August 08, 2023
I consider Uganda to be my second home, and a beautiful home, indeed, it is. The people are extremely friendly and the country, infinitely lush and diverse. I’ve been fortunate to have visited most of the national parks and to have experienced trekking to see the mountain gorillas on two occasions. But even so, there’s so much of the country I’ve yet to explore. I find myself often encouraging people to visit this amazing country, both to see it’s natural beauty and also to dispel myths they may have. I sat down with my German friend, Yvonne Hilgendorf, who calls Uganda home. She’s been working in the tourism industry for over 12 years. Passionate about sustainable and community tourism, she started her own company, Manya Africa Tours, in 2019 so she could share her love and knowledge of Uganda with others. “When I first reached Uganda, I felt home for the first time,” Yvonne confesses. “I never had this feeling before in Germany, and I was always looking for a purpose.” She found that purpose in Uganda.
PHH: What prompted you to first visit Uganda and then make it your home?
YH: I have studied Tourism Geography at the University of Trier in Germany and was looking for a diploma thesis topic so I visited Uganda in 2008 for the first time to do the research for my thesis. I lived in 3 communities for 1 to 3 months which were Ruboni at the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains, Bigodi Wetlands near Kibale National Park and Bushara Island on Lake Bunyonyi.
PHH: What’s your background in tourism in Uganda?
YH: I have worked for 12 years for different international and local tour companies and hotels, in the roles of director of sales, sales and marketing executive, and assistant to the executive director. In these capacities, I’ve gathered a lot of experience by solving problems on the job. In Uganda everyone thinks that you know everything if you come from a developed country, so it is expected that you don't fear and just do.
PHH: You’re the author of Community Based Tourism in Uganda, what was the inspiration?
YH: My professors inspired me to write the book since there is very little information on Tourism in Uganda. Community based tourism provide tourists with exceptional experiences and a real insight into Uganda.
PHH: What are the benefits of community tourism for both travelers and the community?
YH: Both sides can learn a lot from each other. Culture in Western countries is disappearing more and more. Forests and wildlife, as well. So we include different community projects which keep the culture alive, such as traditional meals with Ugandan families and projects that protect endangered animals like the Rhinos Sanctuary and the Uganda Carnivore Project, which protects the big cats. Communities learn to value their nature and wildlife and won't poach or cut down trees. In turn, they receive an income to support their families and their own projects. We really like to give back but also that people don't expect the outside world to only give. We love the idea of an exchange between the two worlds or totally different cultures.
PHH: Why do you think it’s important to promote sustainable tourism efforts in Uganda?
YH: Sustainable tourism in Uganda is vital to protect the beautiful nature and biodiversity and culture of Uganda for future generations. To do that, while also educating both the tourists and the local people is key. More importantly, local people earn an income through tourism and are more independent from outside donations.
PHH: Why did you start Manya Africa Tours?
YH: I am thankful to have worked for other tour companies for so long, but I also realized
that there must be something bigger and more challenging. I wanted to create a sustainable company. For example, we try to reduce plastics on our tours. We plant trees. We give back through certain projects. We want to show the different aspects of Africa and not the typical, often quite negative, pictures that are shown outside. My son, Leon, was born 12 years ago, and I want to give him a start for his future. I honestly hope that he will work with me one day.
PHH: In what ways does Manya Africa Tours immerse tourists in Uganda’s culture?
YH: We use only local guides. Though they all speak different tribal languages, they are also fluent in English and some speak French and German to accommodate our clients’ needs. Our office team is also composed of a combination of expats, like myself, and Ugandans. We like to support women, as well, because they are the most in need, but also the strongest I have ever seen. We always include different projects in our safaris, like a traditional lunch at Tinka John. We also have a matooke project where the tourists can actively participate in the production of banana juice or the so-called “war gin.” We can even arrange a visit to kraal of the Karamojong, or an overnight stay with them and their cattle, an unforgettable and unique experience.
PHH: What makes Uganda unique and a destination everyone should visit?
YH: Uganda is lush green compared to our more dryish neighbors ,Kenya and Tanzania and has a welcoming climate (not too hot, not too cold) and welcoming, friendly people. The landscape of the country is ever changing. Highlights include the Rwenzori mountain range, Lake Bunyonyi, the Nile, national parks like Murchison Falls, and, of course, the chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. To see them is a lifetime experience that brings goose bumps or tears to the eyes.
PHH: What are the top 5 destinations or experiences in Uganda that you think shouldn’t be missed?
February 13, 2023
“When I was younger, I wanted to be an engineer,“ states 25 year old Opio Jotham, quite matter of factly, a bit surprising as one of eight children raised in the Acholi Quarter, a slum on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, and a haven for refugees from Northern Uganda who fled to escape the civil war. His mother’s education ended in the sixth grade while his father took up a vocational training course in carpentry after completing senior 4, the equivalent of American high school. “In senior 2, I learned that two of my siblings have sickle cell anemia. That’s when I became passionate to be a doctor,” recalls Jotham. In December, Jotham completed a three-year course in clinical medicine and is now working alternating shifts at three separate clinics and sees 30-35 patients a day.
Besides the obvious scholastic challenges to completing his degree, the financial hardships imposed on him and his family cannot be dismissed. Jotham recounts how whenever his father would get a carpentry job, it became a family affair. They’d all work together. That strong family bond persists today. The bulk of his 250,000 Uganda schillings weekly salary, or about $70, goes directly into the family’s coffer to help pay the school fees for his three younger siblings.
Jotham envisions a future with even greater success than he has already achieved. He hopes to pursue a five-year course in medicine and surgery or a four-year course in anesthesiology. “Although I would love to stay around Kampala, I’d go wherever the opportunity is,” he acknowledges as he contemplates his future. Ultimately, Jotham hopes to open his own clinic so he can balance his work schedule with having a family of his own.
Jotham believes the real impact of his work goes beyond the treatment he provides to his patients. “It’s about the feeling you give,” he counters. “It’s about giving hope.”
“You give hope to the hopeless,” Jotham modestly continues. “I don’t want to say directly that you give life, but you make life better.” He beams. “It makes you feel extra-ordinary.”
May 04, 2022
What is Fair Trade?
Fair trade aims to create a safer, more equitable and dignified work environment in which ethical and sustainable products can be sourced, and artisans empowered. Fair trade gives consumers the opportunity to vote with their dollars and support businesses that promote their ideals and principles.
What does Fair Trade mean to Project Have Hope?
As a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation since 2010, Project Have Hope is committed to fair trade principles. Fair trade enables the artisans with whom we work to showcase their skills, retain cultural identity, earn a fair wage and gain opportunities. Not only do we pay above market price for the crafts they produce, we offer additional opportunities to enable the artisans to secure financial stability and access education. As displaced refugees, many of our artisans have grown up with little security. The threat of LRA rebels during the civil war in Northern Uganda forced them to flee their homes and their agricultural existence known for generations, and to only find safety within the confines of an urban slum. Through the work of Project Have Hope, these artisans have regained financial autonomy and their children have greater opportunities to break free of the shackles of poverty.
Does my purchase really make a difference?
Yes! Emphatically, yes! Your purchase makes it possible for artisans to feed their families, educate their children, build homes and create a brighter future. The wage earned for 12 necklaces or 25 bracelets is enough for an artisan to pay rent for one entire month! The bigger impact is the power of your dollar. As consumers demand transparency about who makes their products and the conditions faced by those workers face, companies are forced to make changes and adopt fairer practices.
Who’s on the naughty list?
Ethical Consumer has created a list of some of the least ethical companies. Read more:
Who’s on the nice list?
Do you want to learn more about Fair Trade?
Interested in reading what other Fair Traders have to say?
Dunitz Fair Trade has compiled a list of FTF Member blogs
April 22, 2022
This year marks the 52nd anniversary of Earth Day. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, which was supported by 20 million Americans, Earth Day has grown considerably. Today, about 1 billion people in more than 190 countries recognize Earth Day. But it’s not just about celebrating for one day. Real impact is gained by making conscious, earth-friendly choices every day.
We’ve put together a list of our ten favorite ways to honor Mother Earth on Earth Day and throughout the year.
What are your favorite ways to be kind to the environment?
January 26, 2022
When I first arrived in the Acholi Quarter, I was immediately struck by how warm and friendly everyone was. On that first day, I was taken to meet with three women and hear a bit about their lives and hear “their stories.” A young woman with near-perfect English, a quiet demeanor and an innocent smile, Nora, translated for me. I sat and listened to the first heart-wrenching story from a woman who was beaten to near death and then, body broken, carted by bicycle to escape the north. The second woman told me of her experiences being held captive by the rebels. As she told the unflinching details, she sent her grandson to fetch me a Coca-Cola. The price of that Coke would be the equivalent of half a day’s work in the brutal conditions of the stone quarry. By the time I entered the home of the third woman, I had shut down. I was no longer listening to the words carefully translated into English. My mind had tuned out and I was thinking ahead. How could I help?
Each of these three women shared such personal, often horrific details of their lives with me, a stranger with a camera. And each maintained a grace that I cannot forget. Despite their ordeals, the tragedies inflicted upon them and their families in the north, and their continued struggle as displaced refugees living in a slum outside of the capital and the trappings of poverty that come with it, they had a freeness of spirit. They had a way of embracing and appreciating, and living and loving life, that renewed the spirit. They did not harbor and dwell on their past traumas, but instead exhibited endurance and a will to move forward, even if the steps were small and unsteady.
It was that spirit that moved me to want to help. I had no concrete plan of how to do so. My thoughts were simple, naive, in fact. A year earlier, I had purchased my first home with an income cobbled together from a pauper’s photojournalist’s salary supplemented by weekends shooting weddings. I was certainly not living the high life, but I was secure, something the Acholi mothers could not say. Simplistically, I figured, “I can do something.” Not really sure what that something was.
Throughout high school and college, I had always worked in retail and as a wedding photographer, I had honed my small business skills, that was the extent of what I brought to the table. Well, that’s not entirely true. I also have an innate stubbornness and unwillingness to fail mentality, that probably is a greater testament to Project Have Hope’s longevity than my ability to squarely fold t-shirts, a skill I certainly don’t practice often enough.
I approached the idea of starting a non-profit the same way I would travel. Get on a plane. Explore. See who I meet and where I end up. There was no five-year plan. Heck, there was no one-year plan. There was a basic drive to do something to help.
Never comfortable with asking for money, I knew fundraising would certainly not be the foundation. I admired the colorful jewelry they made from paper beads and my retail instincts kicked in.
In 2022, it’s hard to recall that paper bead jewelry was once a novelty. These days, the craft has extended to neighboring Rwanda and Tanzania, to South American countries, and to Hades. In 2005, the jewelry was entirely unique and a conversation-starter.
I’d raise money by selling the jewelry. It made perfect sense. This would create a collaborative entity, one in which the women’s work and artistry formed the basis of fundraising. It wouldn’t be some handout, but a partnership.
From its infancy, my plan remained the same, to raise funds through capitalizing on their artistry and use that to create business opportunities in Uganda, business opportunities that were completely separate from bead-making. With that foundation percolating in my mind, I returned to the States two weeks later.
The women had gifted me a large bag of jewelry, about the size of an average grocery shopping bag. It was early November. ‘Tis the season to shop. I quickly and easily sold the jewelry. A few short weeks later, I returned to the Acholi Quarter in January 2006 to organize formally the non-profit.
I emptied my measly savings account and strapped $1500 to a money belt hidden under the waist of my pants and off I went, all heart and no real plan.
April 26, 2021
When I traveled back to Uganda in January 2006, with the intention of starting the non-profit, my focus was on helping the women become financially self-sufficient by their own means. I was adamant that our work would focus on creating economic independence that was not simply tied to their crafts. After all, it’s not financial independence if they are still dependent on me to find markets for their wares.
With that goal in my mind, I’ve been providing business loans and assistance to Project Have Hope artisans for about thirteen years. However, more recently, as COVID has decimated the craft market, more and more artisans are establishing additional businesses to find innovative ways to support their families.
Each time I travel to Uganda, I try to carve out some time to interview a few women so I can better understand their backgrounds and business enterprises, and understand how PHH can help. My days in Uganda are jammed packed and making time is always a struggle.
One morning, after having spent a couple of hours on the back of a boda running errands, I arrived in the Acholi Quarter to find one of the women I’d been wanting to talk to already in the building. She had come to the office to deliver the jewelry order she had just completed. Making the most out of the unexpected opportunity, I asked Jennifer to help translate so I could ask Lucy some questions.
Prior to arriving in Uganda, I had given Jennifer a list of preliminary interview questions to ask a dozen or so women, including Lucy. The simple act of meeting a single woman and getting through a list of basic questions takes several hours, and time is a commodity I never have enough of while I’m on Ugandan soil. With some basic info at hand and Jennifer to translate, I sat down with Lucy to dig a little deeper.
According to Jennifer’s earlier interview, Lucy said she went to school until the third grade. Most of the women with whom I work in the Quarter attended very little school. Either the civil war in Northern Uganda interrupted their studies, or fathers did not see the value in educating girls who would simply become wives and mothers, or basic poverty prevented them from gaining an education. To better understand a woman’s background and give me a clearer perspective, it helps to know the reason behind her inaccessibility to an education. So, I queried, “Did the family not have enough money? Did the war interfere?”
There ensued a long conversation in Acholi. I waited for the translation. The conversation continued to ramble on endlessly. I became impatient, annoyed. Time is not a prized commodity in the Quarter. Whereas I spend my days in Uganda racing against the clock, desperate to cram way too much into ever diminishing time increments, these women will laugh and joke and talk incessantly. They never consider how much time is being “wasted.”
Yes, wasted. In my critical estimation, where I feel the insurmountable pressure of what needs to be accomplished to make sure we can keep moving forward as an organization, to ensure that I can find funding for all of the critical expenses and necessary programming, thirty minutes of casual banter seems like an eternity to me and often, grips me with tension.
I was feeling annoyed. These women will turn a two sentence answer into Gone with the Wind. At long last, Jennifer translated their conversation. “Her mother sent her to the market to get vegetables for dinner,” Jennifer stated simply. My mind whirled. What did dinner have to do with anything? But, I continued to listen. “The rebels abducted her from the market and she was forced to live with them for 7 months before she could finally escape.”
My heart dropped, my stomach tightened, and I chastised my impatience. After fifteen years, had I not learned anything?
She was 10 years old. Ten fucking years old. Not wanting to pry into a history I’m sure she’s happy to bury, I asked no questions about her life during 7 months of captivity. I’ve read enough about Joseph Kony’s Army and have heard enough stories to understand the depravity she likely endured. Young girls were generally abducted to be “wives” for the soldiers. Abducted children are forced to commit a slew of atrocities to show their allegiance. I did not need to hear the details of Lucy’s personal story to know the horrific impact those seven months must have had on her.
I learned a bit about her haunting escape. One evening, government soldiers ambushed the rebels she was with amidst heavy gunfire. The rebels scattered. Lucy was in a group of ten who gathered together after the ambush. Of the ten, only one had a gun. And the gun had only two bullets. If the soldiers found them, she knew she would be killed. This fear finally gave her the courage to escape. While the small group traveled together under the cover of darkness, Lucy feigned needing to relieve herself.
She walked in a different direction. After waiting for her group to continue without her, she ran fast and hard in the other direction. Lucy was given the duty of carrying a jerrycan while she was fleeing the ambush. The jerrycan was supposed to contain Joseph Kony’s magic. It was thought that this magic could be used to protect the rebels from bullets or other bodily harm. She traveled the entire night and reached her home at 7am the next day, still in possession of the powerful jerrycan.
When Lucy arrived at the doorstep of her home, she found her family gathered together for their morning tea. Upon seeing her, they felt no relief, but instead, fear. Since it had taken her seven months to escape, the family believed that she, too, had become a rebel, and was there to harm them. She left the jerrycan by the door and went into the surrounding bush to hide.
The rebels came that very day to her parents home to reclaim the magic-filled jerrycan and to warn that they would be back for Lucy. After the rebels left, Lucy came out of hiding and her parents immediately sent her on a bus to Kampala to live with her uncle.
Lucy stayed in Kampala for six years before returning to her home in the North. Upon returning, she met and married her husband in 1993 and in 1996 they moved together to the Acholi Quarter. Her husband found work as a conductor on a bus, and Lucy managed the pit they owned in the stone quarry. With their earnings, they started to build homes in the Quarter. They now have six rooms which they rent, in addition to their own home.
A talented artisan and a true entrepreneur, Lucy was able to provide for their seven children by making paper bead jewelry and selling it at the weekly craft market. However, when COVID hit, the market closed. As fears of COVID spread, people sought vitamin rich fruits and a market for fresh oranges, mangoes and passion fruit grew. Lucy tapped into this market. She later used the profits of this small fruit business to set up an expanded shop selling vegetables and other food stuffs.
The next morning, I arrived in the Quarter early so I could visit Lucy as she set up her vegetable stall for the day. As the early morning sun bore down on her, she took onions and tomatoes from a sack and carefully positioned them, pausing briefly to smile at me. Lucy’s smile is bold. It embodies her will and stamina to move forward even when faced with obstacles others could not endure. The smile is genuine and mirrored in her eyes, and is a reminder that we each have the power to choose to be happy and to carve out the future we want.
April 12, 2021
April 05, 2021
March 15, 2021
March 08, 2021
February 22, 2021
February 15, 2021