioneer in Friendship Village.  She built the very first of 130 homes, even though the men who helped her thought she would not live long enough to sleep in it.  Today she is the proud owner of a brick house with a tin roof.  She has a lawn, a garden and 1000 neighbors.  The women roll beads to pay off their mortgages and not a single one defaults.  On this festival day, Sarah and 21 others call themselves brides, and they march from home to home.  Each woman is given a certificate and dances with it on the porch she dreamed about.  “This is really a day of glory for each of you,” BeadforLife founder, Devin Hibbard, proclaims.  She tells Sarah and the others to close their eyes.  “Think about where you were and think about where you are now and my challenge to you is to create your next dream as you become homeowners today.  What do you want to accomplish in the next three or four or five years?  Can you picture yourself and where you will be if you accomplish your next big goal? Because this is not the end of the path.  This is only the beginning for you.”

BeadforLife

Ndagire Sarah in 2010

In November another 60 women will become homeowners and receive the titles to their land, and in March the last deeds will be given out.  The women will sing and ululate and shout “BeadforLife Oye” as they parade through the village.  They will celebrate with their neighbors and dance until midnight.  They will never fear that they will be thrown out of their home again.  They will never worry that they will die and have nothing for their children.  They will have an asset they can sell or carry from generation to generation, and a garden so they can feed their family.  For when you have a home you are never poor.  “Being a homeowner means the pride, the success, the light in your eyes, knowing you have worked hard and you have accomplished great things,” Devin reminds them.  “Being a homeowner means the confidence and pride to carry yourself like a big woman.”  Today Sarah is a leader in the village.  “Because of BeadforLife I’m so happy and so proud.  Sometimes when I sleep in my bed I say every person never lose hope.  Let me be the woman determined to win.  Because of BeadforLife I have my own house.”

For more information on BeadforLife visit http://beadforlife.org.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Out of Africa

Just returned from a three week trip to Uganda where we did more video production for BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org.)  The highlight was seeing women who were dying of poverty just three years ago celebrate paying off homes they saved for and built themselves.  In a joyous ceremony BeadforLife presented 22 women with the titles to the land they sit on.  The women paraded from home to home dancing and ululating, and from what I heard they partied late into the night.  Women owners are extremely rare in Africa and BeadforLife’s Friendship Village in Mukono is an example of what’s possible.  Housing ministers from all over Africa came a few days later to see Friendship Village for themselves and other countries throughout the region are looking to emulate this poverty eradication success story.   

This trip we also visited Murchison Falls National Park to see the animals and also learn more about the oil drilling that’s going on there which is quite shocking in such a pristine place.  It is all happening very quietly and needs to be exposed.  We also visited Worldvision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu.  To hear the testimonies of young men who were abducted in grade school, held captive for 15 years, and forced to be child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army is extremely sobering.  One boy was forced to kill his own brother, another had 22 gunshot scars and a third, thankfully, was now back in school and in his village.  I will blog more about this all later but my friend Mark Jordahl, who was with us on our trip and is a prominent conservationist in Uganda, has written a very powerful blog about the child soldiers.  I hope you’ll read his very moving account of the experience. 

http://conserveuganda.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/what-if-it-was-my-son/

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Favorite Friends I’ve Never Met

Several of my friends and even my family think social networking is a waste of time.  They won’t Facebook, Twitter or read blogs and can’t really understand what I get from it.  I’ve found the most vehement opposition from my tango dancing mother and my friends who are cyclists.  These are not ladies who exercise casually, but rather women who compete on the dance floor, do 100 mile bike rides in the Rockies and think it’s fun to race up Mt. Diablo in Northern California.  Their buff bodies speak to their passion.  My flying fingers speak to mine.  They are my bricks and mortar relationships.  But because of social networking I have a new circle of virtual friends who I enjoy and respect, even though we have never met or for that matter, may never meet. 

First there is Susan MacCaulay.  She is a Canadian living in Dubai.  I stumbled across her website Amazing Women Rock (http://amazingwomenrock.com) when it was quite new.  What seems to have started out as a place to go for moderate Muslim women has morphed into something much larger and universal.  She is a champion of women around the world and has a large following now.  The first thing you notice about her is her passion for pink, her platinum blonde hair and her trendy get ups.  On one occasion she turned the camera on herself in a Riyadh hotel room and talked about how strange it was being a woman on a road trip to Saudi Arabia.  Then she posted it on YouTube and endured the threats from those who felt they were disrespected.  She has an elderly and opinionated mother who she adores somewhere back in Canada who reminds me of David Lettermen’s mom.  I am such a fan of hers I even contemplated a trip to Africa through Dubai just so I could meet her.  She hollers about injustice towards women and celebrates their achievements.  Susan rocks! 

Second is Dr. Qanta Ahmed.  She is a striking British national whose family came from Pakistan.  What’s interesting about virtual friendships is you often forget what brought you into someone’s universe.  I think I crossed her path doing research on a story for HDNet’s World Report but I’m not sure.  She had written an article about her transformative relationship with a rabbi who made her fall in love with Judaism while she lived in Charleston, South Carolina.  The irony came at the end when you found out she was a Muslim.  She is one of the most articulate voices for connection between people of all faiths.  She told me about her book “In The Land of Invisible Women.”  I ran out to buy it.  She wrote about the time when she couldn’t renew her visa in the United States and had to leave the country even though she was a doctor practicing medicine.  She moved for two years to Saudi Arabia and tells the story of the culture shock for a professional woman under the kingdom’s repressive laws.  Even so, she had a remarkable journey, had great stories about Riyadh and the Hajj, and got in touch with her Muslim faith.  I was stunned by her writing ability.  She has an amazing eye for detail and there was an extraordinary richness in her voice.  I still don’t know how she finds time to practice medicine with so much social networking.       

Third is my filmmaking friend, Zippy (is that the greatest name or what?) Nyaruri.  I met her via email when I needed a fixer for a story on the monetization of food aid in Kenya.  A fixer is a producer on the ground in a foreign country who helps set up a story and takes care of arrangements.  Without a fixer it is next to impossible to handle all the logistics and relationships.  Our story fell through but we have kept in touch through Facebook.  Through Zippy I see Africa.  When I first was introduced to her she was bouncing back and forth between Kampala and Nairobi.  Now she lives in Capetown, South Africa and recently she posted pictures of herself in Namibia.  She is developing a documentary about one of the few women truck drivers in Africa.  She introduced us to a fellow filmmaker named Godwin Opuly who runs sound and second camera for us when we are doing video production for BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org.)  Even though I have never met Zippy, when I considered visiting Capetown for the FIFA World Cup, she invited me to stay in her home.

Fourth is Caroline Jones.  She actually found me when she saw a story I produced about an acid attack victim called Juliette.  She was so moved she asked if she could use a photograph of her as the foundation for a painting.  Caroline’s ambition is to help others through art.  Her inspirations are women facing obstacles and the book “Half the Sky” by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn.  Caroline has created a body of work she calls Nguvu http://nguvu.artworkfolio.com.  Nguvu means strength in Swahili and her exhibit is this August in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  She will donate 50% of the sale from each work to the organization selected by the photographer.  She also builds boats, has a daughter and is a vegan who blogs about tasty recipes for other vegans.  That’s all I know about her.

Finally there is Karen Daniel.  She is a freelance television producer just like me who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.  She’s loves NASCAR and drives a truck.  She idolizes Dolly Parton and Linda Ellerbee.  She is the kind of person that you recommend even if you don’t know them because you know she gets it.  She’s been described as fearless and like me she wished she moved to New York City right out of college.  She has grey hair and the last time we chatted I told her that models dye their hair grey now.  It’s the new hip thing.  We also have a mutual acquaintance.  I met Ashton Ramsey trying to book Neil Wanless for the Today Show.  He’s the impoverished young cowboy who won a 200+ million dollar lottery in Winner, South Dakota.  Talk about a small world.  Both Ashton and I know Karen Daniel.  Once again, I can’t recall how it came up but imagine my surprise when I’m sitting in a small town bar and we both know my virtual friend.

Of course my virtual friendships aren’t anything like the ones I have with those who I grew up with, break bread with, go to book club with, and take Sunday walks with.  Those are the lasting friendships of my life.  But my virtual friendships are enriching my life and broadening my circle and I’m learning and pondering things that I never would have considered if I weren’t running across these amazing women around the world.  My college friend, Margaret Hoeveler’s mother, Griff, used to say at the end of the day you can count your true friends on one hand.  I think that’s wise but I also have a circle of special social networking friends I can count on one hand and they assure me the energy I spend doing this is not a waste of time.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Passover in Kampala

Chag Sameach.  It means “joyous festival” and is a popular greeting during Passover.  With the Jewish celebration of freedom here again I recall our very special Passover seder in Kampala, Uganda.  I posted this as the very first story on my blog back in May 2008.  My story also ran in the Denver Post in spring 2007.

http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_5534210

Cinematographer Paul Hillman and I are heading back to Kampala, Uganda again in June to do more video production for BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org.)  It is our third trip.  This time we are focusing on the NGO’s market linkage program where women in the war torn villages near Lira and Gulu are getting assistance bringing their shea butter product to consumers.  What makes this extraordinary is the backstory.  All the women were refugees from the brutal reign of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  For 19 years he and his men (many of them children) burned villages, raped women, killed men and abducted boys and girls in a senseless civil war.  With his retreat into the Congo these women have now returned from the refugee camps to their villages and are trying to get back on their feet by manufacturing shea butter which is a popular ingredient in cosmetics.  BeadforLife is linking these women to markets.  Other NGO’s are starting to do this on a small scale in Congo and Sudan which also have been wreaked by terrible hardship and civil war.  We are heading to the villages and expect the material to be powerful and compelling.  If you want to read about Kony and his murderous band of thugs in Congo today here is an article from the New York Times.   

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/world/africa/28congo.html?ref=global-home

For more on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com


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BeadforLife in New York Times

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who is one of the great advocates for women and the eradication of extreme poverty in the world, has written an article about BeadforLife and how people can get involved in the fight against global poverty.  It is so exciting to have him as part of the bead circle.  Hosting a bead party is a wonderful way to make a difference and it is so much fun.  To learn more about BeadforLife visit its website at http://beadforlife.org.  Cinematographer Paul Hillman and I are returning to Uganda again in June to do more videotaping on behalf of BeadforLife and will look forward to sharing more stories of inspiration and hope with you in the fall.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/opinion/14kristof.html?src=me&ref=opinion

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.