Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Margaret and Betty arrive in Bukavu

Two friends of mine from Rhode Island traveled to Bukavu in mid-April and stayed for 2 weeks. Their purpose in coming was to benefit Ushindi Center by making  100 dolls for sale at Waldorf schools  in the US. . . and to see the gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega Park, both big goals which they accomplished with aplomb!

The ladies hit the ground running on Monday after their arrival. 


While Betty greeted the Ushindi women, Margaret lent a hand fixing the soap cutting table.

The women, both Congolese and American, took time that day to get to know each other.

Margaret learned she couldn't lift with two hands the pan of avocados and bananas that Juliene carries on her head every day to market,
but she found consolation holding baby Victoria.

Then they got to work explaining the project to the Ushindi women. The intention was to cut, sew and assemble 100 dolls in the two weeks the Americans would be in Bukavu. Then we would pack the dolls back with us to sell at Waldorf schools in Rhode Island, where Betty and Margaret are both involved with Waldorf schools.

Here Betty explains the project while Bonaventura Muzigiri translates English into the local language, Mashi. Bony became indispensible to the project, not only intrepreting but cutting fabric, holding baby Victoria, and writing in beautiful calligraphic script each woman's name on the doll's tags.
Betty, Margaret and I had all brought huge suitcases crammed with materials to make the dolls-- 8 colors of flannel, thread, needles, pins, material for the heads, and bundles of stuffing. It was an ambitious project, but the Ushindi women had been honing their sewing skills making practice dolls. None of us were sure we could do it, but we were all willing to give it a try!
 PS Margaret was finally able to lift the bananas on top of her head, but there was no way she could balance them!

With love and gratitude,

Saboni Ushindi

Chantal and I in the soap making room

Saboni means "soap" in Swahili. In March, I enlisted Chantal, who is a chemistry teacher and a very smart lady, to teach the women at Ushindi Center how to make soap. They had asked to learn the craft, because they can sell bars of soap in their neighborhoods for a profit.

Although there are only 4 ingredients used in soap making, it isn't all that simple a process.

To begin with, the palm oil, which is the basis of soap, must be boiled several times and stirred in the correct direction for the soap to have the desired consistency. The charcoal stove is wobbly, the pot of oil is heavy and difficult to move, and the fumes are debilitating (they irritate your lungs big time, so the women are instructed to wear masks-- Chantal was modeling here for me).

Chantal steadies the boiling oil, then later takes it off the heat
After the palm oil and caustic (for cleaning) are properly cooked, color and scent additives are stirred in, and the mixture is poured into a mold to cool. When it is firm, the block is put on the cutting table and sliced into bars, not an easy job.

We later discovered that the cutting table had not been constructed properly-- the edge boards were not square, and the cutting wire was too loose-- with the end result being irregularly shaped bars of soap.

Nonetheless, the Ushindi women sold all the bars quickly for a small profit, but we are still working to make the soap a better product. New molds have been built and the table made more servicable. Chantal added a secret ingredient which makes the soap clean and rinse more effectively. . . and we are having a stamp made that brands each bar with the name USHINDI so we stand out in the market. Soap anyone?

With love and gratitude,