Empowering HIV/AIDS orphaned children in Africa to a self sustainable future

Catherine Koch

Catherine Koch

Founder and President of Love Is The Answer, a Canadian registered charity serving orphaned children in Africa.

Back and Forth


( I’ve been distinctly absent here on the website, I know, and for those wanting to be kept up to date, I apologize. There have been hundreds of miles of “back and forth” going on for me these past couple weeks.. Mbale to Sironko, Mbale to Kampala, on foot along the bumpy dirt trail numerous times from the child care center to Vincent’s and beyond to the trading center at Mutufu, and back, and then as recent as yesterday, even Mbale to the Kenyan border! While I take time to be stationary and enjoy some rest and quiet for myself, let me spend these next couple days on a catch up of sharing here.. beginning with.. )

“Pad Power Plus” for our very beautiful teenage girls…

Since I last wrote here about the re-useable pads project we are starting for our orphaned teen girls, we’ve had 3 get togethers with our sewing teacher “Juliana”.. pictured on the left here, a very dear friend who introduced herself recently to someone as Juliana and has either just changed her name to that or been very accepting of the fact that I’ve been calling her Juliet for the past 4 years now..!?! 🙂

Our first lesson was special. Holding one another’s hands, filled with nerves, excitement and anticipation, the girls met Juliana and me at Toppy’s shop in Mutufu. Toppy, Vincent’s wife, pictured on the right, owns a lock up there.. ( a small room with concrete walls, no windows, that has power available to it and is made very secure by metal doors..) in a very, very good location in the trading center, Mutufu, nearest her home and the ACIO Child Care Center).

After Juliana opened discussion by first asking what language the girls wanted to learn in, (she received a resounding “English”) she enquired with the girls about their goals and dreams to be attending this course.. “to learn a skill”, “to grow in knowledge”, “to make re-useable pads to be able to go to school when menstrating”, “to create income”…

Soon after, we handed out pieces of brown package paper and the girls set about tracing from templates the 3 pieces that make up the pattern for the pads.

There’s a) one pad part, that has wings that wrap around the gusset of a pair of “knickers” and is held in place by a button on the underside, b) two pockets, that are on either end of the top side of the pad, and c) one liner, that fits into the pockets and is the part that is regularly changed throughout the day during one’s menstral cycle.

Super cute.. each teen, down on hand and knees working on the concrete landing outside the store, traced and then cut their required pattern pieces with one of the 2 pairs of tailoring scissors we have bought for the project. It took a long while for everyone to complete the task. Appitude, dexterity, logic, co-oridination.. all tested by the endeavour.. and areas that the girls are eager to, and I think will certainly grow ability wise in, over time and with practise.

Next, each girl was given a hand sewing needle and some thread and set about sewing the pockets to the pad so they could see exactly how the pattern would work in practical, tangible terms. Perfect!

With huge smiles and big bright eyes filled with joy, they all completed one pad and liner made out of paper and were sent home with needle, thread, and all the parts required to sew another one for practise, ( this 2’nd time the liner had 3 parts to it.. a top, a bottom and an inbetween, a smaller piece of paper representing the plastic liner that will be part of the real finished product ) to complete and bring back to their next class some few days later.

I missed the girl’s next class as I was on my way to Kampala by public transport ( a crammed full matatu, you know, the little mini busses designed for 14 but usually carrying 22 or so..!! .. thankfully, this muzungu ( white one ) with the super long legs scored a front seat for the 5 hour journey.. all good! 🙂 Juliana reported that all the girls arrived with homework completed, and together they discussed and practised all the steps, again, and again, for good measure!

Our next get together was just this past Saturday when we were joined by Mom Trish – and her beautiful daughter both from the visiting family of 5 from Canada I had gone to Kampala to meet and bring Mbale/Sironko way. (More on their journey and time with us here, coming very soon in one of my next entries over these next couple days..!)

Some days before last Saturday, during a visit at the child care center in between our sewing classes, the teen girls had asked if we could please discuss issues surrounding menstration, including pregnancy – as in how, when, why it happens – and sure, boys. We made a date to open up the discussion at our next sewing class, the one Trish and her daughter would be at, so we could all share, and teach and learn together.

For their 3’rd class, many of the girls arrived at Toppy’s store carrying little bags containing their hand made paper pads sewed to date.. several had even attached a button on the underside of their pads.. wow!

First off, Juliana demonstrated on Toppy’s old sewing machine ( that had spent months stored, not working, in the lock up ) after Rick – husband and father of visiting Canadian family – had cleaned and brought it to working order for us, how to thread both bobbin and machine. Slowly, slowly, each girl, one by one, took their turn, and we all applauded as every teen stood up from the sewing bench smiling, to have completed successfully the assigned tasks during their moments at the machine!

With all of us women, young and perhaps not so young, local and most certainly from afar, circling the one sewing machine in the privacy of the little concrete store, discussion eventually ensued around human biology, female and male reproduction, sexuality, babies, abstainance, birth control, cultural beliefs, religious beliefs, boys, marriage, faithfulness, children’s and women’s rights, goals, dreams, sexual abuse, sex for favors, HIV.. sometimes quiet and shy, otherwise open and free and laughing, the girls asked questions, shared some concerns and experiences, and generally built trust, awareness and confidence.

So, so, so beautiful, and as life’s prefection and magic is always so very present for the having, the gift of Juliana’s presence was most helpful in providing an informed, local, motherly, mature woman’s perspective for our Beloved girls. I’m quite sure the discussion will continue.. another great ripple to be experienced from our little teen sewing circle.

The pads project is moving along well and we should have our first taste at sewing some real ones in these next couple weeks or so. Our goal is for all the girls to make their own pads first.. to learn on themselves as it were, and then we shall move to creating a pads package that will be for sale at our little pads production store. It will contain something like 2 or 3 of the pads, maybe a dozen or so of the liners, and a couple pairs of knickers! We’d like to have some of these available by around the 3’rd week of January so we can sell some to girls before school begins in early Feb! ( .. have I mentioned it’s already feeling like I’m going to be staying beyond the early Feb date on my current return place ticket..! A date I only made because there was talk of a Valentine’s Day LITA fund raiser in Vancouver that I of course would have wanted to attend, but it hasn’t seemed to want to fly just quite yet.. so maybe I’m not meant to either! 🙂

Presently, I need to pick up and transport from Mbale the two sewing machines we’ve purchased for the project.. and soon enough, I guess after this Christmas week, we’ll start into some kind of production with 3 machines in action! When in Kampala, we managed to find good quality, soft cotton fabric and even thin plastic for the pads/liners.. so we’ll get going with this soon, confirm our design and figure out a cost on each. We’re most Blessed to have a wonderful shop keeper named Joyce, here in Mbale, who has offered to find and bring in what we need at a good price if I just bring her samples of the fabric combination we decide upon.. again, everything, always, perfect!

Much Gratitude and Love, Many Blessings to all.. Are most back home into the type of Christmas that seeems to happen each year in Canada, or perhaps this year feels different? I’m reminded.. all things about Christmas are simple here.. it’s to celebrate the birth of Jesus.. there is no general focus on decorations, no Santa, no trees, no presents, just a happy emphasis on family and friends, getting together, cooking and sharing food, and gratitude! Beautiful! Enjoy!

With Love,

Catherine xoxo

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