Scarlett Chidgey (Uganda)

Scarlett Chidgey (Kinawataka Women Initiatives - KIWOI): Following an undergraduate degree in Journalism from Boston University, Scarlett worked as a communications manager for a science communications firm in Berkeley, CA. She then left to volunteer in Mongolia. Scarlett then served for five years as the Program and Communications Manager at the Alliance for International Women’s Rights (AIWR), an organization that supports women leaders and future leaders in developing countries. Prior to graduate school, Scarlett ran her own business as a communications and web consultant, managing projects and developing websites. Scarlett graduated from University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies with an M.A. in International Studies and concentration on Gender, Human Rights, and Development. After her fellowship Scarlett wrote: “The [fellowship]… enriched my perspective by giving me solid experience and examples to further support my human rights and development philosophy. It also enhanced my understanding of how grassroots organizations can operate and the struggles they face."

I Have Arrived

12 Jul

The journey from Rome to Entebbe was long and I was exhausted after a series of flights and long layovers in the wee hours of the morning; but as we approached the airstrip, I saw Lake Victoria and the lush surroundings. Wow, I have finally arrived, I thought. My eyes welled up with tears out of joy and excitement, and I was thrilled with anticipation to meet Benedicta Nanyonga, who was to greet me at the airport. Yet, as I waited…and waited…and waited for my suitcase to come along on the baggage carousel, that joy and excitement began to wane. An hour or so after we landed, I realized my bag had not made the entire journey with me, and naturally disappointed, all I could do was file a lost baggage claim.

But I would not let this defeat me! As I finally exited to the waiting area, I saw Benedicta, whom I recognized from videos and photographs, holding a sign with my name on it. I walked straight to her and introduced myself. When she realized who I was, she showered me with hugs and kisses! Then another woman, Margaret, approached and presented me with a beautiful bouquet of white and orange roses. I was so touched by this welcoming.

Road between Kampala and Entebbe

Road between Kampala and Entebbe

From the airport, we drove about 35 km directly to Kinawataka, a slum in southeastern Kampala, where Kinawataka Women Initiatives (KIWOI) is based. The property serves as the workshop, office, Benedicta’s home, and an orphanage for 20 children. The children were not there because they were in school, but I met Josephine, the secretary at KIWOI. She served Benedicta, Margaret, and me a delicious lunch of beans and cooked plantain (called matoke) and I learned that the “K” in “Kinawataka” is pronounced as a “Ch.” Benedicta then gave me a tour, showing me the straw products; the awards KIWOI has received; the many news clippings of stories about her, the organization, and the strawbags;  the rooms of the house; and the backyard, filled with trees, a chicken and her chicks; a cow named Benedicta, and her calf, Benedicta Jr.

Benedicta and Josephine making earrings outside of the KIWOI workshop

Benedicta and Josephine making earrings outside of the KIWOI workshop

Inside the KIWOI workshop many of the the straw products are being organized

Inside the KIWOI workshop many of the the straw products are being organized

It wasn’t long after lunch that Benedicta arranged for a Boda Boda (motorbike) driver who I would hire on a regular basis to transport me between KIWOI and the Red Chilli Hideaway, my home for the summer. After about a 10-minute drive, we approached a dirt road that we drove up and arrived at a guarded red metal gate. This was the entrance to Red Chilli. After checking in and paying for a full month (to obtain a 10% discount), I was shown to my room, a bit quiet and secluded. Though not very large, it is spacious enough for one person, with a table, a shelf, and a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling above the single bed. As I walked around the grounds, I noticed that this Hideaway was massive— with a number of buildings for lodgings, a tiny “plunge” pool, and goats, white monkeys, and black and white birds roaming about. (The next morning I discovered that these birds are very, very loud!) After settling into my room and unpacking a few things I had in my carry-on baggage, I went up to the restaurant/bar area, drank some soda water, used the free wi-fi, and tried not to feel so lonely, surrounded by tourists that I would likely not get to know. When I went to bed, I sprayed plenty of insect repellant all over me, the room, and the mosquito net which I carefully draped completely over the bed.

Red Chilli Hideaway Reception

Reception office at the Red Chilli Hideaway

The entrance to my room at Red Chilli Hideaway, my home for 3 months

The entrance to my room at Red Chilli Hideaway, my home for 3 months

In the morning, my Boda Boda driver Julius arrived about 10 am, and I went directly to KIWOI. Our day was busy: I accompanied Benedicta to a meeting at a university business center, where she met with an advisor to discuss the development of a proposal package and business plan for a potential investor in the Netherlands. That evening, I explained the Advocacy Project model to Benedicta and proposed the idea of the quilt made of the recycled plastic straws. She said that she hadn’t fully understood the concept of the quilt project before, but now with my explanation she liked the idea and thought we should go forward with it. We thought it best to invite the women weavers who would participate to make their own design for a 1-foot x 1-foot panel that could be joined into one piece. One of the many products that KIWOI produces is a straw mat. To make a mat, several pieces of woven plastic straws need to be joined together. I think this same method can be employed for the quilt.

Benedicta joining woven straw pieces

Benedicta joining woven straw pieces

I also learned that Benedicta had been invited to attend a gift show in Los Angeles, CA where she could market the straw products. Over the next couple of days, I assisted Benedicta with travel bookings and preparations for this trip. This will be her first trip to the U.S., and she leaves for Los Angeles on Sunday, July 17 for 10 days!

Clever marketing as these bags are made of straws that were otherwise destined to be trash!

Clever marketing as these bags are made of straws that were otherwise destined to be trash!

On Wednesday I found out that my baggage finally made it to Entebbe, so in the early evening after a number of appointments, Benedicta and I went back there by hired car. It seems absurd to me in some respects that “stuff” would be so important, but I can’t overstate how happy I was to be reunited with my luggage. Finally, I could wear more than two sets of clothes, wouldn’t have to go to a clinic to get a new prescription of anti-malarial medicine, and had my special pillow with my superman pillowcase. Now, I felt as though I truly had arrived and was far better prepared to tackle the rest of the week and even the next three months.

Posted By Scarlett Chidgey (Uganda)

Posted Jul 12th, 2011


  • Jane McDonough

    July 12, 2011


    Small beginnings…you are FAR away and yet, with Superman alongside you, your journey will end, and you will begin this rich chapter of learning, right? I love the total rubbish line- it is a winner! And, I send you warm hugs and pats on the back. Go Scarlett!

  • Leah

    July 12, 2011


    Wow Scarlett! What an amazing journey! You and the women at KIWOI should be an inspiration to us all. Can’t wait for the next post.

  • Tim Brauhn

    July 13, 2011


    Rock on, Scarlett!

  • Sue

    July 14, 2011


    I’m so glad that you arrived safely and that your stuff finally did too. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m really proud of you and really admire you for doing this. You may be far away from your family and friends right now, but we’re all thinking about you all the time. I’m happy that you’re doing this blog so that we can stay in touch! (And I’m jealous that you have monkeys where you live. I love me some monkeys.)

  • Melissa Schaap

    July 18, 2011


    Your beautiful blogging brings me right back to Kenya … different, but alivens the mind, the senses, and the heart and soul! Thanks for sharing your journey, my friend!

  • Oriol

    July 19, 2011


    So awesome, BFF! Gave me chills and misty eyes to read this and see the photos. You da bomb! Looking forward to more to come!!! xoxo

  • Walter James

    August 2, 2011


    Argh, so jealous…I love Red Chilli and wish I could live there for THE REST OF MY LIFE. Greetings to Leonard and everyone else there. Warm salutations also to Benedicta and everyone else at Kinawataka. The straw purses I bought from them are the ultimate accessory for the fashion-conscious mzungu in East Africa.

  • Ssekanjako Qrysh

    August 3, 2011


    Welcome to Uganda!!! feel at home.

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