“Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty?”

If I recall correctly, and everyone knows I have a flawless memory (not true, if anyone tells you that they’re a liar…and a thief), the question “Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty?” was one asked of me during my interview for my new job with S.O.U.L. Foundation. This was not specifically in reference to the day to day dust concomitant with village life here in Uganda (because trust me, when it’s dry, the dust is everywhere, and when it rains, the mud is everywhere, and no matter what the weather is, you’re going to get dirty – I’ve learned to embrace it, because let’s face it, I love being dirty anyway so I may as well stop pretending I can ever possibly look professional). This question was posed to me in reference to getting directly involved with one of S.O.U.L.’s many livelihoods and Women’s empowerment programs here in Kyabirwa. And of course, I didn’t miss a beat before answering “YES.”

SOUL (I get really tired of typing S.O.U.L. – try it right now, the rhythm to it is fun the first couple times, but it gets old, so SOUL sans periods will suffice) currently has a number of projects aimed at empowering Women in Kyabirwa and beyond to regain control of their own livelihoods, their own financial management, and the awe-inspiring creativity and power within every single one of them. One is a tailoring group, which meets every afternoon in SOUL’s tailoring room filled with sewing machines and bursting with innovation (I currently sport an amazing backpack on a daily basis crafted by Mama Oko). Another project is a chicken rearing project, where Women’s collectives raise dozens of chickens to ultimately sell at local markets and most recently to the local backpacker’s camps. The goat project is still growing and is actually expanding to Iganga, home of some of my favorite GHC fellows. And then there’s my favorite group so far, the Namizi fish ponds.

When Bujagali Energy Limited (BEL) constructed the dam that ultimately washed away the famous roaring Bujagali Falls rapids which made Bujagali the “adventure capital of East Africa,” it not only took away the opportunities for white water rafting, but the ability of countless fishermen and fisherwomen to make a living through fishing in the Nile River. SOUL moved in and helped the people of Namizi Village by digging 4 ponds in which the Women can raise catfish and tilapia. The fish are purchased as babies (what’s the term for a baby fish? Guppie? Is that just a Little Mermaid reference? Wait, is that even a Little Mermaid reference), then raised in netted structures called hoppers. Once they are about 8 weeks old, they are mature enough to be released into a separate pond to become free-range fish, which they will be for about 6 months until they are ready to be sold on the market. Then the Women make bank.

So last Thursday, I was finally able to roll up my sleeves and get dirty in the fish ponds. Muganda, Allison and I (aka Team Hopper) all hopped in by the hoppers, dismantling each of them and dragging the nets through the pond to bring the fish over for the women to sample and weigh. It was muddy, messy, and everything I wanted it to be. The Women were delighted to see us schlepping through the ponds and getting hands full of fish, laughing through the whole process with all of them while eating (being fed) copious amounts of jackfruit (an incredible fruit that grows here, about the size of a large toddler). The fish were mostly in great shape and we were all so proud of the group for rearing them so well, and so optimistic for the ability of the fish to bring the Women a solid chunk of supplemental income – and hopefully provide some great options for a future SOUL fish roast down by the river.

I remember prepping for my SOUL interview and watching videos of people digging and working in these ponds, and it was honestly one of the things I was most excited about. To work with an organization that is making such great strides to meet the context-specific needs of one local community is truly an inspiring approach to this work. I have so much love and respect for SOUL Foundation, and so much love, respect and admiration to the Women that make it all possible.

I am so happy I got to have a day in the ponds – and it reminds me of how ideal this job is for me. I love this aspect of the work – the part where I put down my notebook and move away from my computer and get to connect with the Women by doing the work that they all do on a daily basis. It builds bridges, builds rapport, and builds the relationships. Plus it’s just fun. The day continued to be great afterward, with a shower thanks to our now-running water in our house, tons of play time with Buja the beloved doggie, learning how to make mandaazi with Mama Naafa, hanging out with Bayeati, the coolest 15 year old on the planet, and of course, more jackfruit. Have I mentioned yet how blessed I am?

**Tonight’s blog is brought to you by Gramatik’s album “No Shortcuts” and Devon’s Digestive Biscuits dipped in Yum Yum Peanut Butter. Trust me, you want all of that in your life.

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Greeting the amazing Namizi Fish Group

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Dismantling the hoppers

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Murky, muddy work. We have to sample the fish to get the average weight to determine if they’re ready to be released from the hoppers.

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Fishies!!! Tilapia growin’ strong

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Teamwork.

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Transferring the tilapia to the free-range pond.

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Prepping the jackfruit. I prayed for jackfruit to find its way into my life all week, and suddenly had more than I knew what to do with on Thursday. This is just a fraction of the fruit itself.

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Team Hopper!!!!

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