Adama Foundation and the Lighthouse Peace Initiative

  • Posted by: Tomato Head, Market Square Manager • November 10th, 2021

Below is a note from Mahasti’s friend and fellow baker, Jeffrey Hamelman, about his experience working with the Adama Foundation in Uganda. It is a beautiful and powerful telling of his experience teaching Ugandans to bake bread.

Dear Friends,

I recently returned from Uganda, where I spent two weeks with another American baker, Sara Molinaro, training about 20 members of the Oruchinga Refugee Settlement to become bakers. These people have next to nothing, except their hopes and their undiminished innate dignity, and have escaped unspeakable horrors in their native countries. The trainees began with absolutely no baking experience. Seeing their daily skills progress was an immense joy, and when they sold the first breads, on the ninth day of training, it was a time of rejoicing. The genesis for creating this bakery (this is the first of several that are projected to be set up in refugee settlements) came from Ayelet Berman-Cohen of Los Angeles, who established the Adama Foundation to fund them. On the ground in Uganda are two exceptional women who are part of the daily operation: Angella Kushemererwa who oversees the Vibrant Communities Initiative, and Sophie Karungi, who is a counselor to the most at-risk women in the settlement. All three of these women are absolute pillars of strength and commitment.

The trainees walk to and from the bakery, many of them for over an hour each way, several of them with a young child swaddled to her back (75% of the trainees are women). Several times each day, the mothers move away to sit and watch the work as they nurse their baby. There is an outside area adjacent to the mixing room and the room that houses the wood burning oven. This is the main production area, and it is covered by a pole structure with a wattle and tarp covering for the roof. The rainy season has begun, and we occasionally had to move the work benches to avoid the steady drips from the leaky tarp. We got very good at winding our way around children and chickens in this area as we went through the day!

The goals of the bakery are clear: to empower people, mostly women, with skills that will enable them to earn a livelihood; to become a focal point for the community; and to feed the most vulnerable refugees—the children. In all, we made four forays deep into the settlement, and ultimately handed out thousands of little buns to the children, providing a brief cessation to the anguish of their bellies. We also gave bread at the settlement hospital, to listless patients in the maternity ward and the malaria ward. Once the bakery is fully operational as a bread-selling enterprise, Sophie and Angella are committed to distributing 20% of the products for free to the neediest refugees.

The bakery had just been completed when we arrived. The $16,000 that was spent to build it was adequate to get it started, but there remain many items, large and small, that are required for it to become sustainable. To give one example (unfortunately there are many others), there were electricity blackouts on more than half the days we were there, and the need for a generator to power the mixer during blackout times is critical. Being a poor country besieged with poverty, there are very few resources available. If you can help with a donation, however small, it will be a great benefit to this worthy endeavor. For the record, the bakers will be paid about $2.85 per shift (10,000 Ugandan shillings). A gift of $100 pays more than one month of salary. One hundred percent of each donation will go directly to the bakery. The link to the donation page is found here: https://lpicorp.networkforgood.com/projects/132871-uganda-bakery-initiative.

The gratitude that I feel for your consideration will be amplified one hundred times by those who will directly benefit—the bakers, whose lives are being beautifully transformed, and those who receive their breads. Please feel free to forward this donation request to any of your friends and colleagues who may be interested in helping.

Where there is bread, there is hope. With deep thanks,

Jeffrey

~~~~~

If you care to keep reading, below is some pre-dawn journal writing I did several days after the trainings began. Some of you may have seen it already.I write while it is early, still insect time, not yet bird time. I’m in the midst of the Uganda days, which have brought wave after wave of blunt profundity. I have never experienced anything close to this. Every aspect of life here is new to me, and fortunately I have been welcomed and accepted, I dare say even respected. That is, except for a small child now and again who is terrified at the sight of this white monster and turns away with piercing wails. This was most poignant on Saturday, the second day of the training. Sophie, who along with Angella, are the two saints who are the prime movers of this endeavor, and fellow trainer Sara, a baker/instructor from Michigan, and I, were driven by Kevin, who works from time to time as driver for Angella, to the Burundi community in the Oruchinga Refugee Settlement, close by the bakery. The bakery was conceived as a way of assisting this settlement, the oldest in Uganda, with a population of 7,000. There is a group of Burundi drummers who are somewhat supported by Angella and Sophie, and we were bringing loaves of freshly sliced bread to them, as well as hundreds of little buns in neat packages of six, for the few dozen Burundi children who are being trained by the drummers–this whole group will be at the bakery later in the week to perform for us, and I can only imagine what that will be like. It had rained hard for an hour or two during the day (fortunately not until production was done, since all the shaping is done under a pole structure with wattle roof and tarp, and the tarp leaked pretty badly), and there were puddles in the deep ruts and ravines we traveled on to get to the community–it would be quite a stretch to call this a road. On left and right were huts that were the human version of what mud daubers build. A dozen people living in three small rooms, one of which is for cooking, is not at all unusual. When the sun is up there is light; when the sun goes down it is dark–there is no electricity. Maybe there is a door.

We arrived at the community (there are also Rwandan and Congolese communities within Oruchinga) ready to implement our neat plan of bread and bun distribution. This changed almost instantly, as Sophie surveyed the scene–people streaming towards us by the dozens. I knelt in the mud, Sara ripped open the bags of six buns and handed them to me one after another, as I handed one bun to each desperate outstretched hand. The bodies were encrusted with mud, there was not one shoe in sight, the look of desperation on the faces of the children pierced my soul like a burning rock. And then it happened–the buns were gone but by no means were the splayed little hands. Partway through the bun-handing time, Sophie knew it would not be possible to give entire sliced loaves to the drummers, so we briefly decided to hand out the sliced loaves in portions of one-third. This lasted just seconds, and we began handing out just one slice to each child. Now some adults got bread too. Of course, the slices too ran out, and you can imagine how wrenching it was to tell all those without that we had no more. Earlier, at the bakery, I had brushed the crumbs from the slicer and brought them out to where the chickens peck (they also freely roam around the outside covered production area under the tarp); I am sure one of the Burundis would have been grateful for those crumbs. One woman said to Sophie “Thank you for this bread. Because of the rain I could not collect firewood, and we have not eaten any food today.” It was partway through the handing out of the buns that one poor little child concluded that it was too fearful, in spite of his pounding empty echoing belly, to risk getting close to the white apparition–he fled as if from the devil, wailing inconsolably. Today we will increase the production so that when the drummers and children come, all will receive bread.

The definition of family here is quite different, fluid and amorphous. Here are some examples: Marion is not a child of Angella’s, but she and her daughter Bridget live safely with her. Marion is 20, and an ace–one of the most eager of the trainees for sure, she also makes beautiful traditional baskets, earrings from bone, pottery, and works tirelessly. Bridget is her only child; she had her when she was 12 years old. This was not a consensual sexual act.

Sophie is raising Sarah. She found her, nameless then, when the infant was two days old. Her birth mother had thrown her, face down, into a septic pit at a hospital where Sophie was visiting a sick niece. Fortunately, her little wails were heard by the night watchman, who rescued her from the pit, but not before she had spent enough time in it to become quite sick. UN personnel helped to tend to her along with Sophie, but they have a three-month rotation, so once that group left, Sophie took her in and adopted her. People told her that the baby was cursed and she should abandon her. Sophie said “this baby was abandoned once, and I will not let her be abandoned a second time.” Sarah is five now, and was at the bakery most of the days of the training. She is a beautiful and charming little girl, a true gift to Life.

On Sunday (our one day off) we spent the day in Mbarara, where Angella lives. Towards the end of the day, we drove to the home of Sophie’s mother. “How old is she?” asked Sara. “She doesn’t know. Maybe 58, maybe 61.” We arrived to be welcomed with the simple quiet hospitality that characterizes the best of the human character. Her mother looked to be in her mid-70s, but not surprisingly, when she smiled, which was frequently, a decade was removed. Four young boys were brought out to meet us as we drank tea, and they danced for us. Sophie’s mother is raising the oldest of them (he is maybe 12). He was abandoned by his mother at one month old. She wanted to make money, so left for the city to work in the sex trade. So Sophie’s mother took him in. Sophie grew up in that house, choking on kerosene fumes; now there is electricity. She described the time, when she was five years old, that there was a drought and famine in Uganda. Once each day her mother would prepare a thin porridge, carefully measure one cup of it into bowls for each family member, and serve it at 4:00 PM (so that there would be a vague sense of food in the belly by the time the children went to bed). This was the entire food intake for the day; it went on like this for five months.

I know that what I am doing is immensely insignificant relative to the needs here, and at the same it may well be the most significant event of my life.

Now it is bird time . . .

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