Reporting from: Northern Uganda
Local Contact: Halle Butvin
What kind of work are you doing in Uganda?
I started out in Uganda with an interest in conflict resolution. I visited Northern Uganda in 2006, before the ceasefire was signed, and when the region was still suffering the effects of the 20-year conflict with the LRA. Over the course of several trips back to Uganda to continue to study the root causes of conflict, I kept asking what Ugandans thought they needed to create a lasting peace. The response, invariably, was jobs. It wasn’t hard to see the effects of NGO training programs in the region – they’d taught women how to sew as part of post-conflict aid programs, but there were so many tailors that they didn’t have enough of a market to sell their goods. I gradually started putting together the pieces to connect these Ugandan tailors with the US market.
What have you seen there that inspires you artistically, creatively or otherwise?
Uganda is a country rich with visual imagery – the vibrant colors, chaotic urban scenes and gorgeous natural landscape are hard to beat for inspiration. The markets are also filled with bright textiles, which are a great starting point. There is an accessibility in Uganda that I’ve never found back at home; there is still a strong demand for hand-tailored clothing, so there are lots of opportunities to be creative by working with a tailor to come up with designs using locally-available materials. When you combine this with all of the interesting raw materials Uganda has to offer (organic cotton, hand-looms, beautiful horn, banana leaf, papyrus, etc.) the ideas are endless.
Aside from artistic and creative vision, the work itself is very inspiring. It is amazing to see the amount of change that can be made in a tailor’s life by providing her with consistent work and income. The connection made between the tailor and the consumer in the US also bridges a gap – it forges an understanding between producer and consumer that adds so much meaning to what was once just a transactional experience.
What can our readers do to support the work you are doing with One Mango Tree?
The best way to support our work is to shop our products and spread the word about the work that we do.
Halle Butvin is the founder of One Mango Tree, a fair trade business in Uganda focused on creating sustainable jobs for women making apparel and handbags. Follow and support Halle’s work at www.onemangotree.com.
Christine Mason Miller is a writer and mixed-media artist who loves to travel, wander and explore, whether on her own or vicariously through others. Her next book – Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World – will be released in November 2011 by North Light Books. Visit her at www.christinemasonmiller.com. Eager for more of her travel musings? Visit www.gypsygirlsguide.com.
MORE RESOURCES FOR MIXED MEDIA ARTISTS